One of President Trump’s most endearing qualities for social conservatives is his willingness to tell the truth about abortion. During a debate with Hillary Clinton in 2016, he didn’t hesitate to characterize the reality of the procedure when performed in late-term pregnancy: “If you go with what Hillary is saying, in the ninth month, you can rip the baby out of the womb of the mother just prior to the birth of the baby.”
Clinton and her army of furious fact-checkers in the mainstream press quickly howled that this was merely scary rhetoric and nothing more. “Trump displayed a misunderstanding of how abortion works in the United States,” harumphed the Washington Post.
But Trump wasn’t wrong. Some, but not all, states ban abortion after a certain number of weeks. Late-term abortions still occur nevertheless. And ardent pro-choicers, including Clinton, are in favor of strengthening protections for this practice. In fact, Clinton was among the proponents of the successful passage of a law in New York state that allows abortions up until the moment of birth.
Trump correctly characterized the logic of the pro-late-term abortion position, which has become the mainstream Democratic Party position: abortion should be legal at every stage of pregnancy, if there is a health reason for it—including reasons of emotional health.
This is how far the Democratic Party has evolved on abortion. It is so far to the left that their presidential candidate, Joe Biden, has been required to show evidence of his evolution on the issue as well. Biden, a Catholic, for years has supported statutory restrictions that prevent federal money from paying for abortion services. But his party has moved on, and now, he has, too.
Trump, however, has continued to embrace the pro-life cause in ways that are both surprising and fearlessly consistent. On Wednesday, he announced he would be signing an executive order to protect infants born alive after botched abortions, and infants born prematurely, regardless of disabilities.
This latest move from the administration again makes clear just how radical Democrats are on the issue of abortion. In March 2019, 44 Senate Democrats, including Biden’s running mate, Senator Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), voted against this very policy—to guarantee legally that babies born alive after an attempted abortion should be treated as patients, rather than discarded and left to die.
This relatively obscure issue was thrust into the spotlight last year when Virginia’s Democratic Governor Ralph Northam, himself a pediatric neurosurgeon, casually revealed the Mengelian beliefs that are foundational to pro-abortion policies:
If a mother is in labor . . . the infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and mother.
Critically, however, Northam did what many pro-abortion advocates will not do: he acknowledged the humanity of the child. He called the child an infant. (Consider CNN, who reported on the “Born Alive” bill by referring to a newborn baby as merely “a fetus that was born.”) But that is what makes Northam’s comments—about keeping the infant “comfortable” while a “discussion” ensued—so chilling. He knows these infants are fully human. He just doesn’t care.
That’s why Trump’s executive order is so important. While critics dismiss it as “pandering” and “unnecessary” given certain laws already in place, it draws a clear and distinct line between those who can recognize that a human life, wanted or unwanted, has dignity, worth, and a right to life, and those who refuse to acknowledge it as anything more than “a fetus that was born;” as they see it, an unfortunate occurrence open to discussion and, ultimately, one that may be dismissed.
Legal Merits of the Order
Contra the critics, Trump’s executive order is not without legal merit. Two separate laws require hospitals to provide stabilizing treatment and medical examination to any individual, including premature infants, who present at a hospital with emergency conditions.
Based on a Health and Human Services Department (HHS) interpretation of Bowen v. American Hospital Association, however, it appears that HHS is not enforcing the law for infants born extremely prematurely—that is, before 24 weeks of gestation. As president, Trump cannot change the law. But he can order that the law be enforced.
Critics also dismiss both Trump’s effort and those of pro-life legislators as “a solution in search of a problem.” Hardly any babies are born alive, they say, citing data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) showing that between 2003 and 2014, “only” 143 infants died after being born alive during an abortion procedure.
Yet these critics fail to note that the CDC also acknowledges that this number is likely an underestimate, due to the vague data-reporting requirements. In a certain percentage of the cases reported by the CDC, some of the 143 babies clung to life for more than 24 hours before they died. In other cases, the cause of death—maternal complication, congenital anomalies, or lack of care—is unclear.
We also have horrific examples of what goes on in the worst abortion clinics when babies are born alive. Kermit Gosnell was found guilty of first-degree murder of three babies born alive in his clinic after failed abortions. According to the grand jury report, one of the babies reportedly was moving and breathing for 20 minutes before an employee cut the spinal cord. A 28-week-old baby boy was found frozen in a gallon water bottle. Another witness testified that Gosnell severed the spine of one “breathing and moving” baby and put the body “in a plastic shoebox for disposal.”
One hopes that Gosnell, and those like him, are outliers. But such events underscore the need for clear guidance over how a newborn baby must be treated, regardless of circumstance. Trump’s executive order makes clear that, in his administration, life in its most vulnerable stages is to be valued.
Trump’s Pro-life Record
It’s notable that Trump, unlike many in the Republican Party, has given more than lip service to the pro-life cause. For years, congressional Republicans have gotten away with rhetoric and general hand-waving in the direction of the pro-life cause, with minimal attempts at actual legislation on the issue.
Trump, to the surprise of the skeptics, continually has followed through. His administration has banned fetal tissue research using aborted baby parts, and reversed an Obama-era rule that required states to fund abortion providers. Earlier this year, Trump became the first president to address the March for Life in person.
The Trump Administration in 2019 managed to get Planned Parenthood to defund itself by issuing a rule blocking federal family planning funds from going to groups that referred for abortion. Planned Parenthood—which sells itself as a healthcare organization—declined the money. The $60 million it turned down went to women’s health care centers that actually care for women’s health, rather than merely using it as a euphemism for abortion services.
Trump’s administration also sided with the Little Sisters of the Poor, a group of Catholic nuns whose mission is to serve the elderly poor, from an Obama-era lawsuit demanding they provide for birth control in their insurance plans (which is against the teachings of the Catholic Church).
While Trump may be unpredictable in other areas, his commitment to the pro-life cause—and to making sure we understand the reality of abortion—has been as steady as he was during that 2016 debate with Hillary Clinton, where he took pains to clarify his position: “Now, Hillary can say that’s OK. But it’s not OK with me, because based on what she’s saying, you can take the baby and rip the baby out of the womb in the ninth month on the final day. And that’s not acceptable.”
In just a few words, Trump bluntly captured the brutal truth of what abortion really is—and the horror of the policies Democrats now promote. In four years, he’s followed up that assessment with more substantive action than the pro-life movement has seen in decades. And to a pro-life movement accustomed to condescension and dismissal from our own party leaders, it is an unexpected and welcome delight.