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Donald Trump’s Abortion Pivot

Maybe Donald Trump changed his views on abortion for the right reasons. Then again, maybe not.


At the first Republican presidential debate held by Fox News on August 6, Donald Trump said that his view on abortion, as on so many issues, had “evolved.” (That is apparently the go-to expression for candidates changing their position these days.) Here are his exact words:

And I am pro-life. And if you look at the question, I was in business. They asked me a question as to pro-life or choice. And I said if you let it run, that I hate the concept of abortion. I hate the concept of abortion. And then since then, I’ve very much evolved.

And what happened is friends of mine years ago were going to have a child, and it was going to be aborted. And it wasn’t aborted. And that child today is a total superstar, a great, great child. And I saw that. And I saw other instances.

And I am very, very proud to say that I am pro-life.

Trump’s response at the debate echoed an interview he gave to the Des Moines Register in 2011:

If you look at it, I said, ‘It really, really troubles me, and it really, really bothers me, the whole concept of abortion.’ This was years ago, and even then it really bothered me, but I went on the other side of the line…But in thinking about it over the years, I’ve had instances, and one instance in particular, a friend had a child who they were going to abort, and now they have it, and the child is incredible. And the man, he changed his views also because of that.

As a really, really pro-life woman, I find Trump’s “evolution” less than convincing. That’s not to say that I’m not open to being convinced. I am listening to all the candidates, and I have great respect for anyone who has enough integrity to admit he was wrong on an issue and to change his view. But these two statements by Trump are a far cry from a clear and principled pro-life position.

Abortion Isn’t a ‘Concept’

In the first place, both responses are typical of Trump’s propensity for wandering around an issue making vague and often conflicting assertions. Yes, he claims that he has long been “bothered” by and even “hated” the “concept” of abortion. Nevertheless, he acknowledges that for a long time he came down “on the other side of the line.”

Both responses are typical of Trump’s propensity for wandering around an issue making vague and often conflicting assertions.

I’m not sure how someone who “hates” abortion ends up “on the other side of the line.” But I wonder if it has something to do with the view of abortion as a “concept.” Trump used the term in both responses cited above, and I find puzzling it in its intellectual abstractness. From where I sit, abortion is way more than a “concept.” It’s a real, violent act inflicted on close to 3,000 babies every day in the United States.

Apart from the muddled thinking, what bothers me most of all in both of these disavowals of abortion is the ultimate reason Trump gives for having changed his view. He says that friends of his had contemplated aborting their child, but then changed their minds and had the child. At the debate, Trump described the child as “a total superstar.” In the 2011 interview, he similarly described whom I assume to be the same child as “incredible.” So it would seem that Trump changed his view in large part because of the excellence of this child, a child that would not have existed if the parents had gone through with their initial plan to abort.

Donald Trump, All Lives Are Valuable

Memo to Donald Trump: “Pro-life” means to affirm the inherent value of life in all its forms, at all its stages. This means that the Olympic athlete is no more deserving of life than the 80-year-old who can’t get out of bed, the paraplegic in a wheelchair, or the cancer victim in hospice care. It means that the wanted baby is no more deserving of being born than the unwanted baby. It means that the healthy child is no more entitled to a chance than the child with a congenital disease. And it means that the genius with a 140 IQ is no more valuable than the person with Down syndrome.

Maybe Trump understands this. But I would put a lot more stock in his about-face if it contained the message that all children are great, incredible superstars. As it stands, I’m just not sure.