In the first months of President Trump’s administration, little has been more frustrating than watching pro-life initiatives sputter to a legislative halt because Republican majorities across America failed to gas up the agenda.
Despite his past pro-choice leanings, candidate Trump ran on a pro-life platform and frequently committed to defunding Planned Parenthood, even delivering some pro-life stingers to Hillary Clinton in the debates.
In 2016 House Speaker Paul Ryan managed to force President Obama to veto a measure defunding Planned Parenthood, but his insistence on tying funding to a health-care vote may jeopardize the chance that both or either will be signed into law.
Congress’ first attempt to defund the nation’s largest abortion provider saw the president use the unborn as bargaining chips in an unsuccessful attempt to muscle the House Freedom Caucus into supporting Obamacare 2.0. A second effort most of the HFC supported managed to pass the House, but seems unlikely to survive the Senate, where pro-abortion Republicans could deny the GOP the votes it needs for passage, even under reconciliation rules.
State-Level Republicans Are Little Better
State legislatures haven’t fared much better, with Iowa’s newly red legislature squandering a prime opportunity to advance a life at conception measure—the gold standard of pro-life bills—as Republican holdouts killed the bill in committee, denying it even the symbolic consideration of a floor vote.
While potentially unremarkable to folks in other states, the failure of Iowa Republicans to advance the measure was amplified by the fact that the state party platform specifically calls for a life at conception bill, without exceptions, as its very first plank. Equally disappointing was the utter silence by the nation’s longest-serving Republican governor, Iowa’s Terry Branstad, whose tight-lipped reticence on pro-life legislation starkly contrasts his vocal support for tax hikes.
As if legislative letdowns weren’t enough, pro-life activists also got to watch Tomi Lahren (formerly of The Blaze), a young, conservative woman with a social media following of nearly five million, betray her own audience by spewing thrice-debunked liberal talking points on “The View.”
These incidents may not have been notable nine years ago, when Democrats held power in Washington, fewer states were under Republican control, and the pro-choice cause still had enough progressive flavor to attract the support of aging feminists and Obama’s famed millennial army. But it’s not 2008 anymore. The GOP now controls Congress and the White House and has a stranglehold on the states, with complete control of 32 state legislatures.
More importantly, public support for unrestricted abortion has continued to slip, particularly among millennials, who are now the largest voting bloc in America. So why does it seem like the pro-life cause is still stuck in neutral? A fellow Iowa politico summed it up perfectly during a recent Facebook debate: “The worst thing that can happen to a cause is not that it is skillfully attacked but that it is ineptly defended.”
Conservative and Cowardice Shouldn’t Be Synonyms
Some of the most intelligent, passionate, and politically savvy activists in America are pro-lifers, but they tend to form up as foot soldiers behind skittish politicians and TV starlets who have no intention of putting their own necks on the line. These “conservative leaders” can’t articulate pro-life positions, can’t defend our policy solutions, and won’t invest personal or political capital into the ongoing fight against Planned Parenthood and their liberal sponsors.
Even more frustratingly, this would be a prime time to do so. The Left is already in retreat on abortion. The Center for Medical Progress’ undercover sting videos caused tremendous damage to the pro-choice brand, and forced liberals to choose from two equally distasteful tactical options: back away from abortion and hide behind terms like “women’s health” and “reproductive care,” or embrace it tighter and risk alienating the public with uncomfortable displays like the “shout your abortion” weirdfest or contrived PR plays about how happy and easy abortions can be.
The abortion lobby is under attack from all sides, to the point that even liberal icon Hillary Clinton and Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards spent 2016 sprinting away from the word “abortion” in all their public statements. Republicans have the power and opportunity to hit the abortion industry where it hurts—its wallet—but so far haven’t demonstrated the will.
Part of the reason for this reticence results from the fact that the GOP has an identity crisis on abortion. While state and national Republican platforms espouse pro-personhood platforms, there remains a core of moderate and liberal Republicans who are embarrassed by the conservative base and want nothing to do with social issues.
Leaders Should Lead, Not Run Away
According to 2016 data from Pew Research, there’s a significant gap between Democratic and Republican cohesiveness on abortion. It’s most pronounced at the ideological ends of the spectrum. A whopping 85 percent of liberal Democrats support legal abortion in all or most cases, while only 68 percent of conservative Republicans think abortion should be illegal in all or most cases. Similarly, there is a 10-point gap between moderate Democrats and moderate Republicans, with the latter far more divided on the issue.
Perhaps that’s to be expected when our own “celebrities” can’t give a competent defense of the inalienable right to life in front of a liberal audience. When life is ineptly defended, it not only hurts the overall pro-life argument, but it destroys confidence and signals to politicians that investment in the cause isn’t worth the risk.
There’s a right way to shatter the Left’s pro-abortion arguments and turn the tables on them using their own terms, which is why secular and atheist pro-life groups have risen to challenge the leftist narrative that pro-lifers are trying to force their religious beliefs on others.
There are easy ways to debunk abortion fallacies. There are brilliant and logically consistent arguments against exceptions. There are even great arguments for straight-up personhood legislation over incremental abortion restrictions. But there may be no easy way to convince Republicans to join grassroots pro-lifers on the greatest civil rights issue of our generation.