The battle for America’s most powerful office just inherited a whole new layer of intensity. On Sept. 18, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg passed away, creating a new vacancy on the Supreme Court. Ginsberg had been a stalwart advocate and defender of abortion throughout her 27 years on the court.
The vacant seat represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the pro-life movement to achieve the highly sought-after reversal of Roe v Wade. While only time will tell whether this vacancy will be filled before 2021, the contrast between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden has never been clearer than it is today on issues of life and liberty.
Some of President Trump’s critics have sought to dilute the importance of the presidency to the pro-life cause, arguing that Trump does not deserve praise for his pro-life accomplishments. While such critics are right that abortion rates have declined over the past decade, these numbers reflect a wide array of confounding factors, ranging from a decline in fertility to an increased standard of living.
A Biden-Harris Presidency Would Fuel Abortion
But even if the abortion rate were genuinely trending in the right direction, that still would not justify supporting the most radical pro-abortion ticket in American history—that of Biden and running mate Kamala Harris.
While former Vice President Biden once supported certain restrictions on abortion, he has adopted a radical position alongside Harris. Their stance goes against even the most basic legislation, like the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, which would mandate providing care to an infant who has survived a gruesome abortion procedure and is born alive. The Biden/Harris ticket also supports abortion through all nine months of pregnancy and repealing the decades-long, bipartisan Hyde Amendment, which keeps federal tax dollars from funding abortions.
A Biden/Harris victory would lead to billions of dollars in abortion funding internationally, the nomination of pro-abortion justices throughout the federal court system including on the Supreme Court, the repeal of the Hyde amendment, leading to millions of dollars of federal funding directly for abortions, which combined would lead to millions of increased abortions over the foreseeable future. It would also squash the pro-life movement’s momentum and advance pro-abortion forces like Planned Parenthood, a major Harris supporter.
Yes, Presidents Matter to Pro-Life Victories
Critics of President Trump, most notably David French, have made several arguments against the importance of the presidential election for pro-life policy. Let’s investigate these one-by-one.
French claims presidents are irrelevant to the abortion rate. This is wrong at face value. For starters, President Trump signed an executive order in April 2017 that allows states to defund Planned Parenthood from federal Title X (family planning) funding, reversing an attempt by the Obama administration to exert federal authority over state policymakers.
President Trump also signed the Protect Life Rule, which ensures compliance with the statutory prohibition on funding programs that use abortion as a method of family planning and no longer permits Title X-funded family planning services at the same location abortion is provided. Among many other examples, French and his ilk also overlook the fundamental role that the executive office, especially the president, plays in creating a platform on important issues.
Consider, for instance, how President Trump completely shifted the dialogue about China over the past three years. The Obama administration focused on accommodation, hoping the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) would choose a more democratic path.
But the Trump administration pointed out how China was taking advantage of the United States through unequal terms of trade, stealing intellectual property, and opening the country to systemic supply chain risk. President Trump has followed up with concrete policies, yet he also used the power of the presidency to create a platform for an argument that many pundits dismissed or overlooked.
Why would pro-life issues be any different? If anything, the fact that life is in part a cultural issue makes the power of the presidency even more important for gaining a platform. For example, earlier this year, President Trump became the first American president to speak at the annual March for Life, bringing a surge in media attention to the chronically underreported event and expanding the pro-life issue to a broader base of Americans.
Judges Absolutely Influence Changes in Law
Second, while French concedes that President Trump has appointed many pro-life judges, he argues judges are a force for stability, not change, in abortion law. This is a patently false claim.
While judges uphold the law of the land, unless they are activist judges that subtly try to change the law, court rulings constantly create precedent that leads to changes in policy. In other words, policy does not emerge out of thin air—it is based in part on court rulings.
Biden-appointed judges would be far more likely to strike down the most basic pro-life legislation and uphold the most aggressive pro-abortion legislation. Moreover, as we can see with Ginsberg’s passing, Trump has the opportunity to appoint yet another Supreme Court justice, which could lead to a substantial realignment in constitutional respect on the court.
Planned Parenthood Doesn’t Support Biden for Nothing
Conversely, pro-life state legislation would be more often reversed under Biden-appointed judges. Even Planned Parenthood is worried about four more years of a Trump presidency, specifically due to his appointment of federal judges. During the 2019 state legislative sessions, more than 290 bills restricting abortion have been filed in 45 states. Why would Planned Parenthood be worried if judges played such an insignificant role?
Third, some including French say state legislatures have more influence on abortion outcomes than Congress does. While state legislatures are clearly important, this again overlooks the interconnected nature of federal and state policymaking. Indeed, President Trump’s removal of the Obama administration policy that forced states to fund abortion is perhaps the most obvious illustrative example of federal policy affecting state policy.
That doesn’t even include the fact that a president can campaign for state policymakers running for Congress or for governor, thereby giving an extra spotlight to politicians with similar values. And, if President Trump does not win, Biden is on record saying he would abolish the filibuster, which under a Democrat Congress would lead to additional federal actions that direct billions of dollars of federal funding through states to radical leftist policies, including on abortion.
Repealing Roe Would Absolutely Reduce Abortions
Fourth, it’s often argued that overturning Roe v. Wade would not substantially affect the number of abortions. This is a speculative claim that contradicts much empirical evidence that shows law has the potential to influence culture towards what is good, beautiful, and true—and vice versa.
For example, prior to Roe v. Wade, only a couple of states had abortion laws. States stood on the pro-life side of the pendulum. Although we are in a different country today, it is much easier to make the argument scientifically about the personhood of the unborn child than ever before.
Furthermore, if most of pro-lifers’ recent success is in the states, then repealing Roe would allow states to move bills they haven’t passed due to the Supreme Court’s defense of abortion. Just look at former Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s vetoes of heartbeat bills. He justified them by stating that the Supreme Court would overrule him.
State legislatures generally won’t act if there is federal protection for a given policy matter. That means overturning Roe v. Wade would lead to significant state action, which could come to at least a 32.8 percent reduction in abortions. While French argues this number is insignificant, over time it represents millions of lives.
Law Influences Culture
Fifth is the argument most people don’t want an abortion. While it would be great if no one actually wanted to have an abortion, the Pew Center reports that 61 percent of adults report that abortion should be legal in all or most cases.
Regardless, we still don’t want to set laws that are morally, socially, or economically harmful. Culture and law are intimately linked. Legalizing abortion normalized it. Law creates boundaries to hold culture accountable.
Although culture is usually the catalyst for law, there are plenty of cases in which the opposite has been true. Consider, for instance, the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The CRA ended segregation in public places and banned employment discrimination. While some racism remains, Sen. Tim Scott can now confidently say that his family has moved from “cotton to Congress in one lifetime.”
President Trump deserves credit for being the most active pro-life president in our country’s history. We don’t want to just “limit” abortion or delight in the fact that it is declining according to some estimates. If we believe that abortion constitutes a brutal murder, then we need to fight for its abolition, period, just like we don’t only seek lower numbers of human trafficking, but to abolish human trafficking altogether.
A Trump administration will continue to advance life. A Biden administration will push us into the dark ages of abortion on demand, no questions asked, even if the baby is just about to be born or has been born alive and survived, as Democrat politicians have openly stated.
This article has been corrected.