Former President Donald Trump apparently thinks he can bring “peace” to the abortion debate by negotiating a compromise between the pro-life and pro-abort sides, finding an acceptable gestational timeframe after which abortions would be banned by federal law.
In an interview with NBC’s Kristen Welker on Sunday, Trump said he would “come up with a number of weeks or months” that would “make people happy.” He then made the outrageous claim that “92 percent of the Democrats don’t want to see abortion after a certain period of time.”
What nonsense. Has a single Democrat leader ever articulated the stage of pregnancy after which they would support an abortion ban? No, they haven’t. My colleague David Harsanyi rightly noted Monday that Democrats support zero limits on abortion, even up to the point of birth in some states, and “are also opposed to compelling doctors to provide infants who survive attempted abortions the minimum amount of care they would be expected to provide any other person.”
Earlier in the interview, Trump sounded a slightly different note about Democrats in response to a biased question from Welker that pushed the false narrative that intentionally killing an unborn child in the womb is sometimes medically necessary. In response, Trump said, “The radical people on this are really the Democrats that say, after five months, six months, seven months, eight months, nine months, and even after birth you’re allowed to terminate the baby.”
As if on cue, Welker interjected, “Democrats are not saying that.” But of course they are. They say it all the time, mostly in how they vote on abortion legislation. Monday in these pages, Mollie Hemingway detailed a number of recent votes in which Democrats almost uniformly supported unrestricted abortion, from a Senate bill last year that would have “codified Roe” and gutted state laws that protect the unborn, to a 20-week abortion ban the GOP-led House passed in 2017 — and nearly every Democrat opposed.
“Given a choice of whether to vote for or against legislation requiring states to permit the killing of unborn children up to the moment of birth,” wrote Hemingway, “nearly all elected Democrats vote enthusiastically for that.”
So much for Trump’s naïve (or perhaps insincere) claim that he can convince Democrats to abandon their position. No one, not even Trump, will ever be able to broker a compromise on abortion for the simple reason that Democrats will never accept a compromise if it means placing hard limits on the killing of the unborn. Abortion has become a sacrament of the left’s neo-pagan religion, and Democrats will defend it to the last.
But the exchange between Trump and Welker exposed something else besides Trump’s naiveté, which is his utterly transactional approach to the abortion debate. He won over pro-life Republicans in 2016 by promising to nominate originalist justices to the Supreme Court, which meant guaranteeing Roe’s eventual demise. Pro-lifers went along with it and supported Trump because it was their best shot at accomplishing the half-century goal of overturning Roe, something previous Republican leaders had failed to do — and often had not even tried to do.
For Trump’s part, he seems to think overturning Roe was enough and that aggressive efforts like those of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who signed a bill this year banning abortions after six weeks, are misguided. Trump called the Florida bill “a terrible thing and a terrible mistake,” and presumably thinks the same about similar abortion bans passed and signed into law in Texas, Georgia, and Tennessee.
Clearly, Trump has no philosophical or theological convictions about abortion. That was clear as far back as the 2016 GOP primary campaign when Trump, a lifelong pro-abort Democrat, suddenly became a pro-life Republican. So why did the pro-life movement support him? Because when you really believe, as pro-lifers do, that human lives are at stake, you’re willing to engage in nakedly transactional politics to save as many of those lives as possible. In this, the pro-life movement shares striking similarities with the abolitionist movement of the antebellum era, which was willing to accept compromises to limit the spread of what they sincerely believed to be the great moral evil of slavery.
But precisely because the pro-life movement, like the abolitionist movement, is motivated by moral convictions about the rights and dignity of the human person, there are limits to what can be achieved by compromise. Pro-lifers will never be at “peace” about abortion so long as it persists as a legal regime, however restricted it might be, just as abolitionists saw their compromises as part of a long-term strategy to eradicate slavery entirely.
Trump might think a 15-week ban, for example, would placate both sides, but the truth is that most pro-lifers would see it merely as a way station en route to a total or near-total ban, while pro-aborts would see it as an unacceptable stripping away of a woman’s “right” to kill her unborn child.
The truth is, the abortion debate in America will never end because each side represents a worldview that is fundamentally incompatible with the other. Either the unborn are human beings with the inalienable right to life, or they have no rights at all and can be killed and discarded just as easily as black slaves were in the antebellum South. There isn’t really any middle ground here on which to forge a compromise.
Democrats sense this about the pro-life side, which is why they view with skepticism any Republican legislation proposing limits on abortion, fearing, as southern slaveowners once did, that any limits are the beginning of abortion’s eventual demise.
In a similar way, most pro-lifers understand that nearly every elected Democrat today believes that the vindication of the constitutional rights of one group of people, women, depends entirely on denying all constitutional rights of another group, the unborn. Democrats have long held such views about the Constitution and were willing to wage a war to defend them.
The pro-life movement of course has nothing on its side like the pro-abort movement has in the Democrat Party. The Republican establishment has always held its nose at the pro-life wing of the party and done the bare minimum to placate it. No wonder, then, that when Trump came along promising to deliver tangible results in exchange for pro-life support, the movement accepted the offer. Pro-lifers figured, correctly, that however much Trump might disappoint, he could not be more of a disappointment than the GOP had been for the last half-century.
The Welker-Trump interview at least makes all of this rather clear: There will be no compromise on abortion. As Abraham Lincoln famously said of slavery in his “House Divided” speech, so too we might say of abortion in our time: We will become all one thing or all the other.
The sooner Trump gets that through his head, the sooner he’ll clear his mind of cant about convincing Democrats to compromise — or casting aspersions on Republicans like DeSantis who make the least compromise possible to advance the cause of life.