Donald Trump has an election to win—and the pro-life movement has a lot to lose. Trump put three justices on the Supreme Court who helped overturn Roe v. Wade, sending abortion legality back to the states, but the former president has spent the past two years distancing himself from the pro-life movement.
Trump’s a businessman and politician. He understands that abortion isn’t a winning issue for the right. Nearly 70% of Americans support legal abortion in the first trimester, and referenda in states like Ohio, Kansas, and Michigan show that when given a choice between abortion bans and late-term abortions, people will go with the latter despite polling indicating they dislike it—not that this polling against late-term abortions ever manifests in elections. If the pro-choice side can win on late-term abortions in those states by double digits, it can likely win referenda anywhere in the country.
There’s little indication that Trump has firm convictions on abortion. He downplays the issue when politically expedient. He correctly told voters in September 2020 that Roe v. Wade wasn’t on the ballot; it only took one term for Trump to get the necessary justices on the court to overturn the ruling.
During his 2024 campaign, however, Trump has veered away from the topic. He called the heartbeat bill that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law “terrible” and said he thinks a six-week abortion gestational limit is too strict. He’s also said he wants to negotiate with both the pro-life and pro-choice sides to set a limit that pleases both sides.
That hurts the pro-life movement, though it likely helps Trump politically. Politicians help shape public opinion. People pick their political parties based on issues they support, but the inverse is also true. Some also change their political views to match those of their political parties and politicians they like. If Trump downplays abortion and slams abortion bans, some Republicans will agree with him because they like Trump.
Public opinion shifted in favor of abortion rights since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade for a few reasons. One is that it made the abortion question real. For a long time, abortion was merely a hypothetical question; there were some on-the-margins fights, at the state level mostly, but abortion was legal in all 50 states under five Republican presidents. Another is the strong bias in favor of abortion rights from the media, Democratic politicians, and American culture. Legacy media articles typically focus merely on abortion access but ignore other aspects of the child-killing practice—like the mothers who chose not to abort and love their children or the gruesome violence of second and third-trimester abortions. Those culprits aside, pro-life lawmakers and the pro-life movement also deserve some blame.
Poor governance has left the pro-life side vulnerable. When a 10-year-old rape victim in Ohio can’t get an abortion, it leads to a referendum, and the pro-choice side wins a red state by double-digits. Lawmakers also hurt the movement when they say women should give birth to severely deformed babies that will die shortly after birth while jeopardizing their health. It may help to consult with right-of-center doctors before drawing up legislation that will turn the country against the pro-life side, resulting in more abortions across the country. The pro-life movement also opposes birth control and generally fails to articulate a competent abortion reduction agenda, unfortunately ignoring the demand side of abortion, which is just as much, if not more of an issue, than the supply side. Americans United for Life deserves credit for supporting a child tax credit expansion bill in Congress and for wanting to make birth free; that's the thinking the pro-life side needs.
Instead of attacking pro-lifers, I wish Trump was honest. Next year, the U.S. Senate will lack the 60 pro-life votes necessary to enact a federal gestational limit, which the media likes to call a national abortion ban—apparently, the only abortion-related issue anyone cares about these days. If elected, Trump could take actions to reduce the demand for abortion, like increasing Title X family planning funding for non-abortion providers and directing the FDA to approve over-the-counter oral contraceptives. He could also make abortion providers ineligible for Title X family planning funding, end the military’s paid abortion leave policy, and ensure foreign aid to other countries never pays for abortions. For legislative policy, he could advocate for a more generous child tax credit, his proposed baby bonus scheme, and expand paid (and unpaid) family leave federally.