Trump won the 2016 election after campaigning heavily on pro-life promises, including a pledge to appoint only pro-life Supreme Court justices. But his candidacy and election posed a dilemma for the pro-life movement, with some arguing that his record--particularly his treatment of women--made him a poor choice to represent a cause claiming to be pro-woman.
But despite these misgivings from some, Trump became a de facto face of the pro-life movement. In 2018, Trump became the first president to address the national March for Life in Washington, D.C., via satellite from the White House, although previous Republican presidents had done so by phone. Two years later, Trump became the first president to attend the March in person.
While these high-profile appearances drew attention to the annual D.C. event, not everyone in the pro-life movement was happy with the president’s attendance. Then-Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.), among the most prominent pro-life Democrats, backed out of the 2018 March for Life, where he was scheduled to be a featured speaker, after Trump’s satellite address was announced. Lipinski said at the time he could not put himself in the “potentially morally compromised situation” of sharing a stage with a president whose words were unpredictable and often offensive.
Lipinski, who recently left Congress after a primary defeat last year, called the Jan. 6 riot “unbelievable.”
“The U.S. Capitol is the symbol and the real seat of our democratic republic and to see it attacked was just very concerning,” he told CNA. “It’s still something that’s hard to comprehend.”
Lipinski said he had expressed concern about tying Trump too closely to the pro-life movement from the beginning. He acknowledged some positive policy accomplishments on pro-life goals by the administration, but said “we have to win the hearts and minds of people.”
“He’s hurting us in terms of recruiting more people over to our side,” Lipinski said. “We need more people who are with us, and one way that you get people with you is to have a good image of what it means to be pro-life, what type of person is pro-life. And so it’s good to have people who are viewed positively, who are good role models, to be seen as pro-life leaders. And in that respect I think Donald Trump was harmful over the last for years and in the long run.”
As Trump’s presidency ends with a second impeachment--and polls showing a majority of Americans saying he should be removed from office--some pro-lifers worry that the president’s legacy could continue haunting the pro-life movement for years to come.
While some tout legislative and judiciary victories on pro-life goals, other pro-lifers worry that the president’s reputation could drive people away from the pro-life cause--or portray the pro-life movement as oppressive to women. While polls consistently show voters favoring substantial limits on abortion, support for Roe v. Wade hit an all-time high during Trump’s presidency.
Herndon-De La Rosa offered a biblical analogy to the pro-life movement’s association with Trump.
“The Supreme Court nominees that Trump promised, those were the 30 pieces of silver, and so we were willing to overlook these grievous offenses and problems with his character, because those Supreme Court seats were so vital and now we’re suffering the repercussions of that,” she said.
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Trump’s legacy, Herndon-De La Rosa said, would still have been difficult to come to terms with prior to the riot, pointing to remarks Trump made about women revealed during his presidential campaign.
“We spent decades trying to show people how we are pro-woman,” she said. “The second we aligned ourselves with a man who made such degrading comments about women, we lost credibility. This was always a dangerous alliance, and now we’re seeing that it was more of a suicide pact.”
As for Trump’s association with the pro-life movement, Herndon-De La Rosa argued, “I don’t know that there’s recovering from it.”
“This is going to have to be a phoenix rising from the ashes moment where we really do some introspective soul-searching,” she said.
Herndon-De La Rosa said she and some of her allies have adopted terminology like “consistent life ethicist” to differentiate themselves from some other facets of the pro-life movement.
“And that’s either going to go nowhere, or it’s going to be something that is ultimately a bigger tent,” she commented.