Trump has been widely praised by pro-life advocates for his appointment of Justice Amy Coney Barrett, a Catholic, to the Supreme Court. The president said in 2016 that he would fully defund abortion providers, and sign laws to ban abortions after 20 weeks and make the Hyde Amendment permanent, actions which have not been completed during his term in office.
Burch noted those moves depend upon Congressional action. “The president’s done what he can via executive order, but he had an unwilling Congress,” he told CNA.
Other Catholics also told CNA last week that Trump’s White House support for life and religious freedom causes has surprised them. They recalled that, early in the 2016 election, his record did not evince a deep grasp of social conservatism.
Trump was on the record in 1999 saying that he was “very pro-choice.” He had been criticized for making crude, sexually-explicit comments about women on host Howard Stern’s radio show and in other contexts.
Looking at those factors in 2016, some critics thought the president’s pledges on abortion would not have much follow through.
“I did not believe his promises on behalf of the unborn, or on judges, or on foreign policy. I thought he would start wars,” Chad Pecknold, a theology professor at the Catholic University of America, told CNA this month. “I was wrong.”
Pecknold added that he has not endorsed Trump, but he thinks a case can be made for supporting him in the 2020 election.
Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie did not believe that Trump would defend life and religious freedom causes, but voted for him reluctantly in 2016 because she thought his opponent Hillary Clinton would “expand” attacks on those causes.
When President Trump dramatically expanded a policy that prevents federal funding of foreign groups that provide or promote abortions—known as the “Mexico City Policy”— Christie said her doubts about him subsided.
As someone who grew up in Latin America, Christie saw Trump’s policy as a victory against “ideological colonization” of groups that promote abortions in developing countries.
“I know that he [Trump] has surrounded himself with really good people,” she said, “who really understand in a deeply philosophical way the issues of human dignity, marriage, and family.”
Nina Shea, an expert in religious freedom at the Hudson Institute, also warned about Trump’s candidacy in 2016. She recalled thinking that he did not have the foreign policy background required to promote religious freedom and defend persecuted religious minorities overseas.
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A year later, Shea watched Vice President Mike Pence promise a summit on international Christian persecution that promoting religious freedom would be a priority for the administration.
The direct assurance was a departure from earlier administrations’ seeming reluctance to promote religious freedom in U.S. foreign policy, Shea said. Since then, she noted that Trump’s “speeches, initiatives, and directives” on religious freedom “have set the high water mark” for the issue.
Not all conservative Catholics who opposed Trump in 2016 support his re-election four years later.
Ramesh Ponnuru, a senior editor at National Review and a Catholic, wrote an Oct. 15 column he said was “a case for principled abstention.”
Ponnuru wrote that in his view, Trump’s “character flaws” are bad enough to “keep him from meeting the threshold conditions to be entrusted with the presidency.”
The president is “deficient” in “judgment, honesty, and self-control,” Ponnuru wrote, lamenting “a more degraded and less honest political culture, the cheapening of the president’s word, and a decline in trust.”