There is currently a mad scramble in many of my social circles to figure out why things went so wrong on Tuesday night. But before we do that, it would be prudent to pause and reflect on the question of what went wrong.
A major part of the answer must be the deeply unsettling fact that this was an absolutely terrible election for the pro-life movement.
The first bad news of the night was that physician-assisted suicide passed in Colorado by a 65% margin. This continues a trend of western, autonomy-centered liberals generally favoring assisted suicide, with eastern, social-justice centered liberals generally being more uncomfortable with the practice.
Next we learned that the death penalty, in the words of the election results feed at 538, was “quietly having a successful night.” Voters in Oklahoma strengthened their death penalty laws by adopting a constitutional amendment. Nebraska voters reintroduced capital punishment after the state legislature banned it last year. Even California voted not only to refuse to repeal the death penalty, but approved a plan to expedite it.
But the most damaging event for the pro-life movement was the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States. By far.
The traditional pro-life movement has been taken in by the strategy of trying to elect national Republicans in the hope that they will pass meaningful pro-life legislation and appoint pro-life justices to the Supreme Court.
Well before Trump became the Republicans’ nominee for president, Pasqual Emmanuel Gobry wrote a piece for The Week calling this strategy into question. He rightly points out that pro-lifers have given up far too much to the GOP and received precious little in return.
Indeed, Republican presidents have appointed some of the most stalwart defenders of abortion rights.
Enter Donald Trump.
As I’ve mentioned before on these pages, this is a man who will say almost anything to the religious right in order to procure their votes. He claims to be a Christian, but insists that he has no need to ask God for forgiveness.
He claims he will put pro-life justices on the Supreme Court, but after his supposed pro-life conversion he suggested that his pro-choice sister would make a great Supreme Court justice.
He claims to be on the side of those who want to limit abortion, but even after the election the words “pro-life” or “abortion” are found nowhere on his website. Indeed, he never even brings up the issue unless someone presses him on it.
The Babylon Bee—the hilarious Evangelical Christian version of the Onion—summed up Trump’s approach well in a recent headline: “Let’s Cut to the Chase, Evangelicals: Which Exact Lie Can I Tell You to Get You to Vote for Me?”
Even if we stopped here we could see how Trump’s support from traditional pro-life groups, and his subsequent election to the presidency, represent a defeat for the movement. But we cannot stop here. We must ask ourselves what it means now that Trump is the de facto leader and face of the pro-life movement.
This is a question I took up in a piece in the Washington Post before the election. Especially because the winning future for the pro-life movement is one which embraces a new movement that is young, feminist, and disproportionately people of color, the Donald’s rise to leadership in the pro-life movement is an absolute disaster.
I pointed out that he is particularly loathed by millennials, women and people of color, and with good reason, for Trump’s positions on issues like immigration, criminal justice reform, health care and climate change are completely alienating to huge majorities in these demographics.
His racist and sexist rhetoric and behavior — linked to sexual violence — are even more repulsive to these sections of the population.
The pro-life movement has over the years painstakingly put itself in a position where it can authentically resist the attempts of our opponents to marginalize us as led by old, white, privileged, racist, misogynist men who want to use and control women’s bodies.
But with the election of Trump—who could not fit better into that category—all of our work now risks being undermined.
Pro-life groups should immediately distance themselves from the views of our new president-elect, emphasizing without equivocation that an authentic pro-life movement cannot possibly consider him our leader.
[Charles C. Camosy is Associate Professor of Theological and Social Ethics at Fordham University and author of Beyond the Abortion Wars: A Way Forward for a New Generation.]