President-elect Donald Trump’s commitments to nominate pro-life justices to the U.S. Supreme Court and support legislative efforts to limit abortion are invigorating abortion foes.
Leaders in organizations such as U.S. bishops’ Secretariat of
Pro-Life Activities; National Right to Life, Americans United for Life
and Susan B. Anthony List told Catholic News Service that they are
hopeful that Congress and eventually the Supreme Court, with pro-life
justices in place, will take steps to achieve the long-standing goal of
ending abortion altogether.
“We are very excited about the new Trump administration because he
took such a strong stand during the campaign,” said Carol Tobias,
president of National Right to Life. “I think it’s going to be a great
Such enthusiasm stems not just from Trump’s unexpected election, but
also because Republicans maintained control of both the House of
Representatives (241-194) and the Senate (52-48), although with slimmer
margins. As a result, the fear of a veto of pro-life legislation has
Advocates also are pleased that Trump has not indicated any deviance
from a campaign pledge he delivered to a coalition of groups opposed to
abortion. In a September letter to pro-life leaders, Trump said he was
committed to four cornerstones of the pro-life movement:
— Nominate pro-life justices to the Supreme Court.
— Sign into law the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which
would prohibit abortion after 20 weeks of gestation, about the time
doctors have determined that an unborn child can feel pain.
— End federal funding of Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest
abortion provider, as long as the agency continues to offer abortion
— Making permanent the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits tax dollars
from paying for abortion except in cases of rape, incest or threat to
the woman’s life. Currently, the Hyde Amendment, which covers programs
administered by the Department of Health and Human Services, must be
renewed annually by Congress in its appropriations bill.
Greg Schleppenbach, associate director of the Secretariat of Pro-Life
Activities at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, welcomed the
commitments, but said he would maintain a “cautious optimism” that they
would be carried out.
“Certainly, based upon things President-elect Trump said he will do,
there’s some reason for optimism. It remains to be seen if he follows
through on what he said he would do,” Schleppenbach said.
While making the Hyde Amendment permanent would be welcomed,
Schleppenbach said, passing the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act
would ensure no federal money whatsoever is used for abortion, including
under the Affordable Care Act. The bill has been introduced in the past
three Congresses and passed by the House each time, but has stalled in
Still, advocates in the pro-life movement have mobilized quickly to
ensure that pro-life bills will be considered by the new sessions of
Congress and state legislatures.
“We will see (a) pain capable (bill) advance. It passed the House
previously and it was voted on in the Senate,” said Marilyn Musgrave,
vice president of government affairs at the pro-life Susan B. Anthony
She called the current period hopeful for pro-lifers. “It’s a time
when we have to give all we have to advance the cause for life at a time
when the country rejected Hillary Clinton and her party’s extreme
position on life,” she said.
Even with expected action by Congress, the advocates said they feel
emboldened to take steps to pass key pieces of legislation, including
the so-called “pain capable” bills at the state level. Ohio serves as an
example of what’s ahead. Republican legislators inserted a pain-capable
bill in end-of-year-legislation in December. It was signed into law by
Gov. John Kasich Dec. 13.
Thirteen states have enacted pain capable laws that have gone
unchallenged, although similar bans have been struck down by courts in
Arizona and Idaho.
A second bill in Ohio adopted by the Legislature in December would
have banned abortion when a fetal heartbeat could be detected, usually
around six weeks of a pregnancy. It would have been the country’s most
restrictive abortion law.
Kasich vetoed that provision at the urging of
Ohio Right to Life; both the governor and the pro-life group have said
they did not believe it would have been upheld in court and he acted to
save taxpayer dollars.
Similar bans elsewhere have been overturned in
the courts. Ohio Right to Life leaders pointed out if the heartbeat
measure became law and was challenged in court, a federal judge could
strike it down along with abortion restrictions.
Pro-life groups are divided on the strategy of pursuing fetal
heartbeat laws. While some groups want to see bills introduced, others
believe federal courts would overturn them and harm the overall pro-life
movement by contributing additional legal precedence in support of
Beyond that issue though, voters can expect to see other
abortion-related bills come before state legislatures, Tobias said. In
one area, National Right to Life is working with other organizations on
state bans of dilation and evacuation abortion procedure — which
pro-life advocates describe as “dismemberment” — that is commonly used
during the second trimester of pregnancy.
Bills that offer conscientious protections for health care workers also are expected to be reintroduced.
While legislative victories are expected — and expected quickly —
Clark Forsythe, acting president of Americans United for Life, suggested
patience would be a virtue for pro-life advocates to embrace.
“We have to look at it as four consequential years,” he explained.
“People have to understand the Senate is still going to be difficult
with 52-48 splits. People have to understand that Senate Democrats are
going to want to resist.
“Every Supreme Court vacancy is going to be a hard fight. People have
to have patience and look at it as this two-year Congress and then the
opportunity to add to the Senate majority in the 2018 mid-term elections
and then two more years of the Trump-Pence administration’s first
term,” he said.
Supporters of keeping abortion legal are concerned about what they
consider to be attacks on a women’s right to choose the care she
receives. Planned Parenthood chapters in many states have begun
fundraising efforts to close the gap should federal funding of its
The organization’s federal funding comes primarily through Medicaid
and Title X, which provides family planning and related preventive
Other organizations, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, have
said they will fill lawsuits to prevent what they consider to be
excessive restrictions on abortion from taking effect.
Even with things expected to go their way in the White House,
Congress and state legislatures, pro-life advocates recognize that
parishioners and other churchgoers who oppose abortion will have to
remain vigilant because of the strong push back expected from the
supporters of keeping abortion legal.
Unity in messaging will be the key said the USCCB’s Schleppenbach.
“Certainly forming and preparing our grass roots, which is really, as
the church, our grass roots is our biggest strength as a lobbying
force,” he explained. “So we will certainly make sure that we have our
grass roots informed and energized and ready to act and to communicate
with our representatives.”