Where’s the Pro-Life Party?
On the opening night of the Democratic National Convention, speakers and video clips focused a good deal on our children: Michelle Obama spoke of the love she and her husband share for their daughters, and said her support of Hillary Clinton is largely influenced by a concern and care for their future.
A video segment showed children watching Donald Trump on television, making fun of a reporter with a disability. It asked viewers to consider the impact such comments have on American youth. Yesterday, nine grieving mothers gathered on the DNC stage to share how they lost their sons and daughters in “racially charged incidents.”
Yet in all the Democrats’ discussion of children, they are ominously silent about the unborn. As the most pro-choice party in America, they emphasize the autonomy and freedom of the mother, but ignore children in the womb. Hillary Clinton has endorsements from Planned Parenthood, NARAL Pro-Choice, and America PAC. Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards spoke at the DNC yesterday evening, emphasizing paid family leave alongside women’s right to abortion.
The Democratic platform often feels disjointed: overflowing with compassion and empathy on a plethora of issues—from LGBTQ rights, to paid family leave, to affirmative action, to income inequality—but deathly quiet when it comes to the rights of the unborn, the most powerless and vulnerable of us all.
Yet this silence was also largely present during the Republican National Convention. As Ruth Graham wrote for Slate, “This week’s Republican convention in Cleveland barely tried to pretend that its candidate cares about abortion, sexuality, or God.”
Donald Trump is the man who once described himself as “very pro-choice,” and has yet to demonstrate his alleged change of heart on the abortion issue. “His past positions on abortion and clear lack of interest in the subject, which seems to be reflected in how little the issue has come up at the Convention, is making it difficult for even single issue voters to trust that he is the real deal,” Millennial Journal editor Robert Christian told the Catholic News Agency.
Some expressed hope that Trump’s selection of Mike Pence—a pro-life politician—would reflect a broader pro-life platform in the future. Pence was one of the few to even mention the issue during the RNC, noting in his acceptance speech that “for the sake of the sanctity of life … we must ensure that the next president appointing justices to the Supreme Court is Donald Trump.”
But watching the Republican and Democratic national conventions over the past couple weeks has only emphasized our country’s absence of a strong, vibrant pro-life platform. This, despite the fact that a significant group of Americans label themselves as pro-life, and would say that, if they were to be a one-issue voter, their “one issue” would be abortion.
Because of this, Ben Domenech suggested in June that there could be room in our politics for a third party—a Pro-Life Party—in the U.S. He wrote for The Federalist,
There are effectively no pro-life candidates for the presidency in 2016. Not Hillary Clinton, not Gary Johnson, not Jill Stein, and no, not Donald Trump.
This is a telling moment in the history of the pro-life cause, which has despite long odds retained a strong position in the American political fray in the 43 years since Roe v. Wade. For decades, the pro-life litmus test has been something Republican politicians with national aspirations had to pass, and pass convincingly. Failure to do so helped doom the presidential hopes of Rudy Giuliani and other candidates deemed too weak on the issue, and as recently as 2008 and 2012, Mitt Romney had to repeatedly beat back opposition borne from his earlier support for abortion.
The Trump nomination changes that. His judicial nominations may be acceptable to pro-lifers, but the only presidential candidate in American history on record as urging his past girlfriend to abort his unborn daughter is most certainly not pro-life. His personal evolution on the issue is nonexistent—he has not even bothered to pander to those who oppose abortion on demand by pretending to oppose taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood. Coupled with his desire to weaken the GOP platform on the issue and the clear weakness of national Republicans on issues of importance to abortion opponents in recent years, Trump’s nomination is a clear indication that Republican politicians no longer need to even pretend that the pro-life cause is a priority in their agenda.
… The pro-life movement today has been successful by many measures at the state level, but its Washington, DC-based incarnations have been too willing at times to give the Republican Party a pass. Pro-life Americans are already completely ignored by the Democratic Party, thanks to the great sort that has pushed them out of the coalition. Now they are being ignored by the Republicans as well.
This creates an opening for a third party that would follow in a different tradition from Libertarians or Greens. Instead, it would hold to the old-fashioned approach to third party efforts: an agenda that is unified around a single issue, and otherwise open to a wide degree of differentiation among candidates on every unrelated issue.
Domenech goes on to parse what such a party would like, practically, and what it might achieve. “The point of transforming this cause into a single issue party would be to reassert the importance of the pro-life agenda after decades of it being a low priority for politicians,” he writes. “It would also be an attempt to undo the great sort that has led pro-lifers into a monopartisan alliance with Republicans, an alliance that has produced little good in the past three decades.”
The absence of any vibrant, winsome pro-life politician on our national stages over the past couple weeks reveals a stark disconnect between the interests of national politicians and the passions and principles of their base. Their emphasis on our “children”—whether the children of Donald Trump or Michelle Obama, the children watching Trump, or children struggling with disabilities—has seemed ironic and saddening, as those of us who care about the pro-life issue look toward November with frustration. We need a party that acknowledges this disconnect, and addresses it.
As Corey Booker put it during his speech at the DNC, “Love—love knows that every American has worth and value, no matter what their background, race, religion, or sexual orientation.”
Perhaps we should add that “A person’s a person, no matter how small.”
Note: A previous version of this article incorrectly called Robert Christian the editor of Millennial magazine.