Purity Versus Pragmatism

Success often begets conflict. If you’ve seen the classic film Lawrence of Arabia you’ll remember how T.E. Lawrence was able to unite the Arab tribes against their common enemy, the Ottoman Turks, in World War I. However, as soon as the war was over, the tribes began fighting each other once more, leaving Lawrence dismayed and demoralized.

Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization was perhaps the greatest conservative victory of our generation. For nearly half a century, the pro-life movement was united behind one goal: overturn Roe v. Wade and return the issue to the states. Once that happened, the movement immediately fractured, because it had no plan for what to do after it achieved its goal.

On the cynical side, the pro-life movement has been a cash cow for conservative organizations for a long time, so for many of those, Dobbs was the worst possible outcome. They could no longer raise endless money from pro-life conservatives promising to overturn Roe, defund Planned Parenthood, etc, so they need to find a way to keep the issue alive.

Talk of a national abortion ban comes both from those whose careers depend on fundraising off the issue as well as those who hold a truly uncompromising position on the issue of abortion. It therefore sparked sharp controversy when Donald Trump said this week that he was fine leaving the issue to the states.

Many ardent pro-life activists and abortion abolitionists have reacted strongly, saying that Trump made the wrong move here, and that he needs to get behind a national abortion ban. I believe this misunderstands political reality.

In my perfect world, abortion would be completely banned. The moment of conception creates a new human being with unique DNA, a being that has never before existed in all of history. Everything from that moment until the moment of death is a process of development — humans require nurturing for many years after birth — so arbitrarily drawing a line and saying that destroying that life before a certain point is barbaric. I believe that societies should be judged based on how they treat the most vulnerable, and there is nobody more vulnerable than a preborn child.

Nevertheless, we live in a republic, which means that we cannot advance policy without political power. When abolitionists say that Trump is “settling” for legalized abortion, they come across as saying that it’s already banned and Trump is trying to legalize it. That’s entirely backwards. After Dobbs, abortion became a state issue. Here in Idaho, we banned it, because we are a state that values human life. Other states like California have kept it legal because a majority of citizens there approve of this dark sacrament.

The political reality is that there is no possible way to pass a national abortion ban at this time:

  • First, Republicans don’t control both chambers of Congress. Democrats have veto power over any possible federal law. The last pro-life Democrat left the building many years ago.
  • Second, even when they had the majority, Republicans could not do so much as defund Planned Parenthood. If Republicans took control of Congress and the White House this November it will still not be enough to pass a national ban.
  • Third, even if Republicans in Congress did somehow pass such a ban, the Supreme Court would likely strike it down the same way it struck down Roe. To truly ban abortion at the national level would require a constitutional amendment passed by Congress and 38 out of the 50 states.

None of that is feasible at this time. Abortion is sadly popular with a lot of people. Even many self-proclaimed conservatives want generous exceptions built into state-level abortion bans. This issue also fires up the left, so putting abortion on the ballot makes it that much harder to win elections, especially at the national level. Trump’s political instincts to take this matter off the table are correct.

This is not the first time that Donald Trump has run afoul of the pro-life movement. During his first campaign, he explained that he was newly arrived at the pro-life position. When asked if mothers who get abortions should be prosecuted, Trump said yes. This was apparently the wrong answer, because many pro-life leaders recoil at the thought of holding women accountable, despite saying they believe abortion is murder. Trump dutifully moderated his position.

Nevertheless, he not only became the first sitting president to speak at the March for Life, he appointed three Supreme Court justices who were instrumental in overturning Roe. It is safe to say that Trump did more for the pro-life cause than any politician in history.

I believe the pro-life movement needs to step back and consider its place in a post-Dobbs America. I see two parallel paths that we should follow:

First, we need to focus on the states. We have banned abortion in Idaho, but the left is going to try its best to undo that accomplishment. Watch for an initiative petition in the next year or two to legalize abortion in our state. We must be ready to counter that in the discourse, as well as keep the pressure on our lawmakers to resist the calls to water down our ban.

As I was writing this, the Arizona Supreme Court handed down a decision upholding a pre-Roe abortion ban in that state. I consider that good news — that is the way forward in a post-Dobbs nation. Unfortunately, Senate candidate Kari Lake issued a statement condemning the ruling and trying to attach herself to Trump’s coattails on this issue. It appears that she wants more exceptions than the current law provides.

Lake will be speaking at the Bonneville County Lincoln Day Dinner on Saturday, April 20, so perhaps attendees can ask for more details on her position.

Abortion is big business. Planned Parenthood profits off the ongoing holocaust of the unborn, so they are laser focused on keeping it legal and maintaining demand. I appreciate Rep. Bruce Skaug for bringing a bill this year to disallow abortion providers from producing public school sex education curricula, because that is one vector for creating continuous demand.

That brings me to the second path: We need to restore a culture of life in our country. The last 50-100 years have seen a steady erosion of the moral foundations of our society, and widespread support for abortion is a symptom of that degradation. Having children is treated as a curse or a burden rather than a blessing. Sexual relations have become as casual and meaningless as snacking on junk food. We are taught to live for today, rather than tomorrow or the next generation.

Fixing our culture requires long term investment in our churches, schools, and families. We must live deliberately, and be deliberate about how we raise our children. The future is too important to outsource.

Even Republican stars like Kari Lake publicly support some abortion. That should tell you where our culture is today, and the hill we must climb to fix it. Until we change the culture we will never have the ability to completely outlaw abortion, so that’s where we need to start. We need a pragmatic approach that, while not abandoning our moral beliefs, recognizes the reality of the battlefield. World War II raged for nearly four years after the US entered the war in December 1941. Allied forces could not simply drop into Tokyo, Rome, and Berlin and call it good; they needed to gain ground, inch by devastating inch, at the cost of many lives.

We must look at our battle from the same perspective. If a total ban on abortion is like taking Tokyo, then Dobbs was the Battle of Midway, the turning point in the Pacific War.

Auron MacIntyre summed it up well on Twitter today:

Did the left run on open borders and trans kids? No

Do you have open borders and trans kids? Yes

Why? Because the left secured power first, and advanced its agenda afterwards

Sitting back and saying what should happen in our country is the most impotent thing to do in a democratic republic. To create policy, we need political power, which means winning elections. If we lose those elections, then the left gains even more power, and will use it to implement their policies, including legalized abortion up until birth, or even afterward.

We must not get ahead of ourselves. Focus on the states and focus on the culture. Retake our country and our culture inch by devastating inch. Don’t kneecap our generals because they’re not at the finish line, because this race is just beginning.

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