During the Republican primary, Donald Trump wasn’t the first choice for most pro-life voters. He was a recent convert to the pro-life position, and never appeared comfortable talking about the subject of abortion. Meanwhile, among his opponents were recognized pro-life champions who brought both eloquence and an impressive track record on the pro-life issue to the race.
That skepticism remained during the general election, even if the vast majority of pro-life voters cast their ballots for Trump. The urgency of defeating radical abortion advocate Hillary Clinton was clear. But would Trump really follow through on such promises as appointing a pro-life replacement for Antonin Scalia or defunding Planned Parenthood?
I was less skeptical than many about Trump’s conversion to the pro-life position. I noticed something interesting in the notorious 1999 Meet the Press interview in which Trump called himself “pro-choice in every respect.” Despite stating his support for legal abortion, even partial birth abortion, Trump simply did not talk about it the way that a “true believer” would. He said the topic of abortion makes him “cringe” and declared, “I hate everything it stands for.” So I was cautiously optimistic that Trump really had come over to the pro-life side, which his instincts had been pointing him toward all along.
And now that we’re a few weeks into the President-elect’s transition, we’re seeing some encouraging signs that Trump will, indeed, be good for the pro-life cause. I would point to three things in particular that give me reason to believe our work defending the lives of unborn children will be more successful under President Trump.
First, I was extremely encouraged by Trump’s 60 Minutes interview. Though he moderated his position on some issues—like whether he would seek to prosecute Hillary Clinton—he stayed firm on his intention to appoint pro-life justices to the Supreme Court. In fact, Trump went farther than any previous Republican candidate or President-elect, stating outright that he wanted to appoint justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade.
Next is Trump’s appointment of Rep. Jeff Sessions to head the Department of Justice—an agency that is especially critical for pro-life activists like me. Under President Obama, the DOJ put scores of peaceful pro-life groups, including the one I lead, on an FBI watch-list. Obama’s attorneys general intervened in pro-life cases before the Supreme Court, and refused to thoroughly investigate wrongdoing by the abortion giant Planned Parenthood.
With Jeff Sessions at Justice, pro-life activists like me can breathe a sigh of relief. Our right to speak out publicly against abortion, especially outside abortion facilities, will not be stamped out by a militantly pro-abortion attorney general.
Finally, there’s Trump’s appointment of Rep. Tom Price as Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. Few issues in recent years have mobilized the pro-life movement as much at the notorious Obamacare “HHS Mandate” imposed by former HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, which requires employers to provide free contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs through their health plans, regardless of their religious or moral objections.
I spoke out against the HHS Mandate when it was first proposed in 2011, calling it an attack on the sanctity of life by treating pregnancy as a disease requiring mandated preventive measures. In 2012, I organized over 400 Stand Up for Religious Freedom rallies throughout the country in opposition to the policy. Though the Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that some employers can be exempted from the rule, but the Obama administration is still trying to force religious groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor to obey. I expect Price, an outspoken opponent of Obamacare, to revoke the HHS Mandate, and work to dismantle other pro-abortion aspects of the legislation.
These are some encouraging first pro-life steps from President-elect Trump, though they should not lead us to become complacent about the future of the pro-life cause. This has always been a bottom-up movement, and the grassroots need to remain vigilant in demanding our new President keep every one of his pro-life promises. Our unborn brothers and sisters deserve nothing less from us.
Eric Scheidler is the executive director of the Pro-Life Action League, a national pro-life education and activism organization based in Chicago.