Some 45 years ago, in January 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court delivered one of the most controversial decisions, fraught with political and cultural consequences, the case of Roe v. Wade, which recognized the right to abortion as protected by the Constitution. It brought about strong objections, variously justified, and caused a permanent division between two camps: anti-abortion and pro-abortion rights.
It also led to stormy discussions. On the anniversary of the court’s decision, an annual March for Life takes place in Washington, as well as in many other cities. Some 20,000 people participated in the first march, and that number has now risen to almost 1 million.
An Important Declaration
This year, for the first time in the history of the March for Life, President Donald Trump spoke to Americans from an LED display, directly from the White House. He declared, “Under my administration, we will always defend the very first right in the Declaration of Independence and that is the right to life ... You come from many backgrounds, many places. But you all come for one beautiful cause: to build a society where life is celebrated, protected, and cherished ... The March for Life is a movement born out of love. You love your families, you love your neighbors, you love our nation, and you love every child, born and unborn, because you believe that every life is sacred, that every child is a precious gift from God.”
Previously, only two presidents, Ronald Reagan, in 1987, and George W. Bush, in 2003, expressed their support for the march, but only by telephone. Reagan, famous for his remark as governor of California, “I've noticed that everyone who is for abortion has already been born,” signed a bill allowing for abortion, but later claimed that had he known the consequences of it, he would have never put his signature on it.
Trump added that, along with North Korea and China, America’s abortion law is the most brutal, and he urged Congress to reform the existing law. Although the Roe v. Wade decision cannot be changed through legislation, introducing legal restrictions regarding abortion methods and conditions under which a woman can abort her child would radically decrease a number of abortions. The court itself could change its decision given that the majority of the judges would vote in favor of it.
Trump’s speech was indeed surprising. He was perceived as a president-businessman with a rather libertarian life story for a reason. After Trump’s election, Playboy founder Hugh Hefner claimed that Trump, as a libertine chosen by Republicans, including Christian evangelists fearing a possible victory by Hillary Clinton who was considered to be radically left in her cultural views, heralded the demise of the conservative revolution in America.
Nevertheless, Trump, for either personal or political reasons, has been strongly involved in protests against the right to abortion. Not only did he appointed a conservative judge, Neil Gorsuch, to the U.S. Supreme Court, but Trump also ended foreign assistance and financing to international nongovernment organizations who provide or promote abortions, Planned Parenthood in particular. (It was their initiative that led to the Roe v. Wade case.) Trump’s administration initiated an investigation into Planned Parenthood relating to reports that Planned Parenthood was trafficking in illicit baby body parts. A ban on such sales was initially imposed by Reagan, upheld by George H. W. Bush, reintroduced by Clinton and maintained by former President Barack Obama.
Trump has also filled his administration with people from anti-abortion circles and introduced a conscience protection clause into Obama’s health care law.* In January 2018 he also announced a new division within the Department of Health and Human Services devoted to conscience and religious freedom which supports doctors who refuse to perform an abortion, as a part of the Office of Civil Rights that enforces “laws and regulations protecting the conscience and forbidding coercion when it comes to abortion and euthanasia among others.” That division is also responsible for protecting free expression and the exercise of religious rights, and protects against religion-based discrimination.
To Break the Evil
Although in the opinion of many, such moves by Trump are strictly political, they are undoubtedly incisive and persistent. They are meant to break down the reasoning behind the Roe v. Wade ruling and American legal culture that abortion is a strictly medical matter, and because of that, it is not a fundamentally moral issue, but rather a doctor’s obligation.
The author is a professor in the Faculty of Law and Administration at the Jagiellonian University.
*Editor’s note: The “conscience protection” clause refers to policy action taken by the Trump administration in October 2017 allowing virtually any employer to claim a religious or moral objection to the birth control mandate in Obama’s health care law to provide FDA-approved contraception at no cost.
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