Lauretta Brown is the Register’s Washington-based staff writer.
President Donald Trump released a letter to pro-life leaders and activists Thursday, committing to advancing the pro-life cause in three ways if he is reelected in November. This letter builds off of the letter he sent to pro-lifers in 2016, revisiting some of the promises made there and citing what he has accomplished during his first term in office.
An assessment of President Trump’s pro-life commitments in 2016 and 2020 shows that he has made significant progress on his pro-life agenda while major battles on the issue continue.
In 2016, President Trump wrote that he was committed to “nominating pro-life justices to the U.S. Supreme Court,” signing “the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would end painful late-term abortions nationwide,” defunding “Planned Parenthood as long as they continue to perform abortions,” and “making the Hyde Amendment permanent law to protect taxpayers from having to pay for abortions.”
As President Trump highlighted in his letter last week, he did transform “the federal judiciary with the confirmations of Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court and over 200 lower court judges,” in relation to the first promise. Whether or not this helps the pro-life cause at the Supreme Court remains to be seen, however, as the justices have remained reluctant to take up cases on abortion, and, as was evidenced in the court’s decision on June Medical v. Russo, Chief Justice Roberts’ vote on the issue remains unpredictable.
As for President Trump’s commitment to signing the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would ban abortion after 20 weeks in pregnancy, he did not get the chance to sign the bill, as the legislation failed in the Senate in February and hasn’t passed Congress the many previous times it has been introduced.
The significance of the legislation lies in the fact that studies show that the unborn child can feel pain at 20 weeks. Additionally, an increasing number of children have survived birth at 21-22 weeks, leading some to question if the viability standard in Roe v. Wade should move from 24 weeks to this earlier point in the pregnancy.
President Trump has been unable to fully defund Planned Parenthood after an unsuccessful attempt to do so in 2017, when the measure failed in the Senate by just three votes. However, Trump has still succeeded in removing a significant amount of funding from the nation’s largest abortion provider. The administration defunded $60 million from Planned Parenthood in August 2019, through a Health and Human Services’ rule barring Title X funding recipients from referring for abortion. His expansion of the Reagan-era Mexico City Policy banning the use of taxpayer funds on abortion overseas cost the International Planned Parenthood Federation an estimated $100 million in U.S. dollars.
The president’s commitment to making the Hyde Amendment “permanent law” to stop taxpayer-funded abortions was not accomplished during his first term, but the urgency of such an effort has increased due to Democrats’ increased opposition to what was previously understood as a bipartisan amendment to spending bills that meant that those opposed to abortions did not have to pay for them. Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden changed his stance to one of opposition to the Hyde Amendment last year, and this month House Speaker Nancy Pelosi signaled that the 44-year-old amendment will be omitted from spending bills next year if Democrats retain the majority in the House of Representatives.
In his letter to pro-life leaders last week, President Trump recommitted to continuing his “transformation of the federal judiciary, filling the Supreme Court with judges who will respect the Constitution and not legislate an abortion agenda from the bench” and overcoming “Democratic filibusters in Congress to finally pass and sign into law the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, and the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act.” He also promised to “fully defund the big abortion industry such as Planned Parenthood of our tax dollars.”
As Pew noted in July, President Trump has appointed around 200 judges with lifetime appointments to federal courts and “has appointed more federal appeals court judges to date than any recent president at the same point in their presidency.”
His commitment to overcome Democratic filibusters in Congress to push through pro-life legislation is of course dependent on whether the Democrats retain the majority in the House and whether Republicans can hang on to their majority in the Senate.
House and Senate Democrats have repeatedly signaled their opposition to the bills President Trump mentioned, including the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, which would require that doctors use “the same degree of professional skill, care, and diligence to preserve the life and health” of a child born alive after an abortion attempt as “any other child born alive at the same gestational age” and ensure the child “is immediately transported and admitted to a hospital.” House Democrats blocked a discharge petition to vote on the measure 80 times last year.
The makeup of Congress following the 2020 election will also help determine what President Trump can accomplish if reelected in terms of fully defunding Planned Parenthood, which received nearly $617 million in federal funding in its fiscal year ending in June 2019, according to its most recent annual report.