MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Wednesday, the 30th day of May, 2018.
Glad to have you along for today’s episode of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher.
First up on The World and Everything in It: Washington Wednesday. Today, President Trump and the pro-life movement.
In a contentious campaign for president in 2016, no issue between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton was more contentious than abortion.
Two years ago, candidate Trump sought to draw a bright-line contrast with Clinton. Here he is in a town hall interview with Greta van Susteren on Fox.
TRUMP: I am pro-life. I’m pro-life. Ronald Reagan was pro-life with the exceptions, ok? Life of the mother, as you know, rape, incest… That was Ronald Reagan, and that’s been me.
But it wasn’t always him.
Seventeen years prior, Donald Trump told Tim Russert on Meet the Press the exact opposite.
TRUMP: I’m very pro-choice. I hate the concept of abortion. I hate it. I hate everything it stands for… But you still—I just believe in choice. And it again it may be a little bit of a New York background because there is some different attitude in different parts of the country, and I was you know raised in New York…
RUSSERT: But you would not ban it?
RUSSERT: Or ban partial-birth abortion?
TRUMP: No, I wouldn’t. I am pro-choice in every respect.
REICHARD: Many pointed to the 2016 election as the turning point for Trump, but it actually happened years before. In a 2011 interview with David Brody he told the story of a friend who didn’t want the child his wife was carrying, yet decided to keep him and came to see that child as “the apple of his eye” once he was born.
Many pro-life voters doubted Trump’s change of heart—until a pivotal moment in the third presidential debate with Hillary Clinton. Moderator Chris Wallace asked Trump whether he would nominate Supreme Court justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade.
TRUMP: Well, if that would happen, because I am pro-life, and I will be appointing pro-life judges, I would think that that would go back to the individual states.
EICHER: That was a line no presidential candidate had crossed. Even self-described pro-life candidates such as George W. Bush stopped short of a litmus test for judicial nominees. After Clinton defended the legality of late-term abortions, Trump went even further.
TRUMP: If you go with what Hillary is saying, in the 9th month you can take the baby and rip the baby out of the womb of the mother just prior to the birth of the baby. Now you can say that that’s ok, and Hillary can say that that’s ok, but it’s not ok with me.
Since taking office, President Trump has frequently touted his pro-life views. In January he addressed the March for Life via videoconference—a first. And last week he gave the keynote address at another pro-life event in the nation’s capital.
At the Susan B. Anthony List’s Campaign for Life Gala, Trump spoke for about 30 minutes.
TRUMP: When I ran for office I pledged to stand for life and as president that is exactly what I’ve done. And I have kept my promise. And I think everybody here understands that fully. One of my very first acts as president was to reinstate the Mexico City policy to prevent taxpayer dollars from funding abortion centers overseas. (cheers)…A few months later with Marjorie in the Oval Office, she was sitting there with us and she stood then and signed legislation to overturn the rule that forced states to fund abortion providers with taxpayer dollars…
The president went on to cite his judicial appointments and announced plans to pull Title X funding for organizations that perform abortions. He closed with allusions to Scripture.
TRUMP: As the Lord says in Jeremiah before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. Before you were born, I set you apart. When a mother and a father hold a new baby in their arms, they are changed forever…. When we look into the eyes of a newborn child there is no doubt we see the beauty of the human soul and the mystery of God’s great creation. We know that every life has meaning. And that every life is totally worth protecting. (cheers)
You heard the president reference “Marjorie” a moment ago, and that was for Marjorie Dannenfelser. She’s president of the Susan B. Anthony List, and she chaired the president’s “pro-life coalition” during the 2016 campaign. She’s on the line now to discuss the president’s speech, his record, and the upcoming elections.
MARJORIE DANNENFELSER, GUEST: Good morning!
Well, what was your overall reaction to President Trump’s speech?
DANNENFELSER: Oh, it was fantastic, it was so on-spot, and he chose that for the moment to announce the Title X regulations, those family planning regulations that keep abortion out of family planning, It was just beautiful, and he was spontaneous and kind and it was just a great night.
Now there was one thing that he said that actually did cause some controversy. And I’m going to play the clip now, so have a listen:
TRUMP: But if Democrats gain power they will try to reverse these incredible gains. So your vote in 2018 is every bit as important as your vote in 2016. Although I’m not sure I really believe that, but you know. (laughter) I don’t know who wrote that line, I’m not sure…(laughter)…but it’s still important! Remember.
So I know SBA List is working awfully hard to elect pro-life candidates this fall in the 2018 elections. So what was your reaction to that statement?
DANNENFELSER: Oh, to be honest it was kind of a laugh line. I think it was, you know, it was kind of poking fun at himself, actually, by saying what anyone would expect Trump in his inimitable way to say, which is, you know, no election has ever been more important than the one I was elected in. (laughs) But I think, arguably, you could say, look, this president was elected and it was one of the most important elections in history because of the consequences of the Supreme Court. Everyone always says this election is the most important and the honest truth is right now, because of the election of Trump, this is now one of the most important elections ever because we’re on the verge of appointing that last justice who could overturn Roe vs. Wade.
Well, Susan B. Anthony List has been more active in Senate races than the House races this time around. What’s the strategy there?
DANNENFELSER: Well, it really does center around the Supreme Court. We have to have a Senate that will confirm a justice that will be that justice who is that last vote to overturn Roe. It could be two, it could even be three Supreme Court justices. The House is, of course, very, very important. Without it, none of the pro-life agenda will make its way to the desk of the president. So it’s obviously important. But in the long-run, it’s the Senate where the major legacy decisions are going to get made.
Well, speaking of elections, it’s been just over two years since, I think, you were part of what seemed like an unprecedented primary effort to prevent Donald Trump from getting elected. It was in a letter dated January of 2016 signed by you and other pro-life leaders. And it said, “We urge Republican ….voters to support anyone but Donald Trump.”
So, I’m curious about what was the journey for you over these last two years and what changed your mind about Mr. Trump?
DANNENFELSER: Well, I’d start by saying it was the happiest wrong I have ever been. I’ve never been so happy to be so wrong. What changed was his following through on what he said he was. He said that he is a pro-life candidate who believes in this very strongly. He started to appoint people around him. Like, the vice president would be one, also a whole host of people that later went to the White House with him that are very, very profoundly pro-life people, people who came up in the pro-life movement now at this right and left hand enacting policy. Then, of course, policy once he’s sworn in and all that is — became very clear that this guy really means what he says. That’s why we call him now the most pro-life president in history, not because we’re God and we know his heart, but because he’s governing as the most pro-life president in history. So, what changed was day-to-day conversations, interaction with the campaign, with him, with the letter that he — I said I would be his coordinator for the presidential battleground states if he made some concrete commitments to the pro-life movement. He did that in writing, and we used that letter every single place we went and everyone who would listen, voters, media, everywhere. So it was really walking the walk. That’s what changed.
And, as you said, there have been a lot of pro-life victories—and the president referenced several of those at the gala last week. And yet conservative critics note that outside of Justice Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court, most of these moves could be reversed by the next administration because there’s been no legislative victory. No push to pass a conscience bill or the 20-week abortion ban—and Planned Parenthood is still receiving millions of dollars in taxpayer dollars every day. So, is that a disappointment?
DANNENFELSER: Well, it’s a disappointment, but it’s not a disappointment in this president. It’s a disappointment in the Senate actually responding to the will of the people because we simply don’t have the numbers in the Senate to do what we need to do. The president, regarding the pain-capable bill, that 20-week limit on abortion, that bill, sent a statement of administration policy saying, “We want this bill to come to my desk.” And when we do better in our legislative branch, when we have more senators, we have a lot greater possibility that we will have some of those great gains that you spoke of. One thing that can’t be reversed is new Supreme Court justices. That cannot be reversed. Again, that is a legacy gift that he will provide that no new president can ever turn back.
What are your priorities between now and November?
DANNENFELSER: Right now all of our efforts, all of our focus are on eight states where we need to pick up new senators who are pro-life. These are all states where the incumbent senator is weak and is voting pro-abortion over and over. So, it’s Florida, Ohio, Indiana, Missouri, and we’re getting ready to move into West Virginia and North Dakota. And then Wisconsin and Montana. And so we’re going — we’re just about to reach our millionth home in those states, talking to voters, making sure they understand what’s at stake and how their incumbent senator is voting against that pain-capable bill, against defunding Planned Parenthood. I would ask that people pray for those folks that are going to all those homes, having all those conversations. It’s very meaningful and the consequences are enormous.
Marjorie Dannenfelser is president of the Susan B. Anthony List. Thank you for speaking with us today!
DANNENFELSER: It was a joy. I look forward to it again.