Millions of people plan to vote for Donald Trump next week primarily because he has promised to appoint federal judges committed to abolishing abortion rights.
In their minds, the billionaire’s wobbly pledge to protect the unborn by itself excuses his obvious vices: crudeness, cruelty, intolerance, incompetence, ignorance, nepotism, nihilism, mendacity, and authoritarianism.
These single-issue voters are both brave and naive to place so much trust in the Republican nominee. Trump has deceived, abused, burned and betrayed everyone who ever relied on him: spouses, family, tenants, business partners, investors, contractors, customers, donors, etc.
Why, then, do his anti-abortion backers believe the billionaire would deviate from all past practice and keep faith with them?
Pro-lifers have learned to keep their expectations low. Every election cycle for more four decades, Republicans have mouthed the right words to win anti-abortion votes. But at the federal level, the GOP rarely risks real political capital on the issue. Eager to avoid alienating the pro-choice majority, Republicans cynically placate “values voters” with theatrical rhetoric and a few anti-abortion nominees to the federal bench — but not so many as to seriously jeopardize Roe v. Wade.
In their hearts, pro-lifers know Trump will not be any different when it comes to abortion.
And they are okay with that. Values voters cast their ballots for the GOP not to protect the unborn, but as an act of ritual purity — to save their own souls. They feel they have done their duty if they just vote for candidates who purport to oppose abortion.
Even if those elected officials nearly always fail them.
As long as those silver-tongued devils promise to save the unborn, their constituents can claim a clean conscience.
But only if they ignore the evidence.
In fact, conservative politicians — through action, inaction or obstruction — have effected policies that hurt families, women, children and the unborn.
If pro-lifers really wanted to reduce terminated pregnancies, then they would vote for Hillary Clinton. To grasp the reasons, we need to understand why the abortion rate has dropped dramatically since 1990.
U.S. Abortion Rates, 1965–2013
Despite some rhetoric on behalf of the unborn, neither Ronald Reagan (1981–89) nor Bush the Elder (1989–93) did anything to dent the abortion rate during their presidencies. In fact, terminated pregnancies peaked on their watch: from 1987–1992, the US averaged about 1.4 million abortions every year. That amounted to roughly 350 abortions for every 1,000 live births.
Enter Bill Clinton (1993–2001). He promised to make abortion “safe, legal and rare,” and he delivered: terminated pregnancies fell throughout his term, to about 860,000 by 2000 — a nearly 40% decline, or about 250 abortions for every 1,000 live births.
Abortions fell only 4% under Bush the Younger (2001–09), supposedly a staunch opponent of the procedure.
During Obama’s first term (2009–13), terminated pregnancies fell 15% — dipping under 700,000 per year — less than half the rate seen under Reagan and Bush the Elder.
What is going on here? The above numbers seem to anoint Bill Clinton as the greatest anti-abortion president, with Obama a strong second, Shrub a distant third, and Bush and Reagan as abject failures, languishing in last place.
It seems scarcely possible that two staunch Democratic defenders of reproductive rights should prove more successful than three Republicans in reducing abortions, yet that is in fact what happened.
Yet, all of this took place without any of the above presidents signing any major laws or executive orders relating specifically to abortion.
Still, federal policy played an important role.
Generally, financial hardship makes women more likely to end pregnancies. By mismanaging the economy, recent Republican presidents hurt everyone, but especially increased pressure on prospective mothers. Conversely, by fostering strong economic recoveries, Clinton and Obama substantially eased their burdens.
Trump’s protectionist trade wars, by contrast, would wreck the economy and jeopardize the economic security of pregnant women.
Democratic programs encouraged women to choose childbirth over abortion by providing direct support for low-income families and working mothers. Clinton signed the Family Medical Leave Act, expanded the Earned Income Tax Credit, and launched the Child Health Insurance Program. Despite fierce Republican opposition, Obama significantly expanded Medicaid (health insurance for low-income families) through the Affordable Care Act.
If Trump keeps his promise to repeal Obamacare and strip insurance from millions of poor American families, expect an uptick in abortions.
For three decades now, conservative federal judges gradually nibbled away at the edges of Roe v. Wade. This enabled some red states to impose restrictions on reproductive rights, but this has contributed only modestly to declining abortion rates.
Increasingly liberal social attitudes have also encouraged women to eschew abortion. Once scandalous and stigmatized, giving birth out of wedlock is now the unremarkable norm. Although sex education in public schools continues to vary in quality, improved contraception and the increased availability of information on sex generally has, by sharply cutting the number of unwanted pregnancies, had the effect of reducing the number of abortions.
Paradoxically, liberal policies and values have proven most effective for reducing abortions — far more effective than conservative efforts to violate the constitutional rights of American women to sovereignty over their own bodies.
That makes Hillary Clinton the best candidate for women and the unborn.