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Republicans Can’t Surrender Their Pro-Life Position on Abortion

A definitional moment is at hand for the Party of Lincoln.  With the news come forth that the Trump campaign is seeking, behind closed doors, to shorten the GOP platform and, in all likelihood, end its commitment to the constitutional right to life of the unborn, a fateful choice is here.

As the news makes clear, what transpires in Milwaukee next week when the Republican platform committee meets won’t occur behind closed doors at all. The political world is watching.  The reason is simple. The Republican Party may be the only political body on the planet to have endorsed the right to life of the unborn. It is the only body to have consistently fought for that right to life, and within the past two years, of course, it achieved a centerpiece of that commitment – the reversal of the Supreme Court fiat that made abortion on request the law of the land.

While the GOP’s stance on abortion is atypical among the nations, it is not atypical for the party.  The GOP was founded on two moral propositions. In 1856 the Party’s platform broke with those of the reigning parties of the day and called for an end to what it termed the “twin relics of barbarism” – slavery and polygamy. These issues reshuffled American politics at its core. The context was the extension of slavery in the territories and the question whether new states that permitted polygamy might enter the Union.

The “pro-choice” view – that the territories should decide these questions for themselves – had powerful purchase.  But a former Democrat from Pennsylvania, David Wilmot, took to the floor of Congress and championed what became known as the Wilmot Provisio.  It would have outlawed slavery in the territories, setting a national policy that marked the practice of ownership of black people on, as Lincoln phrased it, the “course of ultimate extinction.”

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By asserting its support in 1976, nearly half a century ago, for the right to life of the unborn as a predicate of our Constitution, the Republican Party was following its founding ethos. The platform acknowledged the difficulty of achieving this expansion of our understanding of who possesses the right to life, but from that day forward the Party has not flinched from this basic assertion. It should not do so now.

In fact, the case for protecting the unborn, on the basis of their shared humanity with every other American, and for protecting it at the national level is stronger than ever. One look at the details of the last substantive Republican platform tells us why.  National policy in 2024 is even more intricately engaged with these matters of natural rights and ethics than was the case in 1976. The 2016 GOP platform included more than a dozen provisions that addressed such questions as third party violence against pregnant women, partial-birth abortion procedures that rely on crushing the in utero child’s skull, human cloning, abortion funding in federal programs, and more.

The federal government pays for at least 42 percent of U.S. births. Its refusal to fund abortion, via the Hyde Amendment, has saved more than 2.5 million lives, a fact even the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute does not contest. The United States continues to be an international promoter and financier of permissive abortion policy. As long as the federal government drives health care policy domestically, and even internationally, as long as it runs military health care, the Veterans Administration, the District of Columbia and other federal enclaves, it will set and even dominate polices that recognize, or ransack, the right to life.

Since 1984, recalled as the high-water mark of modern GOP success at the polls, the Republican platform has included a close variant of the following:

The Constitution’s guarantee that no one can “be deprived of life, liberty or property” deliberately echoes the Declaration of Independence’s proclamation that “all” are “endowed by their Creator” with the inalienable right to life.  Accordingly, we assert the sanctity of human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental right to life which cannot be infringed. We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to children before birth.

Politically, everyone – most especially pro-life advocates who have fought an extreme Democratic Party and its media mouthpieces for decades – understands that legislating protections for prenatal boys and girls is an uphill climb. But history reminds us that even a century after the end of the Civil War segregation and bans on interracial marriage endured in the United States. The permanent things are always worth fighting for.

That is why the pro-life movement stands with GOP stalwarts who will fight for life next week in Milwaukee. Their mission is why political parties exist – not to divvy up the spoils, but to uphold our deepest ideals.

LifeNews Note: Chuck Donovan is a 50-year veteran of the national debate over the right to life and served from 1981-89 as a writer in the Reagan White House. He is the president of March for Life Action.

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