In March of 2016, David French planted a flag in the ground with an article titled, “Why I Changed My Mind and Joined the #NeverTrump Movement.” In it French declared that he would not vote for Donald Trump in the general election against Hillary Clinton, even if it meant that Justice Scalia’s vacant Supreme Court seat would be filled by a progressive justice. “I have spent my entire adult life advocating against abortion and working to protect the unborn,” French explained, but the potential dangers of a Trump presidency eclipsed those concerns. “Our nation can survive lost elections, but over the long term it cannot survive [Trump].”
Later that month, French doubled down with an article titled, “As Nominee, Donald Trump Would Do Incalculable Damage to the Pro-Life Cause.” “Get ready for a slow-motion pro-life train wreck if Trump’s the nominee,” French warned. Trump would “make … the pro-life movement look bad” and have “no idea how to talk about arguably the most sensitive issue in politics.” Months later during the campaign, Trump promised to appoint “pro-life” justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade, but French was not convinced. On the eve of the 2016 election, he wrote, “Reject Them Both—It’s the Practical Choice.”
Donald Trump would go on to win the presidency and appoint Justices Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barrett. On June 24, 2022, these three justices joined Alito and Thomas in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health to overrule Roe v. Wade. The Dobbs decision was a complete victory for the pro-life cause. Overruling Roe was the hope and prayer of millions of Christians who believed they would never see the day in their lifetime. Now the end of abortion is in view. State by state, pro-lifers can enact laws to abolish the slaughter of innocent children.
With the benefit of hindsight, every Christian in America — even those who agreed with David French and followed his lead — can now say with a sigh of relief, “Thank God the country didn’t listen to David French.” Indeed, thank God pro-life voters chose instead to gamble on Donald Trump with the hope of transforming the Supreme Court. That gambit has now paid off beyond the pro-life movement’s wildest dreams. The end of Roe is a watershed, and it would not have happened if David French had gotten his way. Even if Trump’s election was “meant for evil,” as French believed, “God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20).
Yet David French is still struggling to see the good. Two days after the Dobbs decision, French published a gloomy article titled, “Roe Is Reversed, and the Right Isn’t Ready.” While stating up front that he felt “joy” over Roe v. Wade being overturned, he confessed that he is “far more conflicted than I ever imagined I’d be.” French explained that his “attitude [of] joy” is “tempered by disquiet in my spirit … [and] that disquiet has only grown.” The source of that disquiet is Donald Trump.
According to French, “the Republican branch of the American church is adopting the political culture of … the MAGA movement.” Because of Trump, “too many members of pro-life America are contributing to” a culture of “hate and death.” “The Dobbs ruling has landed in the midst of a sick culture, and the pro-life right is helping make it sick.” Specifically, he faults pro-lifers with enacting “performative and punitive legislation” prohibiting abortion at the state level, stoking “argument and division” in their communities, and with hypocrisy. “Christian fear, disinformation, and defiance” over COVID-19 vaccines, French argues, led to “a wave of death,” making it inconsistent for those same pro-lifers to “now loudly demand that other people sacrifice for life”—i.e., be prohibited from killing their children through abortion.
These are strange sentiments to express just days after a pro-life victory of biblical proportions. But to his credit, French is being consistent with his own peculiar beliefs about abortion. As French explained in a recent article for The Atlantic, he believes that “banning abortion doesn’t end abortion.” Even if the law prohibits abortion nationwide, women will still procure so-called back-alley abortions “until we learn why women seek abortions and how our nation can address the concerns that lead them to make that choice.” Unless we “address” those “concerns,” legal prohibition will “ultimately defeat its very purpose.”
I call this perspective the “Don’t Kill Babies, Unless” view. Under this view, it is important to prohibit mothers from killing their children, butwe should allow such killing until we first “address the concerns that lead [mothers] to make that choice.” This perspective stands in contrast to the traditional pro-life view — what I call the “Don’t Kill Babies, Period” view. Under that view, it is critically important to minister to the hurts, fears, and needs of women who seek abortions, but it is most important to outlaw the killing of children. The evil of abortion — the killing of living, innocent babies in the womb through poison, lethal injection, vacuum suction, dismemberment, or some combination thereof — must be abolished at all costs, even if those costs include profound economic, social, or emotional consequences for mothers who are unable to kill their child to ease those burdens.
Of these two irreconcilable viewpoints, the first view — David French’s view — is wrong for at least three reasons:
First, it wrongly assumes that changing the law will not alter the behavior of mothers or shape their sentiments in a pro-life direction over time, just as the abolition of slavery and segregation effectively ended those injustices and achieved a lasting shift in racial attitudes across society.
Second, it sacrifices real pro-life policy victories for utopian dreams of social change, choosing to allow abortion to stand — and millions more babies to die — until society adequately “addresses the concerns” of mothers. In his Atlantic article, French admits the utopian nature of this approach, calling it “deceptively simple in concept, yet extraordinarily difficult in practice.” It is a recipe for a never-ending, wait-and-see approach to abortion reminiscent of the bygone argument that slavery should only be abolished once the economic and social conditions necessitating its existence have first been eliminated.
Third, and most importantly, it betrays an ambivalence about abortion by treating the evil of abortion as equivalent to the tragedy of a mother having to carry her child to term without proper care and support. That is indeed tragic when it happens, but the suggestion that it could ever justify the mother killing her innocent child is not a consistent pro-life position.
An incremental approach to pro-life legislation will be necessary in many states, but it is telling that David French is not merely advocating incrementalism. He finds it difficult to even celebrate Dobbs, and as he wrote in The Atlantic, he believes that “the best way for pro-life Americans” to respond to Roe is “not” to “end … abortion,” but rather “to remake our nation into a culture that is far more hospitable to mother and child.” This is the same advice French
gave about Donald Trump — embrace short-term political defeat to pursue a utopian vision.
We should pay it with the same respect.
Steven Begakis is an attorney who practices constitutional and administrative law.