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When a 'pro-life' candidate isn't on the ballot: Biden, Trump and the fight for human rights

jonathan frank
Courtesy of Jonathan Frank

I was a wide-eyed 22-year-old Congressional staffer when the right to life movement first gripped my conscience.

My boss, a grandmother and career nurse-turned Congresswoman, and I were tucked away in her office working on remarks for her to deliver about the murder trial of abortionist Kermit Gosnell. The Philadelphia doctor was convicted of murdering three newborn abortion survivors and committing manslaughter against a 41-year-old patient who died of a drug overdose at his clinic, which prosecutors described as a “house of horrors.”

Struck by the weight of Gosnell’s crimes and societal numbness to violence against human life in the womb, my boss’s voice broke as she shared with me about what she wanted to say to her constituents. The passion with which she spoke was contagious.

In that conversation, my understanding of the humanity of the unborn and their intrinsic dignity and value transcended from a head knowledge to an unshakable conviction of the heart. I was awakened to this systematic injustice against our most vulnerable people group – fully human, but not afforded the legal protections we bestow to a dog – and I couldn’t look away. It is a moment I find myself reflecting on today as yet another Presidential election approaches.

In the years since that 2013 conversation in a Congressional office building, my understanding of what it means to be pro-life has grown bigger and wider.  I became convinced that a winning pro-life movement needed to fight for legal protections for the unborn child and stronger social supports for expectant parents with equal vigor.

I learned that we must actively resist attempts to make our cause a mere outpost of the Republican Party and instead work relentlessly to engage leaders of all political stripes in this battle for human rights.

I longed for a day when my millennial peers would see the right to life movement as a critical front in the work of social justice, rather than a relic of their parents’ culture wars; less akin to the fight against marriage equality and more closely associated with efforts to stamp out human trafficking.

And then Donald Trump became President.

President Trump crystalized the fundamental difference for me between being “pro-life” and “anti-abortion.”

I have watched for four years as he caused deep harm to efforts to show that a pro-life worldview is pro-woman and pro-science; that our movement is born out of compassion and respect for God’s image bearers, rather than political power or control of anyone’s personal autonomy.

The President will leave office – whether in mere months or four more years – with a right-to-life movement that traded short term policy gains for long-term setbacks to the broader work of restoring a culture where respect for life in all its stages can flourish.

While President Trump presents a distorted, narrow vision of a pro-life ethic, his opponent offers none at all. Former Vice President Joe Biden’s gentle words about unity and decency are a thin sheen atop the most indecent, barbaric posture toward the human rights of the unborn in Presidential campaign history.

As appalled as I am at what President Trump has done to our movement, I am every bit as concerned with those who identify as pro-life and believe that a Biden presidency could possibly be the antidote. Consider the differences between the Biden platform and that of President Barack Obama.

Whereas President Obama expressed vague support for efforts to protect unborn children from late-term abortions as a candidate, Biden and Senator Kamala Harris have failed to enumerate a single protection that even late-term unborn children are owed.

When Women Speak Out PAC, a pro-life group, accurately asserted that the Biden-Harris ticket supports abortion, paid for by taxpayer dollars, until the moment of birth, The Dispatch, a center-right news website attempted to fact check their claim and ultimately issued an apology to the group – conceding that their serious charge held up to scrutiny.

While President Barack Obama signed an Executive Order affirming the Hyde Amendment – a bipartisan, decades-old provision attached to annual funding bills ensuring that taxpayer dollars would not be used to fund elective abortions – Joe Biden has rejected it, bowing to pressure from the most extreme elements of his party. 

If Biden is elected President, House Democratic leaders say they would move quickly to scrap this longstanding compromise. An analysis from the Charlotte Lozier Institute finds this would result in the additional loss of 60,000 unborn children every year – most of them children of color.

The steady decline in abortions that has persisted since 1980 across Democratic and Republican administrations, now reaching its lowest level in recorded history, would be upended by this seismic change in abortion funding.

If we in the pro-life community truly believe what we say we do about the personhood of the unborn child, then we will inevitably recognize this as a human rights atrocity that is more severe by an order of magnitude than anything the current administration has proposed, even if a Biden administration’s preferred form of injustice is more socially acceptable.

While Biden’s presidency would be historic in its lurch to the fringes on the right to life, it should not come as a surprise.

The Obama administration in which Vice President Biden served may seem downright moderate compared to where the Overton Window has moved today, yet it notoriously dragged the Little Sisters of the Poor to court in order to force a group of Catholic nuns to pay for abortifacient drugs.

For her part, Senator Kamala Harris has been quietly amassing an extreme record against the human rights of the unborn for years. As California Attorney General, she ordered a raid on the home of David Daleiden, the whistleblower who exposed Planned Parenthood’s pattern of trafficking fetal tissue and organs, rather than going after the culprits at Planned Parenthood. In the U.S. Senate, she is cosponsoring legislation that would strip states’ ability to enact even modest abortion restrictions in adherence with Roe vs. Wade.   

To reward Biden and Harris’s callousness on this fundamental question of human rights with our votes is to ensure that Democrats never return to the mainstream – why would they if it garners a win? – and to sentence generations yet unborn to a future in which one of our two major political parties actively works against their right to be welcomed in life and protected in law.

As November 3rd approaches, I find myself relating to professor and pro-life activist Karen Swallow Prior by “voting for neither.” As Prior explains, “we can do so much better. But we won’t until we demand better by not settling for the unacceptable choices we have now.”

In 2020, life is in the ballot – it always is – but this deeply held value is not consistently upheld in either party’s nominee. For me, a “whole-life” agenda means looking outside of the Republican or Democratic party this Election Day.

Jonathan Frank is a freelance opinion writer residing in Washington, D.C. His writings have been published in National Review, The Washington Examiner, RELEVANT Magazine, Spectator USA, The Federalist, The Tennessean, and others.

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