Trump, DeSantis and the Way Forward for the Pro-Life Community

Sep 22, 2023 by David Fowler

Trump, DeSantis and the Way Forward for the Pro-Life Community
With Donald Trump’s criticism of Ron DeSantis’s support of Florida’s six-week abortion ban and his equivocation on supporting a 15-week abortion ban at the federal level, leaders of the pro-life community are facing what I believe is a make-or-break moment. But from what I’ve read and some of the conversations I’ve been privy to this week, I’ve not seen what I believe the answer to be.
When I First Saw the Problem
There are certain people and organizations that lead the pro-life community. After years of following the lead of the big, national, prominent, well-funded, well-respected pro-life organizations, that I’ll call “Big Lifers,” I found myself a stranger.
The problem became clear to me in 2020, when I found out that lawyers for two Big Lifer organizations were telling certain state political leaders that heartbeat bills, then all the rage, and the “The Rule of Law Life Act” that I testified in favor of, were bad legal strategies.
I later learned on a call with the lawyers for one of those organizations that they thought these kinds of bills were a bad legal strategy, because, when tested in the U.S. Supreme Court, the new laws would put the justices in a position they didn’t want to be in, having either to affirm Roe v. Wade and Casey v. Planned Parenthood or reverse them. And, for them, the risk of losing was too great. They weren’t certain we had enough justices to win.
According to the Big Lifer lawyers, the strategy was to wait to pass a law that would bring such a challenge until we knew we had enough votes on the Court that we would win, meaning there were enough justices willing to vote to reverse Roe and Casey.
When God Had to Laugh
Several months later I met with the head of the one of those Big Lifer organizations, a Christian, and we discussed what happened.
He explained why this strategy of waiting was needed. He analogized taking cases to the United States Supreme Court to a magician doing a card trick using an audience member. The justices, he said, were like the magician. They held all the cards and controlled the flow of the trick. Like the magician directing the audience member to select the card the magician wanted picked, the justices directed their argument to the outcome they wanted. Therefore, you had to have enough of the right justices on the court to ensure the outcome would be directed to the conclusion you wanted.
I bet God laughed to find out He was no longer in the Heavens and superintended all things on His earth (Psalm 2:4, 135:5). I didn’t point that out, but I did say something to this effect:
I disagree. God, not the justices, holds all the cards and knows all the games. It is God, not man or the justices, who leads all things to His appointed ends. It may be true that we don’t currently have the justices on the Court that we think we need to prevail, but for all we know, by the time we get to the Court, God could have brought Justice Ginsburg’s life to an end and President Trump may have gotten a pro-life justice appointed in her place.
I didn’t bother to text him when, two months later, Justice Ginsburg died. In her place came Justice Barrett who, over two years later, provided the fifth vote needed to overturn Roe.
The Sentence That Pro-Lifers Need to Consider
 In 2020, when I first learned of the strategy adopted by Big Lifers, a legal scholar friend of mine who is an expert in common law and its relationship to the U.S. Constitution said of Big Lifers, “They believe in judicial politics, not law.”
In other words, the law is quite clear and has been for centuries that a “person,” as that word was used in law and thus in the Constitution, included the “unborn child.” But, he was saying, Big Lifers don’t want to argue law; they want to count votes so they know they will win if they try to reverse Roe
The counting of votes is politics, not law. And that brings me to the events of the last week.
What One Big Lifer’s Silence About Trump Tells Us.
As I’ve followed the talk of various pro-life leaders, a word that I kept seeing is “politics.” The question was what pro-lifers and their leaders should do politically.
Interestingly, though, the Big Lifer organization pushing the 15-week federal abortion ban, which bans only a small percentage of abortions, said nothing for several days in defense of DeSantis’s support for a six-week ban. How could they? For decades they have drummed into the heads of so many—go slow, beat round the edges, do only that for which you think you can get the votes (politically or judicially). Now they are too politically-compromised to complain.
Big Lifers pursued the issues of life and abortion as if they were matters of politics and legal strategy, and now this particular politician thinks of the issues in terms of political strategy.

Big Lifers can protest all they want that Trump's position comes from a heart that does not value life and assert that their decades-long position of pragmatic politics came from hearts that value life and want to end all abortions—which is true—but I fear they miss this larger point—if you choose to live by the sword of pragmatic politics you will most likely die by that sword.

Though I think it should be clear that agreeing to play politics over arguing law has led to this situation, I was looking to see signs of that principle changing.
Is It Still All About Politics?
What I found is that many leaders in the pro-life community want to “move on” from Trump, but absent a change of heart among Republican voters, many of whom care little about abortion by comparison to other things, these leaders may not get someone else in the general election.
Not surprisingly, one pro-life leader in another state said that if Trump gets the Republican nomination, which he thought would happen, the pro-life community still might have some political leverage with him:
“[W]e might be able to bend Trump’s transactional nature to our favor if he is the nominee. Make him back away from his most recent statements, recommit to our cause. It’s the only path that will be left to us at that point, if DeSantis (or some unforeseen development) can’t knock Trump off his pedestal.”
Maybe God has left us to our political devices so we might learn to do politics by faith—make principled legal arguments and let God decide what the result needs to be—and not by sight—counting votes and using that to decide what to do.
The Solution to Miscalculated Political Judgments          
I have not written the foregoing to cast aspersions on anyone or to present myself as better than others. For too long, my sense of the good was defined in terms of stopping the bad.
Moreover, I did not even do that in ways that might resurrect conversations about the good or righteousness, which is of God, not law, and goes far beyond not doing what is prohibited.
My faith in God to do something in law and politics beyond what I could ask or think was undeveloped. For that reason, those who read me regularly know that I have been doing a lot of repenting in recent years.
Biblically-speaking, repenting, not law, is the way to life. Repenting before God, even though our deeds appear to us as “righteous” (Isaiah 64:6), is hard. C.S. Lewis described repentance this way:
“Now repentance is no fun at all. It is something much harder than me merely eating humble pie. It means unlearning all the self-conceit and self-will that we have been training ourselves into for thousands of years. It means killing part of yourself, undergoing a kind of death.”
But there is also something else about repentance that is really challenging to hear and embrace. In 2 Timothy 2:25, the Apostle Paul notes that it is God who “grant[s] . . . repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth.” It is always all of mercy and God’s initiative toward us.
Being engaged in politics is important, but in this moment, I am praying that God will bring me and many others to a greater place of repentance in two regards. First, to discern and repent of the contributions we have made over the last century to the displacement in our culture of the value and glory of motherhood and the sanctity of life. And, second, for putting our trust in judicial politics instead of God making good use of principled legal arguments about the meaning of the word “person” in the Fourteenth Amendment.
Right now, I think repentance is the right way forward.

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