GOP Abortion Language Draft: Prelude to Defeat?

By Alex Chediak Published on July 11, 2024

Obviously, I’m a little late to add my voice to the avalanche of those mourning the GOP platform’s leftward drift on abortion. By now, you know that former President Donald Trump’s people have ditched the principled pro-life language that had been a staple in Republican Party platform statements for more than 40 years; The Stream carried that story yesterday, and John Zmirak shared some insights about it shortly afterward.

But there’s still a lot to be said about it before the Republican National Committee votes on the new language at its convention next week.

How Big Is the Change?

Pretty big. Here’s the 2024 language:

“We believe that the 14th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States guarantees that no person can be denied Life or Liberty without Due Process, and that the States are, therefore, free to pass Laws protecting those Rights. After 51 years, because of us, that power has been given to the States and to a vote of the People. We will oppose Late Term Abortion, while supporting mothers and policies that advance Prenatal Care, access to Birth Control, and IVF (fertility treatments).”

Here’s how it read in 2016:

“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.”

The 2016 statement went on to oppose public funding for abortion providers such as Planned Parenthood: “We will not fund or subsidize healthcare that includes abortion coverage.” But there’s nothing like that in the 2024 platform language.

Inconsistent and Wishy-Washy

Both the 2016 and 2024 statements reference the Fourteenth Amendment. The difference is that the 2016 wording is coherent and aspirational: Because everyone is entitled to life, including the unborn, we must work toward a constitutional amendment and (federal) legislation that recognizes and protects this basic right.

The 2024 wording basically says that “the Fourteenth Amendment means that states can protect life — if they want to. But hey, if they don’t, that’s fine too!” That’s inconsistent and weird. As Princeton University’s Dr. Robert George observes, the Fourteenth Amendment authorizes Congress, not the states, to enforce its guarantees. Notice the Amendment’s language:

No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Notice how the Amendment speaks with authority over the states. If you think unborn humans are persons, then the equal protection clause applies to them just as it did for those emancipated from slavery. The federal government’s duties are clear: Ensure that states do not deprive them of life without due process.

Party platform language has historically been aspirational. It doesn’t ask if we can achieve our stated goals in the next congressional cycle. The GOP’s platform has stood for a national abortion ban since as far back as 1976. The wording was made stronger in 1980 and then even stronger in 1984. As far as any of us can remember, the Republican party—as a party—has been a pro-life party. That’s no longer the case.

The other oddity in the new language is how the opposition to late-term abortion is framed. First off, what is late-term abortion? One that is performed in the third trimester? Second trimester? The wording is vague, probably by intention. But more importantly, notice that the possibility of opposing “late-term” abortion at the federal level is excluded. Trump is not supporting any kind of federal abortion ban, even one that would prohibit partial birth abortion — something the vast majority of Americans oppose. As far as Trump is concerned, it’s totally up to the states.

So why even mention opposition to late-term abortion? Probably to signal that the Democrats are the abortion extremists.

Why It Matters

Donald Trump has always been a controversial figure. Since 2016, he’s alienated a swath of the public who just can’t stomach voting for him. However, he has brought new voters into the fold, many of whom are less animated by the pro-life cause.

Trump’s calculus is simple: Thank the Republicans for ending Roe v. Wade. Social conservatives have nowhere else to go this November; we’re better than Biden on abortion. No need to offend those who oppose the pro-life view, which, post-Roe, doesn’t poll as well. Tack to the middle to win the middle.

But there’s a two-fold risk: Trump fatigue and the departure of single-issue voters could snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Trump Fatigue

When was the last time the GOP put forth the same nominee in three consecutive election cycles? Let alone someone as controversial as Trump, a nominee with such high, baked-in negatives who never breaks 50% in public polling.

On the one hand, Biden’s abysmal record on inflation, immigration, and chaos overseas has boosted Trump nostalgia. It’s why Trump currently leads in the polls and trends better than he did four years ago. On the other hand, Trump’s public persona has taken a hit since 2020.

You might blame the legal troubles. Sure, the Department of Justice has unfairly targeted him. But aren’t at least some of his problems self-imposed? You can blame the January 6 narrative. You can blame the number of former Cabinet members who are no longer supporting him. You can blame Trump’s age—he’s almost 80. (The only reason that’s not more of a factor is that Biden is older and shows massive signs of mental decline.) Fair or unfair, the “never again Trump” segment is real and large. Three in four voters were hoping for something other than a Trump-Biden rematch this November, yet here we are.

As for polling, it’s hard to model enthusiasm and turnout. Just because someone leans your way doesn’t mean they’ll show up to vote for you. Trump fatigue means the polls may be overstating Trump support, especially if folks feel like they’re being treated like suckers. Ditching the pro-life language runs the risk of making them feel that way.

Single-Issue Voters

My X feed is full of rock-ribbed conservatives who were planning to vote for Trump, but now are not. These are influential people who gladly voted for him in 2020 and encouraged others to do likewise. If elections were won by reading the tea leaves of public polling and tacking to the middle, President Mitt Romney would have completed at least one term. He handily won Independents — and just as handily lost a race that was winnable. There were literally millions of missing conservative votes that year.

Ah, but Romney was a globalist, a big business guy who lacked Trump’s blue-collar appeal. Okay. But Trump is for tariffs, opposed to entitlement reform, and pro-choice (again). Each fails to energize a chunk of the historic GOP base. In an era of nail-biter elections, how many votes can Trump afford to lose? Does he think he’ll win more friends with the watered-down abortion language than he’ll lose? It’s not just the votes, either — it’s the volunteers, the donations, the energy, the enthusiasm. The stuff that drives winning elections, like the Reagan landslides.

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Granted, half a century of widespread abortion access has shaped societal assumptions for the worse. That’s what we’ve seen in the last two years of polling. But statesmanship isn’t merely responding to narratives. It’s about communication, leadership, and the persuasion that drives narratives. Convictions, cogently explained and consistently applied, are winsome, attractive, and compelling.

The GOP should and can be pro-life and pro-women. Chemical abortions are fatal for the child and bad for women. The GOP should defend the unborn and explain how its policies will support women facing unplanned pregnancies.

This takes character. It takes moral virtue. And it can be done.

 

Alex Chediak (Ph.D., U.C. Berkeley) is a professor and the author of Thriving at College (Tyndale House, 2011), a roadmap for how students can best navigate the challenges of their college years. His latest book is Beating the College Debt Trap. Learn more about him at www.alexchediak.com or follow him on Twitter (@chediak).

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