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Sam Sawyer, S.J.January 25, 2017
President Donald Trump shows off a signed executive order to reinstitute a policy barring any recipient of U.S. assistance from performing or promoting abortions abroad with money they receive from non-U.S. sources, Monday, Jan. 23, 2017, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

On Monday, President Donald J. Trump delivered on an important policy goal for the pro-life movement. On Tuesday, he initiated a series of policy initiatives that flatly contradict the inherent dignity of human life. Taken together, these moves are not a victory for pro-life values; in fact, they are a profound setback.

Mr. Trump reinstated the ban, known as the Mexico City Policy, on federal funding for organizations that do not certify that they will not “perform or actively promote abortion as a method of family planning.” This policy has been revoked and reinstated along partisan lines for the past three decades. Along with the Hyde Amendment, which the House of Representatives voted on Tuesday to make permanent, these moves are important pro-life achievements.

Unfortunately, more recent news from the White House revealed that while the pro-life movement may have won a policy victory, there is still a tragic vacuum of pro-life leadership in the Oval Office. On Tuesday evening, news broke that Mr. Trump will soon sign orders for the construction of his long-promised wall along the Mexican border and limit or suspend entry to the United States for refugees from Syria and other “terror prone” nations. These actions demonstrate that whatever motivated Mr. Trump to reinstate the Mexico City Policy, it was not a consistent recognition of the dignity and sacredness of every human life.

Building a wall that will keep out immigrants who are often fleeing violence and despair in their own countries fails to recognize their equal and inherent dignity. Refusing to shelter thoroughly vetted refugees from war-torn countries makes an idol of our own security and sets it higher than the one who said “I was a stranger, and you welcomed me.”

What unites these initiatives, through their disregard for the lives of non-Americans, is that they are important symbols of Mr. Trump’s commitment to the dangerous “America First” brand of nationalism he celebrated in his inaugural address. They are also a counter-witness to a consistent ethic of life and the values of the Gospel.

Mr. Trump’s reinstatement of the Mexico City Policy is also a symbol. But examined in light of his other actions, it is a symbol not of a consistent commitment to pro-life values but of his recognition of his political base. Nonetheless, the reinstatement of the policy has great value. It will reduce support for abortion and limit our national involvement with a moral tragedy. It is also, predictably, being met with fear-mongering from defenders of abortion. This opposition is also largely symbolic—of the priority given to abortion rights at one end of the political spectrum. The real moral question, and the harder one, is about how Americans can cooperate on shared goals to improve women’s health apart from abortion, rather than treating these programs as pawns in the culture wars. To do that, those of us who recognize abortion as unjust need to work for more than just policy victories. We need symbols that help people recognize the sacredness of human life.

Symbols matter. When pro-choice citizens, or even those on the fence about abortion, look at what happened in the White House this week, they will not see a principled defense of the dignity of human life. Instead, they will see the latest salvo in a partisan war, in which abortion is mostly a proxy battle. And though they may—we pray—fare better, the unborn, like the refugees and immigrants Mr. Trump is only too comfortable demonizing, will have been reduced to a convenient symbol of political victory.

This is not what pro-life leadership looks like. Those who believe in the dignity of every human life should weigh carefully the cost of embracing it.

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Ryder Charles
7 years 4 months ago

Dear Father Sawyer,

The Obama administration recently repealed the "Wet Foot Dry Foot" policy for refugees fleeing Cuba. Forgive me if I missed it, but I didn't hear any complaint from "America" or from the secular media that Obama had shut the door on Cuban immigrants. When you couple this with his consistent support for expansive abortion rights, I think you can say that there was a "profound setback" of "pro-life values" during President Obama's leadership.

Woody Pfister
7 years 4 months ago

Thoroughly vetted?http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-na-syria-refugees-vetting-gap-20170125-story.html

Woody Pfister
7 years 4 months ago

Pro-Life Illegal Aliens? https://mobile.twitter.com/i/web/status/824145137920045057

Michael Barberi
7 years 4 months ago

Trump said he will allow thoroughly vetted immigrants fleeing from violence and hatred to be admitted to the U.S. The emphasis here is on the words "thoroughly vetted'". These words have meaning. Yet I detect from this article that it is assumed that such a process exists. This is not accurate as those in the Obama administration with responsibly for homeland security, et al, don't think so and they have testified about the quality and security of our vetting process.

On another note, building a wall is not a contradiction to human dignity and compassion. Trump never said that a border wall will be built without doors. More importantly, countries have a responsibility to protect its citizens from illegal immigration and criminals. Ironically, the Vatican is a walled city-state. Granted, those illegal immigrants who have been living here for a long time, do not have criminal records, have been working and paying taxes, etc, should be given a path to citizenship once the border is secured and illegal immigrants who are felons are rightfully deported.

While many people jump to the worse conclusion about Trump's rhetoric (and he has said some irresponsible things), I suggest we judge the policies he implements. After all, his choice of cabinet members are some of the most conservative and level-headed in modern history. Also, there is a big difference between campaign rhetoric and what a President does. Think about Obama. If Trump's policies are bad for our country and in contradiction to human dignity, I will deplore them. If not, I will say bravo, its about time.

I am disappointed with this article because it lacks careful distinctions and accurate knowledge about the issues under question. Don't get me wrong, I don't like the rhetoric of Trump and I did not vote for him. However, I expected a more educated, balanced and well-reasoned article.

Tim O'Leary
7 years 4 months ago

Fr. Sawyer - while I think the "wall" is a waste of money, and likely unfeasible for much of the border's length, I do not see it as anti-life. In fact, the current surreptitious/illegal crossings are very anti-life, in that they are often managed by criminal gangs and many people die crossing. It is negligent for any country to fail to control its borders, as it promotes human trafficking. The Mexican government is also culpable for not taking care of its own people. How come we never hear any criticism of their century of failed policies, by the Jesuits and the popes?

As to the Syrian refugees, the government has the pro-life duty to protect its citizens from any threat from terrorists sneaking in as refugees, as is clearly happening in Germany and France. There are also the larger questions of prospects for assimilation and employment. The far better solution is to support a flow of Muslim refugees to Muslim societies and to favor policies that prevent the refugee crisis in the first place. I note that as bad as the Bush wars in Iraq were, they never produced such refugee crises as Obama's policies did. There needs to be some soul-searching among Christian organizations regarding how best one should enact the commandment of loving one's neighbor.

Lisa Weber
7 years 4 months ago

That Donald Trump will not provide pro-life leadership is consistent with his campaign promises, so we should not be surprised. It is becoming increasingly obvious that he is mentally ill as well, with his insistence that massive voter fraud occurred and the bizarre designation of his inauguration day as a "National Day of Patriotic Devotion." One of the evils of abortion is that a "pro-life" designation for his candidacy contributed to his being elected.

When we talk about the evil of abortion, we need to include a discussion of the related evils as well. Contributing to the election of obviously unfit candidates for office, fostering the activities of moral busybodies, creating division and strife in the community, denying women necessary health care, and fostering the belief that men should be allowed to control women's bodies and lives are all evils of abortion. Those who take an adamant anti-abortion stance need to consider the sins they are committing while throwing stones over the issue of abortion.

Ryder Charles
7 years 4 months ago

The evil of abortion is the destruction of an innocent life. "Fostering the activities of moral busybodies" is not what Pope Francis means when he calls abortion an "absolute evil" and a "horrendous crime".

Lisa Weber
7 years 4 months ago

What I am saying is that many sins are committed in the opposition to abortion though there tends to be a complete blindness to them. It is not morally defensible to vote for a corrupt and evil man simply because he opposes abortion. That seems to be what happened in this past election and we are going to suffer the consequences of it. Pro-life people might not be so willing to throw rocks if they honestly looked at their own sins.

JR Cosgrove
7 years 4 months ago

I have a request. Please post a photo of a real "Pro Life" leadership. Certainly the photo could not contain any Democrat politician.

Jean Miller
7 years 4 months ago

I echo Lisa Weber' thoughts. I would add that tragic as abortion is, sometimes exceptions make it necessary. They are not all black and white i.e. woman's health. There is a lot of gray matters to consider which is why the decision needs to be the woman's. The access to contraception, which the Church has relentlessly fought, is an obvious deterrent for abortion,

Ryder Charles
7 years 4 months ago

Pope Francis calls abortion an "absolute evil". What are the exceptions that, in your words, sometimes "make it necessary"? As I proponent of Cardinal Bernardin's "Seamless Garment", I am unequivocally against abortion, capital punishment, euthanasia and torture (including waterboarding). That means I don't find capital punishment "necessary" when the crime is unspeakably horrific. Nor does it mean that I condone torture when it yields information that can save innocent lives. I don't find exceptions in these instances.

There have been 58 million abortions in the U.S. since 1973. How many of them qualify as "exceptions"?

Tony Phillips
7 years 4 months ago

There's a huge difference between killing a defenceless baby and executing a criminal. It's called justice.
The problem with the 'seamless garment' approach is that it ignores fundamental differences between issues that are--well, fundamentally different. To say that a Mexican wall is a 'pro-life issue' is wrong.
While we're at it, why don't we drop this 'pro-choice/pro-life' rhetoric and call a spade a spade? Hillary Clinton was pro-abortion. Her private views matter not a whit: she wanted the legal killing of babies up to the moment of birth.

Dawn Cisek
7 years 4 months ago

Father Sawyer,
Excellent article! Spot on! The title sums up my entire feeling about the Trump administration. I have been struggling to put my feelings into something composite, and when I saw the title of the article, it clicked! Thank you!!

Darrell Whitfield
7 years 4 months ago

Respectfully, I don't think this article addresses all the issue having to do with illegal immigration. On the one hand the life of illegal migrant workers is one that I would not want to wish on anyone. Being exploited by unscrupulous employer's that allows for wages to be a pitance of what they should be paid in construction, and other industries is detrimental to all laborers.

Then the drug mafia that is as bad as Islamic State we hear about in a far away land that exist right here on our southere border where executions take place along with various other crimes to repugnant to elaborate here on.

This is a life issue is many ways for North American in Mexico, USA, and Canada that can be legally handled mucheck better with a wall high enough and deep enough that the drug trade can stop tunnelling their way into USA to commit crimes and violate every good principles of a decent life.

Brennan Roorda
7 years 4 months ago

I am curious, I am new reading this magazine. I found it after reading books on ignatian spirituality. What I would like to know is, has America Magazine always been this biased hypocritical? Between its constant anger towards Trump, not very charitable that, and its support for anarchists of all people, I am concerned.

Carlos Orozco
7 years 4 months ago

Donald Trump could help project a consistent pro-life policy position in Mexico by ending President Obama's "Fast & Furious" operations that helped arm the Mexican drug cartels. Let's remember that Executive privilege blocked Congress into seriously investigating the matter.

It's contradictory that the "Mexico City Policy" names the only place in Mexico were abortion is not only legal, but paid by the local government -well, its taxpayers to be precise. A true affront to the honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Unborn. May the citizens of the city wake up and remember that they should set example.

Rudolph Koser
7 years 4 months ago

Cardinal Bernadin's "seamless garment" needs to be applied. Being pro-life means so much more than being against abortion. Cutting health care especially for the poor and the "social safety net" in general, effectively limits life choices for many. Protect the unborn at all costs but no prenatal care or care after birth for the undeserving. Infant mortality in the US is per capita higher than Cuba which is not considered a developed country. (I give this as only one example.) Eliminate the causes for abortion and that will lower the rate. Using the law as a cudgel for this or anything else for that matter doesn't work. Politicians have used this issue so often to manipulate voters but have done little otherwise.

Vincent Gaglione
7 years 4 months ago

Any anti-abortion legislation or action that does not have with it concomitant proposals to provide for the economic and social support for all children brought to term is merely pro-birth, not pro-life. The Bishops of the United States have never stated, taught, preached, or insisted on such. They hedge on the issues. They know that the same segment of Catholics who became their electorate for anti-abortion legislation also opposes taxes and social supports for any group but themselves. Having been handed anti-abortion legislation and executive actions, the USA Bishops’ alleged anguish over Trump’s immigration policies will fall on deaf ears among Republicans and the President, as it does on that Catholic segment that voted for Trump.

Ironically, the Gospels never quote Christ on the topic of anti-abortion. Rather they quote Him very specifically on the topic of welcoming strangers! The election of Trump ushers in a rather anti-Christian era in USA politics and history, nothing new to be sure. The needs of the vulnerable, citizens and strangers alike, will be forsaken. America First will provide only for the already comfortable!

JR Cosgrove
7 years 4 months ago

Does anybody else see the irony of this article?

The Democrats and their policies create havoc in a lot of the United States and the world. An elected administration opposed to these policies tries to solve the mess created by the Democrats and are labeled as anti-life. The refugee problem in the Middle East is directly due to Obama and Clinton's foreign policy as they armed both sides in the Syria civil war (both are hard core terrorists). Both sides are inimical to the interests of the United States and humanity and yet the Obama administration armed both. Where is the outcry by the editors?

The refugees from Latin America could be solved by economic policies that the editors oppose.

Then there is the inner cities, the product of Democratic Party policies and which are very dysfunctional. The new administration is on record as trying to do something about the "carnage" in these areas caused by Democrats. The Democrats have done nothing to solve the problems they have created.

But the editors back the people who caused all these problems and they then call the people trying to solve the problems, not pro-life.

Yes, irony!!!!

Are the editors on the wrong side of the problem they are trying to solve?

In case anyone doubts what I have said about the refugee problem, watch this video which appeared last night on a CNN interview between two liberals.


We have been fed a pack of lies or fake news by the last administration and the press.

The editors should call for a debate rather than be so one sided.

John Walton
7 years 4 months ago

I keep putting my ear on the rail and try to listen to suggestions (from Jesuits in particular) which would resolve the economic and social issues in Latin and Central America which have led to this flood of refugees. Could it be oligarchy and corruption, lack of personal property rights, the completely bankrupt nostrums of "liberation theology". Why are there comparatively few immigrants from Chile, a country liberals love to loathe, and Costa Rica.

7 years 4 months ago

In "This is not prolife leadership", Father Sawyer tells the reader: "Refusing to shelter thoroughly vetted refugees from war-torn countries makes an idol of our own security."
That is pure double speak and ignores the facts. Enforcing our vetting laws is not idolizing the laws or our own security. Enforcing vetting laws is an important thing to do on a consistent and ongoing basis. And underscored by the existence of the laws themselves. We have vetting laws but we have not been enforcing them consistently. Many politicians turn a blind eye to our vetting laws. Last year 80% of the "refugees" from Syria and Iraq admitted to this country were men; not women or four year old children, but men.

Patrick Murtha
7 years 4 months ago

"The real moral question, and the harder one, is about how Americans can cooperate on shared goals to improve women’s health apart from abortion, rather than treating these programs as pawns in the culture wars. To do that, those of us who recognize abortion as unjust need to work for more than just policy victories."

Through out all of this political retaliation against the president's policies, it must be remembered that abortion is a terrible evil, one that is reversion to the great evils of pagans and paganism. Abortion itself is the murder of a defenseless child. It is true it is "unjust," but furthermore it is diabolical and intrinsically opposed to human nature; it is not merely part of a "culture war," but is part of a true "war against humanity and humans," a war against the divine intention for sexual intercourse, a war against the family, a war against the divine decree "Increase and multiply." It is truly diabolical. The fight to end abortion will be lost by the so-called conservatives, by the so-called right, because it is not seen as a great moral evil but rather as a mere political evil. And even then, the word political is used for signifying merely opinions of public policy and not the true meaning of political, as that which belongs towards the common good.

Recall, if you will, the words of St. Jerome as he speaks about those involved in fornication and adultery. "Some go so far as to take potions, that they may insure barrenness, and thus murder human beings almost before their conception. Some, when they find themselves with child through their sin, use drugs to procure abortion, and when (as often happens) they die with their offspring, they enter the lower world laden with the guilt not only of adultery against Christ but also of suicide and child murder." (Letter 22. §13.)

Lisa Weber
7 years 4 months ago

St. Jerome's reference to potions that insure barrenness is interesting because it shows that contraception existed in his day. He sees no tragedy in women dying with their offspring after attempted abortion and also condemns them to hell - an attitude that can still be found in the "pro-life" movement.

E.Patrick Mosman
7 years 4 months ago

It seems that equating open borders and mass immigration, legal and illegal, to "right to life" is a false premise as it would allow almost any cause relating to human beings to be cited as a "right to life" issue. Further it has always been taught that "America is nation of laws" and the author openly advocates that enforcing our immigration laws is anti-life, anti-humanity and should be ignored. A Nation ceases to exist when its most basic laws are flouted in the name of some intention.
I doubt that the March for Life participants in DC this week will be marching for open borders and unlimited immigration, legal and illegal, as a right to life cause.

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