At the beginning of April, the State Department announced that it would withhold funding from the United Nations Population Fund because of its connection with population control programs in China that involve coercive abortions and sterilizations. This decision was met with praise from pro-life groups. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, called it “a victory for women and children across the globe, as well as for U.S. taxpayers.” But pro-choice advocates have said that the defunding would lead to a crisis in women’s and maternal health in developing countries.
Both the Trump administration’s decision and the responses to it are following a familiar script, last played out shortly after the inauguration, when the “Mexico City policy,” which blocks federal funding for international organizations that provide or promote abortions, was reinstated. While political rhetoric treats whatever changed most recently as either a definitive victory or an outrageous affront, in fact these policy changes have predictably tracked the sitting president’s party-line positions on abortion. President Trump is not mounting a new assault on women’s health; he is reinstating the established policy of the three previous Republican administrations.
While pro-choice opposition to these policies is predictable, pro-life advocates nevertheless may be able to learn something important from it. As necessary as opposition to abortion and funding for it are, they are not sufficient pro-life goals, especially when achieving them eliminates support for other programs that support maternal health. The pro-life community should find ways to demonstrate the depth of its commitment to the well-being of women and children at every stage of life.
The pro-life community should find ways to demonstrate the depth of its commitment to the well-being of women and children at every stage of life.
It has been too easy for defenders of abortion to depict pro-lifers as driven by atavistic desires to control women’s reproduction rather than by recognition of and respect for human life at its earliest stages. It has also been too easy for pro-choice advocates to portray themselves as the exclusive supporters of women by focusing primarily on support for abortion.
Pro-life supporters need to ask for more from political leaders who want to be on the side of life: not just the defunding of organizations connected to abortion but also major increases in funding for other women’s health initiatives; not just legislative opposition to abortion but also passionate opposition to health care reform that would gut coverage for maternity care; not just the appointment of Supreme Court justices who may reverse Roe v. Wade but also leadership in advocating for parental leave and support for working families.
By demonstrating more coherent and consistent pro-life convictions, these goals may help open the hearts and minds of Americans to recognize the need to protect unborn life and offer women a better choice than abortion.