This past weekend, the National Right to Life Committee (N.R.L.C.) held its annual convention in Herndon, Virgina. During election years, the N.R.L.C. Convention is held near Washington, D.C. and typically places great emphasis on the presidential race. The presumptive Republican presidential nominee usually sends in a video greeting, which is played during one of the general sessions. Surrogates for the nominee often address the convention in person and take questions from attendees. Convention attendees are strongly encouraged to support the nominee.
This year was different. At the Friday morning general session, devoted to the 2016 elections, relatively little time or effort was spent on talking up the presumptive Republican nominee. N.R.L.C. President Carol Tobias acknowledged that Donald Trump used to be pro-choice and has made public statements in support of legal abortion. She also told attendees that Trump reports having had a change of heart on the issue. She said that if Trump is elected, he promises to defund Planned Parenthood, appoint pro-life judges, and sign the Pain Capable Abortion Protection Act, which would ban abortion after twenty weeks.
But Tobias spent most of her presentation criticizing the presumptive Democratic nominee. She underscored Hillary Clinton's opposition to the partial-birth abortion ban and to other incremental pro-life laws that enjoy broad public support. She pointed out that Clinton's rhetoric is different from that of her husband, who said on the campaign trail in the 1990s that he wanted to make abortion “safe, legal, and rare.” By contrast, “Hillary Clinton supports abortion at all times for any reason—she supports no limits and no restrictions.”
Much of the Friday morning session was devoted, not to the presidential race, but to the U.S. Senate races. N.R.L.C. political director Karen Cross called attention to a number of pro-life U.S. Senators who are facing opponents endorsed by Planned Parenthood and EMILY’s List: They include Marco Rubio (R-FL), Kelly Ayotte (R–NH), and Pat Toomey (R-PA). N.R.L.C. Executive Director David O’Steen presented polling data showing that single-issue “pro-life” voters outnumber single issue “pro-choice” voters. He highlighted a number of U.S. Senate races where current polling data indicate a competitive race. He told attendees that these candidates will need the pro-life vote in order to be successful. He concluded by encouraging attendees both to volunteer for these pro-life Senate candidates and to support them financially.
The N.R.L.C. Convention reminds us that Donald Trump needs to improve his outreach to pro-life voters. His July meeting with social conservative leaders was a start, but more must be done. His official campaign website still contains nothing about his position on sanctity of life issues. It took him a few days before he released a statement on the recent Supreme Court decision Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, which struck down Texas legislation requiring better regulation of abortion facilities.
And Trump has yet to secure the formal endorsement of the N.R.L.C. Since this organization has enthusiastically endorsed every Republican presidential nominee since 1980, that fact is very telling.
Michael New is a Visiting Associate Professor of Economics at Ave Maria University. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_J_New.