". . . and having done all . . . stand firm." Eph. 6:13

Commentary

Led by Trump, 2024 GOP Platform Slashes Decades of Pro-Life Priorities

July 8, 2024

Most delegates had no idea what they were walking into Monday morning when the Republican platform committee finally got underway in Milwaukee. Heading into this week, the atmosphere was already emotionally charged, especially after weeks of speculation that the Trump team was planning to hijack the process and radically revamp the 60 pages of principles the party had ratified eight years before — all behind closed doors. “I’ve been involved in this nearly 20 years,” Family Research Council Action Chairman Tony Perkins said. And the amount of secrecy is “unprecedented.”

Unlike past years, when the media was welcome in the proceedings, “there’s kind of this cone of silence,” Perkins warned. Not only were the 112 delegates ordered to leave their cell phones outside the room, but none of the participants had access to the proposed platform language in advance. “That’s not the way conservatives do business,” FRC’s president insisted in an interview beforehand. “We like sunlight. We want the American people to see what we’re doing and what we have to offer. That’s very concerning to me.” The whole point of this, he argued, is to “reflect where the conservative movement, the Republican Party is at. … But it needs to be open. … The American people should be able to see the deliberation, the debate that formulates the vision of the [GOP].”

As one delegate told Politico anonymously, “The RNC is doing this process behind closed doors because they know that the Republican grassroots would never go for this establishment RINO bull****.”

Fueling the concerns, of course, were the reports that Donald Trump was trying to gut the platform’s pro-family planks to avoid unnecessary “drama.” Those rumors, to the dismay of millions of conservatives, turned out to be true. The 16-page draft was a shell of its 2016 self in all the ways that mattered. Gone were the calls for protecting life from conception, for opposing taxpayer-funded abortion — at home through the Hyde Amendment or abroad through the Mexico City Policy. There was no insistence on safeguarding children from gender-mutilating surgery, no support for adoption, no demand for a federal role in limiting abortion.

Instead, the 2024 document states simply: “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).”

The version concocted by RNC leaders and Trump slashed the pro-life language from more than 1,300 words in 2020 to a paltry 90, telling Americans everything they need to know about its priority (or lack thereof) in this party.

On “Washington Watch” Monday evening, Perkins was frank about the outcome and the locked-down process. “You win some and you lose some, and unfortunately, the unborn did not necessarily win [today].” Is it a bad document? No, he explained to guest host and former Congressman Jody Hice. “It’s a fairly decent statement of a campaign’s priorities, but not the enduring principles of a party.” After all, Perkins reminded everyone, these are meant to be guiding documents. They “aren’t insignificant,” he reiterated, pointing to the research that shows Republicans vote with their platform 87% of the time.

“This is a political party prone to taking the wrong direction,” Perkins recognized. “It’s discouraging from that standpoint of all of the work for decades that has brought this party to the place of championing the unborn.”

According to FRCA’s chairman, who represented Louisiana on the committee, “Delegates were only given a few minutes of discussion before ‘debate’ was ended and a vote was taken. Ironically, the document calls for a vigorous defense of free speech and the end of government censorship. Deprived of the opportunity to discuss amendments to the draft platform document, we have submitted a minority report to supplement that campaign’s platform.”

On one of the biggest debates of the day — transgenderism — the delegates approved a document that includes no public endorsement of the states’ SAFE Acts but did explicitly highlight the urgency of restoring parental rights in education. “We trust parents!” it reads. “We will keep men out of women’s sports, ban taxpayer funding for sex change surgeries, and stop taxpayer-funded schools from promoting gender transition, reverse Biden’s radical rewrite of Title IX education regulations, and restore protections for women and girls,” the new platform promises.

In a departure from the 2016/2020 version, marriage was mentioned but conveniently undefined — sidestepping another social value that conservatives continue to care deeply about. “Republicans will promote a Culture that values the Sanctity of Marriage.”

The abbreviated document, which reads like something straight out of a Donald Trump fundraising email, flows from 20 overarching principles that the campaign released early Monday afternoon — none of which mention the protection of human life. That won’t sit well with GOP voters, 66% of whom think that Republicans should keep (32%) or strengthen (34%) the party’s current platform position on the unborn.

Of course, these concessions seemed almost inevitable after Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who many consider a frontrunner for the VP slot, very publicly caved on the issue in a devastating interview with CNN’s Dana Bash. In a shocking betrayal of his longtime beliefs, he was asked whether the platform should abandon its strong defense of the unborn. “I think our platform has to reflect our nominee,” the Floridian said flatly. On the contrary, The Washington Stand’s Ben Johnson fired back, “the Republican Party platform should reflect the values of its voters and their enduring political positions. That’s what grassroots means.”

“Even if we wanted to,” Rubio persisted, “you couldn’t pass” an amendment protecting life from conception, he argued. Bash pressed him on whether he was fearful that leaving that language out of the platform would dampen enthusiasm. “Not really,” Rubio replied nonchalantly. “There’s only one pro-life candidate in this race,” Rubio said, sounding more and more like a VP wannabe, “and it’s Donald Trump. And I think his position on this has been … reality, which is you can’t pass a federal law now even if we wanted to.”

Stunned by Rubio’s abandonment of more than 20 years of political advocacy, pro-life leaders took to X to vent their frustrations. Perkins was astonished by what he called the Florida senator’s “capitulation to the forces of abortion.” “First, a human life amendment has never been within political reach,” he pointed out, “it has always been aspirational and so it should remain. I can assure you that if the GOP abandons the unborn in the Party Platform, it will dampen Bible-believing, conservative voter enthusiasm and turnout.”

In Rubio’s home state, local GOP officials were just as horrified. “I can’t think of a time when I’ve been more disappointed in an elected official than I am with Marco Rubio,” David Biddle, the Republican Chair of Gilchrist tweeted. “The Marco I know is unabashedly pro-life, said we would be judged as the most barbaric people in history for what we have done to the unborn. Now this.”

Rubio’s desertion of pro-lifers comes as many of his colleagues urged delegates to hold the line on the GOP platform. “Any effort to weaken the Republican Party’s commitment to life and marriage would be a mistake,” Missouri Senator Josh Hawley (R) cautioned Monday.

Oklahoma Senator James Lankford (R) was equally passionate, telling a Students for Life webcast, “There are Republicans right now saying this is only a states' issue, we shouldn’t talk about it on the federal side. When I talk to several of those Republicans, I think their core issue is: ‘Why are we fighting this on a national level? We don’t have the votes to win it. We don’t have 60 votes in the Senate, the majority we need to win this big of a vote in the House to change things, so let’s not discuss it all.’”

That’s not the point, Lankford wanted people to know. “… I am keenly aware we don’t have the votes in the Senate. But the worst thing we can do is not talk about it [at] all and somehow make people presume that … we don’t care about children anymore. We do care passionately about children. The way you win the argument is to keep talking about it, not talk about it less.” 

Even Trump’s allies, like Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), pushed back on this idea that abortion is somehow a states’ rights issue now. “If we change our platform and we buy into the narrative [that] being pro-life is bad politics … we’re going to be net losers, because the people who believe like we do are going to abandon us because we’ve abandoned what makes us different.” Presidential candidates come and go, he pointed out — but the platform “is foundational.”

Others from the former president’s cabinet, Mike Pompeo and Ben Carson, have sounded the alarm on watering down the GOP’s principles. “I think it’s a mistake,” the former secretary of State shook his head. “It will be difficult to get federal legislative limits,” he admitted, but that doesn’t mean we abandon that fight.

As Perkins emphasized in a conversation with pro-life leader Chuck Donovan, whose expertise spans five decades, including the Reagan administration, this isn’t about politics. “If there is a moral absolute,” that we are in fact “endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights” like life, “if that’s an absolute, it doesn’t stop at the state line. … This is something that is universal.” Calling it a states’ issue, as this version of the platform does, is “basically the same argument that the party had with the nation in 1856 over slavery and polygamy.” You can’t relegate life to the states, Donovan insists, because there’s “a bundle of federal legislation in existence that protects unborn children from being attacked.”

“We have the Child Health Insurance Program, which specifically says the states may design programs that properly treat the unborn child as a beneficiary of those programs — not a target. We have the Medicaid program, whatever you think of it, it’s a federal-state partnership. And as of today, 42% of the births in the United States are to Medicaid eligible mothers. So it matters supremely whether the baby is a beneficiary of that program or a target of it.” There’s the military, he continues, “that’s federal jurisdiction. What do we do with military hospitals? We have the VA now being pushed by Joe Biden to provide abortion or refer for abortion. You have the District of Columbia, which allows abortions up to birth. … And if Congress doesn’t deal with it, then right there in our nation’s capital, a few blocks from the halls that honor Jefferson and Lincoln, we will have babies near term being killed. It’s unacceptable. “

And then there’s the Wild West of the abortion pill that makes undermining state laws even easier, Chuck points out. “You may not have abortion permissible in your state, but … thanks to our Food and Drug Administration, they can mail your 13-year-old daughter abortion pills. She didn’t even have to be pregnant. They can send them along and encourage her to use them if she needs them. They can encourage minors to be brought across state lines. They oppose limits that respect the rights of parents. So it matters to Rhode Island what happens in New York State,” he underscored. “It matters to Texas, what’s permitted in Kansas. And essentially it comes back, though, to the question, is the protection of life a universal principle? And what happens when we walk away from that?”

At the end of the day, this is one of those areas of clear contrast between the Republican and Democratic Parties, FRC’s president emphasized. The GOP has become the party of life with “the Democratic Party becoming … literally [the party of] abortion until the moment of birth [with taxpayer funding].” 

“We have a chance, post-Dobbs, to protect the unborn,” Donovan wanted people to know. “But I have to tell you, we’re not going to get there by retreat. The Republican Party, if it abandons almost 50 years of pro-life commitment, I think it’s dooming the nation in some ways; it’s certainly dooming itself.”

As for Perkins, who left the committee vote Monday morning frustrated and disappointed at the RNC’s missed opportunities on life, he’s not giving up the fight. “Look, I’m going to continue to champion the unborn,” he reiterated. “Number one, we have to redouble our efforts as it pertains to standing for human life — supporting mothers in crisis pregnancies, adopting children, promoting these policies at the state level — but still advocating and pointing out that this idea that this is just a states’ issue is logically flawed, [as] we’ve seen with the abortion pill [comprising] 70% of all abortions.”

“We need to continue to pray,” he urged. “We need to continue to vote, and we need to continue to stand.”

Asked what kind of impact this might have, Perkins was honest. “I can only say that, unfortunately, I think it dampens enthusiasm. … To what degree, I don’t know — but the elections are so close we can’t afford any deviation.” As for the party’s critics who accuse him of being too tough on Trump, Tony said earnestly, “That’s not my intention. I was trying to help him. … But I cannot compromise biblical truth to advance a temporal political objective. I won’t do it,” he insisted. “I just can’t do it.”

Suzanne Bowdey serves as editorial director and senior writer at The Washington Stand.