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President Donald Trump and Democrat Pete Buttigieg recently offered radically different stands on abortion, as both attempted to reach out to Catholic and evangelical swing voters trapped between their parties.

Trump made history as the first president to speak in person at the national March for Life, which marks the anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

"All of us here understand an eternal truth: Every child is a precious and sacred gift from God. Together, we must protect, cherish and defend the dignity and the sanctity of every human life," said Trump, who for years backed abortion rights and Planned Parenthood. He insists that his views have evolved, like those of Republican hero Ronald Reagan.

"When we see the image of a baby in the womb, we glimpse the majesty of God's creation. ... When we watch a child grow, we see the splendor that radiates from each human soul. One life changes the world," he said.

While commentators stressed that Trump attended the march to please his conservative evangelical base, this massive event in Washington draws a complex crowd that is hard to label. It includes, for example, Catholics and evangelicals from groups that have been critical of Trump's personal life and ethics, as well as his stands on immigration, the death penalty and related concerns.

Videos of this year's march showed many signs praising the president but also signs critical of his bruising brand of politics.

A Facebook post by a Catholic priest -- the Rev. Jeffrey Dauses of the Diocese of Baltimore -- captured this tension. Telling pro-lifers to "wake up," Dauses attacked what he called Trump's "callous disregard for the poor, for immigrants and refugees, for women ... This man is not pro-life. He is pro-himself."

Meanwhile, Buttigieg -- a gay Episcopalian -- did something even more daring when he appeared at a Fox News town hall in Iowa. One of the toughest questions he faced came from the leader of a network of Democrats opposed to abortion.

"Do you want the support of pro-life Democrats?" asked Kristen Day, president of Democrats for Life. "Would you support more moderate platform language in the Democratic Party to ensure that the party of diversity and inclusion really does include everybody?"

Some previous platforms, she noted, affirmed that all Democrats were welcome -- even if their beliefs clashed with the party's pro-abortion-rights orthodoxy. Now, Day added, the "platform contains language that basically says that we don't belong, we have no part in the party because it says abortion should be legal up to nine months."

Buttigieg refused to compromise, even though he has repeatedly stressed his credentials as a moderate Democrat striving to woo #NeverTrump Republicans and religious believers who abandoned his party in 2016.

"I'm not going to try to earn your vote by tricking you," he replied. "I know that the difference of opinion that you and I have is one that we have come by honestly. And the best that I can offer -- and it may win your vote and, if not, I understand. The best that I can offer is that, if we can't agree on where to draw the line, the next best thing we can do is agree on who should draw the line. And in my view, it's the woman who is faced with that decision in her own life. ...

"I support the Roe v. Wade framework that holds that early in pregnancy there are very few restrictions and, later in pregnancy, there are very few exceptions."

This is tricky terrain in an age in which many voters say they want compromise. Recent polling by the Marist Institute for Public Opinion found that nearly two-thirds of those contacted -- including 44% of Democrats -- said they wanted to vote for a candidate who supports policies restricting abortion after the first trimester.

However, this latest Buttigieg response echoed his words in an earlier Fox News town hall, when he opposed restrictions on third-trimester abortions.

Under those circumstances, he said, the "bottom line is -- as horrible as that choice is -- that woman, that family may seek spiritual guidance, they may seek medical guidance, but that decision is not going to be made any better, medically or morally, because the government is dictating how that decision should be made."

Terry Mattingly leads and lives in Oak Ridge, Tenn. He is a senior fellow at the Overby Center at the University of Mississippi.

Religion on 02/01/2020

Print Headline: Trump, Buttigieg offer polar views on abortion

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