In fact, says Jethani, abortions have declined for the past four decades, regardless of whether the nation was under the leadership of a Democratic or Republican president. He cites data compiled by attorney and political commentator David French that shows, as French says, “Presidents have been irrelevant to the abortion rate.” Abortion rates actually fell the most while Obama was president, while Planned Parenthood received a record amount of taxpayer funding under the Trump administration, despite withdrawing from Title X (the Washington Post reports most of this funding has come from Medicaid).
These facts do not mean that either of those presidents were directly responsible for those situations. They simply indicate that a president’s policies have less of an impact on the national abortion rate than people often think.
To be clear, Jethani and French are not saying that a candidate’s position and platform are completely inconsequential. Says French, “I’m not arguing that national politics don’t matter at all. A blue wave could end the Hyde Amendment and result in direct federal funding of abortions.” The point is there are strategies that have proven to be more effective in combating abortion than voting for a particular presidential candidate. The efforts that have the most impact on decreasing abortions are people’s work at the state and local levels. And this can give believers hope, particularly if Biden ends up assuming the presidency.
“If you’re pro-life,” says French, “the encouraging reality is those things that matter most—your relationships and your local political community—are the things over which you have the most influence. The things that matter the least—the presidency and national politics—are those things most removed from your daily life.” He goes on to say:
But I’ve been around the pro-life movement enough to know that we often get this exactly backwards: We’re most passionate about the president. Yet too many of us are less interested in the crisis pregnancy center down the street. Without forsaking national politics, we can reverse that intensity, and if we reverse that intensity through loving, intentional outreach, we will reinforce the very decision the data and our experience tells us a woman wants to make.