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Opinion For the fall of Roe v. Wade, thank Donald Trump

An antiabortion supporter outside the White House in July 2018. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)
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Overturning Roe v. Wade has been the overarching, seemingly impossible goal of the pro-life movement for almost five decades. Now that it has finally been achieved, four words should be on the lips of every pro-life conservative today: Thank you, Donald Trump.

Looking back on Trump’s chaotic presidency, some understandably ask: Was it all worth it for a few conservative justices? To which I answer: Yes. A thousand times, yes.

Every Republican president before Trump failed miserably when it came to Supreme Court picks. In 1970, Richard M. Nixon nominated Harry A. Blackmun, who would go on to be the ignominious author of Roe. Gerald Ford picked only one justice, John Paul Stevens, who became the leader of the court’s liberal bloc. Ronald Reagan had three appointees (Sandra Day O’Connor, Antonin Scalia and Anthony M. Kennedy), but only Scalia was a consistent conservative vote on the court. George H.W. Bush named one brilliant conservative (Clarence Thomas) and one catastrophic liberal (David Souter). George W. Bush selected Samuel A. Alito Jr., a marvelous conservative intellect who wrote the decision overturning Roe. But Bush also gave us John G. Roberts Jr., who promised to be an impartial umpire but instead has repeatedly legislated from the bench — siding with the court’s liberal bloc on a string of cases, including saving Obamacare, preserving the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, and striking down state laws that required hospitals to extend admitting privileges for doctors who perform abortions.

But Trump broke the mold. His nominations of Neil M. Gorsuch, Brett M. Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett have made him the only Republican president in six decades to have a perfect record in appointing judicial conservatives. His picks have transformed the court: With Gorsuch, he saved its conservative majority. With Kavanaugh, he moved the court to the right by replacing a swing vote, Kennedy, with a reliable conservative. And with Barrett, he gave the conservative bloc the five votes they need to prevail without the vacillating chief justice.

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No doubt, Roberts would have found some Solomonic middle way to uphold Mississippi’s abortion law without overturning Roe and the 1992 case that upheld it, Planned Parenthood v. Casey. But thanks to Trump, Roberts was powerless. All three Trump appointees voted to strike down Roe and Casey — declaring that, like Plessy v. Ferguson, the 1896 case that upheld racial segregation), these decisions were so egregiously wrong that they had to be overturned.

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Trump’s appointments have effectively turned the Roberts Court into the Thomas Court. Whenever Roberts votes with the liberal bloc, Thomas — as the most senior associate justice — gets to assign the majority opinion. In Dobbs, he gave that responsibility to Alito, with brilliant effect.

Democrats have a virtually perfect record in appointing Supreme Court appointments. Their justices never defect to the conservative bloc on important cases. Not so for Republicans — until Trump. With his picks, Trump batted a thousand. And his perfect record will transform the court’s jurisprudence for a generation — with far-reaching consequences not only for unborn life but also religious liberty, free speech, Second Amendment rights, the separation of powers and limited government.

Trump not only gave us a conservative court majority, he also saved us from an activist liberal majority. Had Hillary Clinton won the 2016 presidential election, she would have nominated a judicial activist to replace Scalia, creating a 5-to-4 liberal majority. Then she would have replaced Ruth Bader Ginsburg and perhaps Stephen G. Breyer, securing those seats for the liberal bloc for decades. Not only would Roe still be standing today, but the activist liberal court that Clinton would have ushered in would have done breathtaking damage. It is thanks to Trump that this never happened.

No, this doesn’t forgive Trump’s behavior after the 2020 election. But knowing what I know now, am I grateful for Trump’s four years in office? You bet I am. Millions of precious unborn lives will be saved as a result of this decision. And Trump made it possible.

I hope he does not run again in 2024. But I’m sure glad he ran and won in 2016. Whatever else history says about him, he’s secured his place as the most consequential president when it comes to the Supreme Court — and our greatest pro-life president as well.

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