What Anti-Choice Activists Say About Trump’s Policy on Families Seeking Asylum

Many anti-choice leaders don't necessarily see the plight of asylum seekers as a "pro-life" issue.

[Photo: Protesters rally holding signs that read
Several of the country’s most visible anti-choice groups have remained silent on family separation. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

More than 2,300 children were forcibly separated from their parents between May 5 and June 9 under the Trump administration’s policy for asylum seekers and others crossing the border. Leaders of anti-choice organizations have had mixed reactions to what is now a catastrophe unfolding at the border, ranging from cautious criticism to outright support.

On Monday, the Susan B. Anthony List, whose president enjoys a close relationship with the White House, said in a statement that the organization stays out of issues that don’t pertain directly to abortion rights.

“From its inception Susan B. Anthony List has been completely dedicated to protecting the first right without which no other rights matter: the right to life,” the group claimed in response to an op-ed in the New York Times by Democrats for Life board member Charles Camosy. “Our sole mission is to restore that profound right. Therefore, we refrain from public comment on immigration and many other topics, including other policies that impact families. It is not in our purview to speak on behalf of our members on other issues.”

Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, offered a similar take in a statement to Rewire.News. Hawkins said she is “tired of those on the political left, those who support abortion, telling me what issues fall within the ‘pro-life’ movement. Pro-life is anti-abortion, anti-euthansia [sic], anti-assisted suicide, and anti-embryonic stem cell research.”

“It’s purposely not a big tent to address every injustice in our society and never should be, as that would limit those who would join with us in our mission,” Hawkins continued. “Because of our focus, those in our movement can disagree about school choice, poverty elimination, and immigration; all important issues, but not related directly to abortion, and we can disagree on the best way to remedy them.”

In a Friday post to her Facebook page, however, Hawkins claimed that the Trump administration’s actions are “similar to what would happen if I were arrested for breaking the law, my children couldn’t go with me to jail,” and asked: “and people are upset about that?” She noted that families were separated under the Obama administration.

Focus on the Family compared the tearing apart of immigrant families to the experiences of families affected by divorce, alcoholism, and “other matters that plague the family.” Jim Daly, president of the organization, said in a statement to Rewire.News that the organization is “mindful of the fact that children being separated from their parents can be harmful and traumatic.” He added: “It would be great if the same degree of concern that has been expressed in recent days was applied to the crisis surrounding the family at-large.”

“We’re following the current debate closely and awaiting the specifics of the proposed legislation intended to address these and other concerns related to immigration reform and border security,” Daly said.

Several of the country’s most visible anti-choice groups have remained silent. National Right to Life and Americans United for Life have not made public statements on the matter, and neither responded to requests from Rewire.News to clarify their stance.

Others were more vocal about their support for the administration. Tony Perkins, president of the anti-LGBTQ hate group Family Research Council and an ally to the administration, defended the administration’s actions in a Friday post to his “Washington Update” blog. Dismissing critiques of the administration for breaking up immigrant families as partof an opposition “desperate to change the subject,” Perkins blames family separation on parents who “knowingly put [the children] in this position.”

Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, didn’t state his opinion on the immigration policy, but did criticize Planned Parenthood for opposing it. “Wow. @PPFA tweeted it’s concern about fathers being separated from their children. Maybe they should stop ripping the kids from the womb,” he tweeted on Monday morning. Bryan Kemper, who is listed on Priests for Life’s website as its director of youth outreach, tweeted criticism of what he characterized as  “screaming about children being separated from their parents” by people who support abortion rights. Kemper’s post was retweeted by Priests for Life’s official Twitter account.

Cheryl Sullenger, senior vice president of Operation Rescue, tweeted: “Here’s an easy solution for parents who don’t want to be separated from their children when illegally crossing into the US. STAY HOME! If you don’t try to come here illegally, you won’t have to worry about separation from your children. Common sense!”

Lila Rose, head of the discredited anti-choice group Live Action, tweeted her disapproval of family separation. “I agree that we need to secure our borders & our system needs reform. Let’s do that,” she said in a Monday tweet. “But children should never be used as tools for deterrence, or pawns in a political game. If parents aren’t abusing, separation of families at the border is not necessary. Let’s do better, USA!”

But in another tweet, Rose criticized Planned Parenthood for speaking out against the Trump administration’s actions, claiming that “abortion separates families.”

She wasn’t the only vocal abortion rights opponent to voice criticism of the Trump administration’s actions on family separation.

Speaking at the organization’s spring general assembly, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops President Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo criticized the Trump administration’s actions. “While protecting our borders is important, we can and must do better as a government, and as a society, to find other ways to ensure that safety,” he said, according to HuffPost. “Separating babies from their mothers is not the answer and is immoral.”

Penny Nance, the CEO of Concerned Women for America who was previously under consideration for a spot within the Trump administration, condemned the Trump administration’s actions in a Monday post to Twitter. “The issue is complicated and and the immigration system is in desperate need of reform,” she wrote. “I must say we can do better than separating children from parents (if the person is indeed a parent and not a coyote). Regardless of who’s to blame or reasoning it’s heartbreaking.”

And Charles C. Camosy, a board member for the Democrats for Life, in his op-ed for the New York Times, criticized anti-choice groups who claim to be “pro-family” and haven’t spoken out against the policy. “We are in the midst of a serious crisis for vulnerable children and families, though, and these ‘pro-life, pro-family’ organizations have been largely silent,” Camosy wrote. “In standing by President Trump and his administration — and, indeed, in now honoring him as their standard-bearer — traditional pro-life leaders have put short-term and uncertain political gain ahead of consistent moral principle.”

“If the traditional pro-life movement is to regain credibility as something other than a tool of the Trump administration, it must speak out clearly and forcefully against harming innocent children as a means of deterring undocumented immigration,” Camosy wrote.