Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Today’s news has been dominated by the story of the man who spent years hyping racist lies to delegitimize this country’s first black president now betting that a pliable press will congratulate him on distancing himself from himself.
But while this moronic sideshow is going down, a report in the Hill today brings a much more important story: Donald Trump took time out of his busy schedule of conspiracy promotion and disavowal to write a letter to America’s anti-abortion leaders, making some new firm promises about what he’ll do on abortion should he be elected president in 53 days. The missive, dated “September 2016,” was released by the anti-abortion nonprofit Susan B. Anthony List, an organization that not only opposes abortion in all circumstances, but also several forms of contraception, including emergency contraception and copper IUDs (which it has described as causing “early abortions”). The letter begins with Trump’s announcement that he has enlisted longtime anti-abortion leader Marjorie Dannenfelser, SBA List president, as the leader of his campaign’s “Pro-Life Coalition.”
Then Trump cycles through an attack on Hillary Clinton’s commitment to reproductive rights. Clinton, he writes, “not only supports abortion on-demand for any reason,” but “wants to force the taxpayers to pay for abortions by repealing the bi-partisan Hyde Amendment.” Here is the rare instance in which I can say: Yes, Donald Trump, that is true! One of Hillary Clinton’s most exciting and progressive choices this election cycle has been her open call to abolish the Hyde Amendment, the legislative rider that prevents any taxpayer money — including the funds that many Americans rely on for health insurance through Medicaid — to pay for abortions. The Hyde Amendment means that American women — many of them women of color — who cannot afford health insurance are effectively prevented from availing themselves of a legal medical procedure that is their right and that is fundamental to their ability to exert autonomy over their reproductive lives and thus their economic and familial futures. Yes. Hillary Clinton opposes the Hyde Amendment, because it is one of the policies that exacerbates economic and racial inequality in this country. What’s more, for the first time — praise be — opposition to the Hyde Amendment is in the Democratic platform.
Trump also writes that Hillary “supports abortion until an hour before birth,” which is a lie, because abortion an hour before birth is not abortion. But it’s also true that Clinton has often argued that abortions after the point of viability should be done in concert with doctors who have diagnosed risks to either maternal or fetal health — a position that is consistent with Roe v. Wade.
Trump, the Republican nominee for president, then lays out his own series of pledges, promising that he is committed to “nominating pro-life justices to the U.S. Supreme Court,” “signing into law the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” which means a ban on abortion after 20 weeks, “defunding Planned Parenthood as long as they continue to perform abortions,” and “making the Hyde Amendment permanent law.”
This is all part of Donald Trump’s steadily changing tune on abortion and reproductive health care. For years, he described himself as pro-choice, and said as recently as during the Republican primaries that Planned Parenthood has done “very good work for millions of women,” while adding that the government is “not going to allow, and we’re not going to fund, as long as you have the abortion going on at Planned Parenthood.” It’s most likely that this locution simply indicated that, as of March, Donald Trump didn’t understand that Hyde already prevents any federal funding from being used to pay for “the abortion.” It was in the same month, after all, that Trump — still new to considering policies surrounding women’s reproductive health — showed that he didn’t understand the twisted logic of anti-abortion rhetoric by telling Chris Matthews that if abortion were made illegal, there would have “to be some form of punishment” for women who sought abortions. He quickly walked back this statement, and got back in line with anti-abortion activists by claiming that what he meant was that only doctors who perform the abortions would need to be punished.
It’s true that Donald Trump has had a steep learning curve on issues about which he probably hasn’t ever thought much. But now’s he’s the presidential nominee of a party that has every year become more driven by the mission to cut off American women from access to legal health care; he’s trying to win an election that will determine the shape of the Supreme Court for the next half-century. He’s been brought up to speed.
So this is what he is promising if he becomes president: a court stacked with “pro-life justices” that will make abortion — and judging by the direction of his party, possibly several forms of contraception — illegal; the concretization of a law that makes full access to health care and control over reproduction unavailable to poor Americans; a 20-week rule that would make abortion illegal before the point in gestation at which many fetal abnormalities are diagnosed.
This cannot safely be considered electoral posturing or some wacky new skirmish in a culture war. If Donald Trump is elected president, it will likely be with a Republican congress and Supreme Court seats to fill. He could do every single one of the things he’s promising anti-abortion activists he will do. And those things would return women, in a very real way — in a way that is already happening in state and local jurisdictions around the country — to their secondary status: unable to exert full control over their bodies; barred from making choices about whether or when to bear children based on their health, their economic, or familial status, or the condition of the fetuses they carry.
Donald Trump would like to return us to a nation of forced births, with women’s bodies as the vessels. But by all means, let’s keep yukking it up over his funny orange hair.