Is Donald Trump really pro-life or is he just faking it, stoking his anti-abortion bona fides to appeal to the socially and religiously conservative base of the Republican Party? According to leading Catholic intellectual Robert P. George, Trump’s affirmative answer to Chris Matthew’s question about whether women who have abortions should be punished under an anti-abortion regime proves that Trump, “a life-long abortion supporter and Planned Parenthood enthusiast,” is faking it on abortion:
Most pro-lifers and the entire mainstream pro-life movement oppose, and have always opposed, punishing women who seek abortions. Their goal is, and has been for as long as we’ve had a pro-life movement, restoring the historic laws of abortion (which were overturned in Roe v. Wade) that punished abortionists, and did not punish women.
That’s correct as far as it goes. The anti-abortion laws prior to Roe did mainly punish doctors with jail time for performing abortions (although women were threatened with jail for refusing to testify against abortion providers). But women were punished in another way—by being forced to make a Sophie’s choice between carrying a pregnancy that they didn’t want to term or putting their life or health at risk by going to an illegal abortion provider or trying to self-abort.
George accuses Trump of “inadvertently” embracing an “idea that is falsely attributed to pro-life citizens by their opponents to weaken the pro-life cause by tarring pro-lifers as punitive, vindictive people who would send women, many of whom are desperate and frightened, and some of whom are acting under pressure or even coercion in seeking abortions, to prison.”
George’s language shows how much of the current pro-woman anti-abortion strategy, with its laws requiring abortion clinics to conform to hospital building codes or women to view sonograms during an extensive waiting period, relies on portraying women as ill-informed, “desperate and frightened” victims of abortion who are being coerced.
George is backing Ted Cruz, who replied to Trump’s comments with his own pandering, pro-motherhood formulation: “Of course we shouldn’t be talking about punishing women; we should affirm their dignity and the incredible gift they have to bring life into the world.” Whether they want to or not.
As Rachel Maddow noted on her show Thursday night, it’s Cruz who is actually far to the right of the mainstream on abortion, with two of his backers supporting violence against abortion providers. But George has no problem backing someone with supporters who advocate actual murder against actual people.
By contrast, Trump, with his bumbled answer, actually treated women as moral agents who freely choose abortion as the best outcome for an unwanted pregnancy. And by that logic, as Matthews correctly noted, there would have to be some sort of penalty for violating laws that ban abortion.
Trump also told the truth about what would happen if abortion were in fact outlawed. As history shows, abortion would not go away: “You go back to a position like they had where they would perhaps go to illegal places.”
Women would go to illegal providers or they would attempt to self-abort like they did in the good old days, when every major city had public hospital wards set aside just for women suffering the consequences of botched abortions.
“Pro-lifers are compassionate, seeking the good of unborn children and their mothers, never pitting them or their interests against each other,” writes George. But Trump was telling the truth that banning abortion would punish women, one way or another.