There are so many offbeat things about the reaction to Donald Trump's comments to Chris Matthews last week about how he thought that if abortions were illegal there should be penalties against a woman who gets one, though no penalty for the man. It's almost hard to know where to begin.
First, it was whimsical to see that even far right-wing anti-choice groups took Trump to task. For instance, Jeanne Mancini, president of one of the largest anti-abortion groups, the March for Life Education and Defense Fund, called Trump's comment “completely out of touch with the pro-life movement and even more with women who have chosen such a sad thing as abortion.”
It's also important to be clear that as much as Donald Trump was taken to task for his thoughtless comments, including by his GOP opponents, it's not like their positions are all that much better. In fact, in some ways, Donald Trump's stance on abortion is more moderate than that Ted Cruz especially, and John Kasich. Donald Trump at least says he feels there should be exceptions for rape, incest and the health of the mother. Ted Cruz does not. Further, the Ted Cruz campaign has a "Pro-Lifers for Cruz" coalition, for which one of the co-chairs Tony Newman has called for the execution of abortion doctors for murder, and the Cruz site even promotes Newman's anti-abortion book Their Blood Cries Out. John Kasich, as governor of Ohio, signed a bill to defund Planned Parenthood.
In addition, indeed perhaps most important of all, is that lost in most of the reaction to Trump's comments is the reality that...abortions are legal. So, what Donald Trump or anyone thinks the penalties should be if they were illegal is pretty much moot. It gives an insight into his thinking, and what kind of Supreme Court justice he would nominate if given the opportunity, but not much more beyond that.
I did like that, although, the Trump campaign tried to "walk back" their candidate's words ( though it was more like running back as fast as possible while screaming), pretty much no one is letting him get away with it. I've read or heard no one who's now referring to Donald Trump's position on abortion punishment -- if it was illegal -- as being what the campaign's follow-up press release said, but have been sticking with the initial words everyone saw and heard out of his mouth.
What struck me about those words is that, even more than most of the blather and flim-flam that comes out of his mouth, I really didn't sense that what Donald Trump said about potential punishment had anything to do with what he actually believes. I got the sense that he hasn't put much thought into this divisive subject and was just mouthing what he believed his far-right supporters believed. But not actually being that extremist far right himself, he didn't quite know, and wasn't exactly on the same page. That's not to excuse him -- it shows his ignorance and ill-preparedness, and if it's what he thinks he's supposed to believe, then all the worse -- but an explanation.
And I support this observation because Donald Trump himself, when pressed by Chris Matthews about what the punishment he espoused should be, said that...he didn't know. And when pressed further why he didn't know, answered that it was because it was a complicated issue (as if most issues when being president aren't complicated...), and he hadn't given it thought. Seriously, how could a person run for President of the United States and not give thought to what should be done about abortion, especially after being on the campaign trail for seven months??? But the thing is, if Donald Trump had given it thought, he'd have had an answer. But he didn't have an answer, which is why for one of the few times I actually believe him. I do believe that Donald Trump hadn't given abortion a thought. Which is why I think he was just mouthing what he thought he was supposed to believe
Further, as has been pointed out by many Pro Choice supporters, all the cries from anti-abortion advocates that they're against punishment of women who have abortions are missing the point that denying abortions to women who would want them (if made illegal) would be a punishment itself. Maybe not an action of law, but punishment no less.
But all this got me thinking more about the concept of punishment for abortions should they become illegal, and carrying the argument to its logical extreme. Taking the debate where it rarely goes, other than protests, signs moral outrage and blocking clinics. And the result of that made all the anti-abortion advocates crying out at Trump, bemoaning that they're not for punishing women who want abortions all the more disingenuous.
Take for instance the continued words from Jeanne Mancini above, president of the aforementioned March for Life Education and Defense Fund. Her statement quoted earlier went on, saying --
"Being pro-life means wanting what is best for the mother and the baby. Women who choose abortion often do so in desperation and then deeply regret such a decision. No pro-lifer would ever want to punish a woman who has chosen abortion. This is against the very nature of what we are about. We invite a woman who has gone down this route to consider paths to healing, not punishment.”
It all sounds of kumbaya and soul-warming. But forgetting even the point that denying women the right to control their own body and have an abortion, and that a zygote is not a "baby," the heart-rending statement leaves out an unspoken reality.
Most anti-abortion advocates, especially the most outspoken, are against abortion because they believe it is murder, killing an unborn child. That's why they -- like Tony Newman, who co-chairs the Ted Cruz Pro-Lifers coalition, call for the execution of abortion doctors. But if they believe that -- if they insist that abortion is actually murder and so the doctors committing that murder must be punished for murder...then it intrinsically follows that they must equally support the position that women who have abortions need to be punished for murder, as well. There is no rational argument that would suggest they can believe otherwise. If they believe that abortion is murder -- which they do -- then a woman who goes to a doctor for an abortion is therefore an accessory to that very murder. It can't be any other way. If a mother brought her 10-year-old child to a murderer to be killed, she would unquestionably be tried for the crime as an accessory to murder, if not an active participant. The fact that she didn’t believe it was murder when her child was made to disappear forever from the face of the earth, exactly as she wished, would be no defense. And so, again, if one believes that a zygote is actually a baby, a child, and that abortion is murder, then the mother who brings that "child" to an abortion clinic must -- by their own belief -- be as guilty of murder as the doctor. Indeed, it is the mother who began the murder conspiracy.
This is not to argue for or against abortion. I've heard arguments against abortion that were thoughtful, though not anything I personally agree with -- but I certainly understood their position. It is only to say that if a person believes that abortion is not only wrong and should not be federal law, but is actual murder, then the only response carried out to its necessary, logical conclusion must be that the woman must be punished -- as Donald Trump said, and what all the anti-abortion advocates decried -- and that that punishment must be for murder. To deny that, to deny the idea that any pro-lifer would never "want to punish a woman who has chosen abortion," to insist with open arms and heartfelt tears that "Being pro-life means wanting what is best for the mother and the baby" is not only being disingenuous, but blind to the actual consequences of the argument at best, and lying at worst.
If someone believes that abortion is murder, and that the mother and abortion doctor should be convicted of murder, then so be it, that's their belief. And they should express it. And be ready to defend it -- against those who find such a position medieval and ghastly. But to truly believe that abortion is murder and then hide behind a falsehood of nurturing support for the accomplice gives lie to that very belief.
And so, the political world rightly slams Donald Trump for his comments about how abortion should be illegal and punishing women who get one. And the far-right anti-abortionists criticize him, as well, and throw out their loving arms in support of the dear women -- all the while wanting far, far, far, far worse than anything Donald Trump said. Which was horrible enough.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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