Trump Retreats to Mainstream Republican Rhetoric on Abortion

Photo by Gage Skidmore

Photo by Gage Skidmore

Although people’s views on abortion ultimately turn on their fundamental beliefs about the nature and beginnings of human life, there has always been a logical flaw in the antiabortion case. If abortion is the taking of a human life — knowingly and purposefully — how can it not be a crime for a woman to procure one? If a doctor who performs an abortion is little better than a murderer for hire, how can you punish the doctor and let the patient go free? Few antiabortion activists have troubled to ponder this anomaly.

Instead, they simply say that the patient is “a victim.” No doubt this is true in some cases, but as a generality it is an insult to women who make the terrible decision to have, or, for that matter, the terrible decision not to have, an abortion. Donald Trump wandered into this thicket this week, starting with some wild talk about punishing women who have abortions. It took about one-and-a-half news cycles for Trump to retreat to the position of “woman as victim.”

The notion of putting women in prison for having an abortion is absurd and ugly. Too absurd and ugly even for Trump, apparently. So absurd and so ugly that no mainstream politician publicly advocates it, although it has the virtue of consistency — which is one of the strengths of the right-to-life movement. A person is a person and has a right to life. Period. The counterargument that an individual human life emerges gradually — just like human life itself during evolution — is more complicated, though true.

As with many issues, as Post columnist Catherine Rampell has written, Trump’s views are not all that different from those of the “establishment” “mainstream” Republican “leaders” who are working to undermine him.

Every Republican platform in recent decades has declared, with slight changes in wording, “We support the appointment of judges who respect traditional family values and the sanctity of innocent human life.” (They also declare their desire for judges who come to the bench with an open mind.) The 2008 platform spelled it out: “We assert the inherent dignity and sanctity of all human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed. We support a human life amendment to the Constitution, and we endorse legislation to make clear that the 14th Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children.”

There is a lot of code here — phrases that have meaning to the people who wrote them, and not necessarily to the people expected to read them. The 14th Amendment is the one that guarantees “equal protection of the laws.” If “unborn children” are entitled to equal protection, then obviously abortion cannot go on. Nor can in vitro fertilization, which purposely produces and disposes more fertilized human eggs than needed.

Republican and business leaders are looking around desperately for something to use as a chisel, to cut the Trump ice block down to size. Abortion is not going to be their chisel.