From the Left



Donald Trump and the Politics of Abortion

Susan Estrich on

"I'm very pro-choice," Donald Trump said in 1999, when he first flirted with the idea of running for president. "Just very briefly, I'm pro-life," he announced at the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2011. In 2016, campaigning for the support of anti-abortion leaders, he promised to appoint judges who would overrule Roe v. Wade -- and he did. Faced with the political repercussions of that "success" -- he openly blamed the abortion issue for Republican losses in the midterm elections -- he supposedly "moderated" his stance in a four-minute video on Monday, in which he said that it was up to the states to decide what the law should be and backed access to fertility treatments and exceptions in cases of rape, incest and the life of the mother.

"You must follow your heart, or in many cases, your religion or your faith," he said. "Do what's right for your family and do what's right for yourself."

Really? How are you supposed to do that if you live in Texas? Tell that to the woman who was denied access to an abortion, developed sepsis and now may never be able to have children.

What was more significant than what Trump said was what he didn't say. He didn't say whether he would sign an abortion ban if it came to him as president. He didn't say whether he would support state bans with no exceptions or whether he would continue to appoint anti-abortion judges and justices or whether he would staff his administration with officials committed to using federal power to restrict access to abortion, as anti-abortion activists who continue to support him expect him to do.

Indeed, the reaction to his statement from the anti-abortion movement was telling. There were some, like Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, and Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina senator, who were openly critical.

"His concern is political only," Dannenfelser told reporters. "It is a huge disappointment. It is a total eclipse of reason, and that only happens in abortion politics for Republicans." Former Vice President Mike Pence said the statement was a "slap in the face" to anti-abortion voters who had supported Trump, and Lindsey Graham questioned his commitment to the movement. Trump responded by attacking them and reminding everyone that he was responsible for getting rid of Roe v. Wade -- a message the Biden campaign will be certain to underscore.

"Lindsey, Marjorie, and others fought for years, unsuccessfully, until I came along and got the job done," he posted on his social media site. "We cannot let our Country suffer any further damage by losing Elections on an issue that should always have been decided by the States, and now will be!"


Others emphasized that the message was simply a political move that would not, in fact, mean anything would change in terms of policy. Kristan Hawkins, the president of Students for Life, said Trump was "very clear affirming the family" in his statement.

"I hope he sticks with this statement," she said, "and then moves forward and starts naming pro-life appointments, naming his pro-life vice president pick, pledging that he is going to only appoint pro-life leaders to the Department of Justice, Health and Human Services, Department of Education, FDA, EPA, down the entire cabinet line."

Trump has no interest in principle and no empathy for the life and death issues at stake. His cynical effort to defang the abortion issue is a transparent move. Don't believe him for a minute. It's pure hypocrisy, an attempt to have it both ways. Donald Trump has no interest in protecting women. The only one he is trying to protect is himself, from the fallout of his own policies.


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