The Anti-Abortion Movement Is Giving Trump His Path To Re-Election
Trump's inflammatory anti-abortion rhetoric is part of his strategy to win the White House again. But will it work?
Democratic lawmakers in New York and Virginia introduced legislation earlier this year to expand access to abortion in the later stages of pregnancy. They also inadvertently gave President Donald Trump a gift.
“In recent months the Democrat party has also been aggressively pushing extreme late-term abortion, allowing children to be ripped from their mother’s womb right up until the moment of birth,” he falsely claimed at a Michigan rally in late March. He then misrepresented Virginia’s bill, which never left committee, and said Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam called for the execution of “newborn babies.” This is false, as well.
Trump never truly stopped campaigning after winning the White House in 2016. Now, both in campaign events and through official communications, peppered throughout his recurrent rants against immigrants and the Russia-related “witch hunt,” he is banking on opposition to abortion rights to rail his base.
This distortion of pro-choice legislation began in earnest during his second State of the Union address. Now, it’s clear that this inflammatory anti-abortion rhetoric will continue to be part of his 2020 stump speech, with the intent of capturing the evangelical vote once again. And while 7 in 10 Americans support Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalised abortion nationwide, they have more complicated feelings on abortion at the later stages — driven in part for the amount of misinformation out there. Regardless, Carol Tobias, president of the anti-choice organisation National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), told Refinery29 that Trump is right in thinking abortion will be a crucial role in the 2020 presidential election. “We saw it [play] in 2016,” she said, adding that there were parts of the electorate for whom abortion was the most important issue and who were strongly opposed to Hillary Clinton’s pro-choice stance. “I think it will be a huge issue in the election next year and it will make a difference,” Tobias added. “They are going to be arguing for the hearts and minds of Americans.”
Listening to the president and other anti-abortion advocates, it would seem like there’s an epidemic of women terminating their pregnancies at a later stage for the sake of it. But the reality is only 1.3% of all abortions nationwide take place after 20 weeks of gestation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dr. Melissa Rosenstein, a maternal-foetal medicine specialist, told Refinery29 the reasons why patients seek care at the stage are complex. “They’re using an inflammatory rhetoric that is shaming women and shaming doctors. It’s really lacking completely in understanding, compassion, and respect for the complicated medical situations these women and their providers are facing,” Rosenstein said. She added: “Women who are facing these difficult decisions are in them because they either have had a diagnosis of a terrible foetal anomaly, have faced multiple restrictions in accessing abortion care, or they are terribly sick and their life is in danger,” she said. “Part of the problem is that politicians feel like they can legislate this type of complicated decisions. Every woman’s situation is different, every pregnancy is different, and it’s our job to provide the best care.”
Rosenstein said that the wave of anti-choice legislation restricting abortion at an earlier stage — from waiting periods to limitations on medical abortion to targeted regulation of abortion providers, better known as TRAP laws — can also lead to women seeking care later in pregnancy. For example, a year after Texas' controversial House Bill 2 was enacted, there was a 27% increase in the number of second-trimester abortions in the state. (The strict HB2 regulations led to the closure of about two dozen of the 44 clinics in Texas. The Supreme Court ruled 5-3 against the bill nearly two years ago, but the damage was done.)
Since the 2016 presidential election, Trump has repeated that legislation increasing access to abortion care “would allow a baby to be ripped from the mother’s womb moments before birth." When asked whether this happens in the United States, Dr. Kristyn Brandi, an assistant professor at Rutgers Medical School and a board member for Physicians for Reproductive Health, simply told Refinery29: “No. I don’t know where he got this from.”
“President Trump and other people, frankly in the Republican party, use very graphic language around this procedure,” she said. “But when I hear those terms, I’m like, ‘What does a c-section look like? What does hysterectomy look like?’ Arguably, those could be also be described in gory details, too.”
Even the use of the phrase “late term” is not medically accurate and proof that the conversation surrounding abortion care is largely taking place without the input of health providers, Brandi said. “For me, a ‘late term’ pregnancy is a pregnancy that is a week after the due date. It just shows that people who are having these conversations have no context of what [these procedures] look like in medical terms,” she said. In Brandi’s opinion, the medically inaccurate and incendiary terms used by anti-abortion advocates are a tactic to spread misinformation and fear. “This [rhetoric is used] to scare others or make them feel abortion is this terrible, back-alley thing. Abortion care nowadays is incredibly safe,” she said. “These patients are often in a vulnerable scenarios and we shouldn’t be trying to block their care, we should try to help them get the highest quality medical treatment they need for their individual circumstances.”
Trump’s stance on abortion rights has changed through time. He used to consider himself pro-choice and he allegedly suggested to his ex wife Marla Maples to have an abortion when she found herself pregnant with their daughter Tiffanny. (Trump vehemently denies this.) However, in the last few years the president has taken the role of an abortion foe. During the 2016 presidential election called for “some sort of punishment” for women who sought abortions, though he later reversed this position after outcry from pro-choice and pro-life factions alike. Trump has also been open about his desire to overturn Roe v. Wade, which he has said can be done by appointing conservatives to the Supreme Court. He has also supported several anti-choice congressional measures, expanded the global gag rule, and tried to implement a domestic version of that policy.
As we move closer to the 2020 election, it’s likely Trump and Republicans will latch on to incendiary rhetoric and a wave of extreme anti-choice legislation, such as bans on abortion after a foetal heartbeat is detected, as a way to play up the base.
"We’ve seen a massive uptick in inflammatory language, misinformation, and lies when it comes to abortion and reproductive freedom," Adrienne Kimmell, vice president for communications and strategic research at NARAL Pro-Choice America, told Refinery29. Kimmell highlighted how rare it is for abortions to happen after 20 weeks and how painful it can be for most families: According to Kimmell, Trump's playbook erases the often complicated medical reasons to terminate a pregnancy and instead paints women's choice to have an abortion at that point as cruel and inhumane. "They are trying to essentially create these opportunities to drive a narrative. In many ways, we've seen Americans feel compassion and they want compassion," she said. "They are attempting to show Republicans and anti-choice extremists as compassionate, when they are anything but."