The worst thing that could happen to Donald Trump would be for Roe v. Wade to be overturned. Public opinion over abortion rests in equipoise with equal percentages for and against, although with those against more energized. But this week’s poll from pro-Trump Fox News shows that with abortion threatened like never before, 57 percent say of Roe “let it stand.”
That’s bad news for Trump, although he doesn’t seem to know it yet, the way he doesn’t know Patriot Farms can’t switch on a dime from planting soybeans to corn to mitigate damages from his fruitless trade war.
So the president will celebrate the Alabama bill signed into law Wednesday by Republican Gov. Kay Ivey that restricts abortion after six weeks, even for a victim of rape or incest of any age. There are other laws requiring waiting periods, forced sonograms with witnesses watching, and hospital-level facilities, but this one is fashioned primarily to get to the Supreme Court, where Trump has put Brett Kavanaugh, the last piece of a 5-to-4 vote to overturn Roe.
“I prayed my way through this bill,” said its sponsor, State Rep. Terri Collins. “This is the way we get where we want to go.”
The gruesome details—like frog-marching doctors to prison—are just a fillip. After 50 years, the March for Lifers finally have a president who’s set the stage to end Roe.
But did Trump really mean to do that? He’s a bundle of tactics—it feels so good to be against something elites are for—in search of a strategy. Trump went from an indifferently pro-choice, thrice-married playboy to a rabid pro-life candidate who needed to woo evangelicals alarmed by his low character. He was so new to the politics of abortion during the campaign, he went further than the true believers. Like a zealous convert, Trump blundered and proposed “some form of punishment” for pregnant women, though not for the men who impregnate them.
He walked away from that idea, but he’s kept closer to the movement than any recent president. Just last month, he invited pro-life leaders to the White House for a screening of Gosnell: the Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer.
Kermit Gosnell wasn’t a doctor performing legal abortions in a licensed clinic. He was a criminal performing illegal abortions in a filthy room. There ought to be a law against such things, and there is. He was convicted of first-degree murder of two babies and manslaughter of a patient. Gosnell is now serving a life sentence.
Now Trump is waking a sleeping giant.
For years, abortion has been a one-issue cause for the pro-life movement, but with Roe imperiled, that changes. Soybean farmers, Walmart shoppers, Dreamers, climate-change believers, and Nazi-non-sympathizers may not vote as a bloc, but for many women—who came out in droves in the midterms to turn the House blue—this will be the final straw.
Add up a few women’s studies classes in Ann Arbor and you’ve got 10,704 votes to turn Michigan’s 16 Electoral College votes blue; a few yoga classes in the suburbs around Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, and it’s another 20 electoral votes. With that, who needs Wisconsin? There goes Trump back to his ailing namesake tower with a dozen investigations proceeding against him. I am woman, hear me roar.
Just because Republicans are going too far—even televangelist Pat Robertson finds the Alabama bill too extreme—doesn’t mean that Democrats aren’t in danger of yet again snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. In New York and Virginia, state legislatures recently passed legislation that swung open the door to third-trimester abortions, banned by Roe’s framework except in the most extreme cases.
When Congress passed a bill banning so-called partial-birth abortions (President Clinton finally vetoed it), Democratic opposition rested on the mantra that abortion was “safe, legal, and rare,” and performed late in pregnancy only in extreme circumstances. But that turned out not to be true. Over the years, the health-of-the-mother exception had been widened to include her age, mental state, and ability to care for a child. Overcome by guilt, National Coalition of Abortion Providers Executive Director Ron Fitzsimmons came clean in a 1997 article in American Medical News, writing that he’d “lied through his teeth” when he challenged the pro-life statistics.
We all fudge a bit when it comes to Roe. The framework devised by the decision, I don’t like to admit, is increasingly at war with our own eyes. Those of us who’ve had babies, visited a NICU, or gone to Little League games where there’s at least one child swinging a bat who was born at 22 weeks, know that viability has moved from the third trimester to the second. Democrats should concede that fact, not argue it, and certainly not stand and cheer at a new law that ignores it.
Roe gave abortion opponents one target instead of 50 states. It’s taken a while, but the battle has been joined. The losers could well be those of us in the middle. And, if there’s any justice on earth, the biggest loser of all will be Donald Trump.