Abortion doesn’t fit comfortably inside the wheelhouse of a president with Donald Trump’s sexual history. But there in the middle of 82 minutes on how we “can bridge old visions, heal old wounds [and] build new coalitions,” was a harsh attack on Democratic lawmakers aiming to protect Roe v. Wade from him.
After race, abortion may be the tenderest subject politicians have to deal with. The president, always indelicate, treated it like just one more nail to take a sledgehammer to, talking about “the chilling displays our nation saw in recent days” and describing how “lawmakers in New York cheered with delight upon the passage of legislation that would allow a baby to be ripped from the mother’s womb moments before birth… and then, we had the case of the Governor of Virginia where he stated he would execute a baby after birth.”
That was how he summarized two bills to allow abortions in the third trimester in certain horrific circumstances but with language that might not limit the procedure to those situations only. In those Trump saw an opportunity to divide the country.
In an interview with the Daily Caller ahead of SOTU, Trump predicted that "this is going to lift up the whole pro-life movement like maybe it’s never been lifted up before."
Lift he did, elevating the subject back to center-stage by granting scarce SOTU time to it. Leaving the substance of the two new laws aside, it doesn’t take a heavy lift to divide the public on abortion. About a third of the country, according to Gallup, is dissatisfied with current law. Still there’s a 50-50 equipoise on Roe v. Wade’s protection for abortion within the first trimester. After viability, states can place restrictions on the procedure and, under pressure from pro-life forces, many have. Waiting times, multiple visits, forced viewing of videos, a second and third medical opinion, hospital-level equipment, and accreditation—have closed many clinics, making it nearly impossible for some women to exercise their constitutional right.
That’s wrong and enough to make the other side, when back in power, impose its own beliefs. Virginia and New York went full bore to get rid of laws inconsistent with Roe. There were those waiting to tear the effort apart, including the president. They might have been a less inviting target if not for the standing ovation in Albany followed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo bathing the World Trade Center in pink, a color usually reserved for curing breast cancer, to celebrate.
Matters got worse when Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, a doctor, gave a grisly, inaccurate description of his state’s bill. It used to be that three doctors had to certify that continuing a pregnancy would likely cause death or “substantially and irremediably impair” her mental or physical health. The new bill would reduce the number of doctors to one, and remove the “substantially and irremediably” qualifier, allowing the procedure if a mother’s mental or physical health is threatened. In reply to a question about what would happen if a gravely ill child was born after a failed abortion, Northam described a hellish scene.
“The infant would be kept comfortable, he said, and “would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother.”
If he hadn’t then been called to defend his indefensible yearbook picture, he would still be explaining that answer.
Trump, not one to let a mistake go unpunished, interrupted his so-called uplifting address to accuse the Virginia governor of being willing to kill a child. On cue, the camera turned its lens to focus in a closeup on Trump’s two additions to the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch. Message accomplished.
The challenge to those who would protect Roe v. Wade is how to fight when the other side is ready to play dirty—Trump reminisced a few days ago how he warned the country that a President Hillary Clinton would rip babies out of wombs. No, she wouldn’t.
Some of the cases discussed in New York and Virginia were heartbreaking, and the old laws needed to be changed, but truth shouldn't be sacrificed in the process.. During the last all-out war over the misnamed partial birth abortion in the Clinton administration, Ron Fitzsimmons, the executive director of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, admitted he’d "lied" when he said late-term abortions were rare and limited to extreme situations. In the vast majority of cases, he wrote in an American Medical Association journal, “the procedure is performed on a healthy mother with a healthy fetus that is 20 weeks or more along.” What’s more he added “the abortion-rights folks know it, the anti-abortion folks know it, and so, probably, does everyone else.’'
Those who would keep abortion legal have to go high and acknowledge a few things. Moderates are with you but don’t want viable babies being aborted except in extreme cases. The courts have stretched what constitutes a threat to mental health to include "physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and a woman's age,” which is to say just about everything. No one wants to force motherhood on a teenager coming for help at 30 weeks—for her sake or the child’s. But Roe envisioned that at a point post viability the interest of society had to be weighed against a woman’s rights. What’s more, medical advances since the Roe decision in 1973 have moved the time of viability earlier than Roe’s third trimester of 28 weeks. It’s 2019 and we all know babies born at 24 weeks now kicking a soccer ball.
Tinker too much with Roe, jump to your feet applauding after pushing its limits, forget what a solemn subject is being discussed as Trump did by weaponizing it in his State of the Union address and we risk bringing about the very thing we fear most, overturning Roe v. Wade. Remember the camera lingering on two justices who have three others who could join them in throwing us back to life before Roe. That’s would be a terrible place to be.