We already knew Donald Trump’s views on a great many issues were incoherent. Once you get beyond his desire to build a wall, make Mexico pay for it, and round up 12 million illegal immigrants, he’s short on specifics. But now that the press is finally getting around to asking some tough policy questions, Trump has dug some holes from which he will have some trouble crawling out. On foreign policy, he has dubbed NATO “obsolete,” has actually encouraged Japan and South Korea to get nuclear weapons, and seems complacent about a war with a nuclear North Korea, a state led by a madman. But though the prospect of such a clueless commander-in-chief should make us all shudder at the prospect of Trump becoming president, it was actually on abortion that Trump seemed to get into the most trouble.
As I noted last week, Trump’s initial abortion gaffe, in which he expressed support for punishment for women who sought abortions, was a game-changer in a number of ways. By expressing support for something that no one in the pro-life community favored, he played into the liberal stereotype about conservatives and provided fodder for a new Democratic “war on women” meme that will plague Republicans this year. But by walking it back almost immediately, he also undermined his image as the tough guy who can say anything with impunity that so many of his followers love. But it got even worse for Trump when he told CBS’s John Dickinson that he favored allowing abortion laws to stay as they are — an affront to pro-lifers — but then added that he believed abortion was murder. Confused? So is he. He later claimed that the tape was edited, but that wasn’t true. This series of misstatements not only confirmed to many in the GOP their suspicion that he is a liberal con man, not a conservative. His resort to pathetic excuses about context and tough questions made him sound like a whiny loser, not the magical candidate that has transcended the normal political laws of gravity this year.
But Trump wasn’t the only one that might have got into a bit of trouble on abortion this past weekend. On “Meet the Press,” while discussing Trump’s gaffes, NBC’s Chuck Todd posed an interesting question to Hillary Clinton about her own beliefs about abortion.
“When — or if — does an unborn child have constitutional rights?” NBC’s Todd asked Clinton.
“Well, under our laws currently, that is not something that exists,” Clinton answered. “The unborn person doesn’t have constitutional rights. Now, that doesn’t mean that we don’t do everything we possibly can in the vast majority of instances to, you know, help a mother who is carrying a child and wants to make sure that child will be healthy, to have appropriate medical support.”
“It doesn’t mean that you don’t do everything possible to try to fulfill your obligations. But it does not include sacrificing the woman’s right to make decisions,” Clinton explained.
Let’s think about this for a moment.
Technically, of course, Clinton is right. In the absence of laws protecting unborn children at the point at which they become viable outside of the womb, such an infant might be legally aborted up until the moment of birth. Though she likes to pose as the defender of the defenseless, when it comes to the most defenseless members of our society, like the rest of her party, Clinton will say nothing that might be construed as opening even a tiny crack in the liberal stand in favor of abortion on demand under any and all circumstances.
Democrats think, with good reason, that they can make political hay out of Trump’s idiocy even if he is somehow beaten for the Republican presidential nomination. But that is because they plan on fighting the abortion question on grounds of their own choosing. By depicting the current debate as one in which all abortions might be rendered illegal — something that given the makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court and public opinion, is unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future — they can raise the issue confident that it is a winner for them.
But, the real debate going on in state legislatures and Congress is not about reversing Roe v. Wade or interfering with first-trimester abortions; positions that the overwhelming majority of Americans oppose. Rather, it is about whether abortion in the last months of the pregnancy, when the fetus can likely survive on its own, that the abortion debate has become centered.
Last spring, the New England Journal of Medicine published a study subsequently reported on the front page of the New York Times that made it clear that babies born 22 to 23 weeks into a pregnancy have a decent chance of survival outside of the womb if given treatment. That finding places the debate about attempts to ban late-term abortions except in cases where the life of the mother is at stake on ground that is decidedly different from the one Democrats want to have. Put in the context of these findings, the refusals of liberals like Clinton to be willing to extend any protection to these children is not only heartless, it is anti-science. It is also a justification of a practice that is tantamount to infanticide, as we learned from the testimony of the Kermit Gosnell murder trial in 2013.
The blithe willingness of so many Americans to view abortion as merely a matter of choice while also posting sonograms of fetuses at far earlier stages of development than 22 weeks as if they were already their beloved children is a moral conundrum that few which to confront, let alone discuss. But it points out that rights for babies that could survive outside of the mother is no longer a theoretical question.
It is unfortunate that we are so busy discussing Trump’s incoherent flip-flopping on abortion that we are failing to note that the real debate about abortion going on now is one in which most conservatives are actually in line with the views of the majority of Americans that oppose late-term abortions. Indeed, a Marist poll that came out earlier this year showed that a whopping 81 percent of Americans would favor a ban on abortion after the first three months. Support for such a far-reaching measure, which goes far beyond the current legislative debates about bans after 20 or more weeks, comes from 82 percent of women as well as 66 percent of those who characterize themselves as supporters of abortion rights.
What this shows us is that Trump’s stupendous foolishness was not merely in saying something that allowed left-wingers to mischaracterize the position of a pro-life movement that he has never supported. Just as bad is that he has contributed to the obfuscation of the debate that allows it be fought on ground that liberals want rather than the ones on which conservatives can easily win. Put in its proper context, Clinton’s statement about denying rights to children that can survive outside the womb is just as damning as that of Trump. A less inept Republican might attempt to initiate the debate that Democrats fear. But so long as Trump is parading his ignorance in the center ring of American politics, little attention will be paid to Clinton’s hypocrisy.