Rightbloggers and other mainstream Republicans, terrified that a Trump ascendancy will put their phony-baloney jobs at risk, have been praying for a Trump gaffe that — unlike every previous Trump gaffe — might actually decrease the GOP Presidential front-runner’s popularity. And last week they thought they had it, when Trump told MSNBC’s Chris Matthews that women should be “punished” for having abortions.
The brethren tut-tutted as Trump repeatedly changed his mind. But then they made the mistake of saying what they thought about abortion — proving that they aren’t any more coherent than Trump.
These days you don’t hear Republicans or rightbloggers talk much about abortion policy. For one thing, there’s nothing to discuss: to them, abortion is murder and must be stopped. Since Roe v. Wade isn’t going anywhere soon, pro-lifers mainly spend their time defending laws that make it hell for women to get abortions in any state where Republicans are in charge — with impediments ranging from day-long drives (sometimes two of them) to vaginal wandings to forced fetus funerals.
Several female columnists, such as Katha Pollitt at the New York Times, said this proved that, contra Trump, women were already getting punished for abortions. But at National Review, David French — a strict pro-lifer who once asserted that “satanists are become a leading public voice for abortion rights” — told these columnists they were just “redefining words in service of shrieking hyperbole” — shrieking, presumably, because that’s what ladies do (or maybe French had Gilbert Gottfried read their columns out loud to him).
“If it serves a woman’s right to kill her unborn child,” French explained, “the Left will happily stretch ‘punishment’ to include any minor inconvenience.” He then complained (not shriekingly/hyperbolically, I assume) that liberals were always trying to make people like him look bad (“If you’re pro-life, you’re ‘punishing’ women…. If you’re a Christian who believes marriage is the union of one man and one woman, you’re a ‘homophobe,'” etc.), and closed with this chilling peroration:
That’s abortion in America. Women are sometimes inconvenienced, the child is always killed, and the feminist Left wants both more convenience and more killing. So long as we allow this regime to continue, God may show us what punishment truly means.
Vote Cruz, or all shall burn in the cleansing fire!
Other, slightly less hysterical rightbloggers pursued a different line of argument: Trump’s statement was “A Betrayal of Pro-Lifers,” as Mollie Hemingway put it at the Federalist, because real conservatives don’t want to “punish” women, they just want to strip them of their reproductive rights, as God intended.
“Trump’s Abortion Comments Upset Years of Work in the Pro-Life Community,” fretted Matt K. Lewis at the Daily Caller. While Lewis admitted “the notion that only the abortion doctor (not the woman having the abortion) should face penalties” was “inconsistent with the notion that ‘abortion is murder’” — though of course it is murder, as every good conservative knows — nonetheless Lewis and his fellow-wingnuts had to live with that hypocrisy, because “these political compromises are necessary in order to cobble together a palatable and defensible (if admittedly inconsistent) public policy position that might someday actually be able to win the argument in mainstream America.”
But now, lamented Lewis, because of Trump’s impolitic statement, abortionist liberals had a fresh chance “to demagogue the issue by scaring vulnerable women.” So unfair!
At the New York Daily News Charles Camosy said women who had abortions could only be culpable murderers “if women have an uncoerced choice to have an abortion,” and in his view that was impossible: “our abortion laws end up serving the interests of men and coercing the so-called ‘choice’ of women,” he said. That’s why you so often see so-called “clinic escorts” hustling unwilling pregnant women past the Christian protesters who are trying to help them escape. “Women, like their prenatal children, are victims of our horrific abortion policy,” added Camosy, and as with prenatal children we shouldn’t try to interpret their wishes based on their primitive means of self-expression.
“We are interested in saving babies, not punishing mothers,” said Professor Robert P. George at First Things. “And we know that we don’t need to punish mothers to save babies.” Just a short spell in the Birthing Cell and they’ll be free to go.
At National Review Clarke D. Forsythe assured readers that, even in pre-Roe days, women were never prosecuted for their back-alley abortions if they survived them, and “that experience will certainly be influential with prosecutors and state policymakers when Roe v. Wade is overturned.” Show a little faith, ladies! It’s not like you have any choice. (Ha, get it?)
Forsythe’s colleague Quin Hillyer complained about a less-noticed aspect of Trump’s answer: His admission that, if abortion were made illegal, women would still try to get them (“you go back to a position…where they would perhaps go to illegal places, but we have to ban it”).
“If that doesn’t play into the hands of the anti-life movement, nothing does,” said Hillyer. “This is a wink-wink/nudge-nudge to the idea that illegal abortion mills or perhaps even back alleys are to be accepted as alternatives to legal abortions — rather than that, say, adoptions should be promoted, along with community support for prenatal care and both pre- and postnatal counseling.” Doesn’t Trump know that when you make something illegal, people stop doing it?
Other National Review writers pointed readers to a 2007 “symposium” in which various conservative thinkers explained why women who abort needn’t go to jail (e.g., “Women don’t need punishment. They need compassion and support”) — though at least one symposiast, Matthew J. Franck, implied that if they remained recalcitrant maybe they would get sent up after all:
For 34 years, American women have been taught that their unborn children have no claim on them.… Consciousness of abortion’s wrongness will not be rebuilt overnight. It is plausible that we could begin by reducing the number of abortions in America by 90 percent with zero jail time for any woman who obtains one. In a more just society a generation or two after Roe, further reductions might require stronger laws.
So when the New Order comes, behave yourselves, girls.
Meanwhile Trump’s closest rival, Ted Cruz, took full advantage of the situation, declaring at his campaign site over a rosy picture of a fetus that “we shouldn’t be talking about punishing women; we should affirm their dignity and the incredible gift they have to bring life into the world….” The candidate also held a “Women for Cruz” event, gushingly covered by Tim Alberta at National Review: “Plush chairs. Stylish pillows. Purple flowers…in a gently-lit hotel ballroom, beneath elegant, glass-encased chandeliers, the man known for his hardball tactics and red-meat rhetoric attempted to show a softer side,” etc. There Cruz repeated his “incredible gift they have to bring life into the world” line.
About the same time, the FDA announced it was loosening restrictions on RU-486, a pill which easily and effectively terminates very early pregnancies without giving conservatives an abortionist to prosecute. Maybe when that takes off, rightbloggers will have to talk about the need to prosecute the pharmacist instead of the woman, or the pill-runner instead of the woman, or the friendly neighbor with a leftover prescription instead of the woman — or maybe they’ll finally be forced to cut the bullshit and admit that women are capable of making that choice, and that the pro-life position demands taking that choice away from them by force if necessary. More likely, as soon as Trump says something else crazy — and look, he already has! — they’ll go just back to keeping their mouths shut, and waiting in silence for a chance to strike.