Donald Trump’s remarks on abortion were ignorant and misinformed, and those claiming they reveal the dark and dangerous ill-logic at the heart of anti choice rhetoric in the United States aren’t wrong, but they aren’t looking closely enough. Cruel, thoughtless and misguided yes, but the suggestion of punishing women who obtain an illegal abortion demonstrates not only reveals Trump’s inherent unsuitability for office, but how he is poorly attempting to fit in to the broader narrative of Republican and conservative attitudes to reproductive rights.
Speaking at a town hall debate in Milwaukee last month, in conversation with MSNBC anchor Chris Matthews, Trump was asked to expand on his views on abortion. While discussing them, which is putting it politely; he floundered hopelessly around the subject for several excruciating minutes what is undeniably a controversial and sensitive topic, Trump mistakenly, we can only hope, came out in favour of “some form of punishment” for women who obtain an illegal abortion. He declined to specify whether the man involved, who is of course responsible for half of the embryo’s DNA and in cases of rape or coercion entirely responsible of the sexual encounter, would also face criminal responsibility for his actions.
The video of the interview, when watched closely, indicates Trump mouthing the word: “no,” when asked this question but reconsidering and choosing instead to wave the query away with the vague response: “different feelings, different people.” One can only assume an unwanted pregnancy, in Trump’s opinion, is solely the fault of the promiscuous and thoughtless woman, however, his awareness that this instinctively misogynistic view was not one appropriate for a televised debate demonstrates that he understands very well the political game he – and we all – are playing. Charming, but coming from the candidate who has described women as “sluts,” “pigs” and “dogs,” not entirely unexpected. Trump later retracted his words and clarified that his position was that doctors, not women, should be the ones receiving the penalties, a clear and revealing indictment of the unexpected severity of his latest misstep.
While Trump is unarguably the loudest Republican nomination candidate and certainly has never before sought to hush the controversy he has repeatedly stirred up, this particular gaffe isn’t the most telling insight so far into his candidacy, far from it; his retraction is. Repulsive as the sentiment he expressed was, Trump isn’t the biggest threat to American women’s right to choose. He simply horrifically misjudged the public reaction this extreme statement would have. His speedy disavowal of the position he took shows only that he had no idea of the impact of his words and the strength of those who oppose such a policy. His closest rival for the Republican nomination, Ted Cruz, is one of many conservative US politicians who have stood in the way of safe access to reproductive healthcare in the name of the ‘sanctity of life.’ Trump attempted to join this Establishment club of anti choice politics. At this point in the election he is seeking the vote of right
wing, religious Republicans and appearing tough, but moral, on abortion is one of the best ways to indicate his suitability. Whoops.
Cruz is in fact far to the right of Trump: he would criminalize terminating a pregnancy even in the case of rape or incest, a position 76% of Republican voters oppose. Cruz would also prohibit specific methods of contraception, namely those that prevent the implantation of an already fertilized egg in the lining of the uterus. This includes the intrauterine device (IUD) which is proven to be one of the most effective and safest methods of preventing pregnancy. The fact that a man who clearly either loathes women or received some of the worst sex education that America has to offer gets to score brownie points for appearing more moderate on abortion than his rival, is all the sign you need that Donald Trump couldn’t have got this one more wrong.