Republicans have long used their party’s opposition to abortion as a rallying cry and a way to turn out their base voters. The emerging 2020 GOP strategy is a culture war to make abortion the core issue. Trump and Republicans are trying to paint Democrats as radical on abortion:
A key component of the strategy: painting Democrats as radical baby-killers.
This week, Senate Republicans advocated a bill that seemed designed to do just that.
On Monday, all but three Democrats voted against a procedural motion that would have allowed the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act to advance to the Senate floor for a full vote. The bill would require health-care practitioners to “exercise the same degree of professional skill, care, and diligence to preserve the life and health of the child” as he or she would to “any other child born alive at the same gestational age,” my colleagues explained. It included criminal penalties for medical professionals who violated the law, along with a right of civil action.
Democrats argued that the measure was an “unjustified attack” on abortion rights, an overbroad effort to curtail doctors’ rights.
But top Republicans used the bill’s broad, innocuous-sounding language to label Democrats as out of step with most Americans on the issue. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) described the measure as “a straightforward piece of legislation to protect newborn babies.” Democrats “seem to be suggesting that newborn babies’ right to life may be contingent on the circumstances surrounding their birth,” he said.
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) went so far as to suggest that a vote against the bill was a vote in favor of “infanticide.”
That’s how Republican talking heads framed it, too.
GOPropagandists are replacing abortion — which applies to an in utero fetus — with “infanticide,” which is defined as “the crime of killing a child within a year after birth.” It is an attempt to obfuscate the meaning to portray an in utero fetus as a born infant. Republicans pound abortion ‘infanticide’ message.
“Thirty years ago, the pro-choice position was that abortion needed to be safe, legal, and rare,” Andrew Egger wrote Tuesday in the right-leaning Bulwark. “We went from that to a Democratic party that stood in favor of partial-birth abortion as a matter of principle. And then to the Shout Your Abortion movement. And now to a party that cannot even muster the will to discern between abortion and literal infanticide.”
Republicans have tried to do the same with measures making their way through state legislatures.
For example, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) found himself in hot water after he appeared to suggest that doctors could “abort” infants even after birth.
In a WTOP interview, Northam said doctors could perform late-term abortion “in cases where there may be severe deformities. There may be a fetus that’s not viable. So in this particular example, if a mother’s in labor, I can tell you exactly what would happen.”
Northam, a pediatric neurologist, went on to note: “The infant would be delivered, the infant would be kept comfortable, the infant 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.”
Conservatives were quick to jump.
Republicans also painted the Democratic-controlled New York state legislature’s new abortion law as “an extreme position” staked out by the “radical left.”
In reality, the measure allows abortions within 24 weeks of the start of a pregnancy “or at any time when necessary to protect a woman’s life or health.” “There is nothing radical about this bill. The decision about whether to have an abortion is deeply personal,” said state Sen. Liz Krueger, the Manhattan Democrat who sponsored the bill in the Senate, according to the Buffalo News.
President Trump also has seized on this. In his State of the Union speech, he said:
“There could be no greater contrast to the beautiful image of a mother holding her infant child than the chilling displays our nation saw in recent days. 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. These are living, feeling, beautiful babies who will never get the chance to share their love and dreams with the world. And then we had the case of the governor of Virginia, where he basically stated he would execute a baby after birth.”
Trump’s speech did not acknowledge that “late-term abortions” are very rare. Instead, he looked to capitalize on their unpopularity. That will probably work in the president’s favor in 2020, especially with white evangelicals who see abortion as a core issue.
Michelle Goldberg of the New York Times has correctly labeled the GOP as The Republicans of Gilead:
In “The Handmaid’s Tale,” Margaret Atwood’s ever-resonant tale of misogynist dystopia, Christian fascism has a sordid, perverse underbelly. On the surface, the Republic of Gilead, Atwood’s imaginary successor to America, is a place of totalitarian religious austerity. But as the book’s enslaved narrator discovers, the society’s leaders also maintain a brothel, Jezebel’s, full of women who couldn’t fit into the new order. It’s the inevitable flip side of a regime that dehumanizes women, reducing them to their reproductive organs. “Nature demands variety, for men,” says a character called the Commander.
Donald Trump’s administration turns the Gilead model upside down. Its public image is louche and decadent, with tabloid scandal swirling around the president and many of his associates. This can make it hard to focus on the unprecedented lengths the administration is going to curtail American women’s reproductive rights and enrich the anti-abortion movement.
[Last] Friday, the Trump administration escalated its war on Planned Parenthood and the women who use it. It released a rule prohibiting Title X, a federal family-planning program that serves around four million low-income women, from funding organizations that also provide abortions. Further, the administration instituted an American version of the global gag rule, barring doctors and nurses receiving Title X funds from making abortion referrals to their patients except in certain emergency situations.
The rule is meant to cut Planned Parenthood, which serves 41 percent of Title X recipients, out of the program. But for many women who rely on Title X, there are no alternatives. Planned Parenthood’s president, Dr. Leana Wen, told me that in Wisconsin, as of 2017, Planned Parenthood served 80 percent of Title X patients and was the only Title X provider in seven counties. In Ohio, Planned Parenthood was the only Title X provider in nine counties. “We know that when patients cannot access their provider of choice, they delay care,” or they end up forgoing care altogether, she said.
The administration appears to think that religious anti-abortion groups, including those opposed to contraception, will fill some of the gaps. The new regulation jettisons a requirement that Title X clinics provide “medically approved” family planning services. That means that funds that once went to Planned Parenthood could flow instead to anti-abortion groups that promote so-called natural family planning. Unless the courts halt the new policy, struggling women who need refills on their birth control pills could get federally funded lectures on the rhythm method instead.
This move to turn a lifesaving women’s health program into pork for the religious right should be major news. Instead, it’s been overshadowed by a series of scandals, each offering telling glimpses of the sexual ethics of Trumpworld’s golf-shirted Commanders.
On Thursday, a federal judge ruled that prosecutors working under former Miami U.S. attorney Alex Acosta, now Trump’s secretary of labor, broke the law in the process of making an inexplicably lenient plea deal with the financier Jeffrey Epstein, who’d been accused of sexually abusing underage girls. (Trump once counted Epstein as a friend, saying of him: “He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side.”) Acosta would have already been forced out of any normal administration, but so far he seems secure in this one.
Then, on Friday, news broke that the billionaire Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots and a close friend of and donor to Trump, was being charged with soliciting prostitution, part of a wide-ranging Florida sex-trafficking investigation. One of the 100 richest men in the country, Kraft was allegedly a patron of a strip-mall massage parlor staffed by women who, according to police, were virtual prisoners, forced to service up to 1,000 men a year. It’s hard to imagine why a man with Kraft’s resources would visit such a place unless the squalor, and the women’s evident powerlessness, were part of the point. (Kraft has denied the allegations; the police reportedly have video evidence.)
On Monday there was another minor sex scandal involving Trump himself, when Alva Johnson, a former Trump campaign staffer in Florida, sued the president and his campaign, claiming, among other things, that he’d given her an unwanted kiss while she was at work. To Trump, the suit says, “Ms. Johnson was nothing more than a sexual object he felt entitled to dominate and humiliate.” The Trump camp denies Johnson’s charges, but the behavior she described is in keeping with Trump’s self-description on the “Access Hollywood” tape: “It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait.” More than 22 women have accused Trump of sexual misconduct.
Now Trump, payer of hush money to a pornographic film actress, employer of Bill Shine, a man forced out of Fox News for his role in abetting sexual harassment, is putting himself between over a million poor women and their doctors. It’s ugly, but I’m not sure it’s hypocritical. Ultimately, the patriarchs of the fictional Gilead and the dreadfully real Mar-a-Lago share an ethos: harsh restrictions for powerless women, unbounded license for powerful men.
Margaret Atwood intended “The Handmaid’s Tale” to be a dystopian vision of misogynist Christian fascism. It was a warning. Republicans saw it as a “how to” handbook to achieving the misogynist Christian fascism of the Christian Nationalists and Dominionists that make up the GOP’s base voters. Atwood’s dystopian vision is the GOP’s utopian vision.