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17 April 2024

Abortion rights will be worse under Trump

The former president created the chaos and cruelty of America’s reproductive restrictions. And they will only intensify in a second term.

By Jill Filipovic

Donald Trump is the candidate of chaos and lies. His impact on abortion rights is no exception. On 8 April the former president and 2024 presidential candidate released a video stating his position on abortion. He clarified nothing, instead describing the state of affairs in America – that, after almost 50 years of legal abortion, the justices he appointed to the Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe vs Wade case in 2022 and sent the question of abortion’s legality to the states. As a result, rights are now a national mixed bag, and whether a woman is forced to carry a pregnancy to term depends largely on where she lives.

Trump did not say whether he would endorse a national abortion ban, as his anti-abortion supporters expect him to do. He did not say whether he would sign such a bill if it came across the presidential desk, as his Republican Party is aiming for. He did not comment on conservative efforts to use a 150-year-old law criminalising “obscene, lewd, or lascivious” materials to largely ban abortion pills and possibly even contraceptives. He did support keeping at least some fertility treatments legal, even if many members of his own party support laws that would ban IVF. But he did not say what he would actually do to either expand or curtail abortion rights if elected.

Trump ushered in the most chaotic period of abortion legislation in US history. If he is elected again, it is almost certain he will bring more of the same.

The conservative push to overturn Roe was long premised on the argument that, by ruling abortion a constitutional right, the Supreme Court in 1973 unleashed an era of profound cultural conflict. For decades, the “pro-life” and pro-choice movements fought it out at the ballot box, in the courts and in state legislatures. Abortion opponents raised the stakes when they picketed clinics, harassed and stalked patients, firebombed medical facilities and murdered doctors. Meanwhile, liberal and largely feminist efforts to make reliable, affordable contraception more widely available drove down abortion numbers. Still, many conservative anti-abortion opponents said the decades-long divide over abortion rights was untenable. It was better to overturn Roe and let states and their voters decide.

In 2022, an over-reaching conservative Supreme Court boasting three hard-right Trump-appointed judges did just that. Now, some 25 million American women of childbearing age live in states where they cannot obtain a legal abortion. Most of them want abortion to be legal but have no say. Voters are angrier and more disgusted than when pro-abortion doctors were being killed. Because Americans overwhelmingly support abortion rights, this anger has largely benefited Democrats. And because the issue is such a winner for liberals and unpopular, it turns out, among independents and even Republicans, conservative abortion opponents are doing exactly what Trump so often does in the face of the chaos he created: lie.

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Decades ago, the Supreme Court ruled that a constitutional right to privacy gave Americans the rights to both abortion and contraception. When Democrats said that overturning abortion rights also put contraception rights at risk, Republicans claimed they weren’t coming for birth control. When Democrats introduced a bill that would enshrine access to contraception in law, nearly every Republican member of the House of Representatives voted against it. This has been a pattern: Republicans espouse popular or at least moderate positions on reproductive rights, only to take up the most extreme ones in Congress.

Since the fall of Roe, every time abortion rights have been put up for a vote, people have voted for them. Yet 14 states have totally banned the procedure anyway, because conservative legislators seem to think women shouldn’t have a say. Anti-abortion groups are stymieing efforts to put abortion rights on the ballot at all. They have largely changed their position on states’ rights, pressing instead for a national ban that will limit abortion access in even the most liberal pockets of the country. They have been working overtime in the courts, in state legislatures and on Trump’s election campaign to ensure that voters have little say on reproductive rights – including on contraception and IVF.

The result is a seemingly ever-changing array of court decisions that allow for legal abortion one day and ban it the next. It’s no wonder Americans are confused, with nearly half of the country telling pollsters last year they didn’t know whether abortion pills were legal in their state or not (for the record: where abortion is legal, so are pills).

Many Americans seem to have forgotten just how ugly Trump’s first term was – how misogynist, how violent, how unpredictable and how frenzied. The state of abortion rights in America is much the same, and many voters are incensed. Trump, a man who is nothing if not politically vulpine, catapulted the country into this mess but realises abortion is a loser of an issue. So he refuses to take a position at all, knowing that once he’s in office he can simply exercise his will – or that of the hard-right extremists helping to put him there.

It defies history and reason to believe that Trump will do nothing on abortion. And it goes against the anarchic reality every American can see with her own eyes. The chaos and cruelty we’re witnessing in some states – from women being prosecuted after miscarriage, and doctors being threatened with jail time for helping child rape victims – is typically Trumpian. This could be every American’s future in a second term.

[See also: The Civil War never ended]

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This article appears in the 17 Apr 2024 issue of the New Statesman, Israel vs Iran