Saturday, May 18, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He waded into the abortion debate, as best he could under the circumstances.

Today, a Trump administration spokesperson indicated that Trump did not fully support a recently passed abortion ban in Alabama, which makes no exception for fetuses conceived by rape or incest. Pressed for details, the White House today released a statement saying that

Unlike radical Democrats who have cheered legislation allowing a baby to be ripped from the mother’s womb moments from birth, President Trump is protecting our most innocent and vulnerable, defending the dignity of life, and called on Congress to prohibit late-term abortions.

This framing hearkens back to a completely false claim Trump made last month, in which he described late-term abortions (currently legal in the United States only when a mother's life is in jeopardy or the fetus is not viable) this way:

The baby is born. The mother meets with the doctor. They take care of the baby, they wrap the baby beautifully. And then the doctor and the mother determine whether or not they will execute the baby.

In the rare case that a late-term abortion, which amounts to an induced delivery, results in a baby that is still living, parents are given the choice to allow for heroic measures to prolong its life. Under no circumstance is it legal to "execute" such a baby, nor has any politician of any party tried to make it so.

In fairness to Trump, though, he may be legitimately confused about Democrats' positions on abortions, because he does not seem to remember what his own is from moment to moment. In 1999 he described himself as "very pro-choice." He also co-sponsored a fund-raising dinner at his New York Plaza Hotel for the National Abortion Rights Action League, though he was frightened away from attending because of threats of violence against the event.

At some point in the 2010s, he started saying he was "pro-life," but what that means is fluid. Pressed for specifics, Trump generally improvises on the spot according to contextual clues. In a 2016 interview with Chris Matthews, then-candidate Trump said that women should go to jail for seeking abortions—a position far more extreme than even the Alabama law calls for.

MATTHEWS: Do you believe in punishment for abortion, yes or no as a principle? 
TRUMP: The answer is that there has to be some form of punishment. 
MATTHEWS: For the woman. 
TRUMP: Yeah, there has to be some form. 
MATTHEWS: Ten cents? Ten years? What? 
TRUMP: I don’t know. That I don’t know. That I don’t know. 
MATTHEWS: Why not? 
TRUMP: I don’t know.

Aides quickly walked Trump back. A few days later, he said that "the [abortion] laws are set and we have to leave it that way," once again horrifying anti-abortion conservatives. (The Washington Post counted five separate Trump positions on abortion during the course of those three days.)

Why should I care about this?

  • Presidents should know or care where they stand on major domestic policy issues.