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Trump's record on abortion speaks for itself. Why pretend otherwise?

by Susan J. Demas, Letter from the Editor, Michigan Advance

It's slowly hit some Republicans that their anti-abortion agenda is electoral poison.

That was obvious during the 2022 midterm elections after the right-wing Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, when abortion rights ballot measures won in both red states and blue and Democrats defied punditry and had an unexpectedly good night.

But Republicans who won narrow control over the U.S. House were undeterred and quickly passed anti-abortion bills in their first work week. And even though a strong majority of Michiganders backed a 2022 constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to abortion — including in some red areas — GOP lawmakers still lined up to oppose dumping the 1931 abortion ban and some restrictions this term.

As the 2024 election edges closer, however, some Republican candidates who can read the polls are finally shedding their supposedly principled opposition to reproductive rights. While no one is doing a full rhetorical flip-flop and embracing the "pro-choice" label, some Republicans are trying to distance themselves from the most damaging anti-abortion extremism — which is why the GOP-run Arizona legislature just axed the 1864 abortion ban.

It's certainly amusing to see a far-right firebrand like Kari Lake — who still maintains she won her gubernatorial election two years ago a la Donald Trump in 2020 — pretend that she didn't endorse the Civil War-era law or call abortion the ultimate sin." She wants us to buy that she's truly moderated her position now that she's running for a key U.S. Senate seat. 

But there's little reason to believe her or any Republican who tosses out rhetorical word salad about abortion while trying to pivot back to issues friendlier for the right, like immigration.

And no one deserves less benefit of the doubt than Trump, who gave up the game back in his 2016 campaign when he declared "there has to be some sort of punishment" for women who have abortions. Now there indeed are laws criminalizing abortion on the books, resulting in men being allowed to put bounties on the heads of women seeking abortions and horrifying stories like that of a 13-year-old rape victim forced to give birth.

This has also had a horrifying impact on the health care women who want to be mothers are receiving in anti-abortion states, with OB-GYNS fleeing in droves and emergency rooms refusing to treat pregnant patients in crisis. One such woman ended up miscarrying in a hospital lobby bathroom.

But talk is cheap.

All you have to do is look at Trump's anti-abortion record, culminating with appointing three of the six justices who chucked Roe (stare decisis is for chumps). Now one in three women in the U.S. have lost access to abortion care.

But for whatever reason, the underlying tone of lots of political abortion coverage is: Come on, things aren't that bad.

And so the conventional wisdom is that Republicans will never go for a national ban even if they retake the White House and Congress in 2025 (even though though these same pundits insisted Roe would never fall). This oddly ignores that eliminating basic rights like abortion, birth control and IVF are all part of the far-right blueprint for Trump's presidency, Project 2025. (It was written by the Heritage Foundation, which also has taken to scolding people on social media about the horrors of recreational sex).  

In the last week, Trump has seemingly done his damndest to let us all know that abortion rights are definitely not safe on his watch. First, Time magazine published a cover story based on two interviews with Trump, noting that he would "let red states monitor women’s pregnancies and prosecute those who violate abortion bans." 

Then at a Wisconsin rally (during a break for his criminal trial for election interference), Trump announced: “Democrats, Republicans, liberals, conservatives — they wanted to get abortion out of the federal government. Everybody wanted that. That was uniform. ... But basically the states decide on abortion, and people are absolutely thrilled with the way that’s going on.”

This is the point in the show when the narrator would break in and say: But people were not 'absolutely thrilled.' In fact, most people continue to believe abortion should be legal. 

But because Trump's irascible rambling has only gotten worse as he's aged — resulting in him dribbling out barely decipherable thoughts about abortion and basically every other topic — that's enough for some analysts to decide it's a real head-scratcher what Trump would do on reproductive rights during a second term.

It's a level of willing obtuseness rarely seen in politics. Trump has already declared he wants to be a dictator on day one, so assuming that he'd simultaneously be a squishy centrist on abortion is a bizarre bet.

In reality, Trump probably doesn't even have to wait for Congress to pass a national abortion ban. His administration could simply revive the Comstock Act, an obscure 1873 anti-obscenity statute named after puritanical crusader Anthony Comstock, to ban the mailing of abortion pills — the most common method in the U.S.

Even if you live in a blue state like Michigan, your rights would be gutted. So when Republicans say they want to leave abortion to the states, they really mean letting red states ban it and forcing all other states to follow.

I know there are some people who don't think things could get this bad, but sadly, they suffer from a profound lack of imagination. Deep down, you know abortion rights won't survive another Trump term. And neither will democracy as we know it.

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