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Tuesday, April 09, 2024

Opinion | Anyone Who Thinks Trump Is Done With Abortion Is a Fool - The New York Times

The Man Who Snuffed Out Abortion Rights Is Here to Tell You He Is a Moderate

A mifepristone pill and its opened package on a light green bathroom counter.
Jenny Hueston for The New York Times

"Donald Trump does not speak from conviction. He does not speak from belief or at least any belief other than self-obsession. He certainly does not speak from anything we might recognize as reason; when he’s holding forth from a podium, even the most careful students of Trump the rhetorician will struggle to find the light of complex thought.

You should think of Trump instead as a purely instrumental speaker. It does not matter to him whether a statement is true or false. It does not matter if one statement contradicts another, in the same speech or in the same paragraph or in the same sentence. What matters to Trump is whether the words serve the purpose at hand. He will say anything if it’s what he feels an audience wants to hear or if it moves him one step closer to a personal or political goal.

Trump’s fundamental disinterest in the truth value of his words is the only context that matters for his comments on abortion Monday morning. In a direct-to-camera statement on Truth Social, the former president told his audience that he does not support a national ban on abortion. “My view is now that we have abortion where everybody wanted it from a legal standpoint,” Trump said. “The states will determine by vote or legislation or perhaps both, and whatever they decide must be the law of the land. In this case, the law of the state.”

It should be said that this position is itself a strikingly conservative departure from mainstream thinking. Nearly two-thirds of Americans support legal abortion in most or all cases — the constitutional status quo under Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey. To leave abortion rights up to the states is, as we’ve seen since the Supreme Court’s decision two years ago in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, to give state legislatures broad discretion to restrict and limit the bodily autonomy of anyone within their borders.

Compared with the mounting push from anti-abortion activists to ban the procedure nationwide, however, Trump’s stance is designed to look almost moderate. And if you were born yesterday, you could even say that Trump was beginning his pivot to the center, to blur the difference on abortion between himself and other Republicans. If he can persuade skeptical voters that he’s not a Mike Pence or a Ron DeSantis, then he’s one step closer to a second term.

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But there’s no reason to take Trump’s rhetoric at face value. Trump is aware, like virtually everyone who follows American politics, that Republicans are dangerously vulnerable on abortion rights. The Biden campaign has already begun airing ads that blame Trump directly for abortion bans. He knows that he needs to neutralize this issue as much as possible, without alienating his anti-abortion followers. When it looked, for example, as though support for a 15-week ban would do the trick, Trump floated support for a 15-week ban.

It does not require any particular powers of political analysis to see that Monday’s statement is a ploy — and an obvious one at that. What does Trump say immediately before giving his states’ rights position on abortion? He praises himself for ending Roe: “Many people have asked me what my position is on abortion and abortion rights, especially since I was proudly the person responsible for the ending of something that all legal scholars, both sides, wanted and, in fact, demanded be ended: Roe v. Wade.” This claim, that all sides wanted an end to Roe, is a total fabrication, but it serves to give Trump cover as he tries to be all things to all people.

Later in the video, as if to emphasize his responsibility for the end of Roe, Trump applauds the Dobbs majority, by name no less: “I want to thank the six justices — Chief Justice John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanaugh, Amy Coney Barrett and Neil Gorsuch, incredible people — for having the courage to allow this long-term, hard-fought battle to finally end.”

Trump is saying what he thinks his audience — in the public and in the press — wants to hear. He’s trying to put abortion in the rearview mirror, to treat it as a settled fact that he wants a less strident approach to reproductive rights.

The truth of the matter is that given a second term in office, Trump and his allies will do everything in their power to ban abortion nationwide, with or without a Republican majority in Congress. Recall that in his 2016 campaign, Trump said that there had to be “some form” of punishment for women who had abortions. Later, as president, he backed a House bill that would have banned abortion after 20 weeks. Anti-abortion strategists have not been shy about their plan to use the 1873 Comstock Act, an anti-obscenity law, as legal authority for executive actions to limit abortions throughout the country, in blue states as well as red ones.

Opponents of abortion believe that under the act — whose enforcement produced a political and legal backlash so fierce that it made the law a dead letter for most of the 20th century — the president has the power to ban the mailing, sale, advertisement or distribution of any drug or instrument that could be used to cause or perform an abortion.

If you’re not inclined to put Trump’s abortion comments in the context of his habitual disregard for the truth, then you should at least put them in the context of his political coalition, which is dominated by forces and constituencies that want nothing less than the criminalization of abortion, the constitutional protection of fetal life and state regulation of bodily autonomy for the sake of patriarchal gender norms.

Trump embraced this movement and its demands as president, and there’s every reason to believe he’ll do the same with another four years in office. Put another way, when has Trump ever bucked anyone who defends him, supports him and showers him with praise?

We do not have to speculate about Trump’s relationship to abortion and reproductive rights as leader of the Republican Party. He is, after all, a former president of the United States. We already know what he wants, what he’ll do and what he’ll sign. Trump landed a major blow against legal abortion during his first term. If given a second, he will land another.

Jamelle Bouie became a New York Times Opinion columnist in 2019. Before that he was the chief political correspondent for Slate magazine. He is based in Charlottesville, Va., and Washington. @jbouie"

Opinion | Anyone Who Thinks Trump Is Done With Abortion Is a Fool - The New York Times

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