On October 24, 1999, during an interview on Meet The Press, Donald Trump said, “I’m very pro-choice. I hate the concept of abortion. I hate it. I cringe when people debate on the subject, but I still just believe in choice.” He then continued, “I am pro-choice in every respect and as far as it goes.” Twenty years later, Trump is now being touted as the “most pro-life” president to hold office.
He appointed anti-choice judges with the promise that they’d help overturn Roe v Wade, enacted the Mexico City Policy (or Global Gag Rule) moments after taking office, and is currently attempting to strip Title X funding from any U.S. health care clinic that performs, or even mentions, abortions. And now he’s shamelessly painting the Democratic Party as the party of infanticide: an extreme pro-life political strategy that’s sure to end in death.
It’s hardly surprising that the man who lied 8,158 times in his first two years as president would flip-flop on a highly-politicized issue when it benefits him. Pontificating about the so-called “horrors” of abortion and manufacturing an outrage that isn’t there—the majority of Americans believe abortion should be legal in all or more cases—has been a Republican Party strategy since the Ronald Reagan administration realized they could reach the nation’s 50 million Roman Catholics through the “right to life” movement. The Republican tax cut didn’t yield the political gains the president was hoping to achieve, the government shutdown hurt him in the polls, his former lawyer aired his dirty laundry in front of the entire country, and currently his approval rating is sitting at 43 percent. So, in true GOP fashion and with 2020 on the horizon, the president is attacking abortion, the people who have them, and the people who provide them.
On February 25 Trump tweeted, “Senate Democrats just voted against legislation to prevent the killing of newborn infant children. The Democrat position on abortion is now so extreme that they don’t mind executing babies AFTER birth.” And during his more than two-hour speech at CPAC, Trump claimed doctors execute babies after birth. These attacks and purposeful mischaracterizations of legislations aimed at codifying Roe and protecting people who have abortions later in pregnancy (often for medical reasons) are more than just bottom-of-the-barrel politics. They’re dangerous dog whistles to anti-abortion extremists who are willing to kill people in the name of “life.” But this president, and the Republican Party that has wholeheartedly embraced him, doesn’t care if their road to re-election is paved with the bodies of abortion providers and the people who seek their legal services. In fact, they never have.
It’s hardly surprising that the man who lied 8,158 times in his first two years as president would flip-flop on a highly-politicized issue when it benefits him.
George Tiller, one of the few abortion providers who performed abortions later in pregnancy, died as a result of the very same rhetoric this president is hoping will net him another four years in the White House. From 2005 to April of 2009, Bill O’Reilly dedicated 29 episodes of his show on Fox News to harassing Tiller, claiming he was operating a “death mill” and “executing babies about to be born.” In 2009, Tiller was shot and killed outside his church, his wife inside when he died.
In 2015, a man walked into a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado and killed three people, believing the clinic “sold baby parts,” a lie perpetuated by Republican lawmakers after a doctored video was manufactured and released by an anti-choice group. Barnett Slepian, an abortion provider, was shot and killed in his home in 1998. Robert Sanderson, a security guard, was killed after a clinic in Alabama was bombed in 1998. John Bayard Britton and David Gunn, abortion providers practicing in Florida, were shot and killed in 1993.
And for years doctors like Dr. Susan Wicklund, Dr. Clara Taylor, Dr. Willie Parker and Dr. Cheryl Chastine have been forced to wear disguises, take different cars, and avoid taking the same routes twice in order to safely provide abortion care in underserved locations like South Dakota, Montana, Alabama and Mississippi. All of this is a result of anti-choice rhetoric and outright lies about abortion care, emboldening extremists to take matters into their own hands.
And now that Donald Trump is president, threats and harassment of abortion clinics is on the rise. In 2017, instances of trespassing tripled, death threats and threats of harm doubled, and incidents of obstruction rose from 580 in 2016 to more than 1,700, according to the National Abortion Federation. A man in Missouri was charged with arson after setting fire to a Planned Parenthood last month. In the same month, a 17-year-old was arrested for making a terrorist threat after claiming he was going to “commit jihad” on an abortion clinic. And the three men who bombed a mosque in Minnesota also attempted to bomb an abortion clinic a year prior, throwing a pipe bomb through a window. Thankfully, the bomb failed to detonate.
The more than 40 years of violence sustained by people who claim to value “all life” and directed at abortion providers and the people who rely on them for compassionate care is well documented, and words matter. They mattered when a Trump supporter and domestic terrorist sent bombs to Democrats and members of the press the president has consistently and brazenly attacked via Twitter, and they mattered when the president fashioned a bull’s eye on abortion rights during the State of the Union.
If the president and the GOP continue to rely on anti-choice lies and the demonization of those who have and perform abortions to remain in power, the pro-life party won’t just be the party responsible for 28 women miscarrying in ICE custody, babies as young as five months being detained by ICE, or two immigrant children dying in U.S. custody. They’ll be responsible for the death of American doctors and American patients, whose only crime is holding onto the promise of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” by providing and obtaining a common and legal medical procedure.