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With Trump's "Punishment" Remark, GOP Loses Last Semi-Sane Candidate on Abortion

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Until very recently, there was one thing I could point to about Republican frontrunner for President Donald Trump as a positive. Amid all the racism; the outright fascism; the lack of anything resembling a workable plan for the country if elected; the foreign policy closer to a child bashing her action figures together than it was to leadership; the literal measuring of penises; and the mocking of a disabled reporter, there was one issue on which Trump was the sole voice of reason in the Republican race. That was abortion and Planned Parenthood. Though he was definitely on the right, Trump’s views were essentially mainstream whereas his competitors were out to lunch.

That’s all over now thanks to an exchange with Chris Matthews yesterday. During the interview, Matthews pressed Trump on his pro-life stance, and asked if there should be legal punishments for abortions should they become illegal. Despite some wiggling around, Trump confirmed under questioning he meant punishment for the woman, who would presumably be getting a back-alley abortion or self-inducing one. You know, like the 100,000 women in Texas who have done so because of lack of available and affordable services in our state.

Trump said the punishment “would have to be determined.”

Look, I don’t mean to come off all Pollyanna here, but this statement truly depressed me because Trump was literally the only hope on the Republican side if you cared about women’s reproductive health and their right to control their bodies, and I like to think every candidate has at least one thing the other side can sort of like him or her for. Trump’s views on abortion and Planned Parenthood were up until now not fringe.

Here’s a nice look at his evolution on the issue. Until the turn of the century, Trump was essentially pro-choice, even though he was personally against abortion. In 1999 he stated it was up to women and their doctors, a position that isn’t in any way radical. Up until last year, he was singing the praises of Planned Parenthood even if he felt that federal money should not go to the organization. To this day he is still pretty consistent when it comes to discussing exceptions for incest, rape and the life of the mother. He doesn’t say "women’s health" in quotation marks the way John McCain did, either.

More than all that, though, when Trump talked about his switch from pro-choice to pro-life, he had a real moment of humanity that came across as sincere. He said that he had a friend who was considering having an abortion, but who ultimately decided to keep and raise the baby. Now the kid is, in Trump’s terms, a superstar, and the experience seems to be something that honestly profoundly changed him.

Now, most of Trump’s friends are millionaires, and I doubt whoever these people were that the question was one of desperation or poverty or other factors that affect the people who rely on Planned Parenthood for abortion services. Certainly we shouldn’t extrapolate a national policy from Trump’s personal (and second-hand) experiences, even if Trump himself is far too narcissistic to see why that is so. However, it was refreshing to see a Republican candidate frame his abortion views not in Evangelical Christian rhetoric or allusions to baby murder, but in a belief that someone he knew made it and so can you. At least on the Republican side, it’s kind of hopeful.

The rest of the field? Goonybirds the absolute lot of them. Ted Cruz calls Planned Parenthood a criminal enterprise and doesn’t think churches should provide birth control for employees. John Kasich is the leading apostle in the fight to undo any federal or state funding of Planned Parenthood. Rubio tried to speak moderate, but also said future generations will look back on us as barbarians for murdering millions of children. Both Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina were true believers in last year’s videos that claimed to show babies being harvested for organs as in a crappy horror film.

Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t rooting for Trump to win because he was less than monstrous on the subject of abortion. He remains a garbage person with a raging tire fire of a plan for the country. That said, it was nice to see the candidate who was leading the party and was the presumptive nominee be the furthest to the left on the subject during a time when the pushback against safe, legal abortion has become a shared madness on the right that has long since abandoned even a pretense of science or logic. Trump was the last, and now he’s the guy saying there should be criminal punishments for women who get abortions if they’re illegal. Though I’m sure having an unwanted pregnancy in Trump’s America would already be punishment enough. 

Jef's collection of stories about vampires and drive-thru churches, The Rook Circle, is out now. You can also find him on Patreon, Facebook and Twitter

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