Saturday, April 02, 2016

The Abortion Stumble

There are a couple of things that I would have expected to come up amongst all the press coverage of Donald Trump's abortion stumble this week:

“I am pro-life,” Trump said. Asked how a ban would actually work, Trump said, “Well, you go back to a position like they had where they would perhaps go to illegal places but we have to ban it,” Trump said.

[Chris]Matthews then pressed Trump on whether he believes there should be punishment for abortion if it were illegal.

“There has to be some form of punishment,” Trump said. “For the woman?” Matthews asked. “Yeah,” Trump said, nodding.

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

  • When I read this, the first thing I thought of was, "Oh, this is the same mistake George H. W. Bush made in 1988." From the transcript of the second debate against Dukakis:

    [ANN] GROER: [I]f abortions were to become illegal again, do you think that the women who defy the law and have them anyway, as they did before it was okayed by the Supreme Court, and the doctors who perform them should go to jail?

    BUSH: I haven't sorted out the penalties. But I do know, I do know that I oppose abortion.

    I'm not trying to read to much into this response, by the way. As in Trump's case, this was widely and immediately interpreted as favoring punishment for women who obtain elective abortions.* And as in Trump's case, Bush promptly walked it back.

    But here's the thing: I had a pretty strong memory for the details of this episode even before I looked it up, and I fully expected it to be brought up in the context of Trump making the same mistake (or "mistake"; more on this later). Yet despite googling various combinations of "Trump, Bush, 1988, abortion", I discovered not one single article that tied these two events together. That's . . . weird.

  • I have seen several articles that in various ways have tried to hang Trump's retracted statement around the Republican Party. Salon provides an example (Trigger Warning: Amanda Marcotte):

    [T]he official stance that Republicans are supposed to take is that women are victims of abortion and therefore cannot be held responsible for it. Yes, it’s true that women pick up the phone, make the appointment, talk through their decisions with medical professionals, sign paperwork and then either take a pill or let the doctor perform an abortion, but none of this should be taken, in conservative eyes, as evidence that women are the people responsible for the abortion happening. Women are regarded by conservatives as fundamentally incapable of making grown-up decisions. If they choose abortion (and by implication, if they choose sex), it’s because they poor dears were misled.

    Point taken. But . . . this is hardly Exhibit A in the female deprivation of moral agency. For that, we must turn to the war on prostitution, a.k.a. "sex trafficking (H.T.: Trumwill):

    The [Swedish 1999 anti-prostitution] legislation was built on the public consensus that the system of prostitution promotes violence against women by normalizing sexual exploitation. Thus, in a society that aspires to advance women’s equality, it is unacceptable for men to purchase women for sexual exploitation, whether rationalized as a sexual choice or as “sex work.”

    Sweden does not penalize the persons in prostitution but makes resources available to them. Instead it targets and exposes the anonymous perpetrators – the buyers, mostly men, who purchase mainly women and children in prostitution.

    Come to think of it, even statutory rape laws are also premised on one party to the crime claiming "victim" status, so much so that it now apparently customary to drop the "statutory" qualifier altogether when reporting on them. It is somewhat ironic that female teachers have lately had a determined go at defying our stereotypes in this regard, but either way, the law is hardly a stranger to designating certain classes of people as victims without regard to the facts of individual cases.

* I went looking for video of this moment and couldn't find it, but my recollection is that the reason Bush said "I do know" twice in the second sentence of the reply was that the crowd was audibly reacting to the first sentence.

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