Trump abortion comment may be the ultimate example of his malevolent cluelessness

Donald Trump, engaged in what passes for 'thought' with him.

Donald Trump, engaged in what passes for ‘thought’ with him.

Donald Trump outdid himself yesterday, managing to alienate everyone on both sides of the abortion divide with his utter malevolent cluelessness:

APPLETON, Wis. — Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump came under fire Wednesday for saying that women should be subject to “some sort of punishment” for undergoing illegal abortions, a position that antiabortion and abortion rights groups alike emphatically denounced….

This prompted plenty of comments to the effect that Trump had evidently not thought carefully about the issue — which would mean that he has treated this issue the way he treats all others.

Say “Donald Trump thinking about issues,” and I picture a flat rock skipping across a pond before it runs out of momentum and eventually sinks to the bottom. Trump is the rock, in case the metaphor is too complex for you.

I would take it another step, though, in this case. I think what he said reflects that, to the extent he’s thought about the issue at all, he still holds a view (left over from his “very pro-choice” days, back when that was more convenient for him) of us pro-lifers propagated by those who oppose us: That our opposition to abortion arises not out of a concern for the unborn life, but from a hostility to women and their interests.

To the extent that something one would characterize as “thought” passed through Trump’s mind before he spoke in response to prompting from his interviewer, it seems to have been along these lines: “This is the way those pro-lifers think, so since I’m pretending to be one of them, I’ll say that.”

Mixed in with that, we should probably take into account his general preference for sounding “tough,” whatever the issue. The tougher — and the stupider — he sounds, the more his base seems to like him.

So where does this leave us? With this guy still the GOP front-runner, which means that unless a miracle can be pulled off at the convention, the allegedly pro-life party will be represented by someone who holds actual pro-lifers in contempt, while the left will characterize him the way this NYT headline yesterday did: “Donald Trump, Abortion Foe, Eyes ‘Punishment’ for Women…” Even though Trump is as much of a “abortion foe” as the aforementioned flat rock.

Presidential campaign generally produce much heat, and little light, on the abortion issue. But things seldom go this dark…

54 thoughts on “Trump abortion comment may be the ultimate example of his malevolent cluelessness

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    Trump did accomplish one remarkable thing with this yesterday: He provided Ted Cruz with an opportunity to sound thoughtful and compassionate, which is not easy to do:

    Cruz Responds to Donald Trump’s Comment on Punishing Women Who Seek Abortions
    Cruz: “We shouldn’t be talking about punishing women; we should affirm their dignity and the incredible gift they have to bring life into the world.”

    HOUSTON, Texas – Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz issued the following statement in response to Donald Trump stating that if abortions were banned, women should be punished if they get an abortion:

    “Once again Donald Trump has demonstrated that he hasn’t seriously thought through the issues, and he’ll say anything just to get attention. On the important issue of the sanctity of life, what’s far too often neglected is that being pro-life is not simply about the unborn child; it’s also about the mother — and creating a culture that respects her and embraces life. Of course we shouldn’t be talking about punishing women; we should affirm their dignity and the incredible gift they have to bring life into the world.”

    ###

    Reply
    1. Doug Ross

      Does Ted Cruz desire to make abortion illegal again? If he was able to accomplish that, what would he consider the proper consequences for the mother if she had an “illegal” abortion? Is it a misdemeanor with a fine? Is it a felony with jail time? Is it just the person who performs the abortion who is held responsible? What about a woman who self-aborts with a coat hanger.

      Those opposed to legal abortion consider the consequences aspect of making it illegal again the third rail that can’t be touched. Same as those who are for legal abortion like to talk about clumps of cells and fetuses instead of babies.

      Trump’s mistake was saying what is in fact true for anti-abortion people: they expect consequences for the mother.

      Reply
      1. Bryan Caskey

        Maybe someone who’s old enough to remember can tell me: Before Roe, some states had laws outlawing abortion. Were any mothers ever prosecuted under those laws?

        Reply
        1. Bob Amundson

          From LA Times OP-ED (today) by Clarke D. Forsythe: “Before the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe vs. Wade … as many as 20 state statutes technically made it a crime for the woman to participate in her own abortion. But these were not enforced.

          In the 20th century, there were only two cases in which a woman was charged in any state with participating in her own abortion: from Pennsylvania in 1911 and from Texas in 1922. In the 1911 case, the trial court threw out the charge and the Pennsylvania Superior Court concurred, stating that “in the absence of clear statutory authority, ‘the woman who commits an abortion on herself is regarded rather as the victim than the perpetrator of the crime.'”

          As legal scholar Paul Linton has pointed out, “[a]lthough more than one-third of the States had statutes prohibiting a woman from aborting her own pregnancy [self-abortion] or submitting to an abortion performed on her by another, no prosecutions were reported under any of those statutes.”

          Based on his review of the 50 states, Linton concluded, “no American court has ever upheld the conviction of a woman for self-abortion or consenting to an abortion and, with the exception of [the Pennsylvania case from 1911 and Texas case from 1922], there is no record of a woman even being charged with either offence as a principal or as an accessory.”

          Likewise, before Roe, courts in a handful of states questioned whether the aborting woman might be a legal conspirator. But the issue in the recorded cases was not the woman’s guilt — no woman was charged or was a co-defendant in the cases — but the admissibility of evidence against the abortionist. No woman was actually prosecuted.

          Some states had statutes prohibiting solicitation of abortion — based on the general principle that solicitation of a crime is a crime — and these were evenhandedly applied to men and women.

          But even the pro-abortion-rights historian Leslie Reagan, in her 1997 book “When Abortion Was A Crime,” acknowledged that women did not face criminal liability as principals, accomplices, conspirators or solicitors.”

          Reply
  2. Doug Ross

    For the independents who think John Kasich is the right answer, be aware that his stance on abortion is pretty far on the right.”

    “Kasich is a firm abortion opponent. In June 2013 the Ohio governor signed into law a bill to ban most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, allowing an exception only if the life of the mother is in danger. The same legislation cut funding to Planned Parenthood and also required women to undergo an ultrasound before getting an abortion. ”

    That’s your independent voice of reason.

    Reply
  3. Karen Pearson

    If it’s true that, ” being pro-life is not simply about the unborn child; it’s also about the mother — and creating a culture that respects her and embraces life. Of course we shouldn’t be talking about punishing women; we should affirm their dignity and the incredible gift they have to bring life into the world” then where are all the programs assuring that these mothers learn how to be mothers and are provided with all they need to ensure that they have the means (educational, emotional, financial) to actually function as mothers?
    While I certainly don’t agree with Trump, I find his reasoning straight forward: It’s the woman who seeks the abortion (there are not hordes of providers out there forcing abortions upon women); therefore, the primary punishment for the crime should fall on those whose primary responsibility it is.

    Reply
    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Let me address this: “where are all the programs assuring that these mothers learn how to be mothers and are provided with all they need to ensure that they have the means (educational, emotional, financial) to actually function as mothers?”

      Well, I don’t know where ALL the programs are, but I will say this…

      My own views on abortion developed and matured during the years that my late mother-in-law was executive director of Birthright in Memphis. I was deeply impressed by her and the organization’s dedication to helping women with all the challenges they faced as a result of unwanted pregnancies. It seemed to me a pretty good model to build upon…

      Reply
  4. Jeff Mobley

    First, let me say that I really, really enjoyed Brad’s skipping rock metaphor.

    There are, on both sides of the debate, interesting arguments about the issue of punishment for women who have abortions.

    There are those (on both sides) who argue that imposing no penalty whatsoever on the mother implies that, from the point of view of the legal system, she does not possess moral agency. Those making this argument say that imposing no penalty is treating the woman like a child, or a mentally disabled person, who can’t be held responsible for her actions. I do not agree with this conclusion, but at least it’s a serious argument.

    Participants of a crime are treated differently by the legal system all the time, depending on their role. The driver of the getaway car may not receive the same sentence as the armed robber, depending on the applicable law (I am not attempting to make an analogy to abortion; I’m just giving an example).

    The fact is that many women who have abortions were pressured by others to do so, at a time when they were already undoubtedly experiencing the various emotions and stress and uncertainty that go along with their situation. Some may even have been intimidated or coerced in some way. Others may have made their decision without facing any external pressure, or despite facing it.

    Another fact is that our political and social culture has sent the message for decades that abortion is not the destruction of a human life, but something else. Indeed, many espouse the perverse view that abortion is some sort of sacred rite, and that participation in it is a fundamental right. While I believe women ought to know better, and many do, many believe this lie. Beyond that, abortion providers mislead women about abortion and how it might affect their long-term health. Because of these factors and many others, women are often rightly viewed as victims of abortion.

    From a practical standpoint, if abortion were in fact made illegal, it would make sense for law enforcement to target the “doctors” who have decided that tearing apart tiny humans is a good way to make a living, rather than the women who act in many cases out of desperation. And it is incredibly unlikely that law enforcement would be able to gather evidence against abortionists without the cooperation of the women involved, and it is unlikely that cooperation would be forthcoming if women fear they’ll be sent to prison for having had an abortion.

    So in summary, I believe that women who have had an abortion, and who were not coerced into that decision, have indeed made a serious moral error. But this does not imply, legally, practically, or ethically, that they should suffer the same penalty as the abortionist. And if abortion were illegal, enforcing the law would best be served by a system in which the mothers face minimal penalty.

    And one more thing that I probably should have put at the beginning: Pro-lifers’ end game is not to see a bunch of people thrown in jail. It is to see little babies be given the chance to be born and enjoy healthy lives.

    Reply
    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Your last point is, of course, the main one. And yes, it should probably have been at the start, because even though it should be a given that that is what this is about, a lot of people seem to miss it.

      Reply
    2. Karen Pearson

      But we won’t stop abortions. All we’ll stop is poor women’s access to safe abortions, thus putting both fetus and the women at great risk. I’ve watched women die of septic abortions. That is not acceptable.

      Reply
    3. bud

      The fact is that many women who have abortions were pressured by others to do so, at a time when they were already undoubtedly experiencing the various emotions and stress and uncertainty that go along with their situation.
      – Jeff

      The exact same thing could be said for having the baby. This is a non-sequitur.

      From a practical standpoint, if abortion were in fact made illegal, it would make sense for law enforcement to target the “doctors” who have decided that tearing apart tiny humans is a good way to make a living, rather than the women who act in many cases out of desperation
      -Jeff

      Really? Many doctors do this now for little money. It’s the women that seek out the procedure. But the bigger problem with this statement is that it asserts that abortions require the services of a doctor. There are many avenues for women to get abortions that don’t require a doctor. However, those performed by doctors are safer.

      So in summary, I believe that women who have had an abortion, and who were not coerced into that decision, have indeed made a serious moral error. But this does not imply, legally, practically, or ethically, that they should suffer the same penalty as the abortionist.
      -Jeff

      That’s just a bizarre statement. If they are party to a moral atrocity then why shouldn’t they be held to the same level of responsibility? In fact if anything they would be MORE culpable since they are putting the process in motion. If someone hires a hitman to kill their spouse they are certainly subject to penalties equal to the trigger man.

      Reply
  5. Brad Warthen Post author

    Basically, I’m uninterested in punishing women for the same reason I think it’s outrageous that Roe puts absolute life-and-death power into their hands.

    A woman who finds her situation so desperate that she would resort to abortion is, morally speaking, light years away from the abortionist who carries out this procedure for a living.

    Which brings to mind the point that I’ve made here so many times, the point that I’ve never seen anyone come close to disputing successfully… We aspire to be a nation of laws and not of men. We demand that judges and jurors and others involved in important legal decisions be free of any sort of personal interest that might sway them in making a decision.

    Yet, with Roe creating a supposedly unassailable “right” to an abortion, we are granting a single person the power to hand down a death sentence to another without even a pretense of due process. Not only that, but we grant that absolute power to possibly the least disinterested person on the planet, as far as this decision is concerned.

    We should not grant such power — absolute power over life and death, without due process — to anyone. But it certainly shouldn’t go to someone who has every reason to be traumatized by the situation…

    Reply
    1. Lynn Teague

      There is the issue of personhood, and I’ll throw my professional background as anthropologist in with my personal convictions.. Persons have been defined differently by societies throughout the world, but virtually always identify that state with the ability to survive. So. fetuses are not persons prior to viability. In many societies with high infant mortality rates this translated into the equivalent of personhood at about the age of five, since a minority of infants who were born made it that far. Equating the existence of a not-yet-viable fetus with that of a woman is something that may be a very modern development and is not a majority view now. It is not a view that I hold.

      Reply
      1. Jeff Mobley

        Here is the implication:

        If it ever somehow came to be, in our society, statistically more likely that a child, once born, will die of natural causes before reaching age 5 than that she will live to reach age 5, then at that point it might be reasonably argued that children younger than 5 have no rights in our society and could even be killed with impunity.

        Reply
        1. Lynn Teague

          I’m not arguing that the 5 year standard makes sense. I would certainly reject it. I’m saying that human societies have defined personhood differently, and that the current intention to define early fetuses as persons is pretty far outside the norm and still is. Even Mississippi’s conservative voters have rejected personhood bills.

          Reply
    2. bud

      Yet, with Roe creating a supposedly unassailable “right” to an abortion, we are granting a single person the power to hand down a death sentence to another without even a pretense of due process.
      -Brad

      Brad, that single person has that power whether abortion is legal or not. And if we follow this bizarre notion that the woman should not be prosecuted then what we have is a form of pro-life with no penalties. There is another name for that – Pro-Choice.

      But let’s not call this pro-life. That’s a sterilized term that really doesn’t fit what is in play here. Since no one wants to penalize the mothers then somehow we’re supposed to coerce women into keeping the baby to term through, well, what. No one ever specifies the what. It’s a conundrum that the pro-coerce people never specify. It’s easy to say you’re pro-life and go on and on about the sanctity of babies in the womb. Yet it is off-putting to just leave it at that. Trump actually underscored how ridiculous this situation is. He attempted to actually suggest penalties. But that blew up in his face. But it shouldn’t. That’s the whole point. No “pro-coerce” argument that fails to include out penalties for the mother is worth listening to. It’s just a gigantic bromide

      Reply
    3. bud

      A woman who finds her situation so desperate that she would resort to abortion is, morally speaking, light years away from the abortionist who carries out this procedure for a living.
      -Brad

      Huh? Brad you get more and more incoherent with each comment on this issue. Who says these women are “so desperate”. Perhaps they just don’t like the gender of the fetus. Perhaps she already has 2 children and just doesn’t want another. Maybe she’s too busy with her job. There are many reasons women attain abortions and they don’t all involve “desperation”. To simply absolve women of their responsibility based on specific situations that may not apply in all cases is to focus on what is neat and tidy. But this is not a neat and tidy issue. Pro-Coerce people need to understand that.

      Reply
        1. Mark Stewart

          “Yet, with Roe creating a supposedly unassailable “right” to an abortion, we are granting a single person the power to hand down a death sentence to another without even a pretense of due process”. – Brad

          Um, kettle…

          Reply
    4. Mprince

      Fanaticism pays no heed to logic.

      From an anti-abortionist perspective, the only “due process“ that could be devised would be one that provided for nothing other than a single, foreordained outcome, namely: “Abortion denied!” That’s a “process” in name only, pure farce.

      Due process (if that’s even the proper term in this context) here involves the legal regulations placed on abortion, such as those relating to trimesters. This is where the “nation of laws” element enters in.

      Reply
  6. Bryan Caskey

    Hey, Trump did promise to unite the country. With this, he’s united both sides of the abortion issue in condemning him. That’s quite a feat.

    Reply
  7. Doug Ross

    Why isn’t the compromise choice one that offers education, birth control, incentives to remain childless until able to support a baby, adoption assistance and legal access to abortion when the mother or her doctor determines she cannot carry a pregnancy to term?

    The goal should be to minimize the number of children brought into this world who are not properly cared for.

    Reply
    1. bud

      A way to do that is free birth control. I’d pay more in taxes for that. Or better yet get rid of the F-35 program and for the price of one or two of those boondoggles we could provide birth control for the entire world.

      Reply
  8. Brad Warthen

    Let’s set abortion aside.

    Could this finally be the start of The End for Trump? Do I hear The Doors queuing it up? Is napalm about to light up the tree line? Will Kurtz breathe his last (the horror, the horror…)…

    There’s murmuring of Democrats being able to take back the HOUSE, of all things, if he is the nominee. A contested convention is more and more likely as real Republicans contemplate this, despite his “nice” meeting with Reince priebus today. But who has the power to broker it, to bring about a rational result?

    The abortion outrage and his continued defense of his campaign manager manhandling a woman are obscuring the fact that he is spitting out other abominations by the minute, such as his pronouncement that the Geneva Conventions are a bad thing.

    He doesn’t need napalm; he’s setting the tree line alight on his own.

    Is this the end, beautiful friend — the end?

    Reply
    1. Bryan Caskey

      As much as everyone likes to jump into a good ol’ fashioned abortion debate, I thought that Trump’s pronouncement that “NATO is obsolete” was a really much more damaging statement.

      As much as we all like to argue about abortion, where life begins, and angels dancing on the head of a pin, the President can’t move the needle much on abortion for a variety of reasons.

      What he can do is weaken alliances and radically alter foreign policy. (See Obama, Barack). Saying that NATO is obsolete and that the US ought to re-evaluate its role in NATO will have real and damaging repercussions. Foreign leaders hear these things and plan accordingly. Can you imagine how emboldened Putin would be if the US dropped out of NATO? He’d be throwing a big ol’ party right before he took back the Baltic States.

      But to answer your question, nah. I don’t think this is the end for Trump. We’re not that lucky.

      Reply
      1. Bob Amundson

        How about his stance on ending the long term US foreign policy of non-proliferation of nuclear weapons? Let South Korea and Japan develop nuclear weapons so the US does not have to deal with North Korea; and the Saudis so they can take care of the Middle East.

        Reply
        1. Bryan Caskey

          Oh, that’s all equally as bad. I had forgotten about his bone-headed proposal to start charging Japan more for our military protection. I truly wonder if Trump realizes we have a Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security has been in place since 1960, which has effectively allowed Japan to not get into an arms race with their surrounding neighbors (cough, China, cough).

          Trump keeps talking about having other countries “pay” for our protection. You know who else charges for protection?

          The Mafia.

          Trump’s foreign policy would be the Mafia Doctrine. Hey Japan, nice looking country you got there! It would be a shame if we completely pulled out of Okinawa and something happened to ya.

          Reply
          1. Bob Amundson

            I read the entire transcript of Trump’s interview with WAPO. My conclusion: uninformed with Attention Deficit Disorder.

            Reply
      2. Brad Warthen Post author

        Yep, no question about it — those issues speak more to the responsibilities of being president. And before Roe, and the ungodly mess it helped make of the judicial confirmation process, more people understood that.

        But this engages the emotions, and so we’re off to the races…

        I would love, once, to have a presidential election in which we talk about NATO, nuclear proliferation, collective security, and other topics more central to the job of POTUS…

        Reply
          1. Bryan Caskey

            Ha. Trump doesn’t even know what the nuclear triad is, so I’m not sure he would be able to discuss throw-weights.

            Reply
            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              Without looking it up, I’m assuming Bryan is referring to:

              1. Strategic bombers
              2. Land-based ICBMs
              3. “Boomers” — missile submarines

              As I recall, Mutually Assured Destruction pretty much rested on the assumption that the other side could not take out all three in a first strike, thereby guaranteeing that there would be a retaliation sufficient to utterly destroy the target country…

              Reply
            2. Brad Warthen Post author

              Bryan, have you started on any of the Aubrey/Maturin books yet?

              The phrase they used then was “broadside weight of metal” — the poundage of ammunition one ship could throw at another in a single broadside.

              “Throw-weight, I believe, is the same thing expanded to what an entire nation can throw in megatonnage.

              By the way, something to keep in mind when you read “Master and Commander,” the first book….

              Aubrey’s first command, the Sophie, is based very closely on Lord Cochrane’s Speedy. Speedy was a 14-gun sloop armed with four-pounders. Cochrane observed that he could put an entire broadside in the pockets of his uniform coat.

              Think about that during the climactic battle of the book, which is based move-by-move on Cochrane’s…

              Reply
              1. Bryan Caskey

                According to my Kindle, I am 71% through Master and Commander (the first book). Yeah, there are lots of references to the weight of metal that a ship can throw, and I can understand that pretty well.

                What I’m really struggling with is all the sailing terminology. The gallants, topgallants, the mizzens, mains, staysails, royals, etc., etc. It’s all a bit overwhelming and completely foreign to me. Maybe that’s by design, or maybe I’m just a moron.

                For awhile, I kept stumbling over the word “larbord”. I kept thinking, What is this word? Is it describing a side of the ship in relation to the tide, or the wind, or another ship, or something? After the second or third time I saw it, I finally realized I was not going to get it via context. After looking it up, I came to find out that it’s simply the archaic (but historically correct) term for port.

                Who on earth would call the left and right of a ship larbord and starboard, when those words sound so alike? I got a good chuckle out of that.

                Reply
                1. Brad Warthen Post author

                  Wait until, in a later book, Jack is unfortunate enough to have a dyslexic first lieutenant who confuses them.

                  Mike Fitts, who introduced me to these books, offered me good advice for dealing with the sails: Just tell yourself, “a sail is a sail.” In general, the mariners add more sail to go faster — but not always. Sometimes having your foretopsail fully deployed can cause your bow to be pressed down and slow you. (Jack has an unusually sensitive grasp of such things with a ship he knows, and others sometimes fail to understand his insights.)

                  Don’t feel bad, because Stephen Maturin NEVER gets it. He has no idea how the sailors manage to take the ships from A to B, and some of the more comical passages in the books occur when he tries to explain the workings of this complex “machine” as he terms it to some even more clueless than he is.

                  O’Brian has his ways of explaining things to you — such as the passage in which Mowett takes the doctor aloft and tries to explain the sloop to him, while Maturin’s mind is occupied thinking about how to deal with the presence of Dillon.

                  But you don’t really have to pay any more attention than the doctor does.

                  You’ll pick up enough, though, to make it fun if you find yourself on an actual sailing vessel sometime. I went out on Lake Murray with a neighbor who has a 22-footer — fore-and-aft-rigged, of course, not square-rigged — and it’s kind of cool when you think, “I’m sailing close-hauled!” and you actually understand it…

                2. Bryan Caskey

                  Yes. I have a basic grasp on that concept in that you want to be upwind of a ship you’re attacking, as you can turn downwind easily, whereas the ship downwind has a limited range to turn an attack the ship upwind.

                  Essentially, when attacking you want to be upwind, and when fleeing you want to be downwind.

                3. Brad Warthen Post author

                  Oh, and about the sails…

                  Most of the books have a drawing of a ship at the front of the book with all of its sails hung out to dry, and a key naming them all. I hope they have that in your Kindle editions.

                  In general, you have your foremast, your mainmast and your mizzen at the back. Each of those have square sails starting at the bottom, main, top, gallant, and royal. But the mast extensions for royals and even gallants (I think) are not always deployed.

                  Then you have all sorts of triangular, fore-and-aft sails, often called staysails because they are attached to stays. Those not only help drive the ship but help in coming about.

                  Then there are weird, improvised things such as kites and drabblers sent up when a captain has put up everything else and is desperate for a little more thrust. Kites or skysails are sometimes still used today, even by huge cargo ships.

                  But as Mike says, a sail is a sail…

        1. bud

          We can have that conversation here. I’ll be the Democratic candidate and Bryan can play GOP. Since Bryan is probably smarter than I am I’ll take the correct, and easier side to defend. :)

          Reply
          1. Bryan Caskey

            What conversation are we going to have? The thread/replies aren’t lining up for me.

            In any event, I’m your Huckleberry.

            Reply

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