Does a president impact abortion rights?

After reviewing the history, I’d say yes, in a few ways. The obvious one is Supreme Court appointments of justices that either are or aren’t likely to uphold Roe vs. Wade, which superseded state bans in 1973 on the grounds that abortion rights are included in privacy rights under the constitution.

Another way is the veto power. When Congress passed a federal ban on a specific late term abortion procedure, which opponents call “partial birth abortion”, President Clinton vetoed it. Congress passed it again under George W. Bush and he signed it into law. The current Republican Congress would very possibly pass a ban on all abortions after 20 weeks (that’s how long it would take before a woman knows her fetus has serious deformities from Zika) and a cutoff of Planned Parenthood funding, were it not for President Obama’s standing veto threat.

Finally, there’s the bully pulpit advantage. Our audio history segment included this statement by George W. Bush while he was president, listing some of the things he helped the anti-abortion rights movement to push, to chip away at Roe vs. Wade rights at the state level, and across the developing world since Roe does not apply to U.S. foreign aid.

“One of my first acts as the President was to ban the use of taxpayer money on programs that promote abortion overseas. I want to thank you all for getting that ban on partial-birth abortion to my desk, a bill I was proud to sign — and a law which we are going to defend — and are defending — vigorously in our courts. Because we acted, infants who are born despite an attempted abortion are now protected by law. Thanks to “Laci and Conner’s Law,” prosecutors can now charge those who harm or kill a pregnant woman with harming or killing her unborn child, as well. We’re vigorously promoting parental notification laws, adoption, teen abstinence, crisis pregnancy programs, and the vital work of our faith-based groups. We’re sending a clear message to any woman facing a crisis pregnancy: We love you; we love your child, and we’re here to help you.There’s more work to be done. The House has passed a bill to ensure that state parental involvement laws are not circumvented by those who take minors across state lines to have abortion[s]. And the United States Senate needs to pass this bill so I can sign it into law.”

The current candidates are completely polarized on the issue. Trump has said he would mete out criminal punishment to women who had abortions, though he changed that to doctors after a public outcry. Mike Pence is known as the most anti-abortion rights governor in America and signed the most restrictive state abortion law earlier this year. Hillary Clinton used to call for abortion to be “safe, legal and rare.” For this year’s campaign year she has dropped her use of the word “rare”, which she probably thinks stigmatizes abortions more than she needs to politically in 2016.

Until next time,

Brian Lehrer