Everything Trump Got Wrong About Abortion At The Final Debate

Even for those who cynically assume all politicians lie like it’s breathing, watching Trump make shit up in the moment must be an out-of-body experience.

It would be a remarkable piece of performance art if he weren’t vying for the top office in a country whose people he loathes and whose basic rules of governing he disregards. (Does he really think ONE senator could pass a law unilaterally, as he implied in the second debate?) During the third and mercifully final debate last night, I daydreamed about a stage set-up with this eagle between the candidates to regulate blatant lies about the history and make-up of our country.

Trump would have been in rough shape. He was so wrong so often that I nearly turned in a three-word op-ed: “TRUMP IS WRONG.” But that would have been a bit, um, nasty of me. Instead, I’m trying to follow Hillary’s lead and respond to the few substantive moments he gave us on the topic I have been begging to hear addressed during the debates: abortion.

After spending the entire primary season and the lead-up to the one-on-one debates of the general election lobbying moderators to #AskAboutAbortion, I’m not sure any reproductive justice advocate or supporter expected Fox News host Chris Wallace to be the first to do so.

Wallace: Well, let’s pick up on another issue which divides you, and the justices that, whoever ends up winning this election appoints, could have a dramatic effect there. That’s the issue of abortion. Mr. Trump, you’re “pro-life.” And I want to ask you specifically: Do you want the court, including the justices that you will name, to overturn Roe v. Wade, which includes, in fact states, a woman’s right to abortion.
Trump: Well, if that would happen, because I am “pro-life” and I will be appointing “pro-life” judges, I would think that would go back to the individual states.

(With thanks to Politico, who was kind enough to provide a full transcript of the debate.)

So, the 51% or so of us who dare to walk around with a uterus were being asked to picture a Supreme Court stacked with enough right-wing justices for a successful challenge to Roe. We were also asked to imagine the ensuing chaos at the state-level, where already, abortion-restriction-obsessed legislators have worked themselves into a frenzy re-criminalizing a safe, necessary procedure that has existed as long as pregnancy.

Rewire News vice president of Law and The Courts and reproductive justice writer Jessica Pieklo pushed back in real time on Trump’s assertion that appointing even several justices would have any automatic effect on Roe (or anything else because that’s not how courts work):

With three sitting justices over the age of 78 by the inauguration in January and a vacancy due to ongoing republican intransigence, the Supreme Court is even more important than during other election cycles. It would be nice if the person seated in the West Wing understood that a law has to be challenged (often a long process) before it can be overturned. Overturning Roe would be a very possible future outcome, however, if we allow Trump to appoint up to four justices. Letting the states decide, as Trump went on to crow, would be a nightmare.

Our states are already a chaotic patchwork of laws and withheld funding, complicating the fact that 38% of women of reproductive age live in the 89% of U.S. counties lacking an abortion provider. According to the Guttmacher Institute, legislators at the state level have upped their unprecedented determination to all but eliminate access to abortion since the Tea Party wave of 2010 during the last year:

“In the first half of 2016, U.S. state legislators introduced 1,256 provisions relating to sexual and reproductive health and rights. Of these, 35% (445 provisions) sought to restrict access to abortion services. By midyear, 17 states had passed 46 new abortion restrictions. Including these new restrictions, states have adopted 334 abortion restrictions since 2010, constituting 30% of all abortion restrictions enacted by states since the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade in 1973.”

At the debate, Clinton brilliantly made it personal, speaking for the 1% of those who terminate pregnancies after 20 weeks. (91% of abortions are performed during the first 13 weeks.)

“I have met with women who have, toward the end of their pregnancy, get the worst news one could get. That their health is in jeopardy if they continue to carry to term. Or that something terrible has happened or just been discovered about the pregnancy. I do not think the United States government should be stepping in and making those most personal of decisions.”

And there you have it: the actual conservative position asking for less government involvement in our private lives.

Neither Trump nor Wallace could leave it there. They paraded around anti-choice spin as though it’s established fact.

Wallace: I’m going to give you a chance to respond. But I wanted to ask you secretary Clinton, I want to explore how far you think the right to abortion goes. You have been quoted as saying that the fetus has no constitutional rights. You also voted against a ban on late term partial birth abortions. Why?

Listen. “Partial birth abortion” isn’t a thing. IT IS NOT A THING. An “intact dilation and extraction” (D&E) was a procedure used to terminate some second trimester pregnancies for the safety of some patients and so that others could hold the fetus to say goodbye, should the parent(s) wish to mourn the end of a wanted pregnancy. Heaven forbid we respect the full needs of the patient.

The National Right to Life Committee created the term “partial birth abortion” the same way anti-choicers manufactured other non-medical terms like “late term abortion” and “fetal pain.” No matter how widely these terms are debunked, they enjoy fact-like status in corporate media and politics.

Wallace threw it to Trump to mansplain abortion to the first woman candidate for president.

Wallace: Mr. Trump, your reaction. Particularly on this issue of late term “partial birth abortions.”
Trump: Well I think it is terrible. If you go with what Hillary is saying, in the ninth month you can take baby and rip the baby out of the womb of the mother just prior to the birth of the baby. Now, you can say that that is okay and Hillary can say that that is okay, but it’s not okay with me. Because based on what she is saying and based on where she’s going and where she’s been, you can take baby and rip the baby out of the womb. In the ninth month. On the final day. And that’s not acceptable.

He would go on to mutter that “nobody has business doing what I just said. Doing that as late as one or two or three or four days prior to birth. Nobody has that.”

ACTUALLY, there is a group of people who do regularly remove babies from the womb a few days before their due date — or even the day of! We call them DOCTORS because THAT IS CALLED A C-SECTION.


Clinton: Well that is not what happens in these cases.
And using that kind of scare rhetoric is just terribly unfortunate. You should meet with some of the women I’ve met with. Women I’ve known over the course of my life. This is one of the worst possible choices that any woman and her family has to make. And I do not believe the government should be making it.
You know, I’ve had the great honor of traveling across the world on behalf of our country. I’ve been to countries where governments either forced women to have abortions, like they used to do in China, or forced women to bear children like they used to do in Romania. And I can tell you the government has no business in the decisions that women make with their families in accordance with their faith, with medical advice. And I will stand up for that right.

It was really something to watch a presidential candidate say the word “abortion” without cringing and so deftly craft rhetoric that addressed the underlying assumptions of the anti-choice rhetoric without legitimizing it.

“I will defend Planned Parenthood. I will defend Roe v. Wade and I will defend women’s rights to make their own healthcare decisions. We have come too far to have that turn back now. And indeed, he said women should be punished. There should be some form of punishment for women who obtain abortions. And I could just not be more opposed to that kind of thinking.”

Sure, I could have used less of the word “painful” in her responses, because not all of us who have abortions find the decision to be difficult. However, she didn’t say all abortions are difficult, and the abortions she was asked to comment on are in that minority that are performed post-20 weeks, when tests for conditions that are incompatible with life take place.

While some terminations toward the end of the second and start of the third trimester are sought for other reasons (most typically having to raise funds and/or travel from an area without a provider while navigating other costly restrictions), Clinton was right about these decisions: They are often emotional and hard for the parent(s).

Seeing her defend the procedures demonized by the right-wing scare machine gave me hope that after we inaugurate her in January, we just might see some pro-active reproductive justice policy/legislation.

Here’s to that hope becoming reality:


Lead image adapted from Pixabay