Calls for restoring “civility” have become ubiquitous in the Trump era. After a few Trump regime officials were confronted at restaurants in the DC area, Karl Salzmann argued at National Review that Americans must adhere to “a conservative sense of reasonableness or civic order” because “in the absence of civility, democracy becomes mob rule.” A few months earlier, David French, the magazine’s prominent NeverTrump conservative, wrote that “it’s imperative to read the best expression of the opposing side’s point of view. Reading only the worst (as entertaining as that can be) is inherently deceptive. It can wrongly confirm your own self-righteousness and wrongly demonize your opponent.”
Then, in the midst of all of this performative tut-tutting, the entire Republican Party and its media apparatus coalesced around the wildly uncivil claim that one of our two major parties is quite literally trying to make it legal to murder newborn babies.
“Infanticide” is the word of the day in conservative circles, and none of the people decrying the lack of manners in American politics has batted an eye over a truly outrageous charge.
David French appears to have forgotten the importance of reading “the best expression of the opposing side’s point of view” when he wrote that a proposed Virginia law that would have eased certain restrictions on later abortions promoted “infanticide” and “barbarism.”
French would claim that this wasn’t an outrageous insult to America’s pro-choice majority because under the new law “virtually any claim of impairment would suffice” to justify taking the life of a fully formed, completely viable, living infant.” He worries that women will carry a pregnancy deep into the third trimester and then terminate it on a whim. But, as Michelle Goldberg wrote for The New York Times, “there’s contempt for women embedded in the idea that, absent legal prohibition, someone on the verge of giving birth might instead terminate her pregnancy to avoid the brutalities of labor.”
And make no mistake—conflating abortion with killing babies is as factually accurate as claiming that conservatives eat puppies. The reality is that Roe v. Wade, and subsequent court rulings, allowed states to ban abortions after the point of viability, except when an abortion is necessary to protect the life or health of the woman carrying a fetus. Now, with the Trump Supreme Court widely anticipated to overturn Roe in the coming years, a number of states are taking a fresh look at their restrictions on later abortions, and some have moved to codify Roe’s terms in their own legal codes. These are efforts to protect what has been the legal status quo on abortion in this country for almost a half century.
These efforts are a response to a very real threat. Red states have been passing a flurry of new legislation to sharply curtail access to abortion or ban it outright. In recent weeks, anti-choice lawmakers in Georgia offered a “fetal heartbeat law” that would ban abortions early in the first trimester, when many women don’t yet know that they’re pregnant, and another bill that would make abortion a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison if Roe is struck down. Governor Brian Kemp supports both measures. And last week, lawmakers in Montana considered a referendum that would amend the state Constitution to ban all abortions.
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Later abortions are rare, representing around 1 percent of the procedures in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Nearly nine in 10 abortions occur before 12 weeks of gestation, according to the Guttmacher Institute.) We don’t have solid data on why women seek later abortions, but anecdotal evidence suggests that in many cases it’s a matter of tragic and traumatic medical emergencies. That was the case for Erika Christensen, a 35-year-old woman who decided to terminate a pregnancy she and her husband very much wanted to carry to term when, at 32 weeks, doctors told them that the fetus couldn’t breathe outside the womb and would not survive.
There doesn’t seem much point in calling out conservative hypocrisy in the age of Trump. But it doesn’t get a lot clearer than a party which claims to stand for limited government—and that argued that the Affordable Care Act would place faceless bureaucrats between doctors and their patients—insisting that if you don’t favor onerous regulations on what are often the most painful experiences in a person’s life, you want to murder babies.
As for the hypocrisy of decrying the lack of civility in our discourse in one breath while accusing their opponents of literally wanting to murder babies, the public’s been inoculated against seeing the outrageous demagoguery of that claim through sheer repetition.
And there’s good reason to believe that even most anti-choice activists don’t actually believe that abortion is the moral equivalent of murder. As Steve Chapman argued in the Los Angeles Times, when they’re pressed on what punishment should be meted out to women who “murder their babies,” anti-choicers almost always demur. “If abortion is morally indistinguishable from killing a newborn, though, why shouldn’t those who procure abortions be severely punished?” asked Chapman.
When Kevin Williamson lost his gig at The Atlantic for suggesting that women who get an abortion should be hanged, he claimed that he had only been “making a point about the sloppy rhetoric of the abortion debate,” and nobody should have taken him literally. When Donald Trump suggested that women should face some form of punishment for seeking an abortion, Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life Education and Defense Fund, insisted that “no pro-lifer would ever want to punish a woman who has chosen abortion. We invite a woman who has gone down this route to consider paths to healing, not punishment.” “Healing” isn’t an appropriate punishment for homicide.
So it’s a rhetorical choice, and a dangerous one. It takes just one unstable person to embrace the idea that abortion is murder and take it to its logical conclusion—that it’s morally acceptable to commit acts of violence to prevent abortion. That logic motivated Rachelle Shannon to shoot and wound an abortion provider named George Tiller in 1993, and Scott Roeder to succeed in murdering him 13 years later. It’s what motivated the murderers of Shannon Lowney and Leanne Nichols, two receptionists working in a Boston clinic, and John Bayard Britton and David Gunn, two other providers who were assassinated by anti-choice zealots. They weren’t babies, but those were actual homicides.
According to NPR, abortion providers across the country are now reporting an uptick in threats in this current climate. That is decidedly uncivil.