Donald Trump’s abortion muddle

It may be hard to keep track of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s position on abortion – or even understand his logic, because of a series of messy statements that fail to paint a clear picture.

Despite his 1999 “very pro-choice” stance, 2015 is a new year. A cursory overview of his 2015 statements thus far, whether he realizes it or not, clarifies Trump’s fundamental belief about abortion.

On January 25, 2015, Bloomberg News‘ Mark Halperin asked Trump to state his position on abortion. Trump answered: “I’m pro-life, with the caveats. You have to have the caveats.”

When asked if abortion was murder, Trump replied, “No … with caveats, life of the mother, incest, and rape.”

When asked if an abortion performed outside of those exceptions was murder, Trump emphasized three times, “it depends when.”

Being pro-life to Trump includes legalizing abortion, which isn’t murder, within the context of timing and the three exceptions he lists.

Fast forward to August 11, 2015, when CNN’s Chris Cuomo asked Trump about Planned Parenthood. Trump said, “Maybe some of the things [that Planned Parenthood does] are good and I know a lot of things are bad.”

He added, “The biggest problem I have with Planned Parenthood is the abortion situation. I mean, it’s like an abortion factory, frankly.”

Trump also reiterated, “I am absolutely pro-life,” stating five times in a row that he was “for the exceptions.”

Despite Trump’s October 10th assertion on Fox News that he’d love to nominate his older sister, Maryanne Trump Barry, a Federal Circuit Court Judge, to the U.S. Supreme Court– but that she didn’t want the job– his August 26th advocacy for her is telling.

The “very pro-life” Trump would nominate a woman who he believes would make a “phenomenal” Supreme Court Justice who he also knows is a national poster child for partial-birth abortion.

Barry made national headlines in 2000 when she advocated against the State of New Jersey’s judicial decision to outlaw partial-birth abortion.


Author Ramesh Ponnuru described New Jersey’s “heated judicial decision in favor of giving constitutional protection to partial-birth abortion.” He noted that Judge Barry adamantly declared that New Jersey’s law was a:

“desperate attempt to undermine Roe v. Wade.” And, was, “based on semantic machinations, irrational line-drawing, and an obvious attempt to inflame public opinion instead of logic or medical evidence.”

Despite logic or medical evidence of a baby’s location (fully or partially in or out of the womb), Barry maintains there is no criteria relevant enough to determine when a baby’s life “expires.”

Ponnuru also points to Hadley Arkes, who conceived of the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act, who also was well aware of Judge Barry’s advocacy. Arkes specifically mentions in his book that people like Barry exemplify the fundamental need to enact a Born-Alive Infants Protection law.

In fact, if Ponnuru or Arkes had predicted at the time that the U.S. Supreme Court would later rule on limits to abortion, they would have been correct. In 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a 2003 federal ban on partial-birth abortion, but only by a margin of one vote.

Also in the month of August, Trump clarified his 1999 “very pro-choice” stance to the Hollywood Reporter. He said, “Don’t forget, when I was first asked, I was a real estate developer, and that was not a question that people went around asking you. And I actually said that the concept of abortion was always a tough concept for most people. Those Planned Parenthood videos that came out recently are terrible.”

(In 1999, Trump was “very pro-choice” and supported partial birth abortion. He reversed his position on partial birth abortion in 2000, interestingly the same year when his sister made headlines supporting it.)

Fast forward to December on the campaign trail in New Hampshire. When asked if Trump would defund Planned Parenthood and overturn Roe v. Wade, Trump hedged: “Well, the answer is yes, defund. The other, you need a lot of Supreme Court justices. But we’re gonna be looking at that also very, very carefully. But you need a lot of Supreme Court judges. But defund, yes, we’re going to be doing that.”

While Trump maintains that he would defund Planned Parenthood, keep in mind that he defended the organization to Fox News’ Sean Hannity in August.

He said:

There’s two Planned Parenthoods, in a way. You have it as an abortion clinic. Now, that’s actually a fairly small part of what they do, but it’s a brutal part, and I’m totally against it. They also, however, service women. Maybe unless they stop with the abortions, we don’t do the funding for the stuff that we want.

We have to help women. So we have to look at the positives, also, for Planned Parenthood.

He added, he’s not alone in his view, stating, “I’ve had many women – I’ve had many Republican, conservative women – come up and say Planned Parenthood serves a good function, other than that one aspect.”

The “aspect” to which Trump refers is what Dr. Deborah Nucatola, Planned Parenthood’s director of medical services, describes on video. The high demand—and cost for fetal livers, lungs and “intact” hearts—from the human body parts of aborted babies.

Planned Parenthood claimed to offer 11 million “services” in America in its 2009-2010 Annual Report. It also claims that among these services only 329,445 were abortions, which only account for 3 percent of its total services.

Other reports contradict this report, however. Life News cites Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data from the same year, which indicates that Planned Parenthood clinics performed 40 percent of all abortions in America. And the Guttmacher Institute, citing different national data from the same year, calculates that Planned Parenthood clinics perform 27.5 percent of all abortions in America.

Despite Planned Parenthood’s claims, it is by far the largest abortion provider in America.

Congress has consistently voted to fund roughly half of Planned Parenthood’s $1.1 billion budget. Earlier this year the Senate failed to gain the votes needed to defund Planned Parenthood—even after video recordings surfaced of Planned Parenthood employees discussing the demand and cost for aborted human baby organs.

On December 3, 2015, the Senate voted 52-47 to repeal key provisions of the Affordable Care Act, which included stripping the federally funding of Planned Parenthood. While this appears to be a good sign, the Senate does not have the 60 votes required to override its impending veto.

Many Americans argue defunding Planned Parenthood isn’t enough– those who “buy” and “sell” human baby body parts and tissue are committing a felony.

The National Organ Transplant Act of 1984 makes illegal the selling and buying of human organs. Any individual convicted of buying and/or selling human organs can be sentenced to five years in prison and also pay a significantly large financial penalty. The law explicitly states that the crime involves an individual who “knowingly acquires, receives, or otherwise transfers” a human organ. (It also provides a loophole for those who might unknowingly receive an illegally procured organ.)

Congress could defund Planned Parenthood and the Justice Department could prosecute those who break federal law.

But it’s unclear if a Trump Justice Department would prosecute Planned Parenthood. On the one hand, Trump argues he is “absolutely pro-life.” But he also believes his sister, who supports partial-birth abortion and opposes a Born-Alive Infant Protection law, would make a “phenomenal” Supreme Court Justice.

Trump won’t commit to defining when personhood begins, a stance some body part traffickers maintain, when justifying their actions. If personhood isn’t definable then fetal tissue is no different than any other non-human tissue used for medical research and experiments.

Maybe more notable, however, is Trump’s view that abortion isn’t murder of a human baby– or that it is legally permissible murder– if performed when the life of the mother is at risk, or in response to pregnancy conceived through incest and/or rape.

But this rationale creates legal loopholes and even murkier water, especially if incest and/or rape do not conclusively lead to personhood.

Yet, still, Trump is “very pro-life.”

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