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His racism, violent bigotry and combative approach to peaceful protest might have given his campaign a boost amongst disaffected, resentful Americans, but could Donald Trump’s overt misogyny put an end to his Presidential aspirations? “There has to be some form of punishment,” insisted the candidate when asked if women should face charges in the event of an abortion ban. The outcry following the MSNBC town hall where he made the controversial remarks prompted his campaign to issue another clockwork clarification. "If Congress were to pass legislation making abortion illegal and the federal courts upheld this legislation, or any state were permitted to ban abortion under state and federal law, the doctor or any other person performing this illegal act upon a woman would be held legally responsible, not the woman," said the Trump campaign’s statement. "The woman is a victim in this case as is the life in her womb. My position has not changed — like Ronald Reagan, I am pro-life with exceptions." Trump may have ‘walked back’ his remarks, but the latest Post/ABC news survey suggests his appeal to American women has been dealt a fatal blow: 75% of women polled said they could not imagine voting for the orange gazillionaire under any circumstances. “What Donald Trump did yesterday was to speak the truth on the Republican agenda on choice,” said Ilyse Hogue of NARAL Pro-Choice America at a March 31st press event scheduled by Hillary Clinton’s campaign. It may be an unintended consequence on his part, but the more Trump backtracks to align with historic and published Republican policies, the clearer it becomes to voters – especially women and minorities – that his positions are the logical result of almost 50 years of the GOP using divide-and-rule tactics to keep a lock on their political power.
In many ways, American women seeking abortions already experience forms of punishment, often at the hands of conservative lawmakers who’ve treated the US Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade verdict with unconcealed contempt for the past 43 years. Compared to her counterparts in England, Scotland and Wales – setting aside Northern Ireland, where abortion is still prohibited, with NHS treatment denied to women travelling to mainland Britain, who instead attend private family-planning clinics – it’s often more difficult for an American woman to arrange a termination in her home state. A staggering 87% of US counties don’t have facilities or clinics, and US pro-life organizations constantly lobby federal, state, and local governments to tighten restrictions – or create extra bureaucracy for women at an already-stressful time.
That red tape can include pharmacists who refuse to dispense birth control or abortifacient pills according to their religious beliefs; a drive hundreds of miles away to a major metropolitan area or another state; a hotel stay during the mandatory 24-hour wait between referral and procedure; mandatory counselling, often from a ‘pro-life’ script written by a right-wing, ‘family values’ think-tank coordinating its efforts across federal and state legislation; and worst of all, in 20 US states, there’s pressure to have an ultrasound scan using a vaginal probe, complete with a full description of the foetus, regardless of any previous exams or known foetal irregularities. In Texas and Louisiana, ultrasound is mandatory – and the consultant is required by law to show the live-action results of the scan to the patient.
I’ve always believed children have a better shot at life if they are wanted, that terminations should be available to women on request, if they so choose – and my feminism, like that of Gloria Steinem and millions of others before me, was forged in the struggle for true freedom of choice and control over my own means of (re)production. As a bolshy, punk-tinged teenager growing up in a Midwestern suburb, attending a high school straight out of a John Hughes movie, I knew girls right across the socio-economic spectrum who found themselves missing periods or pregnant when they didn’t want to be. The speccy working-class girl who hoped her GPA would leverage her out of a precarious, blue-collar lifestyle; the girl who fell pregnant at 15 and had to talk her way into a termination before a judge who’d decide whether she could proceed as a ‘mature minor’ without the consent or knowledge of her religious parents; the rich girl assaulted while passed out at a house party; the tall girl whose single-parent mother frog-marched her to the nearest clinic because the boy who’d knocked her up was a member of the town’s most dysfunctional family. My mother, serving at the till in her bureau de change, met mother-daughter pairs cashing large cheques on the way to the family-planning clinic, to stop any record of a termination payment showing up on a credit-card bill.
Every day, my school bus passed a man standing on the central reservation nearest the clinic, waving a homemade ABORTION KILLS sign at passing traffic. Another, bolder man blocked the path between our school and the bus, handing out full-colour dead-foetus leaflets reminiscent of 1984’s The Silent Scream, a graphic anti-abortion documentary that still does the rounds of extracurricular church groups all over America. I’m proud to say my friends and I confronted this man, jeering at his prurient interest in teenage girls as we turned his leaflets into spitballs and wetly lobbed them back at him through the windows of the bus. He didn’t return, but his rhetoric and presentation were typical examples of the emotional blackmail that is to this day directed at young American women. Today, those signs held by random men on centre islands are echoed by massive and bloodily graphic billboards right across America’s main streets and highways, financed by mega-churches and big-money conservative ‘right-to-life’ groups.
Speaking for myself, it’s hard not to look into the motivations of those who obstruct or threaten women’s reproductive rights and see their need to control women’s bodies as a sinister form of dominance and a reassertion of patriarchy by any means necessary, just as the resentment of white Americans who support Trump’s racist antagonism of black Americans, Latinos, and Muslims looks like a desperate, potentially violent assertion of any remaining vestiges of privilege or white supremacy. It’s impossible to read about attacks on – and murders of – US obstetricians who perform the most difficult of late-term abortions and not wonder if ‘pro-life’ activists are tacit in their approval of anti-female domestic terrorists who’ve pulled that trigger. After all, in speaking up to say women are mere victims in the abortion war who shouldn’t be legally punished, US Republicans reiterated a willingness to criminalize their doctors the second they can repeal Roe v. Wade. It’s this party line, where it’s accepted that women remain victims regardless and echoed by Donald Trump in his statement of clarification, that makes it debatable whether the party of candidate Ted Cruz (an Texan evangelical Christian who sees women as sacred vessels, coming off as especially patronising into the bargain) is really any different from the party of candidate Trump, or any less hostile to equality with women.
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