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Trump's State of the Union comments on abortion reveal the relentless hypocrisy of anti-abortion messaging

Anti-abortion advocates are attempting to paint motherhood as antithetical to abortion. In fact, many moms also have abortions — including me.
Image: Anti-abortion protesters rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court
Anti-abortion protesters rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court while waiting for the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra case in Washington on June 25, 2018.Toya Sarno Jordan / Reuters

Late Thursday night, the Supreme Court blocked a Louisiana law originally passed in 2014 that advocates warned would’ve made abortion almost impossible in the state. In a 5-4 decision — with Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito Jr., Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh dissenting — the Supreme Court issued a stay on a regulation that would’ve required doctors who perform abortions in the state to obtain hospital admitting privileges. In 2016, the Supreme Court found this requirement unconstitutional in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, setting a precedent that many of the conservative judges seem to not respect. While the stay is only temporary, and the court will likely examine the case in earnest late next year, today the state’s remaining clinics will remain open. The people of Louisiana have weathered yet another attack on reproductive rights. But more are coming.

The people of Louisiana have weathered yet another attack on reproductive rights. But more are coming.

The ongoing assault on Americans’ constitutional right to access abortion care is nothing new, though efforts to curtail that right have taken on a different sense of urgency since President Donald Trump became president. In 2017, 19 states passed 63 legal restrictions on abortion access, the largest number of anti-abortion laws enacted since 2013, according to the Guttmacher Institute. During the 2016 presidential election, then-candidate Trump promised to appoint Supreme Court judges who would overturn Roe v. Wade; a promise he has certainly kept.

Indeed, just recently, in the State of the Union address, the president regurgitated outright lies about abortions that occur later in pregnancy, evoking the image of a mother holding a newborn in an attempt to demonize not only the act of abortion but the people who have them. “There could be no greater contrast to the beautiful image of a mother holding her infant child than the chilling displays our nation saw in recent days,” he said, before intentionally misrepresenting New York state’s newly passed law that codifies Roe v. Wade and allows abortion past 24 weeks gestation in the case of severe fetal abnormality or a threat to the patient’s life, as well as Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s recent comments about end-of-life infant care.

One of the reasons the anti-abortion movement’s relentless attack on abortion rights is so effective is because of its ability to change tactics. The president’s message in the State of the Union is part of an attempt to separate abortion from motherhood: Good, pure women are mothers and bad, irresponsible, sinful women have abortions. I know from experience that this is a lie.

And of course, I am not alone. Fifty-nine percent of women who have abortions have given birth at least once already, and a reported 66 percent of women who have abortions plan to have children later on in the future. The decision to terminate a pregnancy is, more often than not, a decision made by parents with their families in mind, and any legislative attempt to impede that decision-making process is an affront to the sanctity of parenthood.

If the choice to enter into motherhood willingly is eroded by anti-choice politicians hiding behind the translucent guise of morality, motherhood itself is undermined. Instead of being a choice, it will be a punishment. Instead of being a celebrated sacrifice, it will be an ominous penance with wide-spread, dangerous consequences.

If the choice to enter into motherhood willingly is eroded by anti-choice politicians, motherhood itself is undermined.

In many states across the country, this egregious attack on moms — particularly black moms and moms of color — is already wreaking havoc. States with the highest number of abortion restrictions tend to have the worst women and children’s health outcomes, according to a 2017 report by the Center for Reproductive Rights and Ibis Reproductive Health. For example, 92 percent of Louisiana counties do not have health clinics that provide abortions. And Louisiana has the worst maternal mortality rate in the country.

Meanwhile the Hyde Amendment, which bars the use of federal funds to pay for abortions, disproportionately impacts poor women and women of color. In the United States, the risk of pregnancy-related death for black women is three to four times higher than it is for white women. Women who cannot access abortion care are three times more likely to live below the federal poverty line, according to a 2018 study published in the American Journal of Public Health, and a 2018 study published in the Journal of Pediatrics found that the children of women denied abortions are less likely to hit their developmental milestones. Restricting abortion access is, according to anti-abortion advocates, supposed to protect mothers or children. But research shows such efforts end up hurting many of them.

We need to call anti-abortion legislation and the politicians who peddle them exactly what they are: anti-family. Kavanaugh was touted as a “family man” during his contentious confirmation hearings. Gorsuch was described as a “warm and collegial family man” in 2017. Yet their dissension Tuesday night supported a law that would’ve hurt families living in Louisiana. Those who support the thrice-married president have also tried to pass him off as a “family man,” yet his State of the Union comments hurt the families who choose to have abortions after receiving heartbreaking news about their non-viable pregnancies. Vice President Mike Pence claims “life is winning again in America,” yet the United States has the worst maternal mortality rate in the developed world, and American women are now more likely to die in childbirth than their mothers were, according to an analysis from Harvard University.

Anti-abortion forces have tried many tactics over the history of the movement. They have painted abortion as cruel and painful for unborn fetuses, they have argued that women who have abortions never recover from the psychological trauma of the procedure. Now it seems they are attempting to separate the universally appreciated concept of motherhood from abortion, in the process pushing several misconceptions: that all women who are "good" want to be mothers, and that good mothers do not have abortions.

I am the mother of two incredible sons, and I know that one of the reasons I am such a good mother is because of the abortion I had when I was in my early 20s. I can say with great, earned confidence and as a woman who has given birth twice, experienced the pain of miscarriage three times and terminated a pregnancy once, that what makes motherhood so incredibly satisfying, awe-inspiring and safe — the choice to experience it when a person is ready, willing, and able — cannot exist for many women without abortion.