© 2024 Michigan State University Board of Trustees
Public Media from Michigan State University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Anti-Abortion Group Weighs In On Donald Trump's Comments


Even Donald Trump decided on reflection that this remark went too far. Chris Matthews of MSNBC asked the candidate about his declared opposition to abortion rights.


CHRIS MATTHEWS: Do you believe in - do you believe in punishment for abortion, yes or no - as a principle?

DONALD TRUMP: The answer is that there has to be some form of punishment.

MATTHEWS: For the woman?

TRUMP: Yeah, there has to be some form.

INSKEEP: Or not. Trump's campaign soon revised this. He now says doctors should be punished, not women who have abortions. The episode left some people asking which of Trump's positions was his real one, and also how much he'd really thought about the issue.

We're going to talk about this with Marjorie Dannenfelser. She's in our studios. She leads the Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion group. Welcome to the program.

MARJORIE DANNENFELSER: Thanks for having me.

INSKEEP: What did Trump's statement suggest to you?

DANNENFELSER: It suggested to me that he is not a fine orator. I think we know that. I think he hasn't thought very deeply about this because he's missed something very important. The aims of the pro-life movement are focused on the woman and the child, and to take them together as a goal, as an end is - to preserve both is what it's been from the beginning...

INSKEEP: ...Why would this remark suggest that he hasn't thought very deeply about this issue?

DANNENFELSER: Well, because the pro-life movement has never, for a very good reason, promoted the idea that we punish women. In fact, we believe that women are being punished before the abortion ever occurs. In other words, the early feminists believed this was the ultimate exploitation of women.

The real earliest roots of feminism and the women's movement really embraced the idea that her innermost soul, in Susan B. Anthony's words, recoil from the dreadful deed, but thrice guilty is the one who drove her to the deed. And who is that? It's the abortionist. And that who - is who is the one to be punished when there's a law against abortion.

INSKEEP: So you favor the position that Trump revised...


INSKEEP: ...To say that the doctor should be punished who was involved in a procedure like this.

DANNENFELSER: Indeed, indeed.

INSKEEP: Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times had a column overnight - a very interesting column - critical of Donald Trump, very critical. But he says actually, Trump's original statement is the logical conclusion. If you believe, Kristof says, that abortion is murder then of course you'd jail the woman for being complicit in the crime.

DANNENFELSER: Well, it's a natural position for someone that doesn't accept the position of the pro-life movement, yes. But the pro-life movement's position nevertheless, as I mentioned before, connects the woman and the child, both of their outcomes, together. And to punish the woman and - is to compound a problem that is already existing in the culture that led her to make that choice in the beginning.

Again, the early feminists - Victoria Woodhull, Maddie Brinckerhoff - all of these early feminists agreed with us in the pro-life movement now that when she gets an abortion, it's a sign of something terribly wrong going in the culture - going on in the culture. That's why the pro-life movement's aim is to help her and save the life of her child.

INSKEEP: Do you come away from this feeling that Trump's opposition to abortion rights is sincere?

DANNENFELSER: I think he's got the zeal of a convert who hasn't thought very deeply about the consequences of how he articulates the position. He changed his mind and yesterday, that was a good change. I think thinking more deeply about it and being prepared next time would be very good advice.

INSKEEP: Do you think he's got the zeal of a convert or that he just doesn't actually mean it?

DANNENFELSER: This only God knows, or someone who can see into his soul. I do not know. I'm very glad about the fact that he has embraced the pro-life position, but I think he needs to expand it to embrace the woman.

INSKEEP: Trump made another statement that got some attention, but a little bit less. He said that if abortion were to be banned in the United States, that women would, quote, "go back to illegal places." They'd return to what were sometimes called back-alley abortions. He says that's the natural conclusion. He still thinks that abortion has to be banned, but that this would happen.

Is he actually right about that? If abortion were banned, if Roe v. Wade were overturned by the Supreme Court someday, would women return to illegal and often much more dangerous abortions?

DANNENFELSER: No. This reveals another lack of knowledge of what is ready and where we're - where we were prepared for rolling back the abortion laws. You know, as you know, they're - abortion laws are non-existent pretty much up until the birth of the child.

If those children are allowed to live and a woman is in need of help, there are hundreds of pregnancy care centers across the country, millions of people ready to come to her aid. So no, I don't believe that that's necessarily at all. And we're far more ready now then we were before Roe to help women and children in situations like that.

INSKEEP: You feel it wouldn't be necessary, but in about 15 seconds, isn't that the reality? That is what would happen in some cases?

DANNENFELSER: That women would go to back alleys?

INSKEEP: Yeah, in some cases.

DANNENFELSER: I - if a woman feels that that is where she's been driven, she hasn't been reached by someone who says, I will help you. There's always a dreadful possibility that something terrible would happen no matter what a law is, but it is incumbent upon the pro-life movement and Americans in general to help a woman who is in that type of need.

INSKEEP: Ms. Dannenfelser, thanks very much.


INSKEEP: Marjorie Dannenfelser is president of the Susan B. Anthony List. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Journalism at this station is made possible by donors who value local reporting. Donate today to keep stories like this one coming. It is thanks to your generosity that we can keep this content free and accessible for everyone. Thanks!