An obvious question that nobody seems interested in
Great column, but the footnote is incorrect from my experience. I have relatives who have purchased the cemetery plots and held the funerals in cases of miscarriage. There is no lack of authenticity to their belief in personhood. I think it is a major mistake many liberals and progressives make to think otherwise.
In Trump’s case the incuriousity seems justified: if you ask him, he will produce some word salad that involves saying his own name repeatedly and otherwise carries no actual meaning. In practice he will sign any bill that a republican legislature puts in front of him. (This set of affairs applies to most policy questions outside immigration and trade.)
Making McCarthy and McConnell answer the question on the record seems like a better use of everyone’s time.
Matt, what's up with that footnote?
There are bills in several state legislatures that specifically seek to charge women who receive abortions and doctors who perform abortions with murder (LA, NC, TX). Even if they don't have a strong chance of passing, it's pretty clear that some subset of republicans thinks this way. This seems consistent with a belief in full personhood.
And there are definitely funerals and funeral services for miscarriages, including services at hospitals that will cremate or otherwise inter the dead fetus. You can get a casket for a baby lost to a 1st trimester miscarriage. The mourning is real whether you follow the theological logic or not.
Re: the footnote, most with very strong pro-life opinions do mourn a miscarriage like the death of a child, and some do think women should be prosecuted for murder. But others have resolved the obvious cognitive dissonance of prosecuting women by telling themselves she didn’t know what she was doing, she bought the pro-choice lie that it isn’t a life, and she’s a victim in all this too. But don’t kid yourself, pro-lifers really do deeply, genuinely believe a fetus/unborn child has the same moral worth as a newborn. And if you’re comparing a post-viability fetus with a preemie newborn, this is very easy to understand and frankly, hard to argue with.
Edited to add: if you want to know what the Catholic Church officially thinks about the women who have abortions and it’s assumptions (arguably flawed/biased) about why women do, you can read it directly: https://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/abortion/post-abortion-healing/a-special-word-to-women-who-have-had-an-abortion Of course, lots of conservative Catholics think the pope is a libertine.
In fairness, I think almost all of us have some level of cognitive dissonance as to whether babies in utero are people — the median answer is something like “Kinda, it depends on why you’re asking” and that might be less ideologically pure but it’s more honest and reflective of the how the line between life and not-life is actually pretty fuzzy.
It seems to me the standard answer for some conservative presidential candidates will be “Well, I’m personally pro-life but I believe it should be left up to the states” and then just whistle past that graveyard. If asked about anything at the federal level it will just be an attitude of “congress gonna congress but I believe it should be left up to the states”. That’s the safest conservative position firmly based in states rights ideology.
Matt, let's clarify odd beliefs...while only some religious Christians hold those beliefs about fetuses, importantly, as I think you know(?), religious Jews hold an opposite belief. The life of the mother takes precedent over the fetus in all cases for religious Jews. If the pregnant woman's life is endangered, abortion is required. That odd belief you describe is specific to a particular religion, not to religious people.
Matt Taibbi (among others) has addressed this asymmetry and concludes that journalists don't ask Republicans hard questions because they fear losing access, since they have their own media ecosystem:
"Hey there Republican candidate, would you support a federal ban on abortions with no exceptions?"
"I'm not going to answer your lamestream gotcha question. You're Fake News!"
Later, on FOX News:
"Hey there Republican candidate, don't you think Democrats are evil, baby-hating, CRT, deviant, groomer monsters for their support of the forced-abortions of beautiful conservative babies in the third trimester?"
"Yes, they certainly are, which is why I will fight for you and take back the country from evil liberals and the failed Biden presidency!"
And now that MAGA Republicans have started accusing moderators of bias as an excuse to avoid debates, they have even more incentive to dodge the "liberal media" accuse journalists of bias and then walk away in a huff. To conservatives, who get most of their news from FOX et al., Republican candidates are on constantly in the news, answering "tough questions" and it is Democrats who never answer tough questions.
I bet that, if you surveyed likely Republican voters, they would confidently ascribe their own views on abortion to both Trump and DeSantis, regardless of any public positions that they have or have not taken.
It seems like the only solution is to go back in time to when the bulk of the electorate got their news from the same outlets.
DeSantis signed a 15 week ban with no exception for rape or incest.
If you’re DeSantis, why stake out any major federal policy positions? Just point to your amazing successes in Florida.
- best COVID response in the nation. And when people try to throw data at you about how it’s average not best, you get to explain it’s the best because you did very little and ended up with the same outcomes.
- best schools in the nation. And when people point out that Florida’s schools are bad, you get to argue they’re the best because Florida has returned control to the parents who don’t care for the judgements of New Yorkers and Californians and offer one of the broadest school choice programs in the country. Also schools can’t groom kids into homosexual lifestyles in Florida.
- best economy in the nation. Crypto. Tourism. Aerospace. Agriculture. And Florida’s not afraid to stand up to woke corporate overreach.
- population growth. Everyone in America wants to live in Florida. Florida has solved the housing crisis plaguing old fashioned blue states by simply letting people build whenever wherever with little regulatory oversight. Homes are cheap and abundant.
- best business climate in the country. It’s faster and easier to start a small business in Florida than anywhere else. Florida has a huge, entrepreneurial small business economy and low taxes!
- diversity without the wokeness. Florida is a multiethnic melting pot where people manage to get along with others and respect difference without the academic lecture.
There’s probably other talking points but the point is DeSantis doesn’t have to talk about federal policy. Just say “I made Florida the best in the nation and I will do the same thing for America”. Done. Lots of people will believe that and no amount to “um, actually, the statistics show Florida is awful” will sway them.
I think Trump will continue to get a pass from activists because he gave them the Court that killed Roe. More than ever, he can probably get away with saying whatever; he delivered the goods.
A thought I've long harbored regarding DeSantis (though not on his abortion stance): is the Florida governor an authoritarian like Trump?
We know he's a hard right MAGAish movement conservative—whether such views are sincerely held or merely a sop to the base. (Although as Matt points out it's true we don't have specifics on what he views as desirable public policy on abortion).
But, like Trump, does he also lawlessly disdain democracy itself? Certainly based on his tenure in FL thus far, it's safe to conclude he's both voraciously power-hungry and as ruthless as they come. But that doesn't mean he'd try to steal a legitimately lost election. (Also doesn't rule out he wouldn't).
"...during the 2020 primary that any Republican Party president would ease regulation of air and water pollution relative to the Obama administration’s policies..."
I'm thinking you meant 2016?
At some level, I think the answer is pretty clear - Trump or DeSantis would sign the rightmost national abortion ban that they could get through Congress. And given the depth of the conservative movement's commitment on this issue, that bill would be H.R. 1 from a future GOP trifecta.
This is a great article that gets at one of the most underrated forces in American politics - that is, political media's relative lack of interest in clearly informing people about the actual likely policy consequences of elections. For the reasons Matt explains, there tends to be more pre-commitment to policy priorities on the Democratic side, such that voters can be pretty sure a Democratic trifecta will make social programs more generous, fund clean energy, etc. But when Trump and DeSantis stay silent on abortion, they are following a longstanding conservative movement tradition of hiding the ball on their most unpopular policy views. Neither George W. Bush nor Trump made a big deal publicly about the welfare-state rollbacks they ended up pursuing in office - they both chose to make different issues salient and (in Trump's case) just straight up lied about their position on social program cuts. Recognizing the unpopularity of their desire to cut Social Security and Medicaid, they hid the ball in order to win.
All that to say - I'm not sure that just asking Trump or DeSantis about a national abortion ban would be very insightful. They'd probably reply by making hazy statements about traditional family values and/or changing the subject to critical race theory, and they would surely take advantage of the conservative movement's message discipline to hide the ball as long as they could rather than take an unpopular position in public. But it would be VERY valuable if the political press spent less time on horse-race analysis and second-order takes about messaging savviness, and more time doing the back-to-basics work of straightforwardly informing people about the likely policy consequences of the choices they face. President Trump’s first term is the reason abortion bans are now on the table, and a future President Trump or DeSantis would sign one at the federal level. And perhaps, on balance, this is what the public wants (although I hope not). But my hot take is that hiding the ball on massively consequential policy stances is bad, and we shouldn't let important political figures do it.
On other culture war topics like immigration, you do see the same sort of posturing around extreme policy in a competitive Republican primary like 2016. Scott Walker even proposed also building a wall on the northern border!
Abortion also tended to have the same sort of “which exceptions?” question in R debates, but it tended to be less emphasized for the obvious reason that presidents could only appoint justices and hope for the best. But even in that pre-Dobbs world, we still had Chris Matthews asking Trump whether women should be punished for getting abortions. I fully expect many more questions like that once there’s an actual campaign.
Matt's post and a bunch of the comments make me realize that lots of otherwise very informed people are simply unaware of the basic argument for the impermissibility of abortion. I don't mean to suggest that the argument is unassailable, but like you guys aren't even engaging with it.
1. A fetus, from conception or very shortly thereafter (implantation at the latest), is a human being (i.e., a living organism of the species Homo sapiens).
2. All human beings have a right to life (or if you don't like rights talk, it is always wrong to intentionally kill an innocent human being).
3. So, abortion is always wrong (since it's the intentional killing of an innocent human being).
Science, not philosophy or theology, gives us reason to believe (1), and it's not seriously debatable. So all the action comes down to (2). And of course lots of people reject (2). But...it is really hard to articulate an alternative principle about which humans it's wrong to kill that doesn't have extremely implausible consequences. (E.g., Tooley's principle, consequentialist principles, etc.) I'm not saying this demonstrates that the above argument is sound, but it shouldn't be a mystery why people think abortion is always wrong, and it doesn't have anything to do with theology.
Edited to add: the reasons pro-lifers don't support the prosecution of women who procure abortions are explained above.