Trump's Abortion Gaffe Highlights GOP's Intellectual Dishonesty

Trump's Abortion Gaffe Highlights GOP's Intellectual Dishonesty
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WASHINGTON -- As a matter of politics, Donald Trump's comment that women who have abortions should suffer "some form of punishment" was a disaster. As a matter of intellectual and moral consistency, Trump's got a point -- one that exposes a fundamental tension in the Republican Party between its assertion that life begins at conception and the legal and moral implications of that absolutist view.

     The party's platform has been clear for years, even if its own presidential candidates, for obvious reasons of self-protection, have strayed from its strict dictates.

     "We assert the sanctity of human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed," the 2012 platform stated, echoing a plank that has been present since 1984. In other words, no exceptions for pregnancies that result from rape or incest.

     Indeed, if the fetus has a "fundamental individual right to life," why should it matter in any way how the pregnancy came into being? Either abortion is the taking of a human life -- that is, murder -- in which case it should not be permitted, or it isn't. (To be clear, I'm in the it-isn't-murder camp.) 

     But here's the problem with the party platform: This stance is out of sync with the vast majority of voters. Which is why the last five Republican presidential nominees -- Mitt Romney, John McCain, George W. Bush, Bob Dole and George H.W. Bush -- all supported exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother. So do Trump and John Kasich; Ted Cruz does not back exceptions in the case of rape and incest.

     The question of whether to punish a woman who obtains an abortion raises similar issues. If abortion is the taking of a human life, why punish only the doctor who performs the abortion, and not the woman who procures one? Surely no prosecutor would fail to bring charges against a mother who murdered her newborn child. If the fetus is in the same legal position as a child, why not charge the mother?

     Except that if forcing a 13-year-old who has been raped by her father to bear a child is unpopular, imagine how people would respond to carting women off to jail for choosing to terminate their pregnancies. This goes too far even for the no-exceptions crowd.

     "Of course we shouldn't be talking about punishing women," Cruz smarmily proclaimed in the aftermath of Trump's comments. "We should affirm their dignity and the incredible gift they have to bring life into the world." Oh yes, let's "respect" women and "affirm their dignity" by denying them the freedom to choose what to do with their own bodies.

     Or, as Trump put it, once he got his act together, "The woman is a victim in this case as is the life in her womb." Poor woman, too weak or emotional to know what is in her best interest, or to be held legally responsible for her choice.

     Trump's gaffe was telling. It revealed not only his own unreadiness for prime-time, but his party's intellectual dishonesty on this most incendiary of issues.

(c) 2016, Washington Post Writers Group

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