Susan J. Demas: Trump’s dehumanizing abortion lie is about bringing home the base for 2020

May 3, 2019 6:14 am

U.S. President Donald Trump, with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Mike Pence looking on, delivers the State of the Union address in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives on February 5, 2019 | Doug Mills, Pool/Getty Images

Hi, my name is Susan Demas and I’ve had a spontaneous abortion.

That’s the technical term for a miscarriage, by the way, so you can delete your hate mail. Better yet, send it to me and stop harassing women who have the right to make choices regarding their own bodies (for now, at least).

It’s been 13 years since I lost a child. It’s a searing pain that I’ve never wanted to write about — but I have, several times. Because every time so-called pro-lifers shove a poster of a bloody fetus in my face — as they have at more political events I’ve covered than I can count — I get to relive the hell all over again.

And because miscarriage is so common — ending one in five pregnancies — there are millions of women just like me. I once told that to a young woman holding one of the violent placards.

“Miscarriage is natural,” she smiled at me — (smiled!). “We don’t mean you.”

Right. I’m one of the good ones — the women who haven’t had abortions. But one in four women have. It is a mainstream health procedure. It is legal (for now).

And I’m so tired of how misogynists endlessly try to divide women.

Michigan Capitol, March 22, 2019 | Susan J. Demas

I’ve had two close family members who lost pregnancies in their second trimester. Afterward, one of them had a dilation and evacuation, the procedure that Republicans in the Michigan Legislature currently want to ban.

You probably aren’t familiar with that term, because Republicans are trying to scare you with the propaganda of “dismemberment abortion.” And news outlets that prioritize clicks over truth use it in headlines.

That’s nothing compared to the lie from President Trump last week, though. Republicans have long compared abortion to infanticide, but the president decided to take this to the extreme by weaving together a vivid story that mothers and doctors actually conspire to kill babies after they’re born.

“The baby is born,” Trump said. “The mother meets with the doctor. They take care of the baby. They wrap the baby beautifully, and then the doctor and the mother determine whether or not they will execute the baby. I don’t think so.”

Julia Pulver

That’s truly one of the most demented things he’s claimed, turning mothers and doctors into devious, plotting murderers. The idea that anyone would do that after going through nine months of pregnancy — and all the vomiting, hemorrhoids, itching, swelling and pain that often comes with it — defies all logic and human experience.

Fact-checkers have swooped in, calling Trump’s rant an “incendiary falsehood.” Julia Pulver, who’s been a newborn intensive care unit (NICU) nurse at three Michigan hospitals, set the record straight with eight heartbreaking tweets. She told the Advance that she had to do so after helping many families through the worst time of their lives.

“I felt the need to continue to support those parents who turned to me in their worst moments, and continue to champion their little warriors, by making sure everyone unequivocally knew what really happens when babies pass away in hospitals,” Pulver said.

Most women have, like me, given birth in a hospital, often with their families by their side. I’m still eternally grateful to my ob-gyn for helping me through 40 hours of labor without an epidural, followed by emergency C-section, almost 17 years ago.

So the vast majority of Americans, even those who are anti-abortion, know that dystopian scenario painted by a president who has lied more than 10,000 times in office just isn’t happening.

But what Trump has probably managed to do is scare some women away from hospitals with evil doctors — so babies will probably die or suffer health complications in ill-conceived home births. Years of anti-vaccine propaganda has shown us that medically inaccurate statements carry a real health cost, like the recent measles outbreak.

I’ve seen zero pressure for Right to Life and other anti-abortion groups to condemn Trump’s lie. That’s because the media show enormous deference to a movement that claims to be rooted in deep moral convictions and definitely isn’t about controlling women.

And most Republicans — even many who prattle on about how uncouth the president is — haven’t distanced themselves, either. That’s probably because Trump critics like Meghan (“I’m a cool Republican!”) McCain and U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Furrowed Brow) have been pushing similar myths about abortion.

Trump’s abortion lie, like his lies depicting all immigrants as rapists, gangbangers and terrorists, is meant to dehumanize his enemies. Abortion providers, which already have endured decades of violence from anti-abortion extremists, are natural targets.  

But it’s broader than that. Trump, once again, is drawing the line between “good” women who would never kill their newborns and “bad” women who do. And you can guess what party those murderous women vote for.

Whipping up fear in your base is how you win elections.

This is even more critical for the GOP in 2020. Because as I’ve noted, plenty of Republicans think Trump is vile and corrupt. But they have to believe that Democrats are worse.

The lynchpin of Trump’s re-election campaign is that he’s on the right side of culture war issues against godless liberals, like kicking out non-white immigrants and harassing transgender people in bathrooms.

But the infanticide lie is the Big Lie to really bring Republicans home. The party has been trading in misinformation for years, notably with a late-term abortion procedure called dilation and extraction (which they branded “partial-birth abortion).

The pump has been primed.

So say you’re a conservative who believes Trump’s campaign did conspire with the Russians in 2016 and he’s rude and is profiting off the presidency. But you’ll probably still have to vote for him — because the other party backs infanticide.

That’s what Trump is banking on.

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Susan J. Demas

Susan J. Demas is a 23-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on C-SPAN, MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQ people, the state budget, the economy and more. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 100 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive.