Trump, right-wing media offer same false spin on Roe v. Wade
The abortion precedent is indeed at risk
President Donald Trump filled the first presidential debate of the 2020 general election with a collection of lies often heard on Fox News, including about the future of legal abortion access. Despite his contrary past comments on the issue, Trump falsely claimed during the debate that his Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, would not pose a threat to Roe v. Wade.
His statement came after Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said Trump’s opposition to Roe is “on the ballot” and “at stake right now” with the nomination of Barrett. Trump jumped in multiple times to claim the issue of Roe was “not on the ballot” with Barrett and that Biden doesn’t “know her view on Roe v. Wade.”
Trump is lying. As CBS’ Kate Smith tweeted, Trump’s injections are “interesting and a little confusing” because he has repeatedly said he would appoint justices to the court who would overturn Roe. During the 2016 presidential debates, moderator Chris Wallace asked Trump, “Do you want to see the court overturn Roe v. Wade?” Trump responded, “Well, if we put another two or perhaps three justices on that’s really what’s going to be -- that will happen. That will happen automatically in my opinion.”
By now, this is a tired, worn-out strategy by Trump -- he did it with both Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, as NPR’s Ron Elving noted back in 2018. As Elving wrote then, “The apparently mixed signals of the moment do not really suggest any further evolution in the president's thinking. They suggest a strategy for confirming whomever the president picks.”
And, just as with previous nominations, some other Republicans have adopted this same disingenuous tactic when discussing Barrett — including anti-abortion extremist Rep. Joni Ernst (R-IA), speaking during a debate — as have right-wing media figures:
- On The Daily Wire’s The Ben Shapiro Show, Shapiro said that if Barrett is confirmed, “the chances of Roe v. Wade being overturned are nearly zero. I say nearly zero only because I hedge my bets a little bit. They are basically zero. Roe v. Wade is not going to be overturned.”
- On Fox News’ America’s Newsroom, The Wall Street Journal’s Bill McGurn claimed, “Even if Roe v. Wade were overturned, which I do not think it will be, at least in its entirety, you know, abortion would still be legal and up to the states. So, I don't think we're gonna see any cataclysmic changes.”
- National Review’s Andrew C. McCarthy wrote, “No Supreme Court appointment by a Republican president would be complete without the Left’s obligatory hysteria about the purportedly imminent demise of Roe v. Wade.” He claimed, “The Supreme Court would almost certainly decline to review” a case of a state banning abortion, adding, “This is not a sure thing, but I suspect it is close to sure, much as I personally wish it were not.”
- On Hannity, Fox News host Sean Hannity said, “On the issue of abortion, in spite of the lies the left will tell you, Judge Barrett has been described as personally pro-life but has expressed doubts that Roe v. Wade will ever be overturned.”
- On Fox & Friends Weekend, Fox contributor Robert Jeffress claimed, “As long as the majority of Americans favor abortion of some kind, they are not going to overturn Roe vs. Wade.”
Jeffress’ comment in particular reveals the why behind this strategy. An overwhelming majority of Americans support Roe and don’t want it overturned. If it weren't so popular, abortion opponents wouldn't be forced to mask their intentions and hide behind the talking point that it won't be overturned. As MSNBC’s Steve Benen wrote about Ernst’s lie about Roe:
It's likely that the GOP senator, like others in her party, simply hope Americans don't fully realize the consequences of what the party is about to do -- because if voters recognized how much society is poised to change as a result of an even-more-conservative Supreme Court, Republican officials and candidates would face an even more challenging electoral landscape in 2020.
It’s up to the media to do due diligence and lay out all the facts.