During a November 13 interview on CBS News’ 60 Minutes, president-elect Donald Trump promised to appoint Supreme Court justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade, upending a longstanding constitutional right to abortion access. Rather than calling out this extreme position and explaining its potential consequences for millions of Americans, outlets instead attempted to normalize and downplay Trump’s commitment to roll back legal abortion access in the United States.
In 60 Minutes Interview, Trump Promised Extreme Policy To Appoint “Pro-Life Judges” Who Would Overturn Roe v. Wade
On 60 Minutes, Donald Trump Promised His Supreme Court “Judges Will Be Pro-Life” And Would Send Abortion Law “Back To The States.” During the November 13 edition of CBS’ 60 Minutes, president-elect Donald Trump discussed his anti-choice beliefs with correspondent Lesley Stahl. In response to a question about his campaign promise to “appoint a justice who wants to overturn Roe v. Wade,” Trump explained that he would prefer the issue “go back to the states.” Trump appeared unconcerned that if Roe were overturned women would “perhaps have to go … to another state” to obtain necessary reproductive health care. From 60 Minutes:
LESLEY STAHL (HOST): During the campaign, you said that you would appoint justices who were against abortion rights. Will you appoint-- are you looking to appoint a justice who wants to overturn Roe v. Wade?
DONALD TRUMP: So, here's what's going to happen-- I'm going to-- I'm pro-life. The judges will be pro-life. They'll be very much--
STAHL: But what about overturning this law --
TRUMP: Well, there are a couple of things. They'll be pro-life, they'll be, in terms of the whole gun situation, we know the Second Amendment and everybody's talking about the Second Amendment and they're trying to dice it up and change it, they're going to be very pro-Second Amendment. But having to do with abortion, if it ever were overturned, it would go back to the states. So it would go back to the states and then the states--
STAHL: But then some women won’t be able to get an abortion?
TRUMP: No, it’ll go back to the states.
STAHL: By state. No some --
TRUMP: Yeah. Yeah, well, they’ll perhaps have to go, they’ll have to go to another state.
STAHL: And that’s OK?
TRUMP: Well, we’ll see what happens. It’s got a long way to go, just so you understand. That has a long, long way to go. [CBS, 60 Minutes, 11/13/16]
Historical Context: Trump’s Position Rejects Longstanding Legal Precedent And Even “Decades Of Conservative Legal Argument”
The Atlantic: Trump’s Comments Were “Deeply Weird” And “Casually Blew Up Decades Of Conservative Legal Argument.” In a November 15 article, The Atlantic’s Peter Beinart argued that Trump’s rationale for overturning Roe “casually blew up decades of conservative legal argument” on the subject. Beinart explained that conservative legal critics of Roe have criticized the liberal supporters for “imposing their personal moral views rather than interpreting the Constitution.” Rather than uphold this, Beinart noted that Trump’s position was “deeply weird,” because he argued that “he’s against abortion personally and promised that his appointees would be too. Constitutional interpretation be damned.” From The Atlantic:
“I saw quite a change,” said CBS’s Lesley Stahl after interviewing Donald Trump for 60 Minutes on Sunday. “He was much more subdued, much more serious.”
Consider Trump’s comments on abortion. “Are you looking to appoint a Justice who wants to overturn Roe v. Wade?” Stahl asked. Trump’s response: “I’m pro-life, the judges will be pro-life.”
With that statement, Trump casually blew up decades of conservative legal argument. For years, conservatives have excoriated liberals for supposedly imposing their personal moral views rather than interpreting the Constitution. But asked whether his Supreme Court justices would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, Trump didn’t even feign interest in whether there’s a right to abortion in the Constitution. He said he’s against abortion personally and promised that his appointees would be too. Constitutional interpretation be damned.
It got stranger. “What about overturning the laws?” Stahl asked. To which Trump replied, “If it ever were overturned it would go back to the states.” Stahl drew out the implications: “Then some women won’t be able to get an abortion.” Trump disagreed: “No, it will go back to the states,” before adding, that “perhaps” women wanting an abortion will “have to go to another state. We’ll see what happens. That has a long, long way to go” before it becomes a reality.
This is deeply weird. It’s one thing to say you’re pro-life and thus want to end the federal right to abortion and send the issue back to the states in hopes that many of them will ban it. It’s another to say that you’re pro-life and thus want to send the issue back to the states while denying that any will ban it, at least anytime soon. [The Atlantic, 11/15/16]
Vox: Roe’s Protections Are Unlikely To “Survive A Trump-Appointed Supreme Court Intact.” Speaking to several legal experts, Vox’s Emily Crockett reported that although “Roe probably wouldn’t be overturned in the next four years,” its precedent and protections “could very well be in danger in the medium- to long-term” because of Trump’s extreme positions. Rewire legal analyst Jessica Mason Pieklo explained that, regardless of the slim chances of a full rollback, Roe’s protections are still unlikely to “survive a Trump-appointed Supreme Court intact” because “Roe v. Wade doesn’t have to be directly overturned for its protections to become meaningless.” From Vox:
It’s a little complicated. The short answer is that Roe probably wouldn’t be overturned in the next four years, and maybe never. But depending on how many justices Trump gets to appoint, and depending on which cases the Court decides to hear, Roe could very well be in danger in the medium- to long-term.
For all of these reasons, [Jessica] Mason Pieklo agrees that Roe will probably be fine in the short term. But longer-term, she’s less optimistic that Roe will ultimately survive a Trump-appointed Supreme Court intact.
“Roe is under threat, both directly and indirectly,” she said.
The key thing to understand is that Roe v. Wade doesn’t have to be directly overturned for its protections to become meaningless. We’ve already seen hints of what this looks like in states like Texas that regulated abortion out of existence in certain areas, or states like Mississippi where regulations are so stringent that there’s only one abortion clinic left in the entire state.
So in a nutshell, abortion rights aren’t doomed for sure after Trump becomes president. But they are by no means safe. [Vox, 11/11/16]
Real, Human Consequences: Sending Abortion “Back To The States” Would Functionally Outlaw Essential Reproductive Health Care
MSNBC: Trump Ignored That “Millions Of Women” Would Lose Abortion Access By Insisting Reproductive Rights Become “A State Issue.” After Trump’s interview with Stahl, MSNBC’s Steve Benen wrote that “it seemed as if the two were talking past one another” on the topic of Roe v. Wade. In his November 14 article, Benen explained that “we already know what will happen” if Trump gets his way and abortion becomes “a state issue”: “millions of women” would lose abortion access and only those “who can afford to travel to more progressive states will probably be able to maintain at least some of their reproductive rights, while women who lack the necessary resources will effectively be left with nothing.” From MSNBC:
If it seemed as if the two were talking past one another, it’s because they were. Stahl was making the point that if Roe v. Wade is overturned, millions of women would no longer be able to terminate unwanted pregnancies. Trump, overlooking this detail, emphasized that reproductive rights would become a state issue.
They’re both correct. If the right rejects the Roe precedent, states would be free to ban abortions, which in turn would curtail reproductive rights for women across much of the country.
Trump added, by way of a defense, that many women will “have to go to another state” in order to have an abortion. Asked if that’s an acceptable outcome to him, the president-elect added, “Well, we’ll see what happens.”
Accept (sic), we already know what will happen: women who can afford to travel to more progressive states will probably be able to maintain at least some of their reproductive rights, while women who lack the necessary resources will effectively be left with nothing. [MSNBC, 11/14/16]
ThinkProgress: Overturning Roe Would Make Abortion “Illegal In A Large Part Of This Country” And Ensure Only “Wealthy Women Were Able To Access” Essential Care. Prior to the election, ThinkProgress noted the risk a possible Trump presidency could pose to the the legal precedent set by Roe v. Wade. In a November 7 article, ThinkProgress explained that overturning Roe would make abortion “illegal in a large part of this country” and exacerbate economic inequalities in access. Historically, when abortion was illegal prior to Roe v. Wade, “wealthy women were able to access safe, though illegal, abortions, but everyone else had to risk their safety and sometimes their lives, and doctors had to risk going to jail.” From ThinkProgress:
What would [overturning Roe] actually mean for the country? Several states have laws that would immediately outlaw abortion, while others have laws that have been stopped by the courts but would soon take effect once brought to a court’s attention. Yet other states have legislatures that would almost immediately enact a new ban on abortion. According to a 2007 report by the Center for Reproductive Rights, 21 states are at high risk of banning abortion if Roe were overturned, and another nine are at some risk.
In this post-Roe America, abortion would be illegal in a large part of this country and legal, with a few exceptions, only on the coasts. We’ve been in a similar place before — in the years before Roe, when wealthy women were able to access safe, though illegal, abortions, but everyone else had to risk their safety and sometimes their lives, and doctors had to risk going to jail. From this history, as well as the experience of countries around the world, we know one thing for sure — women will always find a way to have abortions, no matter its legality; what legality changes is whether women will have them safely. [ThinkProgress, 11/7/16]
Rewire: Eschewing Federal Protections Is Dangerous Because “More Than Half Of The States Qualify As ‘Hostile’ To Abortion Rights.” On the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade last January, Rewire’s Jessica Mason Pieklo explained the necessity of federal abortion protections. Mason Pieklo wrote that the implementation of Texas’ extreme anti-choice law HB 2 -- which closed over half of the state’s clinics before ultimately being rejected by the Supreme Court in June of this year -- proved the dangers of overturning Roe and giving states “the power to re-criminalize abortion.” Citing research from the Guttmacher Institute, Mason Pieklo explained that “more than half of the states qualify as “hostile” to abortion rights, meaning they have at least four reproductive health-care restrictions on the books.” Furthermore, she noted that abortion access was represented by “an ever-shrinking map of concentrated access in urban centers and ‘blue’ states” while a ban on federal abortion funding ensures that “poverty remains a primary indicator of who can and cannot access abortion care.” From Rewire:
If Roe were overturned and states suddenly had the power to re-criminalize abortion, would clinics be forced to close overnight? If the implementation of HB 2 in Texas is any indication, that answer is yes, at least in many parts of the country. States like Louisiana, Mississippi, North Dakota, and South Dakota already have laws on the books that would automatically criminalize abortion should the decision be overturned. Meanwhile, 11 other states, including Arkansas and Wisconsin, have pre-Roe laws criminalizing abortion that are still technically in effect and could be resuscitated following a reversal.
In fact, it’s hard to think of one of the many nightmare scenarios of what life would be like in a post-Roe world that isn’t already taking place somewhere in this country. As of 2013, according to the Guttmacher Institute, more than half of the states qualify as “hostile” to abortion rights, meaning they have at least four reproductive health-care restrictions on the books. Meanwhile, a federal appeals court is currently giving serious consideration to the argument that fetal viability begins at conception, because during in vitro fertilization a fertilized egg can “survive” on its own for a few days prior to implantation.[Rewire, 1/21/15; Media Matters, 6/27/16]
Center for Reproductive Rights: Overturning Roe Makes Abortion Less Safe And Disproportionately Burdens “Poor And Low-Income Women” Who Can’t Afford To Travel. After the appointment of Justice Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court in 2007, the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) prepared an extensive report on the legal necessity of Roe v. Wade and the anti-choice strategy to undermine or overturn its protections. CRR explained, “banning abortion does not end its occurrence” but merely results in “illegal and often dangerous means” being used to terminate pregnancies, the disproportionate burden of which is shouldered by women of color and by “poor and low-income women” who cannot afford to travel to obtain safe care. From The Center for Reproductive Rights (citations removed):
History demonstrates that banning abortion does not end its occurrence. Once abortion is no longer protected by law, many women will turn to illegal and often dangerous means to terminate their pregnancies. Moreover, banning abortion will lead to a dramatic increase in the number of women seeking abortion later in pregnancy, which heightens the risks associated with the procedure.
The banning of abortion will have the most devastating impact on poor and low-income women — who often struggle just to secure the resources to pay for an abortion and will likely have difficulty affording travel to a state where abortion remains legal. The difficulties of travel for poor women are highlighted by the Hurricane Katrina disaster in Louisiana. In that life-threatening emergency, many poor families in Louisiana did not have the money or transportation to leave the state without significant government assistance. If poor women were unable to travel out of state in order to escape the horrifying conditions caused by Hurricane Katrina, it is highly unlikely that they will be able to travel to another state to obtain an abortion. This disparity will force low-income women to carry unwanted pregnancies to term or resort to illegal means, often in unsafe conditions, to end them.
Yet, it is the states with the poorest populations that are most aggressively trying to make abortion illegal.
Notably, these states are also comprised of large populations of color, creating a reality where poor women of color will have the most difficulty obtaining an abortion in a post-Roe world. [Center for Reproductive Rights, November 2007]
But, Mainstream Outlets Normalized Trump’s Extreme Plan By Ignoring Its Legal And Personal Significance
TIME Described Trump’s Extreme Stance As “A Pledge To Tighten Abortion Restrictions.” In a November 14 article, TIME magazine uncritically repeated Trump’s comments about eliminating constitutional protections for abortion -- describing the extreme position as “A pledge to tighten abortion restrictions.” TIME also failed to provide any sense of legal context or real, human consequences related to his remarks. From TIME:
A pledge to tighten abortion restrictions
On the trail, Trump pledged to nominate Supreme Court justices who would protect the Second Amendment and overturn Roe v. Wade, the decision that made abortion legal in the U.S. Trump said abortion rights should be left up to the states. “We’ll see what happens. It’s got a long way to go, just so you understand,” he said. “That has a long, long way to go.” [TIME, 11/14/16]
Bloomberg Failed To Contextualize The Significance Of Trump’s Commitment To Eliminating Roe v. Wade. Bloomberg quickly summarized Trump’s abortion comments in its write-up of the November 13 CBS interview, providing no context about the significance of his extreme commitment to invalidating Roe. The outlet included two vague quotations from the longer segment of the interview about abortion rights, devoting a total of five short sentences to the matter. From Bloomberg:
“I’m pro-life,” Trump said in an interview with correspondent Lesley Stahl. “The judges will be pro-life.” He said the issue would be decided by individual states if the ruling were overturned.
Ask (sic) if it were “OK” if a woman were forced to leave her home state to have an abortion, Trump said, “we’ll see what happens.”
“It’s got a long way to go, just so you understand,” he said. [Bloomberg, 11/14/16]
New York Times Ignored The Consequences Of Trump’s Promise To Appoint Justices Who Would “Help Overturn” Roe. The New York Times’ November 13 article about Trump’s 60 Minutes interview failed to explain the consequences of the president-elect’s promise to appoint justices who would “help overturn” Roe. The Times described Trump’s comments as a reiteration of his campaign promises, and did include Trump’s statement that “perhaps” women would “have to go to another state” to obtain abortions. However, the outlet devoted no space to informing its readers of the vast economic and logistical barriers that make such travel exceedingly difficult for all but the wealthiest patients. From The New York Times:
In his first prime-time television interview since his upset victory on Tuesday, Mr. Trump repeated his promise to name a Supreme Court justice who opposed abortion rights and would help overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that recognized them, returning the issue to the states.
Asked where that would leave women seeking abortions, Mr. Trump, on the CBS program “60 Minutes,” said, “Well, they’ll perhaps have to go — they’ll have to go to another state.” [The New York Times, 11/13/16]
Politico Repeated Trump’s Comments With No Additional Reporting On The Consequences Of Such An Extreme Position. Politico’s report on the CBS interview summarized Trump’s abortion comments briefly -- writing that the president-elect “acknowledged the possible reality of appointing an anti-abortion rights Supreme Court majority that could overturn Roe v. Wade.” Politico did not explain the significant burden returning abortion law to the states would create for many patients, nor the extreme nature of Trump’s call to upend decades of legal precedent. From Politico:
He acknowledged the possible reality of appointing an anti-abortion rights Supreme Court majority that could overturn Roe v. Wade. When pressed by Stahl, he said some women will “perhaps have to go — they’ll have to go to another state.”
“And that’s OK?” Stahl responded.
“Well, we’ll see what happens,” Trump said. “It’s got a long way to go, just so you understand. That has a long, long way to go.” [Politico, 11/13/16]
The Boston Globe Glossed Over Trump’s Abortion Comments With A Brief Mention. The Boston Globe’s November 14 article about Trump’s 60 Minutes interview normalized his abortion comments by providing no context about how extreme his position is. The Globe described Roe v. Wade as an “iconic” case, but failed to explain the significance of its ruling or the consequences for abortion access if Trump followed through on his commitment to appoint multiple anti-choice justices during his term who would invalidate Roe’s protections. From The Boston Globe:
The president-elect also said he would appoint a pro-life judge, and that if the iconic Roe v. Wade case on abortion were overturned, “it would go back to the states.”
When Stahl pressed him on how that meant some women would not be able to get an abortion, Trump replied, “They’ll have to go to another state.” [The Boston Globe, 11/14/16]