Given that this election has become an epic battle of the sexes, it’s surprising that abortion hasn’t been more of a flashpoint. It wasn’t mentioned at all in the first presidential debate, and it only came up in the final few minutes of last night’s Vice-Presidential face-off, despite the fact that Indiana Governor Mike Pence is the most fanatical abortion opponent ever to appear on a presidential ticket. This was unfortunate; the election’s implication for abortion rights deserves far more attention. The GOP’s policy of forced birth—and that’s what it amounts to—is a perpetual threat and a constant insult, but it is especially galling coming from the libertine Donald Trump.
Trump, you’ll remember, refused to answer when Maureen Dowd asked him if he himself has ever paid for an abortion. Yet he proposes to outlaw it, and blithely called for “punishment” of women who end their pregnancies, before frantically walking it back when he realized that the anti-abortion movement likes to keep its punitive aims on the down-low. It’s doubtful that Trump really cares about abortion one way or the other, but that doesn’t make his promise to ban it any less offensive; in some ways his hypocrisy compounds the injury. Imagine having to travel out of the country to end a pregnancy, or to carry a pregnancy to term against your will, because a proudly promiscuous misogynist has been given authority over your health care, and has cavalierly decided that your wishes don't matter.
The choice of Pence as a running mate is a further sign of Trump’s contemptuous disregard for women’s health. Pence would ban abortion even in cases of rape and incest, and earlier this year, he signed a law in Indiana that would prohibit abortion in cases of fetal abnormality. (It also required that fetal remains be buried or cremated.) As the New York Times reported, anti-abortion Republican women in the Indiana legislature called the law “dangerous” and said it would prompt a return to “back-room abortions.” Pence didn’t care. The law, the Times wrote, was “a sweeping and unusual set of restrictions on abortion that went further than any other state in the country and openly clashed with legal precedent.” (It has since been blocked by a federal judge.) The Vice-Presidential debate should have made it clear to American women that, should they ever be faced with the shattering news that they are carrying a fetus with severe defects, Pence would strip them of the autonomy to decide what to do about it.
Though the debate never ventured into the weeds of abortion policy, even Pence’s generic statements about banning abortion were frightening, at least if you believe that forced birth is a serious matter. While discussing his desire to ban abortion, he said, “There are so many families around the country who can’t have children.” I don’t know if it would have been politic for Kaine to press him on why he thinks that unhappily pregnant women should be dragooned into breeding for infertile heterosexual couples, but I’d have liked to hear the explanation. Instead Kaine asked, over and over again, “Why don’t you trust women?” If Pence wasn’t forced to answer, let’s hope that Trump is.