Abortion doesn’t seem as prominent an issue in the current presidential election as it has been in the past, but it’s still out there enough to be tripping up the front-runners of both parties. During the past week Republican Donald J. Trump was forced to walk back some comments about punishing women who have abortions, Democrat Hillary Clinton had to apologize for uttering the words “unborn person,” and both managed to offend almost everyone in the process.
An interviewer on the National Broadcasting Company, of all places, was clumsy enough to ask about the rights of “unborn children” in an otherwise softball question to Clinton, and she was careless enough to repeat the words in her answer that under current law they have no rights have all, which is quite correct as a matter of law but satisfies no one who considers the question as a political or moral matter of what the law ought to be. Those opposed to abortion believe that humanity begins at conception, or at least at some point of potential viability as a human in a world that would afford it proper care, and those who disagree believe that the potential human life that exists in a woman’s womb is best described as a fetus or fetal tissue or or an embryo or a regrettable situation or any phraseology that doesn’t imply an actual person that simply hasn’t been born yet.
Such an old hand at social issues as Clinton should have known that wasn’t going to win over any of those anti-abortion types, and written off their support years ago and instead have tried to further endear herself to the abortion rights sisterhood by sternly rebuking that otherwise polite interviewer for his clumsy phrasing, but she’s been off her game lately. She’s on a losing streak against nebbishy self-described socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, whom we presume is quite on board with no rights for the not-yet-born even though we can’t ever recall him being asked about it, and her clumsy answer to the clumsily phased question can’t help.
Trump’s clumsy response, though, might have even trumped Clinton’s. When Trump told the Cable Network Broadcasting Company’s Chris Matthews, of all people, in response to what could have been a softball question, that woman should face “some punishment” for having an abortion, he was advocating a position not only offensive to the pro-abortion public also the anti-abortion movement that had long been denying it had any such intentions. Trump’s so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters were immediately defending his extremist position, then quickly defending his more moderate walk back that of course he never meant to say that, then arguing that he’d been right all along. In any case, Trump has not likely endeared himself to whatever remains of the anti-abortion wing of Republican party, not to mention whatever’s left the pro-abortion portion, and he can’t be looking good to the still-undecided majority of the party more concerned with other matters.
Trump’s walked-backed statement indicated that he hadn’t bothered to learn what the people he was pandering to believed in, which is likely to hurt him more in the long run than Clinton’s slip-up. Nobody doubts that Clinton believes a fetus or fetal tissue or embryo or unborn person or whatever you want to call it has any rights, or holds much hope that Donald J. Trump had ever given the matter much thought, and it seems likely the election will be settled on similarly muddled issues.
— Bud Norman