April 12, 2024 | Reading Time: 3 minutes

Sadly, for Trump, Arizona’s abortion ban is bullshit-resistant

It's a real policy problem. Naturally, he has no idea what to do.

Courtesy of CNN, via screenshot.
Courtesy of CNN, via screenshot.

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What’s the first thing to suggest after the Arizona Supreme Court revived an 1864, prestatehood law banning abortion? Perhaps feeling pity. 

Not for the women of Arizona. Sympathy, yes, Compassion, yes. But not pity. They, like scores of millions of other women around the country, are going to have their revenge soon. I’m talking about the rightwing jurists who make up the court. 

They were just doing what was asked of them by the GOP governors who appointed them and by the half-century-old antiabortion movement from which they arose. From their perspective, their rulings are merely the next step after the US Supreme Court struck down Roe

But it seems like every time rightwing jurists do what they’re supposed to do, their comrades in the Republican Party respond by acting like they were never supposed to do it. Former Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, a Republican, objected strongly to the court’s ruling and called on the state legislature to “heed the will of the people and address this issue with a policy that is workable and reflective of our electorate.”

He’s doing, with abortion bans, what he does with legal cases. He deflects and delays and lies for as long as possible, hoping the problem goes away or time runs out. But from his chaos has come chaos.

When asked if Arizona’s high court went “too far,” Donald Trump agreed. “Yeah, they did,” he said this week. “It’ll be straightened out, and as you know, it’s all about state’s rights. That’ll be straightened out. And I’m sure that the governor and everyone else are going to bring it back to reason, and that will be taken care of, I think, very quickly.”

Just one problem. The state GOP seems uninterested. According to CBS News, Arizona Democrats and at least one Republican tried Wednesday “to open discussion on a repeal of the 1864 abortion ban, which holds no exceptions for rape or incest. GOP leaders, who command the majority, cut it off twice and quickly adjourned for the week.”

That put things back on the Arizona Supreme Court, which was only doing what it thought everyone in the GOP expected it to do.

Anyway, something similar happened after the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that frozen embryos produced during in vitro fertilization are kids. The rightwing jurists on that court were just doing what they thought they were supposed to do but after they did it, the Republican leaders in the state and nationwide said no they shouldn’t have. Unlike Arizona so far, Alabama legislators passed a new law protecting IVF providers. But by then, the jig was up. It was clear that when it comes to abortion, the Republicans don’t want what they say they want.

My point here isn’t to genuinely suggest pity for rightwing jurists. It’s that we’re seeing the latest iteration of a paradox that began decades ago when President Ronald Reagan allied with ultra-conservative Protestants, so that GOP leaders have, since then, called for the end of Roe without really wanting to see the end of Roe, because seeing the end of Roe would bring just the kind of hell that they’re seeing now. 

Things are getting so hellish the Biden campaign appears to see no downside to all-out aggression. “Trump lies constantly — about everything — but has one track record: banning abortion every chance he gets,” said spokesman Michael Tyler. “The guy who wants to be a dictator on day one will use every tool at his disposal to ban abortion nationwide, with or without Congress, and running away from reporters to his private jet like a coward doesn’t change that reality.” 

(I don’t know about you, but I don’t recall ever hearing a more combative Democratic presidential campaign than this one.)

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My other point is we’re seeing the next stage, perhaps even the end-stage, of this paradox with an intra-party debate over a national abortion ban. The base wants one, probably a ban as extreme as Arizona’s revived one, but Republican leaders, especially the party’s nominee, suspect that that it would be a) the end of Donald Trump’s political career and b) the end of the GOP as a national party. If they’re getting all this hell from state laws, imagine the hell from a federal one.

The Republicans don’t know what to do. Neither does Trump. On Monday, he tried to dodge the issue, saying that abortion bans are matters best left to the states. It was an attempt to act like they have nothing to do with him, though he claims responsibility for the end of Roe. But shucking and jiving like that doesn’t work when rightwing jurists in states like Alabama and Arizona keep bringing it back. 

Trump doesn’t know what to do, because policy matters like abortion  bans – and any truly important subject – are bullshit-resistant. He’s doing, with abortion bans, what he does with legal cases. He deflects and delays and lies for as long as possible, hoping the problem goes away or time runs out. But from his chaos has come chaos. Indeed, the White House accused him of being solely responsible for “chaos and confusion” across the country. As The New Yorker’s Susan Glasser put it, he now “seems like a man running for cover that simply isn’t there.”

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

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