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Trump and abortion rights

Ashutosh Pandey Washington
November 21, 2016

The issue of abortion has divided Americans for decades. It's set to become even more divisive under Donald Trump as activists rally to oppose his plans. Ashutosh Pandey reports from Washington.

USA Washington Demonstration Abtreibung
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/S. Thew

A two-month old embryo already resembles a human baby, says Anne Mulrooney, as she shows a picture of an embryo to an expectant mother at her pregnancy center in Brooklyn, New York. The 23-year-old intern points toward the embryo's half-formed fingers and head to convince the woman against having an abortion.

"Abortion kills a human being, it's murder," she says.

This is just another day in the life of Mulrooney, who dropped her ambition of becoming a teacher to counsel pregnant women on a full-time basis. Her goal is to prevent as many abortions as possible.

"My generation especially, we really care about human rights and we are not as easily sold on the political rhetoric that organizations like Planned Parenthood and people like Hillary Clinton keep pushing out about my body, my choice and reproductive rights," Mulrooney, who is interning at Expectant Mother Care, a New York-based network of pregnancy centers, told DW.  

"There are more and more people who are saying it's a human life."

USA Demo gegen Abtreibung
The issue is set to become even more divisive under Donald TrumpImage: Getty Images/AFP/M. Ngan

In the United States, it's legal to have an abortion up to seven months into pregnancy - later abortions are allowed in some special cases. Mulrooney wants this law reversed. She has pinned her hopes on Donald Trump, who changed his opinion from supporting the right to abortion, to opposing it.

Trump vows to appoint pro-life judges to the Supreme Court, a move that threatens to overturn the top court's more than 40-year-old decision in the Roe vs. Wade case legalizing abortion.

"I'm pro-life, the judges will be pro-life," Trump said in his first full-length TV interview after being elected the 45th President of the United States.

Uniting the women

Trump's anti-abortion stance has left several women worried and terrified across the country. They regard his strong statements against abortion as an assault on women's reproductive rights.

27-year-old pastry chef Breanne Butler is one of them. The Detroit native is still coming to terms with the election of Trump. But she is determined not to let the disappointment give way to despondency.

She's part of a team that is exhorting women across race, creed and political beliefs to march on Washington D.C. in a show of unity. The presidential election exposed deep divisions among women with more than half of the white women voting for Trump, despite his several derogatory remarks against them.

The organizers of the march hope to bridge the wide gap among women on issues such as reproductive rights and same-sex marriages. The Women's March on Washington is scheduled to take place on January 21, a day after Trump is sworn in as president. 

"We are not trying to take him out of office. We're sending a message. 'Hi, it's your first day. Welcome to the job. This is who you're dealing with.' We have a voice and we are not going to be silenced," Butler told DW.

More than 100,000 people have so far expressed their interest in taking part in the walk that would start at the Lincoln Memorial and end at the White House. 

32-year-old Mary Birnbaum works as an opera director in Manhattan. She is among the women planning to attend the March on Washington and is appalled that the abortion law is even up for discussion.

"I believe wholeheartedly in the unbound ability and right of a woman to have an abortion, wherever she wants to, however she wants to," said Birnbaum. "It is so unfair that our government governs our bodies when men have nothing like that."

Mary Birnbaum, eine Opernregisseurin in New York City
Mary Birnbaum says the government has no right to interfere with a woman's decision on abortionImage: DW/M. Strauß

Long legal struggle

Trump's election has given fresh impetus to the pro-life movement, which was reeling under a devastating legal setback since June when the Supreme Court struck down parts of a Texas law aimed at shuttering many of the state's abortion clinics.

The court refused to uphold the regulation requiring abortion clinics to meet the same health standards of out-patient surgical facilities, saying it amounted to placing an 'undue burden' on a woman's right to terminate her pregnancy.

Now with one from the anti-abortion group set to enter the Oval Office, the pro-lifers see a ray of hope. They expect Trump's pro-life picks in the Supreme Court would tilt the balance in their favor and help overturn the Roe vs. Wade decision passed in 1973.

But that even in the words of Trump "has a long, long way to go." Even after Trump nominates a justice to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia, the Supreme Court would not have the majority to overturn the 40-year-old law and send abortion decisions back to the states. However, two or more of Trump's pro-life nominees over the next years could jeopardize abortion rights and undermine a woman's right to choose.

It's this possibility that is bringing women from different walks of life like Birnbaum and Butler together in such a deeply-divided country.

"I think it is not so much about Donald Trump. It is about shaping our future, creating this place where women have a voice," said Butler. "It's a real reminder that we have to be part of making change happen."