The Observer view on Donald Trump’s influence on Roe v Wade ruling

·3 min read
<span>Photograph: Michael McCoy/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Michael McCoy/Reuters

The baleful influence of Donald Trump continues to be felt in American life despite his decisive election defeat in 2020 and subsequent disgraceful behaviour. The supreme court’s regressive, dangerous and insulting decision to abolish a woman’s constitutional right to abortion was made possible by Trump’s appointment of three highly conservative justices who all voted for the change.

This disaster is not all Trump’s doing. A noisy anti-abortion lobby of rightwing Republicans and evangelical Christians has fought for decades to scrap the 1973 Roe v Wade ruling giving women the right to choose. But they represent, at most, one-third of Americans. Trump adopted their minority view for the same reason he champions the gun lobby – for electoral advantage.

Although the court’s decision was anticipated, it is still a tremendous shock – as ensuing nationwide protests suggest. The speed with which some Republican-controlled states are moving to outlaw or restrict abortion is also dismaying. The fear is that the other hard-won privacy rights and freedoms, such as the right to contraception and same-sex marriage, may be threatened.

Seeking to limit divisions, the chief justice, John Roberts, had hoped to limit Roe v Wade rather than abolish it outright. The Trump justices’ willingness to take the most extreme option will further undermine public confidence in the court, damaged like other US institutions by the political partisanship of the “culture wars” era.

It has long been evident Trump lacks strong religious or moral convictions on abortion. As always, his motives are self-serving

President Joe Biden described the ruling as a “sad day”, while outraged Democrats say they will try to enshrine abortion rights in federal law. To do so, they need to win big in November’s congressional midterm elections. Abortion rights are thus certain to be a central issue in the autumn campaign and the 2024 presidential election.

Trump will relish that. As is his wont, he claimed personal credit for the court’s decision, saying it was his “great honour” to have made it possible. Yet it has long been evident he lacks strong religious or moral convictions about abortion or anything else. As always, his motives are self-serving. Even erstwhile diehard supporters tire of such cynicism. There is evidence that Trump fatigue is setting in.

Proof of that contention has been on display in recent days on Capitol Hill, where an investigation into the 6 January 2021 insurrection is providing jaw-dropping testimony about Trump’s undeniable criminal culpability. From the moment he realised Biden was winning on election night in November 2020, Trump began a concerted, deliberate and illegal effort to reverse the result.

Abusing the power of his office, Trump intimidated officials in Georgia and other swing states in a move to fiddle the vote, knowingly disseminated false claims of fraud and conspiracy theories, and dangled promises of presidential pardons for those who supported his coup attempt. “Just say the election is corrupt and leave the rest to me,” senior justice department officials said Trump told them.

When none of that worked, he openly incited white supremacist groups such as the Proud Boys to attack Congress to prevent certification of Biden’s victory. When they threatened to hang his vice-president, Mike Pence, for refusing to invalidate the election outcome, he applauded. “Maybe our supporters have the right idea,” he reportedly told aides. Pence “deserves it”.

Like the abortion debate, this is not over. Clinging to his “big lie”, Trump claims everything else is a hoax. As ever, he subverts American democracy. But he has been weakened and now is not the time to let him off the hook. Trump plainly broke numerous laws. Most Americans agree: he must face criminal prosecution.

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