In late January, just days before Iowa caucus-goers cast the first votes of the presidential nominating contests, a coalition of leading women in the anti-abortion movement issued a scathing open letter urging Republican voters "to support anyone but Donald Trump." They cited what they saw as Trump's lack of commitment on their key issue, including their doubts about whether he would nominate justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade, help them to defund Planned Parenthood, or pick a vice president friendly to the anti-abortion cause.
But the letter ended with something more personal: an indictment of Trump's appalling treatment of women.
Moreover, as women, we are disgusted by Mr. Trump’s treatment of individuals, women, in particular. He has impugned the dignity of women, most notably Megyn Kelly, he mocked and bullied Carly Fiorina, and has through the years made disparaging public comments to and about many women. Further, Mr. Trump has profited from the exploitation of women in his Atlantic City casino hotel which boasted of the first strip club casino in the country.
America will only be a great nation when we have leaders of strong character who will defend both unborn children and the dignity of women. We cannot trust Donald Trump to do either. Therefore we urge our fellow citizens to support an alternative candidate.
Signing the letter were Susan B. Anthony List president Marjorie Dannenfelser and her SBA colleagues Jill Stanek and Marilyn Musgrave, former National Organization for Marriage leader Maggie Gallagher, activist Star Parker, Concerned Women for America founder Beverly LaHaye and CWA president Penny Nance.
Many of these activists have tried to paint the anti-abortion movement as a feminist, woman-centered endeavor and portray Planned Parenthood and Democrats as the true enemies of women.
Eight months later, several of the women who signed the letter are supporting Trump’s candidacy and a few are even “pro-life” advisers to his campaign.
Certainly not Trump. Yesterday the Associated Press published a story detailing Trump’s history of demeaning treatment of women on the set of his reality show “The Apprentice”:
During one season, Trump called for female contestants to wear shorter dresses that also showed more cleavage, according to contestant Gene Folkes. Several cast members said Trump had one female contestant twirl before him so he could ogle her figure.
Randal Pinkett, who won the program in December 2005 and who has recently criticized Trump during his run for president, said he remembered the real estate mogul talking about which female contestants he wanted to sleep with, even though Trump had married former model Melania Knauss earlier that year: "He was like 'Isn't she hot, check her out,' kind of gawking, something to the effect of 'I'd like to hit that.' "
Former producer Katherine Walker said Trump frequently talked about women's bodies during the five seasons she worked with him and said he speculated about which female contestant would be "a tiger in bed."
A former crew member who signed a non-disclosure agreement and asked not to be identified, recalled that Trump asked male contestants whether they would sleep with a particular female contestant, then expressed his own interest.
"We were in the boardroom one time figuring out who to blame for the task, and he just stopped in the middle and pointed to someone and said, 'You'd f... her, wouldn't you? I'd f... her. C'mon, wouldn't you?'"
The person continued: "Everyone is trying to make him stop talking, and the woman is shrinking in her seat."
This story came just days after Trump, in the first presidential debate against Hillary Clinton, defended his history of comments demeaning women by saying that one object of those comments, Rosie O’Donnell, “deserves it and nobody feels sorry for her.” At the same debate, Clinton got under Trump’s skin by bringing up his treatment of Alicia Machado, the Miss Universe winner whom he reportedly called “Miss Piggy” and “Miss Housekeeping.” Trump responded the next day by explaining that Machado had “gained a massive amount of weight.” Then, a few days later, Trump took to Twitter in the middle of the night to call Machado “disgusting” and urge Americans to “check out” her nonexistent “sex tape,” only for it to be revealed that Trump himself was featured in a 2000 pornographic film by Playboy.
It was between the debate and the “sex tape” tweet that Trump’s campaign announced the formation of a “pro-life advisory council” that would work to help solidify social conservative support for the GOP nominee. The council, as had previously been announced, would be led by Dannenfelser. Its members would include Nance and Stanek, both of whom signed the anti-Trump letter with Dannenfelser back in January.
Some of the signers of that January letter have held firm, notably Gallagher, who wrote in The National Review in May that it would be “just too degrading” to support Trump. “If you join Team Trump,” she wrote, “you have to swallow not just what Trump has done and said but the next thing he will say or do. Truthfully, I think he lost me in March, when all it took was just a little prodding from little Marco to get the man to discuss his genitals on national TV. I don’t know what insulting, immoral, gross thing he will say next.”
Gallagher’s observation has held true, as Trump’s supporters have, again and again, had to put up with “the next thing he will say or do.”
But for the core of Trump’s new anti-choice team, his new promises to nominate justices who would overturn Roe and to sign a bill defunding Planned Parenthood and his pick of anti-choice hero Mike Pence as his vice presidential running mate seem to have erased any concerns about his “disgusting” treatment of women—even as he continues what they once called his “disparaging public comments.”
The anti-choice movement is increasingly attempting to portray itself as “pro-women” rather than just anti-abortion. The support of activists like Dannenfelser for Trump, even after he gets caught in sexist meltdown after sexist meltdown, shows that for much of the movement this “pro-women” rhetoric is just window dressing.