Imagine a society where a rape victim can be killed by her own government for having an abortion. A Republican state lawmaker in Texas has been imagining it, and he is renewing his efforts to turn his dream into a dystopian reality in the Lone Star State. Rep. Tony Tinderholt reintroduced his Abolition of Abortion in Texas Act in the Texas House of Representatives this week. His bill would threaten women who get an abortion in Texas under any circumstances with a homicide conviction, subjecting them to the death penalty. This idea of punishing women for abortion has long been considered extreme. But Tinderholt defended his bill in an interview with the Texas Observer by proudly declaring that removing all access to abortion would “force” women to be “more personally responsible” with sex.
Although there is no evidence that Trump directed Tinderholt to pursue this legislation, his small-handed fingerprints are nevertheless indirectly all over it. Trump’s angry presidential campaign rhetoric and divisive governing style have inspired all sorts of extremists to come out of hiding, from lawmakers such as Tinderholt to terrorists such as Cesar Sayoc. Trump’s endless stream of insults and cruelty, along with his lack of empathy, incoherent ramblings, and ambiguous backtracking, manage to get interpreted as a welcome mat by the wrong people.
When MSNBC host Chris Matthews interviewed then-candidate Donald Trump at a Wisconsin town hall in March 2016, he tried several times to pin Trump down on the issue of whether women should face punishment for abortion. Feeling cornered, Trump finally replied that “there has to be some form of punishment,” although he then spent the next few days appearing to retreat from this extreme position. Trump’s words no doubt inspired Tinderholt to introduce his misogynistic bill in January 2017, just days before Trump’s inauguration. At that time, the bill did not get a hearing and Tinderholt was even placed under state protection after receiving death threats. Now, two years into Trump’s reign of hate, Tinderholt is feeling emboldened to try again. Tinderholt has no need for state protection this time around, and his reintroduced bill has advanced to the public hearing stage.
Fortunately, Tinderholt’s bill is not expected to become law in Texas. But its warmer reception is another stark reminder of how much influence the president of the United States wields over our society. The job of our next president must be to shame these extremists back into obscurity and irrelevance while inspiring the many good, rational, and compassionate individuals among us to come forward and reintroduce the world to America, a place that Republicans used to call a “shining city on a hill.”