Juan Williams: Anti-abortion extremism is on the rise

Juan Williams: Anti-abortion extremism is on the rise
© Stefani Reynolds

We all know that abortion politics is scary powerful.

But to see it up close is to see the dark heart of extremism in American politics.

That truth hit me like a revelation nearly 30 years ago, as I reported on the confirmation hearings for Clarence ThomasClarence ThomasSupreme Court postpones April arguments Supreme Court rules Citgo responsible for 2004 oil spill Trump steps up intensity in battle with media MORE’s nomination to the Supreme Court.

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At first, Thomas had the support of some civil rights groups who saw him as the best possible nominee from a Republican president, George H. W. Bush.

But the civil rights groups did not realize that their liberal allies, especially the women’s groups, saw Thomas as the fifth vote on the court to end legal abortion by overturning Roe v. Wade.

Quickly, the civil rights groups backed off Thomas.

Then came the explosive hearings featuring Anita HillAnita Faye HillTrump sets up for bruising campaign against Biden Clarence Thomas breaks his silence in theaters nationwide Anita Hill to Iowa crowd: 'Statute of limitations' for Biden apology is 'up' MORE’s grave charges of sexual harassment against Thomas.

But as I reported the story, I found that hidden hands pulling the strings from every direction belonged to culture warriors with daggers drawn over the future of abortion rights.

Twenty-eight years later, the fight goes on.

And Thomas is still at its center.

The Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling to legalize abortion is one of the “most notoriously incorrect decisions,” Thomas wrote in February.

And two weeks ago, Thomas was at it again. He wrote it is wrong to uphold prior Supreme Court decisions as “an inexorable command,” because he argued the earlier interpretation may not have been faithful to the original intent of the Constitution.

Thomas’s reasoning “can only cause one to wonder which cases the Court will overrule next,” wrote Justice Stephen BreyerStephen BreyerSupreme Court postpones April arguments Supreme Court rules states can eliminate insanity defense Supreme Court postpones oral arguments amid coronavirus pandemic MORE, explaining that in the case being reversed, the earlier ruling was “well-reasoned,” and had “caused no serious practical problems in the four decades since we decided it.”

Breyer’s words set off alarms. Is Thomas preparing to lead the court’s conservative majority in a vote to overturn the 1973 court ruling legalizing abortion?

The court has already limited abortion rights by approving a federal government ban on abortion in the final stage of pregnancy in 2007 and later allowing protests near abortion clinics in 2014.

Now the state of Alabama is trying to get the high court to take an abortion case that opens the door to fully overturn Roe.

The Alabama law, passed this month, bans abortion even in cases of rape and incest. “This bill is about challenging Roe v. Wade,” admitted Terri Collins, a Republican state representative and the bill’s sponsor.

The Alabama law comes on the heels of a Missouri law which bans all abortions after eight weeks, again with no exceptions. Similar measures have been signed into law by GOP governors in Ohio and Georgia. The governors of Louisiana and South Carolina say they plan on enacting similar abortion restrictions.

This wave of extreme opposition to abortion started with President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump fires intelligence community inspector general who flagged Ukraine whistleblower complaint Trump organization has laid off over 1000 employees due to pandemic: report Trump invokes Defense Production Act to prevent export of surgical masks, gloves MORE's success in placing two very conservative judges on the high court.

Earlier this year, Trump reportedly told top Republicans he is "saving" Judge Amy Coney Barrett, one of the most virulent, outspoken opponents of abortion rights on the federal bench today, for his next nominee to the court.

Before he became a presidential candidate, Trump was pro-choice, to the point of saying he would not ban so-called ‘partial birth’ abortion. He gave money to Democratic politicians who support abortion rights.

When he became a GOP presidential candidate, Trump jettisoned his pro-choice position, falsely accusing Democrats of wanting to "rip" babies from their mothers’ wombs, "put them in a blanket," and decide whether to "execute" them.

This emotionally-charged rhetoric serves to stir Trump's evangelical base.

Trump is betting that evangelical extremism on abortion will override his failure to deliver on better trade deals and his failure to build a wall on the southern border.

That extremist passion, however, creates the danger of a political backlash.

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A CBS News poll taken this month found that 44 percent of Americans said abortion should be "generally available," 34 percent said it should be "available under stricter limits," and just 20 percent said it should "not be permitted." The same poll found 67 percent of Americans want Roe vs. Wade to be kept as law.

“Trump has elevated a position that is clearly and strongly opposed by most Americans,” Leana Wen, the president of Planned Parenthood, wrote in The Washington Post.

She cited a poll last year by The Wall Street Journal and NBC News that found “71 percent of Americans think Roe v. Wade should not be overturned, including 52 percent of Republicans; that’s the highest level of support for Roe in that poll’s history, dating to 2005.”

To avoid losing those female voters, Trump, top Republicans in Washington and even evangelical TV host Pat Robertson are saying the Alabama law “went too far.”

"I believe in exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother, and that’s what I’ve voted on,” House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyPelosi scales back coronavirus infrastructure proposal Democrats press Trump, GOP for funding for mail-in ballots Top GOP lawmakers push back on need for special oversight committee for coronavirus aid MORE (R-Calif.) told reporters this month when announcing his opposition to the Alabama law.

This amounts to disingenuous doublespeak. It is a smokescreen behind which abortion extremists continue to distort the abortion debate and twist the judicial system.

This is a culture war without end, with Justice Thomas in the eye of the storm.

Juan Williams is an author, and a political analyst for Fox News Channel.