If Trump plans to win the presidency, he needs to win women over first. And in his bid to convince women that he isn’t the kind of guy who’d make incessant sexual comments about your body parts then call you ugly when you refuse to sleep with him, Trump has reportedly chosen the exact opposite of a running mate who could help him succeed.
Mike Pence, the governor of Indiana and Trump’s rumored choice for vice president, is no brilliant speaker who could spin the Republican Party’s chillingly anti-woman platform into something palatable for the average female voter. He’s not even a neutral actor, someone who might not cancel out Trump’s misogyny but at least wouldn’t inflame it.
Instead, Trump has reputedly chosen a political figure known for his active hostility toward women and his support for legislation that puts political symbolism ahead of the public good. Pence drew heated criticism from his constituents and people around the country last year for supporting a notorious “religious freedom” law that legalized discrimination against LGBTQ people. When pressed about the explicitly anti-gay intentions of the law’s creators, Pence claimed he couldn’t understand how a simple law about religious liberty could write discrimination into his state’s legal code.
This year’s evidence of Pence’s radical obstinacy is his backing of HB 1337, an extreme anti-abortion bill he signed into law in March. (It was supposed to go into effect at the end of June, but a U.S. District Court judge granted a preliminary injunction as Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky challenge the law in court.) The law prohibits abortions sought because of the sex of the fetus, a ban that’s bad for women, based on racist stereotypes of Asian-Americans, and likely unconstitutional. It also prohibits doctors from performing an abortion sought for reasons of fetal abnormality or disability, like a Down Syndrome diagnosis.
These are basically unenforceable provisions—how could anyone prove a woman was having an abortion for one reason and not another?—which makes their true purpose clear: shaming women, discouraging them from seeking reproductive care, and forcing them to move forward with potentially dangerous pregnancies. They also have the potential to make doctors profile their patients based on race and view them with suspicion, since a doctor would risk state prosecution or being sued for wrongful death if she or he violated these bans.
That’s not the end of it: HB 1337 requires that women visit a clinic to listen to their fetus’s heartbeat via ultrasound, then go home and come back at least 18 hours later for the actual abortion. It also makes women pay to cremate or bury the fetal tissue that results from her abortion.
Even the most conservative Indiana lawmakers thought HB 1337 went too far. “Today is a perfect example of a bunch of middle-aged guys sitting in this room making decisions about what we think is best for women,” state Rep. Sean Eberhart, a self-described “pro-life as they come” Republican, told the Associated Press. “The bill does nothing to save innocent lives,” said Republican state Rep. Sharon Negele, who once sponsored a bill enacting new restrictions on Planned Parenthood. “There’s no education, there’s no funding. It’s just penalties.”
Pence disagreed, calling the bill “an important step in protecting the unborn.” “I sign this legislation with a prayer that God would continue to bless these precious children, mothers and families,” he said when he signed it into law.
Abortion policies too extreme for even the anti-abortion crowd? Sounds familiar. When Trump told Chris Matthews that he thought women should be punished if they sought an abortion after a Trump administration managed to unilaterally ban the procedure, even extreme right-wingers and hardline anti-choice activists pulled their figurative collars away from their figurative necks and stepped slowly away. Trump quickly denied that he’d said that thing he said, and then backtracked and said that he’d said it, but not like people thought he’d said it.
If he chooses Pence as a running mate, Trump won’t be doing anything to disabuse voters of the impression that he’s a woman-hating egomaniac without even the slightest idea of how women live, what’s important to them, and the struggles they face. Pence has proven that he prefers religious ramblings to humane, fact-based policy, especially when it comes at the expense of women and LGBTQ people.
In one sense, Pence seems like a horrible choice for Trump. Pence’s own state can’t even stand him: A poll published last November gave the governor a 47 percent approval rating, a 15-point drop from the months before his blabbering over the “religious freedom” bill. But Pence’s shot at the vice presidency makes perfect sense when viewed through the lens of gender in general and abortion in particular. No one with a healthy perspective on women’s rights would be caught dead on the dais with the likes of Donald Trump.