The XX Factor

Trump’s Labor Secretary Pick Has a Long, Slimy History With Anti-Abortion Schemes

Andrew Puzder leaves a meeting with Donald Trump on November 19, 2016 in Bedminster Township, New Jersey.

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Donald Trump’s pick for Secretary of Labor, fast-food CEO Andrew Puzder, is a committed campaigner against minimum wage increases. His restaurants have advertised their food with slow-motion videos of jiggling female flesh for nearly a decade. If you had to guess, based on those two indicators of his regard for human dignity, whether he trusts women to make their own health care decisions, what would you say?

If you guessed that Puzder volunteered his time protecting activists who terrorized abortion clinics, you’re right! He has a long history with anti-abortion schemes, including a Missouri law that constituted one of the most formidable challenges to Roe v. Wade that has ever come before the Supreme Court.

Mother Jones reports that Puzder and a fellow lawyer proposed a bill for the Missouri state legislature that established “life” as starting at conception. They published it in a law journal in 1984. Though he knew it couldn’t apply to abortion because federal protections would take precedent, Puzder believed establishing embryos as citizens with full rights in other areas of law—inheritance rights, contract obligations—would make it easier to take a crack at Roe at a later date.

That proposal became the basis of the Supreme Court’s 1989 Webster v. Reproductive Health Services decision, which paved the way for far-reaching abortion restrictions all over the country. In addition to the fetal-rights provision, the Missouri law the Supreme Court upheld included a prohibition on all abortions performed after fetal viability and a ban on any use of public funding, employees, or spaces for the provision of abortions or related counseling.

A 1989 Washington Post article that previewed the case said Puzder was “appalled” by Roe v. Wade when he learned about the decision in law school. In the late ’70s, he volunteered to defend anti-abortion activists in court, calling doctors to the stand to testify that life starts at conception. He represented around 200 people who targeted anti-abortion clinics with protests and physical blockades, winning nearly all his cases by arguing that his clients were forced to trespass and cause public disturbances because they believed that mass murder was being committed behind the doors of the clinics and there was no other way to stop it. This is called the “necessity defense.”

The people Puzder defended would pretend to be pregnant to get in to see a medical provider at the clinic. They’d map out the layout, then return to block the entrances so patients couldn’t get through the door. They targeted the same St. Louis, Missouri clinic—Reproductive Health Services—several times, compelling crying patients to forgo health care and employees to up security. Today, that beleaguered clinic operated by heroic, dedicated employees is the only abortion provider in the state.