Trump Used an Actual Toddler to Stoke Fear About Abortion at State of the Union

A woman wearing green sits with a young girl on her lap.
Robin and Ellie Schneider at Donald Trump’s State of the Union address on Tuesday. Jack Gruber/USA Today

At Tuesday night’s State of the Union address, Donald Trump introduced as two of his guests Robin and Ellie Schneider, from Kansas City, Missouri. Ellie was born in 2017 at 21 weeks and six days’ gestation. When Robin gave birth to her, she weighed less than a pound.

“Through the skill of her doctors and the prayers of her parents, little Ellie kept on winning the battle for life,” Trump said. “Today, Ellie is a strong, healthy, 2-year-old girl.”

In honor of Ellie, Trump called on members of Congress to appropriate $50 million for neonatal medical research. Even the Democrats applauded for that. Then, he asked them to “pass legislation finally banning the late-term abortion of babies.”

Opponents of abortion rights love this type of juxtaposition, which suggests that women who choose abortion and the grateful parents of young children are somehow on opposing sides of an issue—as if advocates for reproductive rights don’t want premature infants to survive. Trump and the pro-lifers who love him often equate fetuses with toddlers in an attempt to portray abortion as murder. On live TV, Trump directed the nation’s attention to an actual toddler to do it.

By using the tale of a surely terrifying premature birth to stoke fear about abortions later in pregnancy—which are often performed under heartbreaking circumstances—Trump pointedly discounted one major part of both stories: the lives and desires of the women involved. No one wants to give birth at 22 weeks. When a baby is born that early, it’s more often a tragedy than a miracle; most of those infants do not survive. Premature childbirth is a bout of misfortune. Abortion, by contrast, is a choice.

The Schneiders’ home state of Missouri is one of several that have been emboldened by Trump and the justices he’s installed on the Supreme Court to pass unconstitutional laws that ban abortion before fetal viability. (Missouri’s, which would outlaw abortions sought after the eighth week of pregnancy, has been blocked by a federal judge.) Banning abortion wouldn’t do anything to help premature infants survive, but it would make it harder for women to govern their own lives—to decide when, whether, and how to become parents.

It’s wonderful when parents like Robin, who have to watch their infants suffer through months of touch-and-go neonatal care, can ultimately see their children grow and thrive. Many of those parents will also need an abortion at some point in their lives. It’s hard to argue that being pro-choice is anti-toddler when more than half of women who get abortions are mothers. People who know what it’s like to worry over an infant’s health and people who need abortion care aren’t fighting against each other. Often, they’re one and the same.