Discover more from The Bulwark
A Better Way to Fight Abortion
Plus: What was the real driver of Donald Trump’s foreign policy?
Hi, folks. Will here, sitting in for JVL as he gets ready for this week’s Bulwark Live events.
For tonight in Los Angeles:
For Saturday in Seattle:
1. A Better Way to Fight Abortion
Tomorrow, thousands of people who oppose abortion will attend the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C. For half a century, pro-lifers have come from around the country to join this march, despite the cold weather, because it’s the anniversary of Roe v. Wade.
This year, for the first time, they won’t be demanding the end of Roe. They’ll be celebrating its demise. And they’ll call for new measures to eradicate abortion.
If you’re one of the millions of people who consider themselves pro-life, and if you’re open to ideas about what you can do to prevent abortions in the post-Roe world, I have a suggestion: Support the provision and use of birth control. Specifically, long-acting reversible contraceptives, or LARCs.
You won’t see pictures of LARCs—IUDs and hormonal implants—at the March for Life. What you’ll see is pictures of babies. Babies are wonderful. Pictures of babies make us feel good.
But if your goal is to minimize the number of abortions, not to maximize the number of babies, then birth control is a better way to go. By preventing unintended pregnancies, you prevent abortion decisions. You don’t have to talk the woman out of getting an abortion. You don’t have to inspect her mail for pills or try to stop her from escaping to a state where abortion is legal. Among women who don’t get pregnant, the abortion rate is zero.
Contraception is a nonstarter for some Catholics. But most pro-lifers, contrary to stereotype, don’t oppose it. Still, many doubt that it’s particularly effective. The best reason for skepticism is that the availability of birth control hasn’t eliminated unintended pregnancies. Why? It’s complicated, but the simplest answer is that birth control often fails because people don’t use it correctly or diligently. We’re forgetful, inattentive, or clumsy, particularly when we’re horny.
The best solution to that problem is LARCs. You don’t have to remember them. They stay in your arm or your uterus until you decide to take them out. If you forget a pill or fumble a condom, the LARC still works. Studies have shown that by preventing unintended pregnancies, LARCs prevent abortions.
I wrote about this research eight years ago. Today, the correlation still holds. The most recent study I’ve seen, conducted in Finland three years ago, found that after LARC use doubled, the abortion rate among teenagers fell 36 percent.
The problem with LARCs, politically, is that when they work, you don’t end up with a child. You end up with nothing. You can’t put your nothing on a poster or swaddle it in adorable baby clothes and bring it to the March for Life. You’re not a happy picture of maternity.
This is a gut check for pro-lifers. Now that Roe is gone, they need to think about what they want. Is it more babies, more abortion laws, or fewer abortions? If you’re in that third category, I hope you’ll consider promoting LARCs. The idea is simple: By preventing the pregnancy, you eliminate the debate between life and choice. Every woman, given the choice, would rather avoid pregnancy than get an abortion. Help her make that choice.
2. Trump’s Real Foreign Policy: It Was All About the Benjamins
Mike Pompeo, the former secretary of state, is coming out with a memoir to promote his 2024 presidential candidacy. In it, he writes that in early 2020, President Trump tried to quash Pompeo’s criticism of China. Here’s Pompeo’s account, according to an early peek at the book, as reported by Shelby Talcott and David Weigel in Semafor:
Donald Trump told former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to “shut the hell up for a while” about China at the start of the COVID-19 outbreak in order to avoid angering the country’s leader, according to a memoir that Pompeo will publish next week.
In “Never Give An Inch,” Pompeo recounts a March 26 call between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping, one day after the secretary of state said that China had “repeatedly delayed” sharing information about the virus and engaged in a “disinformation campaign.”
According to Pompeo, who listened in to the call, Xi told Trump that his cabinet member was jeopardizing the “phase one” trade deal that the principals had just agreed to. . . . [A] few days later, in the Oval Office, Trump told Pompeo that he was “putting us all at risk” by angering Xi, in part because the United States still needed protective health equipment from China.
This isn’t the first time the trade deal has come up in reporting about Trump, Xi, and COVID. Here’s the rest of the early 2020 sequence, as I previously outlined it in Slate:
John Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser, directly witnessed Trump asking Xi for help in getting reelected through a trade deal that included Chinese purchases of American crops. Trump signed the deal on Jan. 15. On Feb. 10, three days after his call with Xi, Trump boasted at a campaign rally that the trade deal would “defeat so many of our opponents.” In the early months of the virus crisis, Trump referred constantly to the deal and hailed China as a benefactor.
In the Slate article, I traced Trump’s behavior during those weeks: He adopted Xi’s talking points on COVID, defended Xi’s efforts to suppress bad news about the virus, and tried to copy some of Xi’s suppression tactics in the United States. Pompeo’s story backs up that analysis. Xi threatened the trade deal, and Trump responded by telling Pompeo to shut up.
Later, Trump pretended to be tough on China. He blamed it for the virus and accused Xi of covering up the emerging crisis, when in fact Trump was in on the coverup. Now the GOP is refashioning itself as the anti-China party, with a whole House committee dedicated to confronting Beijing.
Pompeo’s story is a reminder that the GOP’s actual foreign policy—as practiced by Trump for four years, with the complicity of Republicans in Congress—wasn’t about defending freedom or standing up to China. It was about sucking up to China in pursuit of money. To get that money, Trump played down the threat of COVID and silenced U.S. officials who spoke out about the virus and the coverup.
And it wasn’t just China. All over the world, Trump reduced every relationship to money:
He said he wouldn’t defend NATO countries if they didn’t pay more dues.
He portrayed Western Europe as an economic competitor, not an ally.
To protect lucrative arms deals with Saudi Arabia, he refused to accept U.S. intelligence that implicated Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.
Trump’s focus on money was a huge reason why Vladimir Putin helped Trump win the 2016 election. As the CIA noted in its assessment of that operation, Putin “had many positive experiences working with Western political leaders whose business interests made them more disposed to deal with Russia.”
So let’s not pretend that today’s Republican “leaders” are committed to defending freedom or standing tall against tyrants. Many of them were happy to look the other way when a Republican president abandoned those values. And given the same incentives, they’ll do it again.
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3. The Nefarious “They” Strikes Again
Today’s Washington Post has more details on the discovery of classified documents that were improperly stored in personal or office space belonging to Joe Biden. You can read the whole story here, but it basically confirms the timeline. The first folder was discovered on Nov. 2. Biden’s lawyers immediately told the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). The next day, NARA passed the information along to its inspector general, and on Nov. 4, the inspector general told the Justice Department. DOJ began to look into the matter, and on Nov. 9, according to Attorney General Merrick Garland, “the FBI commenced an assessment . . . to understand whether classified information had been mishandled in violation of federal law.”
To put this in context: The midterm elections were held on Nov. 8. So the documents were discovered six days before that. How many days did Biden’s lawyers wait to tell NARA? Zero. How many days did it take NARA to enlist DOJ? Two. How many days did it take DOJ to look into the matter and launch an FBI assessment? Five.
Over the next two years, you’ll hear House Republicans accuse the government of sitting on this information before the election. The accusations have already started. “They knew this has happened to President Biden before the election, but they kept it a secret from the American public,” Kevin McCarthy alleged last week. On Tuesday, he repeated that charge: “Prior to an election, they kept it secret.”
McCarthy surely knows that DOJ’s longstanding policy in the weeks leading up to an election—as Frederick Baron and Dennis Aftergut have explained in The Bulwark—is to avoid public actions on cases relevant to that election. Former FBI Director James Comey’s infamous letter about Hillary Clinton in October 2016 was an egregious breach of that policy.
Republicans can’t refute the record: The information about Biden’s documents moved at lightning speed compared to the information about Trump’s classified documents, which took months to extract from him. The speed of the Biden process is even more remarkable when you consider that the election was just days away. So instead of acknowledging how quickly Biden’s team moved, McCarthy will exploit the vague term “they.” He’ll accuse everyone in the chain of action—NARA, DOJ, FBI—of concealing the information. Anyone who took the next step in the process but didn’t put out a press release will be portrayed as hiding the ball.
That’s how deep-state conspiracy theories work. There’s always a nefarious “they” you can blame, collectively, even when everyone in the sequence did his or her job.