Republicans highlight Trump's 'pro-life' record but refuse to acknowledge COVID deaths

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More than 180,000 people have died as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, but you wouldn't know it from the Republican National Convention.

The Republican National Convention is occurring at a time of absolutely unprecedented death in the United States. More than 180,000 people have died as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, but you wouldn't know it from the convention.

Instead, the speakers have deployed "pro-life" tropes in service of only one political issue: banning abortion. 

To the extent the pandemic was discussed at all, it was treated as if the crisis is behind us, rather than accelerating.

Melania Trump talked about our lives having "changed drastically" and declared that "Donald will not rest until he has done all he can." But then she just blithely moved on to talking about the 19th Amendment without ever mentioning the staggering amount of deaths. 

Though COVID-19 got short shrift, abortion certainly didn't. 

On the first night of the convention, Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel repeated Trump's frequent lie that Democrats want "abortion up until the point of birth."

Trump trotted this out in 2019's State of the Union, saying that a New York law allowing for abortions later in pregnancy "would allow a baby to be ripped from the mother's womb moments before birth." 

Coronavirus got mentioned on night one, but only as part of a montage accusing the World Health Organization of getting everything wrong. The montage also served to let Trump pat himself on the back for signing the coronavirus relief act. There was not one mention, however, of how many people America has lost since the pandemic started. 

Night two was no different.  

Cissie Graham Lynch, the granddaughter of Billy Graham, had an entire list of cultural grievances, declaring that religious freedoms were under attack during the Obama administration and that Democrats "tried to make faith organizations pay for abortion-inducing drugs." 

Of course, that's not true. First, the drugs Lynch is referring to are birth control pills, not "abortion-inducing drugs." Next, the Obama administration worked tirelessly to ensure religious organizations would not have to provide birth control, but the organizations balked at even having to sign a piece of paper that would let employees receive the pills via insurance. 

Lynch also complained about abortion clinics being declared "essential" during the pandemic, overlooking the fact that abortion is fundamental and necessary medical care that must be completed within a fixed amount of time. 

The real anti-abortion star of Night 2 was Abby Johnson. Johnson has a high-profile conversion story, which she told at the convention.

In her telling, the Planned Parenthood in Texas at which she worked gave her an "abortion quota," and was "expected to sell double the abortions performed the previous year." She alleges she pushed back, and that when she did she was told: "Abortion is how we make our money."

That's not true. Approximately 4% of the services Planned Parenthood provides are abortion services. The remainder is things like STI treatment and testing, contraception, and cancer screenings. 

The next part of Johnson's well-worn conversion story was that after this discomfiting conversation about quotas, she watched an ultrasound abortion for the first time. During this, she said she "saw the baby moving, and trying to get away from the probe," and "I saw the baby just crumble."

At least, that was Johnson's story back in 2009, when she first started telling it. By the time she got to the RNC, though, it was much more over-the-top:

[A] physician asked me to assist with an ultrasound-guided abortion. Nothing prepared me for what I saw on the screen, an unborn baby fighting back, desperate to move away from the suction. And I'll never forget what the doctor said next, "Beam me up Scotty." The last thing I saw was a spine twirling around in the mother's womb before succumbing to the force of the suction.

One big problem with either version of the story: It appears to have never happened. 

The Texas Observer looked into the conversion story over a decade ago and learned that Johnson likely quit her Planned Parenthood job over unhappiness at being put on a performance improvement plan, not a newfound opposition to abortion.

And the allure of switching sides was strong, with a promise of $3,000 speaking gigs if she became an anti-abortion activist. 

More importantly, when Texas Monthly tried to report the story, they found no record of any ultrasound-guided abortion or Johnson assisting in any sort of abortion, on the day Johnson insisted she had her dramatic conversion.

And no matter how Johnson tries to change the story, none of the details add up. She told Texas Monthly the patient was Black, but the only Black patient seen on the ostensible day of Johnson's conversion was six weeks along, not 13, and would not have had an ultrasound-guided abortion. 

She's also gone on record with the surreal assertion that doctors perform abortions on people who are not even pregnant.

Additionally, Johnson holds some rather peculiar — yet totally in keeping with hyper-conservative worldviews —  ideas unrelated to abortion. She said it would be "smart" for police officers to racially profile her adopted biracial son because "statistically, my brown son is more likely to commit a violent offense over my white sons." 

She also believes in head-of-household voting, where only the "head" casts a vote. And what happens when there's a dispute between the husband and wife over who to vote for? They would have to decide on one vote, and "[i]n a Godly household, the husband would get the final say."

In short, Johnson's brand of falsehoods and self-aggrandizement was perfect for the GOP convention in the era of Trump. She ended her Tuesday night speech with a request that people vote for Trump, "with our very most vulnerable Americans in mind, the ones who haven't been born yet."

No mention of those nearly 180,000 vulnerable Americans who have died in the last six months on Trump's watch. 

On night three, the GOP trotted out Lou Holtz, famous for coaching football at Notre Dame and racking up numerous NCAA violations at other schools. Holtz called the Biden-Harris ticket "the most radically pro-abortion campaign in history" and that "[t]hey and other politicians are Catholics in name only and abandon innocent lives." Biden is, of course, a devout and practicing Catholic. 

Sister Dede Byrne, a Catholic nun, also spoke on Wednesday. She spoke movingly of her work with refugees worldwide while serving in the military, but then declared that the "most marginalized group in the world is here in the United States. They are the unborn."

Repeating an oft-spoken, but still wildly untrue, line, she said, "Donald Trump is the most pro-life president that this nation has ever had, defending life at all stages."

In keeping with the rest of the speakers at the convention, Sister Byrne made no mention of the thousands and thousands of marginalized people whose life Trump didn't care to defend from COVID-19. 

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.