Donald Trump's position on reproductive rights may be murky, but his pick for vice president has a stance that's clear as crystal: Indiana Gov. Mike Pence's career rests on torpedoing women's reproductive welfare. The prospect of electing him to the second most powerful position in U.S. government may be a frightening prospect — especially to those who seek gender equality.
This is a man who refers to himself as "Rush Limbaugh on decaf." You know, Rush Limbaugh — the bloviating radio host who thinks women should be thanking their lucky stars every time they encounter a street harasser.
"The reason anyone in America could pick Mike Pence out of a one man lineup is because of his long history of targeted political attacks against the care provided at Planned Parenthood health centers in Indiana and across the country," Planned Parenthood Action Fund president Cecile Richards wrote in an emailed statement. "Other than that, he doesn't have a single distinguishing characteristic."
Still others would quote Franklin D. Roosevelt's veep John Nance Garner and grumble that "the vice presidency isn't worth a warm bucket of piss." To assume as much would be desperately short sighted — and could come with chilling consequences. The war on abortion rights, and particularly the war on Planned Parenthood — an organization that provides a broad range of reproductive health care, from sex ed to STI testing to birth control — could well be won under Vice President Pence.
Here's how Mike Pence has already declared war on Planned Parenthood: As a U.S. Representative, Pence introduced six separate measures intended to keep patients from accessing health care at Planned Parenthood centers: an amendment to HR 3043 in July 2007; HR 4133 in Nov. 2007; HR 614 in Jan. 2009; an amendment to HR 3293 in July 2009; HR 217 in Jan. 2011; and the amendment that colloquially bears his name in Feb. 2011.
"I long for the day that Roe v. Wade is sent to the ash heap of history, when we move past the broken hearts and broken minds of the past 38 years," Pence said in 2011, defending the so-called Pence Amendment on the House floor, a law that would have cut Planned Parenthood funding completely.
To achieve this end, he was willing to shut down the government — to do whatever it took, even if that meant denying care to women who depended on Planned Parenthood for its non-abortion services. And he was also willing to redefine rape in the name of blocking access to abortion.
Currently, the only instances in which the government will fund abortion are those in which a woman has been raped, in which the baby would be the product of incest or in which the mother's life is at stake; Pence's co-sponsored No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act would have drawn an arbitrary and, frankly, mind-boggling distinction between rape and "forcible rape."
That same year, in 2011, he also put his weight behind legislation that not only would have curtailed the type of private insurance women could buy, but also denied pregnant women abortion access, even if an abortion would have meant saving their lives.
Then he became governor of Indiana. "If Planned Parenthood wants to be involved in providing counseling services and HIV testing, they ought not be in the business of providing abortions," Pence told Politico in 2011, defending his fight to cut the organization's funding. "As long as they aspire to do that, I'll be after them."
Pence was as good as his word. Starting in 2011, Planned Parenthood facilities in Indiana began closing their doors due to lack of funding. In 2013, the year Pence moved into the governor's mansion, the Scott County location closed. It did not provide abortions services. It did provide free HIV testing, a vital resource in a town struggling with heroin and injectable opioid addiction. In 2015, Pence declared an HIV epidemic in Scott County.
"This is not a Scott County problem, this is an Indiana problem," he said at the time. Indeed it was. In the words of Chicago Tribune writer David Rutter, the state's legislature was "too preoccupied before 2013 trying to defund Planned Parenthood" to appreciate what the fallout would be. The HIV crisis was not confined to Scott County; it affects the entire state.
And still Pence did not let up.
In March, Pence passed anti-abortion legislation, HB 1337, that would likely meet the legal definition for batshit crazy, if such a definition existed. It imposed upon abortion providers the same admitting-privilege obligation that's become standard in omnibus legislation, but went so much further. Among other questionable requirements was the stipulation that women bury or cremate the remains of a miscarried or aborted fetus. As Salon pointed out, those remains would be the equivalent of a "really heavy period," which women either have to set on fire or deposit in the ground.
Especially for a miscarriage, which cannot be scheduled, this obligation is as inconvenient as it is nonsensical and insensitive.
That's when Pence's female constituency began trolling him hard. Because Pence had obviously taken a vested interest in their cycles, Indiana women began calling in, tweeting at and otherwise bombarding their governor, providing him detailed information on their menstruation.
In June, after the Supreme Court upheld abortion rights in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, a federal judge blocked Indiana's law.
Given all his anti-abortion rabble-rousing, it should come as a surprise to absolutely no one that Pence has been given a 100% rating by the National Right to Life Committee. It should also be no surprise that anti-abortion groups are rejoicing at Trump's presumed selection of Pence as his right-hand man.
Gov. Pence serves as a lure for the establishment Republicans Trump has had a hard time rallying, but will certainly need in his bid for the White House. House Speaker Paul Ryan would welcome Pence, as would many of his fellow, prominent GOP legislators. Pence could be the key to Trump's victory, which would be a loss for women, and — given Pence's voting record — it would be a loss for LGBTQ individuals, too.
Hypotheticals aside, though, Trump's selection of Pence as a running mate should answer any lingering questions women may have had on the Donald's perspective regarding their gender.
"Mike Pence may be one of the few politicians who cares less about women's health and lives than Donald Trump does," Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said in a statement. "A Trump-Pence ticket should send a shiver down the spine of women in this country. Donald Trump just sent a message to the women of America: Your health and your lives are not important."