Editorial: Trump's trying to have it both ways on abortion. But don't be fooled

"Meet the Press" premiered Sunday morning with a new moderator, a former president and a disturbingly familiar pattern of mainstream media normalizing extremist chicanery for ratings. Kristen Welker, NBC News' co-chief White House correspondent, sat down with the Republican front-runner for president Donald J. Trump
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On Sunday, Donald Trump, bizarrely, cast himself as both for and against abortion rights during an interview on “Meet the Press.”

How could he achieve this sleight of tongue? To be fair, it's hard to keep up with a man whose storm of lies hits like a tornado. But let's be clear for any on-the-fence voter who watched the interview and now thinks, gee, maybe he’s not so bad on reproductive rights: “Beware the Jabberwock … .” In other words, don't let Trump con you into thinking he will publicly support reproductive rights if he gets elected.

For example, as soon as the topic turns to abortion in the interview with the show's moderator, Kristen Welker, Trump took credit for Roe vs. Wade being overturned and says: “So you have Roe v. Wade, for 52 years, people including Democrats wanted it to go back to states."

Read more: Editorial: The post-Roe strategy: Elect more abortion access champions

No and no. Roe stood for 49 years. And polls show Democrats overwhelmingly supported Roe and were unhappy when the constitutional right to abortion was taken away and left to the vagaries of state lawmakers.

He also said — over and over — that Democrats want abortions up to the point of birth and beyond. (Easy fact check: There is no such thing as an abortion past birth. That would be infanticide.) While a handful of states allow abortion at any point in the pregnancy (though not California), abortions later in pregnancy are very rare and usually done in the case of a health crisis.

Read more: Editorial: Beverly Hills city officials say they support abortion access. Their actions say otherwise

Welker, to her credit, pointed this out to Trump in the moment. He didn’t care. “Look, the Democrats are able to kill the baby after birth,” he said. Ridiculous.

OK, he was right when he said that abortion is a polarizing issue. But utterly wrong that: "Because of the fact we brought it back to the states, we’re going to have people come together on this issue." The ruling last year has done nothing but cause chaos and partisan warfare within states and across the nation.

Tellingly, Trump wouldn’t say whether he supports a federal ban at any stage of pregnancy, instead saying, “I would sit down with both sides and I’d negotiate something, and we’ll end up with peace on that issue for the first time in 52 years.” (Again, not 52 years.)

Read more: Opinion: How the end of Roe turned into a threat to American democracy

Trump has a better chance of bringing Ukraine and Russia to the table to negotiate an end to the war (something else he said months ago he could do) than getting abortion rights supporters and abortion opponents to agree on a timeline for when bodily autonomy ends. That’s what Roe vs. Wade did — it set a national abortion limit beyond which no one could go except in certain cases.

Then, in his stream-of-consciousness way of musing on this topic, he took a dig at his rival Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (“DeSanctus” he called him) for signing a six-week abortion ban, calling it “a terrible thing and a terrible mistake” but not saying where he would land on an abortion limit. He did say that he believed in exceptions to abortion restrictions. Yet, Welker asked earlier in the interview about the lawsuits recently brought by several women in Tennessee, Idaho and Oklahoma who were denied emergency abortion care even though they faced dangerous complications from their pregnancies.

“How is it acceptable in America that women’s lives are at risk, doctors are being forced to turn away patients in need or risk breaking the law?” Welker asked.

He never answered.

Trump's assertions of being in the middle when it comes to reproductive rights are not supported by his track record. When he was president, he installed three Supreme Court justices — Amy Coney Barrett, Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh — who were instrumental in overturning Roe vs. Wade. His Department of Health and Human Services reinstituted the so-called gag rule that prevents healthcare providers who get Title X federal money from referring patients to an abortion provider. He sprinkled the department with antiabortion activists including Charmaine Yoest, the former president of Americans United for Life, who became assistant secretary of public affairs.

There is nothing to suggest that Trump will support abortion rights in any form if reelected, no matter what nonsense he says over the next few months.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.