Should we journalists use the word “lie” to describe President Donald Trump’s most manifest falsehoods?
That debate has roiled the news world. The Times this week used the word “lie” in a front-page headline, and I agreed with that decision, but there’s a counterargument that lying requires an intention to deceive – and that Trump may actually believe his absurd falsehoods.
So in 2017 we reach a mortifying moment for a great democracy: We must decide whether our 45th president is a liar or a crackpot.
Yet the costliest presidential falsehoods and delusions are not the ones that people are talking about, such as those concerning the inauguration crowd or electoral fraud. The most horrific chicanery involves Trump’s new actions on women’s health that will cause deaths around the globe.
It followed the weekend’s stunning women’s marches: At least 3.2 million people apparently participated in all 50 states, amounting to 1 percent of the U.S. population.
In a slap at all who marched, Trump this week signed an order that will cut off access to contraception to vast numbers of women, particularly in Africa. It will also curb access to cancer screenings and maybe even undermine vaccination campaigns and efforts against HIV and the Zika virus. The upshot: Thousands of impoverished, vulnerable women will die.
Americans have focused on the executive actions about building a wall, or expediting oil pipelines, but nothing is more devastating than the edict on women’s health (signed in front of a group composed almost entirely of smiling men in suits).
In fairness, Trump probably thought he was doing a good thing; that’s a measure of his delusion. He reinstated what’s called the Mexico City policy, which stipulates that family planning funds cannot go to foreign aid groups that ever discuss abortion. (Federal funds already don’t go for abortions.)
Presumably Trump thought this policy would reduce abortions, and was thus “pro-life.” In fact, this is a “pro-death” approach that actually increases abortions, as well as deaths among women.
How can that be? Many groups, like Marie Stopes International and Planned Parenthood International, lose funding in poor countries from this policy. In 2001, when President George W. Bush imposed a more limited version, 16 developing countries lost shipments of contraceptives from the U.S.
Stanford University researchers found that the Bush version of the policy reduced contraceptive use in Africa – and increased abortion rates.
This all sounds wonkish and antiseptic, but in poor countries, the most dangerous thing a woman can do is become pregnant. I’ve seen too many women dying or suffering in filth on stained cots in remote villages because of childbirth.
I wish Trump could see them: a mother of three in Cameroon dying after her birth attendant sat on her stomach to hasten delivery; a woman in Niger collapsing from a common complication called eclampsia; a 15-year-old girl in Chad whose family dealt with her labor complications by taking her to a healer who diagnosed sorcery and burned her arm as she lay in a coma.
With this new order, Trump will inadvertently cause more of these horrific scenes. Maybe “war on women” sounds hyperbolic, but not if gasping, dying women are seared in your memory.
Worse, Trump expanded this “global gag rule” – as critics call it, because it bars groups from mentioning abortion – so that it apparently will cover all kinds of health services, including efforts to tackle polio or Zika or HIV, even programs to help women who have been trafficked into brothels. (The White House didn’t respond to my inquiries.)
I hope all of the marchers call the White House, 202-456-1111, or their members of Congress, 202-224-3121, to protest.
Marie Stopes alone estimated that if it cannot find replacement funding, the new policy will result in 6.5 million unintentional pregnancies, 2.2 million abortions and 21,700 women dying in pregnancy or childbirth.
The victims invariably are among the most voiceless, powerless people in the world. When Bush imposed his version of the policy, it meant that no contraceptives reached a village in northern Ghana. As a result, a young woman named Kolgu Inusah became pregnant.
She tried to abort the pregnancy herself using herbs, but something went wrong and she suffered terrible abdominal pains. She was rushed to a clinic, but doctors couldn’t save her. Her two children now have no mom.
President Trump, you may think you are “pro-life” and preventing abortions, but that’s a lie or a delusion. In fact, you are increasing the number of abortions and of dying women.
And to those women and men who marched last weekend, remember that this isn’t about symbols, speeches or pussy hats. It’s about the lives of women and girls.
Please, please, keep on marching, keep on calling.
Contact Nicholas Kristof at Facebook.com/Kristof or Twitter.com/NickKristof.