Trump, Baby Hope, and What Wasn't Said

[Content Note: Reproductive coercion; addition.]

If you were disturbed by the "uplifting" story told by Donald Trump about the Holets family, who were his guests at the State of the Union, you are not alone.

Here is the story Trump told to the nation, as the camera lingered on the young white parents and the white baby being cradled in her adoptive mother's arms:
As we have seen tonight, the most difficult challenges bring out the best in America. We see a vivid expression of this truth in the story of the Holets family of New Mexico. Ryan Holets is 27 years old, an officer with the Albuquerque police department. He is here tonight with his wife, Rebecca. Thank you, Ryan.

Last year, Ryan was on duty when he saw a pregnant, homeless woman preparing to inject heroin. When Ryan told her she was going to harm her unborn child, she began to weep. She told him she didn't know where to turn, but badly wanted a safe home for her baby.

In that moment, Ryan said he felt god speak to him. "You will do it, because you can." He heard those words. He took out a picture of his wife and their four kids. Then he went home to tell his wife Rebecca. In an instant, she agreed to adopt. The Holets named their new daughter Hope. Ryan and Rebecca, you embody the goodness of our nation. Thank you. Thank you, Ryan and Rebecca.
This story, when I heard Trump tell it, did not seem like the inspirational tale of people who "embody the goodness of our nation" to me. It seemed like a crass and exploitative yarn that reduced the identity of Hope's birth mother to a nameless, faceless junkie and invisibilized Trump's vile healthcare and childcare policies that leave many pregnant people and addicts without any good options.

(And while I have no idea if Ryan and Rebecca Holets would have been so quick to adopt Baby Hope if her birth mother were not white, I strongly suspect that Trump would not have told the story if she hadn't been.)

Many of us wondered: Was there not a better solution? Would it not have been a greater kindness to secure the help and recovery that Hope's biological mother needed to get sober, instead of (or, at minimum, in addition to) separating her child from her?

Many of us wondered what had happened to the woman who was written out of the story, in Trump's telling.

At the New York Times, Jennifer Weiner answers some of these questions ("Baby Hope's biological mother is named Crystal Champ."), and observes how writing Crystal Champ out of the story — her story, as much as anyone's — acts in service to an anti-choice agenda where women (and other people who can get pregnant) are nothing more than incubators, whose humanity is decidedly inconvenient.
Think of the posters often brandished at anti-abortion marches and rallies, with the image of a fetus in utero, floating free, like an astronaut, with the umbilical cord, untethered, trailing off into the darkness. The spaceship — a woman — was, of course, nowhere to be seen, an important framing. With the woman literally out of the picture, abortion foes can advance the claim that a fertilized egg is just as much a unique human life, deserving of protection as a living, breathing, toddler.

They can argue that the only difference between an embryo, a newborn baby, and a kidney patient on dialysis is age, size, location and circumstance.

In this formulation, a pregnant woman, a living, breathing, thinking person, becomes no more than an environment, or a tool, whose story ends once she's given birth.

Once we put the woman back in the picture, once we insist on seeing her as a person, not a place or a thing, we've got to acknowledge what is, for abortion opponents, an inconvenient truth. ...That embryo requires the support, the partnership and the body, of one specific individual: The woman carrying it.

The way around that is for abortion opponents to simply take the woman out of the story, to erase her from the picture, or to characterize her as nothing more than the place that "pre-born baby" happens to reside.
Trump's erasure of Crystal Champ acted in service to this narrative — the position I frequently describe as fetuses being valued more highly than the people who carry them.

It is an argument unique to anti-choice rhetoric: No one else is obliged to let their bodies be used without their consent to sustain another life. We don't even let organs be harvested to save a life unless the donor, or someone empowered to make decisions for them, consents to it.

That is why anti-choicers, including the president, choose to tell stories designed explicitly to conceal how far outside medical practice in all other circumstances forcible birth is, a central part of which is disappearing people who gestate the fetuses emblazoned on anti-choice propaganda.

But Trump had other things to conceal, as well: The fact that his policies failed Crystal Champ, and Baby Hope, in every conceivable way.

In the very same speech in which he held out this story as an example of "the best in America," he enthusiastically boasted about getting rid of the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate, which makes healthcare affordable for and accessible to millions of people. He wants to restrict healthcare access further still.

He has declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency, but took no action and requested no funds to do anything to address the problem beyond saying the words that got him a day's worth of headlines to make it look like he gives a shit.

He supports no early childcare policies that would help a mother struggling with addiction parent her own child; no policies at all that prioritize keeping families together. To the absolute contrary, he is an aggressive advocate of policies that tear families apart, from his cruel immigration policies to his Justice Department's renewed "war on drugs" that will continue to dismantle families via incarceration.

And his economic policies mean that people like Champ, and her daughter, will continue to be casualties of the class warfare being waged by his administration and Congressional Republicans.

All of these catastrophic failures were concealed in Trump's story, along with the identity and personhood and humanity of Crystal Champ.

He didn't say her name, and he didn't tell the truth about how conservative policy conspired to make Champ's best choice to give away her daughter, to a police officer who shamed her for being an addict in a country that treats addiction like moral weakness.

This story was emblematic of America, all right. But not in the way Trump would have us believe.

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