Trump Cabinet Pick Opens Door for New Iowa Governor Who Would Treat Abortion Like ‘Murder’

If Gov. Terry Branstad is confirmed as ambassador, Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds will replace him as Iowa governor. Reynolds has said if abortion is criminalized, the punishment "would be equivalent to murder."

Branstad signed a state budget that allowed him to decide on a case-by-case basis whether a person seeking Medicaid funding for abortion in cases of rape, incest, fetal abnormalities, or life endangerment could be reimbursed. Steve Pope/Getty Images

President-elect Trump on Wednesday announced a slew of cabinet picks, including three anti-choice nominees—one of whom will clear the way in Iowa for a new governor who has said abortion patients, if such care were to be criminalized, should be punished like people who commit “murder.”

Trump intends to nominate Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R) as U.S. ambassador to China, climate-change denier Scott Pruitt to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and professional wrestling executive Linda McMahon to the Small Business Association.

While governor, Branstad’s administration pushed through restrictions on reproductive health care, including an unconstitutional ban on telemedicine abortions. In 2015, he moved to restrict funding for Planned Parenthood affiliates after speaking at an anti-choice rally and proclaiming that “no Medicaid-funded abortions have occurred in the state” in the previous two years.

Branstad in 2013 signed a state budget that allowed him to decide on a case-by-case basis whether a person seeking Medicaid funding for abortion in cases of rape, incest, fetal abnormalities, or life endangerment could be reimbursed.

If Branstad’s appointment is confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds will replace him as Iowa governor. In an interview with the Carol Daily Herald Times in July 2010, Reynolds was asked how doctors who provide abortions and women who have them should be punished if the medical procedure were criminalized.

“Well, I think it would be equivalent to murder,” Reynolds said. “I would want to research that before I would lay specifically out what the penalties would be.” When pressed for an answer, Reynolds said, “I don’t know if it needs to be the death penalty.”

Reynolds’ office did not respond to Rewire‘s requests for comment.

Reynolds has praised Branstad’s administration, in which she played a key role, as “the most pro-life administration in history.”

Trump has previously suggested that people who have abortions should be punished if it is criminalized, though after some waffling, he later issued a statement saying that doctors—not abortion patients—should face punishment. At the time, GOP leaders falsely claimed this was not a position the party espoused.

McMahon, whom Trump picked to head the Small Business Administration, is a failed U.S. Senate candidate and a former CEO of the WWE professional wrestling franchise.

While running for senator in Connecticut in 2010 and 2012, McMahon claimed to be a so-called pro-choice Republican, even as she supported the “Blunt Amendment,” a failed GOP effort to allow employers to deny insurance coverage for contraceptives. She described the Obama administration’s birth control benefit as “an overreach and an overstep by government.”

McMahon backed restrictions on abortion care, such as requiring minors to get parental permission for abortion, banning the use of federal funds for abortion, and banning so-called partial-birth abortions.

Pruitt, Trump’s choice to lead the EPA, has served as attorney general of Oklahoma since 2011. He asked the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013 to review a unanimous state supreme court decision overturning a ban on the off-label use of RU-486, a law that claimed to protect women but in reality undermined their ability to receive abortion care. He falsely claimed that the state’s forced ultrasound law, which was eventually permanently blocked, was intended to help people seeking an abortion reach a “medically informed decision.”

Such laws are, in fact, designed to erect roadblocks to reproductive health care.

Like Trump, who has described climate change as a hoax, Pruitt denies the established science of global warming. He joined a group of Republican attorneys general in forming a secret alliance with energy executives to undermine the Obama administration’s regulations, according to a 2014 report from the New York Times.

Democratic members of Congress and environmental protection advocates blasted Trump’s decision to nominate Pruitt to lead the EPA.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) called Pruitt’s record on the environment “sad and dangerous” in a tweet reacting to Trump’s decision. Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-MA) said in a statement that Pruitt is “unsuitable to lead the EPA” and promised to oppose the pick.

“Having Scott Pruitt in charge of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is like putting an arsonist in charge of fighting fires,” Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, said in a statement, urging senators to oppose the nomination.

“The mission of the EPA and its administrator requires an absolute commitment to safeguard public health and protect our air, land, water and planet,” Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement Wednesday. “That’s the litmus test. By naming Pruitt, President-elect Trump has flunked.”