Donald Trump is under fire once again for taking Republican rhetoric to its logical conclusion. Asked by Chris Matthews at a town hall in Wisconsin Wednesday if his support for recriminalizing abortion means that women who have abortions should be punished, Trump responded that indeed there would need to be “some form of punishment” for such women.
Of course there would. If Roe v. Wade was overturned and abortion was illegal, having an abortion would be a crime. People get punished for committing crimes. And it wouldn’t be just any crime; if Ted Cruz had his way, and the law granted the rights of persons from the moment of conception, abortion would be murder, and a woman who had one would be a murderer.
But Ted Cruz and other proponents of criminal abortion bans have publicly expressed horror at Trump’s suggestion.
What Cruz and other anti-choicers know is that the sentiment Trump expressed does not go over well with either the public or the courts. People don’t like the idea of throwing women who have abortions in jail, and abortion opponents emphatically deny that is what they want to do. They have moved away from calling women murderers and starting claiming to have the interests of women rather than fetuses at heart.
Trump apparently forgot the first rule of the anti-abortion movement: Don’t talk about the people who have abortions when proposing to ban them. They think it’s best to talk about embryos and fetuses as if they are free-floating in the world. (Remember when all the Republican candidates decided the kinder, gentler way to talk about abortion was to tell us about their children’s sonograms? They conveniently erased their wives from those pictures.) If, cornered as Trump was on Wednesday, a Republican is forced to acknowledge women who have abortions, the anti-abortion rules state that he must not treat them as people with agency who are responsible for their own actions.
And indeed, abortion opponents were quick to respond to Trump by explaining that women are victims who can’t be held accountable for their decisions. They insisted they would like to see only abortion providers be prosecuted — not the women who may have traveled hundreds of miles for their help.
When states could ban abortion, before Roe, women were prosecuted, though not at the rates they would be today, in the era of mass incarceration What may surprise many people is that there are places in the United States where women who are suspected of having illegal abortions are prosecuted even now. For example, an Indiana woman named Purvi Patel was convicted of feticide and neglect of a child after she sought treatment for a miscarriage and was accused of having tried to self-abort. She received a 20-year sentence (which she is appealing). And Jennie Linn McCormack was prosecuted in Idaho after she took abortion medication she had ordered off the Internet because she couldn’t afford to go to a clinic.
So what Donald Trump said Wednesday was not terribly out there. It was the logical extension of the Republican Party’s existing position on abortion: that the Constitution should be amended to overturn Roe by giving fetuses Fourteenth Amendment rights. He walked back his comments almost immediately, but he had no real reason to do so: If abortion were a crime, women trying to end their pregnancies would be punished — as they have been in the past and continue to be.Watch Donald Trump comment on the potential recriminalization of abortion.