GOP Presidential candidate Donald Trump's statement that “there has to be some form of punishment” for women who have abortions led to widespread condemnation from mainstream and conservative media alike, but the media has ignored that many women already face punishment in many states due to the lack of access to reproductive care.
Trump was pressed by Matthews during a town hall on March 30 about whether he believed a “woman be punished for having an abortion?” Trump responded, arguing that “there has to be some form of punishment” for women who get an abortion.
Right wing media figures expressed immediate displeasure with Trump's initial remarks calling them “awful,” “tone deaf,” and “ignorant.”
An example of his profound ignorance doing damage to the movement he's pretending to support. https://t.co/jOUi1sEXuB
-- Guy Benson (@guypbenson) March 30, 2016
Even the most ardent pro-lifers think this is an awful, awful idea. That's how tone deaf and inept he is. https://t.co/qEfUwYF7yn
-- Sean Davis (@seanmdav) March 30, 2016
This is the way you talk when you try to sound like a pro-lifer, but you aren't, and you hold them in disdain https://t.co/29JK7vUO9W
-- Tim Carney (@TPCarney) March 30, 2016
It's both true that it's a difficult Q for pro-lifers and that there's nothing to be said about Trump except that he's an ignorant fool.
-- Ross Douthat (@DouthatNYT) March 30, 2016
Trump attempted to walk back his remarks the same day, issuing a statement that said the punishment for abortions should be restricted to “the doctor or any other person performing this illegal act ... not the woman” (emphasis original):
DONALD J. TRUMP STATEMENT REGARDING ABORTION
If Congress were to pass legislation making abortion illegal and the federal courts upheld this legislation, or any state were permitted to ban abortion under state and federal law, the doctor or any other person performing this illegal act upon a woman would be held legally responsible, not the woman. The woman is a victim in this case as is the life in her womb. My position has not changed - like Ronald Reagan, I am pro-life with exceptions.
Trump's statement ignores that when abortion is illegal or when a legal abortion is out of reach for women, some will go to desperate lengths to terminate a pregnancy and some states have already punished women for it.
According to MSNBC's Irin Carmon “women are already being prosecuted and even convicted on suspicion of having abortions.” Carmon noted that an Indiana woman “is appealing a 30-year prison sentence for her conviction for feticide” because she allegedly “ordered abortion pills online.”
A New York Times article examined the case of Pennsylvania's Jennifer Whalen, who was jailed in 2014 for ordering medication for her 16-year-old daughter because the nearest abortion providerwas 75-miles away. The state required a 24-hour waiting period between the first counseling visit and the procedure -- which meant Whalen and her daughter would have to take two trips or stay overnight with the family's only car, which Whalen and her husband both used to get to work.
Whalen and Patel are not the only women who have faced punishment for their attempts to terminate a pregnancy. In 2011 Idaho authorities arrested Jennie Linn McCormack for inducing an abortion, a crime that could have carried a penalty of up to five years in prison. The charges were later dropped for a lack of evidence and McCormack's case actually led to Idaho's self-induced abortion statute being ruled unconstitutional. And in December 2015, Tennessee charged Anna Yocca for her attempt to induce a self-abortion with a wire coat hanger.
In a statement to Media Matters, the Guttmacher Institute's Senior State Issues Associate Elizabeth Nash explained that, seven states currently ban all or some self-induced abortions. Delaware, Nevada, South Carolina, and Utah prohibit all self-induced abortions while Kentucky, New York, and Oklahoma permit self-induced abortions under very limited circumstances.
While the GOP and right-wing media may want to spout rhetoric that “punishment” is not their goal in seeking to end legal access to abortion, the truth is that women are already being punished for being unable to cross the many barriers to abortion access already passed by conservative states.