While Donald Trump was quick to publicly walk back such talk, the idea of punishing women for having abortions is not a novel concept. It’s not only what happens all over the world where abortion is illegal, but the same fetal protection concerns are putting women in prison in the United States despite the fact that abortion is legal. Furthermore, legal punishments for abortion are something plenty of anti-choice activists advocate for — including those heralded as heroes and colleagues by Ted Cruz and other prominent Republicans.
The reality is, punishing women for their abortions is the mainstream anti-abortion position.
As far as optics go, that’s not good. If this week has taught us anything, it’s that Americans actually support a woman’s right to choose — so if anti-abortion forces are going to be effective in taking it away, it has to be done in a piecemeal fashion (at least until they have the political power to ban it outright). That’s why we see so many state laws slowly chipping away at that right, erecting absurd barriers, over-regulating clinics, etc. For now, conservatives would prefer to shift the abortion focus on health care providers, not the women who use their services.
So while the Troy Newmans of the world write in books for their fellow “pro-lifers” that women who get abortions are murderers who hire contract killers (a book, we should mention, that also called for the execution of abortion providers — and a book Ted Cruz‘s press release about his new anti-abortion coalition actually cited as evidence of what a great pro-life champion Newman is), their more public work is defaming Planned Parenthood as the organ smuggling, baby-killing face of Big Abortion.
So even as women actually face jail time because of anti-abortion legislation in this country, conservatives will often adopt the patronizing air that they’re just looking out for the little ladies. Because women just don’t know what’s best for them. That’s why they need to deal with waiting periods, mandatory ultrasounds, and requirements to listen to heart beats, descriptions of fetal development, and medically inaccurate information. Furthermore, the womenfolk have just been bamboozled by Big Abortion: Sure, they’re murdering their own babies, but only because they’re too stupid to know any better.