Donald Trump once again managed on Wednesday to send shockwaves through the media with his blunt, vicious mouth, this time admitting out loud that he wishes to "punish" women who get abortions. After asked by Chris Matthews about abortion during an MSNBC town hall set to air in full Wednesday night, Trump reiterated the bog-standard Republican opinion that he is "pro-life" and that he would like to return to an era when abortion was banned.
But then the wheels fell off the whole thing when Matthews pushed Trump on what would happen to women who got illegal abortions under the proposed Trump abortion ban. After wiggling a little, Trump caved and answered, "There has to be some form of punishment."
"For the woman?” Matthews pushed.
"Yeah," Trump replied.
Trump is clearly not conversant in the disingenuous posturing about abortion expected of all anti-choice politicians. If he was, he'd know the official stance that Republicans are supposed to take is that women are victims of abortion and therefore cannot be held responsible for it. Yes, it's true that women pick up the phone, make the appointment, talk through their decisions with medical professionals, sign paperwork and then either take a pill or let the doctor perform an abortion, but none of this should be taken, in conservative eyes, as evidence that women are the people responsible for the abortion happening. Women are regarded by conservatives as fundamentally incapable of making grown-up decisions. If they choose abortion (and by implication, if they choose sex), it's because they poor dears were misled.
Yes, the same people that conservatives treat as literally too stupid to understand what making a medical decision entails are then expected to raise children.
One doesn't want to give Trump too much credit here for his mistake in talking about women like their brains function on a level past that of a 3-year-old. It's not like he has some kind of respect for women's intelligence. It's just that he hasn't been briefed, likely out of personal disinterest, on the fact that the right's official stance is no longer that women are murderers. The newer, softer talking point is that women are idiots.
But let's be quite clear here that the "women are idiots" line that Trump failed to absorb is a millimeter-deep posture. While everyone is tearing their hair out about Trump saying he wants to punish women, Republican legislators nationwide are showing with their actions that punishing women for even thinking about abortion is what they want to do.
The latest example is out of Utah, where the governor signed a law literally forcing women to ingest dangerous, debilitating, medically unnecessary drugs — drugs that can actually kill you — as punishment for their abortions after 20 weeks. The official claim is that he's just so worried that the fetuses can feel pain that he just needs doctors to give women anesthesia in order to prevent that, but that claim is hard to buy, since the prevailing research shows that the earliest a fetus could possibly feel pain is around 29 to 30 weeks.
But as punishment for an abortion, putting someone under works great. It's expensive, requires a lengthier hospital visit, and makes the patient feel like she's nursing a hangover after a 3-day bender. And that's if everything goes well. After all, one reason doctors prefer not to use heavy anesthesia for procedures like abortion is it raises the risk of death substantially.
And that's just but one example. Really, the vast majority of abortion restrictions boil down to a desire to punish women. Mandatory ultrasounds add expense and time, and require enduring a lengthy vaginal probe. Closing down clinics with medically unnecessary regulations is about making women drive for hours and pony up money for hotel and childcare. Mandatory counseling is about shaming women and telling them lies about how they'll die of breast cancer if they do this. Now Indiana is forcing women to pay for cremation or burial of embryos removed during abortion, a clear attempt to send the message that an embryo that is the size of a pencil eraser is a child that you killed.
It's all about punishment. It was always about punishment. If they can't do it with jail time, they'll just make the whole process as miserable as possible. Trump's only mistake was saying the quiet part out loud.
Update: Trump's campaign has released a statement embracing the standard Republican talking points on this.
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.
So instead of believing that women who get abortions are violent criminals, he has shifted to the apparently more acceptable belief that they are drooling idiots who cannot be trusted with something as simple as a medical decision regarding their own body. Why this is better continues to be a mystery.