Donald Trump Just Redefined "Right Wing"

It seems like Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump has a knack for managing to drag any number of events, items, and activities to a new, previously unthinkable low. Misogynistic insults, nationally-televised debates, baseball cap styles, and the modern U.S. presidential election process are just some of them. And on Wednesday, Trump saying he'd punish women who undergo illegal abortions if the United States were to enact a full ban on the procedure brought the already depressing and dangerous anti-choice movement to a new national low.

Update: Shortly afterward, Trump released a statement saying that abortion doctors should be held responsible for the procedure, rather than the women involved.

During an interview, MSNBC's Chris Matthews asked Trump, who has gone on the record as being pro-life (though Trump described himself as "very pro-choice" in 1999), to clarify his views on a possible abortion ban in the United States if he were to become president. "You have to ban it," Trump said of abortion. That prompted Matthews to ask Trump directly if he believed in punishment for abortion. "There has to be some form of punishment," Trump said. "For the woman?" Matthews asked. Trump responded affirmatively — though he then refused to articulate what exactly the penalty would be for abortion-seeking women living under President Trump.

Trump has since put out an addendum to this remark. His campaign's statement read: "This issue is unclear and should be put back into the states for determination," noting that he was pro-life with some exceptions.

That Trump, who only seems to double down on ignorance and stupidity when he should be backtracking and apologizing, issued a sorta-caveat to his suggestion should show how unprecedented it is in terms of even the most vehemently anti-choice rhetoric.

Let's be clear: Even before Trump decided to make a mockery of the U.S. democratic system, recent years have seen the rhetoric thrown around by the anti-choice movement become increasingly dangerous, which in turn has resulted in grave limitations placed some women's access to reproductive care. The Guttmacher Institute noted in a 2014 report on the increase in state abortion restrictions that:

An unprecedented wave of state-level abortion restrictions swept the country over the past three years. In 2013 alone, 22 states enacted 70 antiabortion measures, including previability abortion bans, unwarranted doctor and clinic regulations, limits on the provision of medication abortion and bans on insurance coverage of abortion. However, 2013 was not even the year with the greatest number of new state-level abortion restrictions, as 2011 saw 92 enacted; 43 abortion restrictions were enacted by states in 2012.

It's not like things have gotten better in 2015 and 2016. When Texas' infamous HB2 law came before the Supreme Court this year, abortion providers claimed that 22 of the 41 clinics that operated in the state in 2013 had shut down at least partially as a result of the legislation. However, even fellow Republican presidential candidate John Kasich, who also supports a ban on abortion (with exceptions in cases of rape, incest, and danger to the life of the mother) already responded to MSNBC, "Of course women shouldn't be punished." He added, "I don't think that's an appropriate response. It's a difficult enough situation."

During his tenure as governor of Ohio, "half of the state’s surgical abortion clinics have stopped providing abortion services," according to a FiveThirtyEight report on Kasich's anti-abortion measures from December — and he seems like a reasonable moderate next to Trump.

This is what's so chilling about Trump's bombastic rhetoric on all fronts. He says something completely unsound and outrageous, and it draws enough support from voters and gets enough coverage that it begins to seem less and less insane. Suddenly, the debate is lowered and disturbing proposals are normalized. Politicians like Kasich seem like centrists, and the country ends up putting thought and consideration into absolutely unreasonable, destructive proposals, like the "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States," as Trump suggested in December. Or punishing women who seek abortions but are prohibited from accessing one in a legal, safe way.