This Statistic On Women & Abortions Proves Just How Ridiculous Donald Trump's Punishment Proposal Would Be

On Wednesday, Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump had a pretty busy day, packing a town hall and interview event with MSNBC's Chris Matthews into his usual campaign schedule. At least one moment of the interview made some big news. Trump told Matthews that if abortion were banned, he'd support punishing women who had them anyway. And that's a position that would affect a huge number of American women ― just look at this one stat on women and abortions, and the disastrous nature of the proposal is laid bare.

The insight was tweeted on Wednesday by feminist author Jessica Valenti, who also writes for The Guardian. Basically, she pointed out that when Trump talks about punishing women who have abortions, he's not talking about dropping the legal hammer on some small portion of the population ― he's effectively talking about punishing one in three American women, because that's about how many of them will have abortions at some point in their lives.

That specific figure, which you may have seen or heard about before, comes from a 2011 study by abortion research group the Guttmacher Institute, and as Michelle Ye Hee Lee pointed out for The Washington Post last year, it's possible that number will look different when updated statistics come out in 2017. But all the same, it's a powerful reminder that abortion is an experience that tens of millions of American women share, and the scale of trying to punish them ― to say nothing of the injustice ― would be staggering.

For what it's worth, Trump immediately backed off this statement, with his campaign releasing a statement insisting that he meant punishment for doctors, not women. But it must also be noted that this is inarguably not what he told Matthews on Wednesday. The longtime MSNBC host explicitly asked Trump to clarify whether he was talking about punishment "for the woman," to which he replied "yes."

There's no telling just where this new wrinkle in the political conversation on reproductive rights will go, but this much seems obvious: Trump, as is so often the case, has set the terms of the debate, and his political rivals have seized on the moment. Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have both already condemned the remarks, with Clinton calling them "horrifying and telling" and Sanders calling them "shameful" and "beyond comprehension." Even his GOP rivals Ted Cruz and John Kasich have distanced themselves, although given their own dismal anti-abortion track records, you're forgiven if you don't find that terribly noble.