Dear Trump: Abortion Bans Are Punishment Enough

by Emily Shire

Hours after facing backlash for saying that women who seek abortions should be punished as part of banning the procedure, Donald Trump said doctors should be penalized for abortions instead. On Wednesday, Trump's campaign released a statement that seemed to contradict his interview earlier that day with MSNBC's Chris Matthews, during which he said that women who seek abortions under a potential ban should face "some form of punishment." His campaigns later statement said that if abortion was banned in the United States, "the doctor or any other person performing this illegal act upon a woman would be held responsible."

Trump's revision — really, his flip-flopping — of his vile remarks may be seen by some as backtracking or even softening his attack on abortion access. However, whether doctors or women are the ones who face legal penalties for abortion under President Trump, who is "held responsible" is almost a formality. Simply banning abortion is punishment enough without added government-sanctioned punishment.

Making abortion illegal in the United States would have a completely deleterious effect on the health of our country's women — which in turn would hurt our whole country. According to a report from NARAL Pro-Choice America, as many as 5,000 women died annually from unsafe abortion alternatives before the procedure was legalized throughout the country in 1973 with Roe v. Wade. The same report cited a 1967 study that found illegal abortions as the "most common single cause of maternal mortality in California." According to the Guttmacher Institute report on the impact of illegal — and thus generally unsafe — abortions around the globe, "about 40 percent of women who have a clandestine abortion experience complications that require treatment."

That's the thing that Trump and so many who advocate for abortion bans do not realize. Making it hard or even illegal to have abortions won't stop them from happening — abortions will just be more likely to happen in unsafe, poorly monitored environments. For example, according to that same Guttmacher Institute report, abortion is banned in Uganda, except in cases in which a woman's life is a stake. Yet 300,000 women in Uganda undergo abortions each year; they just generally don't occur in medically sound spaces. "At current rates, half of all Ugandan women will require treatment for complications related to abortion at some point in their lives," the report notes. A report by the World Health Organization, chillingly but accurately titled "Unsafe Abortions: The Preventable Pandemic," estimated that every year "68,000 women die as a result, and millions more have complications, many permanent."

There's already evidence of the dangerous effect of abortion restrictions on the United States, enough that one shudders to think of what a full-on ban would cause. An article this month in The New York Times showed that Google searches for how to self-induce abortions have been especially high in states like Texas and Mississippi, which have incredibly stringent limits on abortion access (and few operating abortion providers). I doubt it needs to be formally stated, but self-induced abortions pose significant and potentially life-ending risks. Abortions performed by anyone who is not a medically trained expert can be highly dangerous. Yet women, even in our seemingly sophisticated, enlightened country, face unfairly painful choices about their health, risking their lives rather than go through the alternative.

So Trump and all his anti-choice bedfellows should wake up and realize that it doesn't matter whether it's the doctors who provide abortions (and are already risking their lives to do so) or the women seeking them who are penalized under the law. The whole country is punished by an abortion ban.