UPDATE: Facing fierce criticism from both pro-choice and anti-abortion advocates, Donald Trump has walked back his controversial position that women who have illegal abortions should face legal punishment.
Trump issued a statement at around 5:00 p.m. on Wednesday, saying doctors who perform illegal abortions — not women who receive abortions — should face punishment. Earlier in the day, Trump said that “there has to be some sort of punishment” for women who receive unlawful abortions.
“I have not changed my position,” Trump said in the statement.
In Donald Trump’s America, abortion would be banned — and women who have abortions would be subject to some form of legal punishment.
Whether that punishment would take the form of monetary fines or prison time, Trump hasn’t yet said. But “there has to be some form of punishment,” the Republican presidential front-runner said on Wednesday.
Trump made his comments regarding abortion during an interview with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews. Matthews noted Trump’s pro-life position, and asked a question rarely posed to the majority of pro-life Republicans: If you want to ban abortions, what do you think the punishment should be for women who get them anyway?
Trump said he wasn’t sure. “It has to be determined,” he said. Trump also said men who impregnate women should not be subject to punishment, agreeing that men are not responsible for abortion decisions.
Shortly after the interview, Trump issued a statement saying he would leave the issue of punishment to the states.
NEW: Trump issues statement clarifying abortion comments on MSNBC: pic.twitter.com/apgFVCyn6t
— Sopan Deb (@SopanDeb) March 30, 2016
If abortion were banned in America, it is likely women would still receive abortions. According to a Guttmacher Institute report, highly restrictive abortion laws do not lead to lower abortion rates. Restrictive laws do, however, lead to higher rates of unsafe abortions.
The question of how to punish women for getting abortions has historically been an uncomfortable one for anti-abortion advocates. In 2007, a scathing Newsweek article entitled “How Much Jail Time?” slammed anti-abortion advocates for not admitting that, if abortion were banned, women who have abortions would have to be either fined or imprisoned. The author, Anna Quindlen, challenged those advocates to say how they plan to punish those women.
Sixteen anti-abortion advocates responded to Quindlan in a piece for the conservative National Review. Most of them attacked Quindlen for asking the question. None offered specific punishment requirements.
What we do know, however, is that countries with abortion bans also have strict punishments for the women who violate them. In El Salvador, abortion can carry a sentence of eight years in prison. In Ecuador, women can be given up to two years in jail if a medical professional says she had an abortion.
Even here in the United States, women have been prosecuted for attempting to end their pregnancies. In 2010, a woman named Jennie Linn McCormack was arrested for taking abortion-inducing medication. She was charged under a 1972 Idaho law stating it’s illegal for a woman to perform her own abortion.