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March 30, 2016

GOP frontrunner Donald Trump says "some form of punishment" would be needed for women who have abortions if procedure is made illegal

This recent article at The Crime Report, headlined "Trump On Crime: Tough Talk, Few Specifics," highlighted how hard it is to figure out Donald Trump's policy position on various criminal justice issues (in which I was quoted):

Most experts we talked to say it’s hard to distinguish the rhetoric from the policies. “[The Trump campaign] has not issued a platform yet, so I’m not sure that I’d take anything that he’s been saying as an actual criminal justice policy,” said Inimai M. Chettiar, director of the Brennan Center’s Justice Program.

“What’s really frustrating, is that (he’s) like a cardboard candidate; you know what his pitch is but you don’t know anything else beyond that,” said Prof. Laurie Levenson of Loyola Law School. “And maybe he doesn’t either.”

Berman suggests half-jokingly that there’s a “simple answer” to the question of what Donald Trump believes about criminal justice. “Who the hell knows?” he said.

On many policy issues, Trump has sidestepped detailed responses by pointing to his experience in real estate and suggesting that good dealmakers keep their positions ambiguous at the start of any negotiation. That seems to apply to his approach to justice as well. Asked about specific criminal justice reforms, Trump often changes the subject back to supporting police or vague answers about needing to be “tough.”

But today GOP frontrunner Trump is making headlines for talking about criminal punishment in an especially controversial setting.  This FoxNews piece, headlined "Trump says abortion ban should mean punishment for women who have procedure," provides the details:

Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump said Wednesday said that if abortion were illegal in the United States, then women who have the procedure should be punished.  Trump made the comments during a taping of an MSNBC town hall that will be aired later Wednesday.

Host Chris Matthews pressed Trump to clarify, asking him whether abortion should be punished and who ultimately should be held accountable. “Look, people in certain parts of the Republican Party, conservative Republicans, would say, ‘Yes, it should,’” Trump said. The candidate later put out a statement saying: “This issue is unclear and should be put back into the states for determination.”...

When asked specifically at the town hall what he thought, the New York businessman answered, “I would say it’s a very serious problem and it’s a problem we have to decide on. Are you going to send them to jail?”

“I’m asking you,” Matthews prompted.

“I am pro-life,” Trump said.

Matthews pressed on, asking again who should be punished in an abortion case if it were illegal.

“There has to be some form of punishment,” Trump said.

“For the woman?” Matthews asked.

“Yeah,” Trump responded, adding later that the punishment would “have to be determined.”

His rivals seized on the remarks. Ohio Gov. John Kasich later told MSNBC “of course women shouldn’t be punished.” An aide to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz tweeted: “Don't overthink it: Trump doesn't understand the pro-life position because he's not pro-life.”

With all due respect to the statement made by an aide to Senator Ted Cruz, it seems to me that Donald Trump actually understands — and may be taking more seriously than many other politicians — the oft-stated pro-life position that life begins at conception and that abortion it at least somewhat akin to homicide.

The National Right to Life Committee, the nation's oldest and largest pro-life organization,  states expressly here that in the US "over 40 million unborn babies have been killed in the 40 years since abortion was legalized and more than 1.2 million are killed each year" and that "medical science has known conclusively that every individual's life begins at the moment of fertilization."   Pro-Life Action League states expressly here that "killing an unborn child is inherently wrong, and therefore can never be justified regardless of circumstances. It is no more just to kill an unborn child in order to avoid hardship than it would be to kill a toddler to avoid hardship. Because the unborn child is unseen, it is easier for society to condone killing him or her, though this is morally indistinguishable from killing any child at any stage of development."  The American Life League similarly states expressly here that "abortion is a direct attack on a preborn child which kills; it is murder."

If one genuinely believes that any abortion involves the intentional "killing" of a human life, that it is "morally indistinguishable from killing any child at any stage of development," and that "it is murder," and thus an act which should be criminally prohibited (like all other forms of intentional homicide), then I would hope that one ought also be genuinely committed to criminally punishing, at least to some extent, any and every person intentionally involved in this act of intentional killing which "morally indistinguishable from killing any child at any stage of development." 

In modern society, we threaten to punish all sorts of persons (at least with fines) for all sorts of petty crimes like overtime parking and illegal copying of a DVD and loitering.  I believe I am understanding and showing respect to the views and claims of persons who are pro-lifer when I surmise they consider any intentional abortion to be a societal wrong that is far more serious than, say, overtime parking or loitering.  If that is right, then I also think it would be fair to say that Donald Trump is actually understanding and showing respect for the views and claims of persons who are pro-life when he suggests that women intentionally involved in obtaining illegal abortions ought to be subject to at least "some form of punishment."

March 30, 2016 at 05:40 PM | Permalink


Professor Berman
Re: “… the pro-life position that life begins at conception …”

Initially , it would seem there is an affirmative defense of ignorance of the fact , unless strict liability is involved •

Posted by: Docile Jim Brady „ the Nemo Me ♠ Impune Lacessit ♂ in Oregon ‼ | Mar 30, 2016 5:52:13 PM

He took it back -- http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/31/us/politics/donald-trump-abortion.html

I understand his confusion. LOGICALLY, not punishing the woman for aiding and abetting "murder" is illogical. And, pre-Roe, a few women were punished or threatened with it to get at the doctors. Plus, there the full-fledged "murder" claim wasn't really made.

Perhaps, more people should press other Republicans against abortion rights such things. They don't seem to have to explain the logic of their position as much. Talking points is usually the name of the game.

Posted by: Joe | Mar 30, 2016 6:00:19 PM

I'm still waiting for the report from the investigators he sent to Hawaii to dig into the "suspicious" Obama birth certificate. You will recall that according to Trump, they had uncovered "incredibly important" evidence about Obama's birth that would shock the country. Still waiting....

Trump, the P.T. Barnum of American politics.

Posted by: Michael R. Levine | Mar 30, 2016 7:59:17 PM

Yes I agree. If parts of the anti-abortion movement advocate letting the women who do this off scot-free then so much the worse for the sincerity of the anti-abortion movement.

Posted by: random | Mar 30, 2016 8:21:09 PM

I think that the fact that Trump found himself alone in that position demonstrates the shifting understanding of the idea of personhood. As you point out, if the "pro-life" movement really stuck to its guns, then it is no different from murder with the medical provider being an accomplice to the murder and, consequently, the punishment should be indistinguishable.

That the largest pro-life orgs distanced themselves from Trump's statement demonstrates, in my mind at least, a repudiation of what has been a major (stated and unstated) premise of the pro-life movement: namely, that once an egg is fertilized it is indistinguishable from a human being. If such a repudiation has not occurred, I would be most interested to hear an attempt to reconcile that disconnect, but so far I haven't seen any.

Posted by: Guy | Mar 31, 2016 9:00:11 AM

"if procedure is made illegal" is the whole clue to the report. The Supreme Court has more important issues to determine then telling women what they can do with their bodies, that is a private issue. How the women go about it, is a different story. Women have the right to self-govern, which includes their decisions as long as they are not criminal. The Court can rule on when (how far along) it is no longer time to abort a fetus, after that time with no unusual circumstances it would be considered a crime. No matter what the woman decides, taxpayers should not be required to pay for her decision.

Taxpayers are being ripped off paying for abortions when they have a simple red pill that will abort a fetus.

P.S. The decision is all up to the woman and her conscience with God.

Posted by: LC in Texas | Mar 31, 2016 4:34:11 PM

Why cannot America install free machines with the red pills in them in restrooms all across America? Begin with the restroom ins parochial schools. Those kids need condoms too.

Posted by: Liberty1st | Mar 31, 2016 6:25:15 PM

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