How Trump's abortion comments revealed the true colours of pro-life America

Donald Trump said in an interview on Wednesday that as president, if abortions were banned in the US he would have women punished for having them.

This morning, amid an outcry from pro-life and pro-choice supporters alike, the Republican front-runner released a statement in an apparent U-turn, naming women as victims – not perpetrators – of abortion.


In his Wednesday interview with MSNBC, Donald Trump said women should receive "some form of punishment" if abortion were banned in the US, while those who performed them would go without penalty.

Alongside the expected backlash against Trump's remarks from the pro-choice camp was a less expected, but equally loud, outcry from the pro-lifers.

Where you might expect Republican pro-lifers to celebrate his comments about banning abortion and punishing women in order to enforce the ban – and Trump certainly did – the reaction was quite the opposite. 

The Republican candidate John Kasich, who opposes abortion except in specific cases such as rape, said: "Of course, women shouldn't be punished."

Ted Cruz, the Texas senator and second place in the Republican nomination race, criticised his competitor for not having thought through the issue: "What's far too often neglected is that being pro-life is not simply about the unborn child, it's also about the mother," he said in a statement.

Pro-life campaign group, the March for Life, condemned the position, deeming it "completely out of touch with the pro-life movement and even more with women who have chosen such a sad thing as abortion".

This wasn't the reaction Trump was expecting:

While he described himself as "pro-life" in the MSNBC interview multiple times, Trump has arguably misunderstood and misrepresented the position of the majority of pro-lifers.

In choosing to put the weight of blame on the woman having the abortion, Trump disclosed an ignorance of the pro-life movement, and that his stance was politically – rather than ideologically – motivated.

This was highlighted when, following the backlash from his target audience, he released a statement claiming that in fact "the woman is a victim in this case [abortion] as is the life in her womb".

Where Trump – who in 1999 described himself as "pro-choice in every respect" and explicitly said he would not "ban abortion" if he became president – got it wrong is that in trying to gain the pro-life vote, he expressed views that their critics, not themselves, would ascribe to them.

Often the pro-life camp is equated to being an anti-woman camp, where women's rights are subjugated to those of the foetus. This narrative, in which the woman and the foetus are pitted against each other, would naturally lead to the woman being punished for the abortion.

However, this is not the narrative of most pro-lifers. Instead of adversaries, they see that the woman and the foetus as mutually vulnerable in a pregnancy, and seek to aid both..

"Being pro-life means wanting what is best for the mother and the baby," said Jeanne Mancini, President of the March for Life Education and Defence Fund.

"No pro-lifer would ever want to punish a woman who has chosen abortion. This is against the very nature of what we are about. We invite a woman who has gone down this route to consider paths of healing, not punishment."

The Republican party's official position is that abortion should be illegal, and is the aim of most pro-life campaigners. However, crucial to their position is that the doctor, not the woman, is the one who holds the legal responsibility.

Of course, there are pro-lifers who do espouse hatred and condemn women for ending their pregnancies. In October last year three were left dead at a Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs, by a man who referred to himself as a "warrior for babies". Even if they wouldn't argue for a legal penalty for the mother, pro-lifers who picket abortion clinics and shame women entering them are apportioning blame in practice, even if not in theory.

However, this is not inevitable. It is possible to be both pro-life and pro-women. The reaction to Trump's suggestion that women should be punished for having abortions suggests that, contrary to the caricature oft portrayed in the media, there are pro-lifers who genuinely believe they are fighting for what is best for both woman and foetus.

Whether you agree with them or not, this most recent episode in the Donald Trump debacle shows the pro-life campaign's intention is not to "punish" women.