This week, Donald Trump was asked a very straightforward question about abortion and gave a pretty coherent answer. Then everyone lost their minds.
During an interview with MSNBC's Chris Matthews, Trump said he believed abortion should be banned. Then, when asked what the consequences would be if women violated the law by seeking abortion anyway, Trump eventually offered that "there has to be some form of punishment… I have not determined what the punishment would be." (He also conceded that banning abortion does not actually end the need for abortion: "Well, you know, you will go back to a position like they had where people will perhaps go to illegal places," he said.)
This is actually a pretty logical statement about the consequences of a policy criminalizing abortion: if abortion is a crime, then having an abortion is a criminal act, and people are punished for criminal acts.
But a lot of people treated Trump's rare display of consistency as though he had said something outrageous.
Ted Cruz and John Kasich, as well as the March for Life and other anti-abortion organizations, were quick to chime in that punishing women is not, in fact, the point of criminalizing abortion.
But the women who have had abortions in the face of legal barriers disagree.
I spoke to four women who terminated pregnancies at different times and stages in their lives—before Roe v. Wade, in a state with restrictions in place that make abortion inaccessible, at an age when they needed parental consent—and asked them if they felt punished by any of what they had to go through.
This is what they told me. (Some names have been changed for privacy reasons, and their responses have been edited for clarity.)
Cathryn, 30, Indiana
I had an unwanted pregnancy when I was 22, but the nearest clinic that performs abortions in Indiana was over an hour away. They wouldn't let me make an appointment until I had not had a period for seven weeks.
In order to make the appointment, at eight weeks, I had to take a day off my minimum wage job and have a transvaginal ultrasound. Then I was sent home and told I had to wait 72 hours. But since there are only two doctors who share time between three abortion clinics statewide, I actually waited much longer.
The clinic I went to only performed abortions on Tuesdays, which meant taking another day off work. Thankfully, I was able to convince a friend to drive me. When I got there, I was met with high security, dozens of protesters shaming me. I had a surgical abortion after being given only ibuprofen. The clinics do not have the resources to provide other pain medication, and the procedure was extremely painful.
I couldn't go to the followup appointment because I was in danger of losing my job due to all of the unexcused days off. The whole thing cost me $500 out of pocket. I had to borrow money from a friend because my boyfriend refused to help. Apparently someone told him I was trying to cheat him out of money.
Restrictions in Indiana have only gotten worse since I had my abortion. I still consider myself lucky. I had friends who could help. A lot of others don't.
Anna, 35, North Dakota
I had two abortions in 2011 and 2012. Both pregnancies were with the same man. I had both procedures at the same clinic in downtown Fargo. I was very embarrassed to be seen walking into the clinic because there were protestors outside and I felt that drew attention to me. (Ed note: There is one clinic in North Dakota, and 73% of North Dakota women live outside the county where it's located.)
The first time, I went with my then-boyfriend and the second time I went alone. Before I went I basically just called and made the appointment. The women I dealt with at the clinic itself were phenomenal. I got the feeling there was a lot of red tape that they had to deal with because they went over some of the legislation issues regarding having to have an ultrasound, the safety of their patients—from protestors—the doctor being from out of town—for the physician's safety I assume—and the fact that the whole procedure itself is only a few minutes but that I had to plan on basically spending the day at the clinic.
The two pregnancies and the two abortions were very different experiences emotionally. I was already a parent to a daughter at the time of the first abortion and I had excessive and horrible feelings of guilt and shame. These feelings lasted a long time—months and months—and I cried at the drop of a hat, feeling like I was a bad mom for aborting a baby, even though I don't believe it to be an actual baby, more like a cluster of cells.
This caused my then-boyfriend and I to break up. About six months later we got back together and I got pregnant again. I seriously considered keeping this one because I didn't want to feel that pain emotionally again. However, I decided to terminate this pregnancy as well. Interestingly enough, the emotions were totally different. I was more detached and saw the procedure more as a medical occurrence as opposed to a moral dilemma.
Overall the steps I had to take felt 100% like punishment. Not from the clinic staff or physician, but from the lawmakers that put these roadblocks up at every turn. A procedure and recovery that should only last a few hours—tops—ended up lasting a full day away from work, from my routine. The vast majority of that time spent at the clinic was unnecessary. I had to get a section of my cervix removed for testing a long time ago for an abnormal pap. I parted with a cluster of cells that day too but there were no protestors. No fanfare. No shaming or guilt. Just factual, "Here is the procedure. OK, let's go."
I wish abortions were treated that way, too. All the excess shit just hurts women.
Florence, 34, Indiana
I am in my mid-30s now but when I was barely 16 I had an abortion. I live in Indiana, and, at the time, I had a Planned Parenthood that was pretty close to where I lived. But they moved to a different location, and, not being able to drive myself and not having my own income, I couldn't get birth control anymore. So I got pregnant by an older guy. I was just really confused and didn't know what to do about it, did not know who to tell. In Indiana, we have a parental permission law, and my parents are very fundamentalist. You know, I tried to see if I could get emancipated—it was just crazy, the logistics. It was ridiculous.
My best friend told her parents, who gave her $300 and permission for her to drive me to Illinois—a state that didn't have the parental law. We concocted this crazy story where we were driving to Ohio to visit her grandma. Instead, we drove in the exact opposite direction to Illinois where I had an abortion. It was uncomfortable but not painful. They were very kind, very, very focused on getting me on birth control again so that that would not happen again.
Fast forward a few years and I get pregnant again, and I'm 18. I told my parents, I got kicked out of the house. I was homeless and proceeded to get sick. I have something called HELLP Syndrome, a relatively rare complication. The mom's body shuts down, turns in on itself. But I was able to have my son, he was born early. He's the light of my life, I love this kid, but it was a very traumatic and very sick pregnancy. Fast forward again, at 30, and I get pregnant with my daughter. It was a very healthy pregnancy but, at the time, I was very worried about what would happen to me with this terrible history of sickness. There was just this extra layer of anxiety. The thing that really kills me is how the average pregnancy now has this layer of suspicion and criminality almost by default because of these laws.
I did feel punished, and it was very politically radicalizing, too. It was my first experience of having policy that discriminated against me. I felt totally out of control, like I had screwed up beyond anything that I had imagined before. This felt like an impassible obstacle, like something that could not be navigated. It was this weird… I mean, thank god my best friend's mom was like, "Here's some money, I am going to look the other way." God bless her. Because the alternative—it's such a backwards system.
Rosalyn Levy Jonas, 70, Maryland
I was 20 years old, I was living at home with my parents, involved in my very first serious relationship—in other words it was the first boy I slept with. I didn't know a thing about how to protect myself, and I found myself pregnant. At the time, I had my first job working for a congressman on Capitol Hill. I was absolutely frantic given the circumstances at the time that either my parents would find out and they would force me into a marriage with this perfectly horrible guy with whom I had, by then, broken up. Or that I would bring shame or something to the congressman's office. So I set about figuring out what I could do to terminate the pregnancy.
Now, this was before Roe. I had a very good friend who knew, apparently, the go-to person who everybody saw when they got knocked up. I lived in Alexandria, Virginia, at the time, so I drove to Baltimore to be seen by a woman doctor who confirmed my pregnancy and slipped me a phone number on a little piece of paper. No conversation, she just handed me a little piece of paper. She was warm and kind person, but no real words were exchanged.
I called the number from a payphone and made arrangements to have an abortion. The arrangements were: it's going to be $600 in cash—which I did not have. I was to be picked up in front of a movie theater in downtown Baltimore on such and such a day at such and such a time. So then I had to find $600, which, in 1966, when this was, was a huge amount of money. The day before the abortion I called my ex-boyfriend's parents in Virginia Beach, and they drove to Washington, D.C., and gave him $600. He gave me $200—the amount I was short.
I stood on a street corner and a man came in a car. I didn't have anyone's name, he asked who I was, I said who I was, and he said, "Get in the back seat." He could have been a serial killer, but I was desperate. So we drove huge distances until finally we arrived at a farm house. There was an older couple there, and there's a table with stirrups. To whatever extent I got prepped, it didn't involve any medication. A guy comes out in a mask, a surgical mask, performs the abortion without any anesthesia. Basically I got patted on the back, handed a couple of sanitary pads, and dropped back off in front of the movies.
I never actually thought of it as punishment before, but it absolutely was a kind of punishment. I was not among the people who were humiliated by having to go through a panel of doctors pre-Roe to determine that they were of "sound mind." But it was a kind of punishment—a financial punishment, an emotional punishment. It was a punishment in the sense that it lasted many years afterwards because of the stigma people attach to it.
And I will say to you, desperate women will make desperate choices. I certainly could have died. I was really lucky.