Donald Trump, when asked, "Do you believe in punishment for abortion?" said, "There has to be some form of punishment." "For the woman?" asked MSNBC's Chris Matthews. "Yeah," said Trump. Hours later, Trump walked it back, and said: "The doctor or any other person performing this illegal act upon a woman would be held legally responsible, not the woman. The woman is a victim." But the bell was not to be un-rung.
Democratic presumptive presidential nominee Hillary Clinton pounced, tweeting: "Just when you thought it couldn't get worse. Horrific and telling." Conservatives blasted him just as fiercely for his "extremism." Jeanne Mancini, for example, president of the anti-abortion group March for Life's education and defense fund, said in a statement: "Women who choose abortion often do so in desperation and then deeply regret such a decision. 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."
Pollsters, it turns out, rarely ask the question of who, in the event that abortion becomes illegal, should be punished. But in 2000, writes FiveThirtyEight's Leah Libresco, the Los Angeles Times did ask who should be punished for abortion if it becomes illegal.
Thirty-two percent said the doctor who performs an abortion. Although the question wasn't asked, 20 percent of the respondents volunteered the opinion that everybody involved should be punished (presumably this includes a woman). Ten percent said the woman who has the abortion.
And, according to Libresco, she asked 60 random pro-life activists attending the 2016 March for Life in Washington, D.C., what kind of punishments should be meted out for abortion and to whom. Half said doctors should be charged with murder. Fifteen percent said the woman should be charged with murder.
A pro-life blog called StandTrue pondered this moral quandary. In a piece called "What Would The Punishment Be If Abortion Were Illegal?" the author writes:
"When the woman in Texas drowned her five children several years ago, what was your thought on her punishment? Did you believe because she had some rough times at home she should be excused from what she did? The fact is, she killed her five children and had to answer to the law. While we might feel sorry for her emotional state, we must also want justice for the five children who were killed.
"In the same way, we must look at the children in the womb as equal in value as the children who were drowned and demand justice for them also. We can certainly feel empathy for what a woman might be going through, however, that cannot change the fact that she has broken the law and ended the life of her child. We know there is forgiveness is Christ, but justice must also be served. If we make a separate law and separate punishment for someone who has an abortion then we are saying that the child in the womb is somehow not as valuable (as) any other human person killed. If we say that intentionally killing one child is less of a crime (than) intentionally killing another child, then our whole argument for life is destroyed."
Meanwhile the left-wing abortion extremism expressed by Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders gets a pass. After seven debates without the question ever coming up, Bret Baier, at the Fox Democratic town hall, asked Sanders and Clinton whether they support any restrictions on abortion. Sanders said, "It is wrong for the government to be telling a woman what to do with her own body." Clinton, though somewhat more nuanced, also offered no restrictions. In short, Clinton and Sanders answered "no" and "no."
This raises a question not asked of Sanders or Clinton. A jury convicted Philadelphia abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell of killing three babies born alive after abortions. In addition, he was convicted of 21 counts of violating Pennsylvania late-term abortion law. Do Clinton and Sanders believe that Gosnell was unfairly charged, that even an abortion committed past 24 weeks should not have been a crime?
In fact, most Americans, while opposing a total ban on abortion, find late-term abortion morally objectionable and want it outlawed. A Gallup poll in December 2012 found that 62 percent of respondents believed "abortion should generally be ... illegal in the second three months of pregnancy," and 80 percent said it should be "illegal in the last three months of pregnancy."
In 2008, Sen. Barack Obama was nonchalant in explaining his pro-choice position: "If (Sasha and Malia) make a mistake, I don't want them punished with a baby." One woman in the audience later begged him to "stop these abortions." Obama walked it back. He said, "This is a very difficult issue, and I understand sort of the passions on both sides of the issue. I have two precious daughters — they are miracles." Pro-lifers expressed horror at the notion that Obama equated babies with "punishment." But his callousness was quickly forgotten, and not raised again. Democrats, of course, get to walk back extreme statements on abortion, but the Republicans, like Trump, cannot.