The XX Factor

Trump Says Everyone Misunderstood His Quote About Punishing Women for Abortion. Yeah, Right.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump with his wife Melania Trump in New York City on April 21.

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Donald Trump is not sorry, but also, he didn’t say what you thought he said. You definitely heard wrong! You’re the one who should apologize.

This is the tack the presumptive GOP presidential nominee is taking on the statement that riled Democrats and Republicans alike in March: that women who seek abortions should receive “some form of punishment.” In an interview with the New York Times Magazine’s Robert Draper published online on Wednesday, Trump—“rather unconvincingly,” according to Draper—argued that he was misunderstood yet again by the dopey media. “I didn’t mean punishment for women like prison,” he said. “I’m saying women punish themselves. I didn’t want people to think in terms of ‘prison’ punishment. And because of that I walked it back.” 

Draper’s reporting unearthed what he deems a “more believable explanation,” provided by one of Trump’s senior advisers:

Trump, a serial non-apologizer, initially saw nothing wrong with his remark and refused to walk it back. Only when every network chief executive and over 100 media outlets besieged the Trump campaign with requests for additional comment on how women should be punished for abortions did the Trump campaign turn to an ally: Chris Christie, whose tenure as the Republican governor of the blue state of New Jersey had given him experience placating both social conservatives and the moderate voters Trump hoped to attract in the general election. A member of Christie’s political team helped draft a statement that essentially repudiated Trump’s earlier one. 

Trump’s latest semantic manipulation doesn’t just demonstrate his grade-school-level command of rhetoric and his inability to admit error. It’s also a decent encapsulation of how the core of the Republican Party handles the tricky issue of abortion. As Rewire’s Jodi Jacobson pointed out when Trump made his original comments, the idea that women should be punished for seeking abortion is pretty much the mainstream GOP position—but even hardcore anti-abortion activists are usually too savvy to own up to an ideology that plays so poorly with the general public.

Instead, conservatives continue to pass laws that make the process of obtaining an abortion as exhausting, precarious, and stigmatizing as possible, the underlying principle being that the horror of the experience should be commensurate with what they consider the immorality of the act. Women who need abortions must contend with high costs and long waiting periods; protestors outside clinics who call them murderers; and doctors who are required to perform unnecessary sonograms, convey false information, and even administer medically inadvisable anesthesia. Some women report that the decision to terminate a pregnancy does haunt them, but studies suggest roughly 95 percent of women who get abortions believe in the aftermath they made the right choice.

In other words, women don’t “punish themselves” in the way Trump implied when they have an abortion. They do, however, go through a grueling and punishing experience—because of laws invented by Trump’s own party.