In a 60 Minutes interview that aired Sunday night, President-elect Donald Trump told correspondent Lesley Stahl that he intends to appoint “pro-life” judges to the Supreme Court. If those judges happen to overturn Roe v. Wade, Trump said, the issue of legal abortion “would go back to the states.”
“Yeah, but then some women won’t be able to get an abortion,” Stahl pointed out. “No, it’ll go back to the states,” Trump said. “They’ll perhaps have to go—they’ll have to go to another state.”
“And that’s OK?” Stahl asked. “Well, we’ll see what happens,” the president-elect said.
Anti-abortion politicians often use this argument to defend policies that prevent women from getting the health care they need. The majority of Americans support legal abortion, and Planned Parenthood v. Casey prevents states from imposing an “undue burden” on women seeking abortions, so most legislators don’t admit outright that their aim is to outlaw the procedure. When states seek to restrict abortion, they almost always do so under the thin pretense of protecting women’s health and safety.
This was the case in the arguments for the well-publicized Texas restrictions that came before the Supreme Court last year in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. The restrictions the court ended up axing required abortion providers to obtain admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and retrofit their clinics to the over-the-top specifications of a surgical center. In court, Texas’ solicitor general argued that, though the laws had caused dozens of clinics to shut down, abortion-seeking women in El Paso without a nearby clinic in their state could simply cross state lines to visit a clinic in New Mexico.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg ably shut down this line of reasoning. “That’s odd that you point to the New Mexico facility,” she said, noting that New Mexico clinics were not required to meet the same stringent requirements that Texas imposed on its abortion providers under the argument that they are necessary to keep women safe. “So if your argument is right, then New Mexico is not an available way out for Texas, because Texas says: To protect our women, we need these things. But send them off to New Mexico,” Ginsburg said, “and that’s perfectly all right.”
In other words, relying on states that accommodate women’s abortion rights is not a valid federal plan for serving women who need abortion care. Women already often cross state lines for abortions because of byzantine restrictions states enact to make the process as difficult as possible. Waiting periods, laws that make patients return for multiple appointments days apart, restrictions that cause clinics to shutter, and limits on what kinds of abortions women can get during certain phases of pregnancy force patients to travel to states with kinder laws or more accessible clinics to get the care they need.
In practical terms, this means that women who can’t afford extensive travel, time off of work, child care, and multiple doctors’ appointments end up without the same “right” to personal medical care as their more financially comfortable peers. It means that a woman who finds out at 24 weeks pregnant that her fetus has a fatal abnormality is forced to carry her pregnancy to term. It means that a 13-year-old Texan rape survivor who’s 20 weeks and five days pregnant gets denied an abortion because she can’t afford to travel to New Mexico and stay there for three days to jump through the hoops required to access an abortion. Even in Trump’s dream America—in which Roe v. Wade is consigned to the “ash heap of history,” in Mike Pence’s parlance—women of means will always be able to get abortions, whether by traveling to other states and countries or by navigating the increasingly expensive and time-intensive mazes states erect to keep women from accessing abortion care. Poor women, rural women, undocumented women, and a disproportionate number of women of color will be the ones who bear the burden of an anti-abortion America.
Trump dodged Stahl’s question on abortion to try to paint his plans to end abortion as less extreme than they really are. But what makes him think women could simply visit another state to get an abortion? What’s to stop Texas, say, from prosecuting a woman for traveling across state lines to access an illegal medical procedure? If states were allowed to outlaw abortions, the government would essentially force women into birth against their wills. Women would seek out ways to give themselves abortions; women would suffer and almost certainly die. That’s the uncomfortable, awful truth about abortion bans. The least Trump and his anti-choice cronies can do is admit it.