Donald Trump may have "walked back" his outrageous comments on abortion rights this week, but reproductive health advocates say his thrice-revised position is no less offensive—or dangerous—to women and medical professionals.
Over the course of several hours on Wednesday afternoon and evening, the Republican presidential frontrunner and his campaign issued no fewer than three statements on the subject.
First, Trump said women who seek abortions should be punished if the procedure were to be outlawed in the United States.
Later, a campaign spokesperson sent reporters a statement attributed to Trump, which read: "This issue is unclear and should be put back into the states for determination. Like Ronald Reagan, I am pro-life with exceptions, which I have outlined numerous times."
And then, in a separate statement, the campaign clarified further:
If Congress were to pass legislation making abortion illegal and the federal courts upheld this legislation, or any state were permitted to ban abortion under state and federal law, the doctor or any other person performing this illegal act upon a woman would be held legally responsible, not the woman.
The spin continued Thursday morning, when a Trump aide told CNN: "It was a complete misspeak during a conversation over a hypothetical concept and there was a clarification issued." Asked whether Trump supports a national ban on abortion, the spokeswoman said: "This is a state issue, that's the point here, these are states' issues."
Trump's so-called "reversal" is more in line with the stance of leading anti-choice groups. As Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the national pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List, said in a statement on Wednesday, "let us be clear: punishment is solely for the abortionist who profits off of the destruction of one life and the grave wounding of another."
But not only does this position ignore the fact that many women in the U.S. already face "punishment" in the form of harsh laws and daunting financial and logistical barriers to abortion—many of which stem from state-level attacks on abortion clinics and providers—it harms patients by criminalizing medical professionals.
"Punishing doctors for providing safe abortion care is not any better than punishing women," Kelly Baden, director of state advocacy at the Center for Reproductive Rights, said on Twitter.
Writing at Bustle, reporter Melissah Yang echoed that charge:
Doctors are tasked with protecting their patients and have a responsibility to put their patients' best interests first. If a woman wants an abortion — whether because her health is in danger, a pregnancy would seriously impede upon her life, or whatever (because honestly, she shouldn't have to explain herself) — she deserves the best medical treatment possible, and qualified abortion providers should be allowed to practice without fear. Punishing abortion doctors is punishing women.
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Others tweeted similar thoughts under the hashtag #WontBePunished:
— ACOG Action (@ACOGAction) March 30, 2016
If we criminalize doctors, we go back to days before Roe v. Wade, when women died as result of unsafe & illegal abortions. #WontBePunished
— Pratima Gupta (@DrPratimaSF) March 30, 2016
Not only should women not be "punished" for personal choices, doctors also should be free to provide care. #wontbepunished
— Lisa Bari (@lisabari) March 30, 2016
(4/4) A political agenda that bans #abortion, criminalizes doctors and punishes women is anti-woman and fundamentally un-American.
— ACLU National (@ACLU) March 30, 2016
As David Grimes, author of Every Third Woman in America: How Legal Abortion Transformed Our Nation, wrote last year, the goal of efforts to criminalize physicians who provide abortions "is to force doctors to abandon their patients in need of help."
And such efforts are clearly fundamental to the anti-choice agenda.
Already, Common Dreams reported last month, abortion clinics in the U.S. are closing at a record pace due to right-wing attempts to "legislate the industry out of existence."
Furthermore, a report issued in February 2015 "found that threats of harassment, intimidation, and violence against women's health clinics have doubled since 2010," Rewire (formerly RH Reality Check) wrote at the time. "Reproductive rights advocates have raised concerns that radical anti-choice activists have been emboldened by a wave of GOP legislative attacks on reproductive rights."
Consider, for example, that the Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday "declined to make any officials available for interviews" on its label change for the abortion drug mifepristone, "saying it did not want to identify individuals involved in the Mifeprex decision because of concerns they might be targeted for harm by people opposed to the use of the abortion pill."