By: Nan Little Kirkpatrick, TEA Fund Executive Director
On Wednesday, Donald Trump – a candidate for the GOP nomination for the 2016 presidential race – said that “there has to be some form of punishment” for women who have abortions. As the executive director of the Texas Equal Access Fund, an abortion fund providing assistance to low-income people in North Texas seeking access to abortion, I found this statement appalling. I also know that it illustrates an underlying driving force behind anti-choice ideology: misogyny. The idea that women ought to be punished for having sex or for choosing an alternative path to what society has conceived of as traditional gender roles is nothing new. It’s just very rare that anyone says it so brazenly.
But that’s what people say they love about Trump. He says what other people are thinking.
As I considered Trump’s statement, I thought about how women and pregnant people in Texas are already being punished for choosing abortion. I thought about a young woman living in poverty in Lubbock, Texas, 300 miles from the nearest provider. I thought about how that woman is going to have to scrape together not only the money to help cover her abortion procedure, but also funding for gas, childcare, and lodging. I thought about the Hyde Amendment, which is a ban on federal insurance coverage for abortion. This is punishment for low- and no-income people who find themselves facing an unwanted pregnancy and want to choose abortion. Abortion is the only procedure that’s ever been banned from Medicaid. Is this not a punishment? It’s certainly discriminatory toward those who rely on public assistance for healthcare. In Dallas County alone there are over 52,000 women of reproductive age who rely on federal insurance, and this number doesn’t count the veterans, active duty service members, and federal employees who also rely on federal insurance for their healthcare. How is it not punitive to bar these people from exercising complete bodily autonomy and full access to all reproductive healthcare options including abortion?
When TEA Fund participated in the preparation of the amicus brief presented by the National Network of Abortion Funds for the Texas abortion case that’s before the Supreme Court, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, we gathered client stories to really illustrate the ways in which women are already being punished for choosing abortion. One of our clients, Tiffany, told the story of traveling three hours roundtrip to Dallas for an abortion that cost $1,700. Even though she found out she was pregnant at 11 weeks’ gestation, it took time to save the money for her procedure, pushing her to the 18-week mark before she was able to put together all the pieces required to obtain a 15-minute outpatient procedure. She had to arrange travel and lodging, save what money she could, and then gather funding from organizations like TEA Fund in order to access abortion. How is this not punishment for choosing abortion?
Donald Trump never spelled out precisely what he would consider an apt punishment for choosing abortion, but if he looked he would see the ways in which we’re already punishing people for choosing abortion, even as for some the consequences for continuing an unwanted pregnancy can be dire. When will we move past wanting to punish women for attempting to fully participate in society on their own terms and understand that access to abortion as a part of a full spectrum of reproductive healthcare is an essential human right?