Analysis Politics

Contrary to Debate Claims, Pence Has Supported Legislation Punishing Women for Abortions

Ally Boguhn

Unnecessary, costly, and emotionally tolling restrictions that obstruct access to care are just the kind of laws seemingly favored by Indiana Gov. Mike Pence.

“Donald Trump and I would never support legislation that punished women who made the heartbreaking choice to end a pregnancy,” claimed Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s running mate, during Tuesday night’s vice presidential debate in Virginia. 

Pence made the claim as part of an anti-abortion monologue regarding moderator Elaine Quijano’s question about the role of religion in dictating the vice presidential candidates’ policies.

In response, Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Tim Kaine (VA) swiftly voiced both his own and Clinton’s support for “abortion and choice,” and criticized Trump repeatedly for having once suggested women should be “punished” for seeking abortion care.

Pence dismissed the criticism as false, seemingly excusing Trump’s suggestion because the Republican presidential nominee is “not a polished politician.”

But Pence’s statements were wrong on two accounts: Trump did once say that women who have an abortion should be punished if it were to become illegal (though the Republican has repeatedly changed his stance on the matter). And under Pence’s leadership in Indiana, women have already been punished for having an abortion.

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Purvi Patel, for example, was convicted in 2015 under Indiana’s “feticide” law for what state prosecutors said was a self-induced abortion. She was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Though the law was passed prior to Pence taking office, according to the Guardian“activists had prevailed upon Pence to clarify the 2009 law used to convict her, without success.”

Patel has since been released after an appeals court vacated the feticide conviction, but her case still serves as an example of how some women face actual jail time for abortions.

And it is hardly the only example of the ways anti-choice advocates in the state have sought to punish those who have abortions.

As Rewire Editor in Chief Jodi Jacobson explained in an April commentary on the subject, in addition to cases like Patel’s, the “anti-choice movement seeks to punish women through a web of entrapment that, spun just a little bit at a time, harms women in ways that are less noticeable to the rest of us because they don’t make headlines until women start ending up in jail.”

These sorts of unnecessary, costly, and emotionally tolling restrictions that obstruct access to care are just the kind of laws seemingly favored by Pence.

In March, the Republican governor signed an omnibus package of anti-choice legislation into law. The since-blocked sweeping policy would have, among many other things, banned pregnant people from terminating a pregnancy due to fetal anomalies, mandated that health-care providers cremate or inter an aborted or miscarried fetus, and required physicians to perform ultrasounds on those seeking abortion care.

Reproductive health and rights advocates condemned the measure, noting it would inflict emotional damage on pregnant people and their families.

“We know that you’re going to be forcing woman [sic] and families to suffer emotionally because they’re going to be force to carry pregnancies that are not viable,” said Kate Connors, director of communications for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, at the time.

The legislation was so extreme that even some of Pence’s Republican colleagues in Indiana noted it was “dangerous” and could lead to “back-room abortions,” according to the New York Times.

During his time in Congress, Pence also co-sponsored measures that would have effectively punished women seeking abortion care, including several so-called personhood measures that could have criminalized abortion, and the failed 2008 “Ultrasound Informed Consent Act,” which would have required doctors to perform ultrasounds on anybody seeking an abortion and “explain the results, display the ultrasound images so the woman may view them, and provide a medical description of the ultrasound images, including the dimensions of the embryo or fetus and the presence of external members and internal organs.”

These sorts of laws often require doctors to give patients “information that is irrelevant or misleading,” according to the Guttmacher Institute. NARAL Pro-Choice America said a later iteration of that forced ultrasound law was “at its core, designed to intimidate, shame, and harass women who seek to exercise their constitutionally protected right to choose.”

And as Kaine pointed out during the debate, Pence and Trump also support overturning Roe v. Wade. According to Kaine, this could return states to a time where they could “pass criminal laws to do just that: to punish women if they made the choice to terminate a pregnancy.”

So as much as anti-choice advocates and politicians like Pence may want to claim that they don’t want to punish those who have an abortion, their policies and records seem to suggest otherwise.

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