Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump films an MSNBC town hall meeting with Chris Matthews in Green Bay, Wis., on March 30. (Tom Lynn/Getty Images)
Contributing opinion writer

Here’s what I don’t understand: If abortion is murder, why shouldn’t women be penalized?

After saying women should face legal consequences for having an abortion, Donald Trump quickly retreated to the “politically correct” antiabortion position that abortion providers, not recipients, should be penalized. “The woman is a victim in this case,” Trump said, “as is the life in her womb,” echoing almost precisely the language used by such pro-lifers as Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum. The antiabortion movement knew immediately how damaging Trump’s comments could be, and my guess is they quickly handed him their talking points. 

This controversy inadvertently exposed two fundamental contradictions within the antiabortion movement. First, it wants to present an empathetic face to women, but its approach is paternal and condescending. “The woman is a victim” assumes that women are incapable of making decisions. But that contradiction pales in comparison to the other one raised by Trump’s backtrack. In movies such as “The Silent Scream,” the antiabortion movement has for years provided gory and inaccurate details of the pain and violence of an abortion. So, if abortion is the violent murder of a human being, why not follow this twisted logic and punish women for having one? We don’t hold the perpetrators of any other violent act harmless unless they are insane or acted in self-defense, and the antiabortion movement hasn’t argued women who have abortions fall into either category.

Abortion opponents know they cannot advocate penalties for women because they are politically unacceptable. But that is today. The movement has shown remarkable discipline and patience over the past 40 years and has steadily eroded the availability of abortion in the United States. Perhaps, Trump’s “mistake” was not that he disagreed with the antiabortion stance, but that he got ahead of it. He was simply following the antiabortion position to its logical conclusion.

How long before the movement joins him? That’s what worries me.