Over the weekend, Susie Madrak of the unfortunately-named Crooks and Liars blog posted a video of someone asking a small handful of pro-life demonstrators in Libertyville, Illinois (the organization they were with wasn’t identified, though one demonstrator mentions Pro-Life Action League national director Joe Scheidler being present) if they think women who have abortions should go to prison. Most of them say “no” and/or admit they never gave the question much thought, leading Madrak to claim that the video demonstrates the pro-life movement’s intellectual bankruptcy:
I’ve been saying this all along: Once abortion opponents understand that you can’t have a different legal standard for women who have abortions, they will lose their taste for making it a crime.
Because while they do enjoy climbing on that moral high horse, most of them don’t have the stomach for sending their sisters, daughters and neighbors to prison for murder.
I do find it fascinating that none of these long-time anti-abortion activists ever even thought about the legal consequences about their entire “abortion is murder” crusade. I think it shows an interesting opening for this ongoing debate.
In the grand pantheon of Things Pro-Aborts Want to Discuss Other Than Abortion While Debating Abortion, throwing women in jail is near the top. They see it as a win-win proposition: if pro-lifers answer yes, we’re heartless monsters; if no, we’re phonies or idiots.
That a few pro-lifers didn’t have coherent answers may indicate that those individuals should reflect on the question more, but frankly, it’s not nearly as embarrassing as the fact that most pro-choicers don’t know the basics of embryology. And it doesn’t mean there isn’t an answer; if anything, it actually underscores that they’re motivated by the babies’ suffering, not desires to punish women. Stopping the bloodshed is all they want, not retribution.
(Say, y’know who probably does have an answer? Joe Scheidler! If somebody told me he was at a protest where I was grilling people about pro-life thought, I’d definitely want to track him down. I wonder where that video is…)
But since pro-aborts are bent on turning pro-lifers’ compassion and sincerity into weapons against us, the question needs a serious treatment: should anti-abortion laws carry a criminal penalty for the women who seek them?
Allegations to the contrary notwithstanding, this is a question the pro-life movement has considered a great deal, and its members have largely reached consensus that punishment for abortion should rest predominantly with the one who performs the act: the abortionist.
The first thing we need to remember is law’s first purpose: to prevent unjust action. The point of ending abortion is just that: ending abortion. If a state finds that a particular legal punishment for doctors who perform abortions has a satisfactory deterrent effect on their abortion rates, then victory is achieved. Punishing women on top of that would serve no purpose other than making a moral statement. Acting on principle and on prudence need not be mutually exclusive.
Second, it’s important to recognize the legal and cultural context that distinguishes abortion from post-birth homicide, theft, rape, and just about every other crime: only abortion has decades of legal recognition and social celebration as a constitutional right, and pervasive misinformation about what its victim is – a propaganda campaign backed by a powerful industry, influential advocacy groups, forces at every level of government, one of America’s two main political parties, and scores of wide-ranging voices in our media, education establishment, and popular culture. It’s entirely appropriate to consider how pervasively abortion-seekers have been misled for so long when deciding whether to punish them.
Like so many dimensions of the abortion debate, illumination can be found by turning to America’s slavery debate. Throughout his career, Abraham Lincoln supported a number of compensated emancipation proposals – freeing slaves, but paying owners for their financial loss. Would pro-choicers say that made his opposition to slavery any less sincere or thoughtful?
“The feeling is against slavery, not against the South,” he said. “Until very recently the North has been of the same opinion. For two hundred years the whole country has admitted it,” and any solution to the crisis had to recognize that context. Compensation, he hoped, would help emancipation go down more peacefully (of course, the Civil War kept that theory from being tested). Today’s context is different – we’d punish rather than pay slavers because slavery’s evil has been universally understood for the past century and a half.
Similarly, when the indoctrination has been uprooted and a more enlightened consensus on abortion is reached, a future generation might decide that abortion-seeking women should be presumed to fully understand what they’re destroying, and they may choose to punish them accordingly. But that’s not where we are today. Pro-lifers recognize how the abortion movement victimizes mother and child alike, so we’re dedicated to saving both.