Friday, February 5, 2010

Women in jail if abortion is illegal? No

"If abortion is made illegal the woman having one will be a criminal. How much time should she do?"

That's what this website asks. It's an emotional argument that abortion advocates often seem to make: that it follows from the pro-life view that women having abortions should be treated like murderers and thrown in prison. But it doesn't hold up to scrutiny.

First, even if the reasoning is sound, it does nothing to disprove our claim that abortion unjustly takes the lives of innocent human persons.

Second, criminalizing women simply does not follow from the pro-life view that abortion is a grave moral evil and should be prohibited. To think so requires "a simplistic view of the purpose of criminal law and the penalties for violating it," Francis Beckwith writes. Abortion advocates who make this argument have not thought it through very carefully. Let me quote Beckwith at length (Defending Life, 108-111, emphases mine):
This argument ignores the pre-legalization laws and penalties for illegal abortion and possible reasons they were instituted. Although it is clear that these laws considered the unborn human persons, in most states women were granted immunity from prosecution and in other states the penalties were very light. ...

It seems likely that by prudently balancing the unborn's personhood, the evil of abortion, the desperation of the woman, and the need for evidence to insure a conviction, jurists and legislators in the past believed that the best way to prevent abortions from occurring and at the same time uphold the sanctity of human life was to criminalize abortion, prosecute the abortionist, grant immunity or a light penalty to the woman, and show her compassion by recognizing that she is the second victim of abortion. ...

Because of a general lack of understanding of the true nature of the unborn child -- likely due to decades of cultural saturation by abortion-choice rhetoric and little serious philosophical reflection on the pro-life position by the general public -- most citizens who procure abortions do so out of well-meaning ignorance.

The woman who will seek and obtain an illegal abortion is really a second victim. Women who seek illegal abortions will probably do so out of desperation. Not realizing at the time of the abortion that the procedure kills a real human being, some of these women suffer from depression and guilt feelings after finding out the true nature of the unborn. ... [I]t is likely that the pregnant woman will not be fully informed of the unborn's nature (e.g., "You're not carrying a baby, it's a 'product of conception,' 'blob of tissue,' 'a bunch of cells,' etc.")
Note that this site does nothing to address or refute such thoughtful thinking about appropriate criminal law and penalties. And it provides no justification for its own claim that severe penalties for women should follow from the pro-life position, even though that's the premise of the entire website!

The pro-life position in no way entails that women be punished for having abortions. Pro-life organizations, including National Right to Life, oppose punishing women for abortion -- ever.