If Abortion Were Made Illegal Again, Should A Woman Who Commits An Abortion Be Punished?


by Providence Crowder

Some pro-life advocates evade the question, “How should a woman who commits abortion be punished if abortion were made illegal?” They avoid this question because the pro-lifer’s position is that we do not judge or seek to punish women in crisis situations — but rather to “preserve the life of the child, to extend compassion, and to provide emotional, spiritual, and physical support” to women and families facing unplanned pregnancies. 

Abortion proponents intentionally word the question this way in order to corner abortion abolitionists into conceding that abolitionists seek to “punish” women.   Regardless of their antics, abortion abolitionists should not avoid this question because answering this question objectively does not pose any moral dilemmas or contradictions to the abolitionist because how, or whether one is punished or not, for committing the act of abortion does not change the outcome of what abortion is or what abortion does—abortion destroys lives.  The result of an induced abortion is always a dead baby and a trail of brokenness.   

Abortion proponents ask:  If abortion is murder, then should a woman who commits abortion be punished as a murder?  They also argue that if an abortion abolitionist does not agree that a woman should be punished as a murderer, then his or her argument about abortion is inconsistent.  They reason that if we believe that abortion is in fact murder, then why do we not believe that women should be punished as murderers.  To answer their question of how abortion should be punished, I will refer to the history of abortion in this nation. 

Abortion has not always been legal.  There was a span of about 100 years in this nation when abortion was illegal.  Historically, women were not imprisoned for having abortions—not so much because abortion was not thought to be heinous, but because states found that it was “almost impossible to produce the evidence necessary to convict.  Pregnancy was hard to confirm; there was almost never a corpse or witness, and there was always a great deal of jury sympathy for desperate and abandoned women.”  As a result, most states chose to place the bulk of criminal liability on abortion doctors in an effort to dissuade the practice.

Therefore, abortion doctors, the ones actually committing the ACT of murder, were pursued and punished for the crime of abortion.  Society has usually seen the woman as the lesser—or that there were two victims of abortion—the mother and child.

Unless she was a repeat offender, the courts and jury of peers often extended the woman mercy and compassion because most often the decision to abort was based on lies and misinformation being told to her by the abortionist/physician, or she made the decision under extreme pressure or duress (pressure from the father of the child or family members).

In every other instance of murder, whoever commits the act of murder bears the greater punishment for the crime specified under law.  In the case of abortion, if the law properly labeled that murder — the individual to bear the greater punishment would be the physician/abortionist.

Law Professor Dellapenna notes that a legal focus on the abortionist rather than the woman is necessary in these cases because the law does not allow the conviction of someone on the basis of uncorroborated testimony of an accomplice.

“Courts even in the nineteenth and twentieth century justified continuing to treat a woman as a victim rather than a participant in the crime on the basis that one cannot consent to a crime against oneself,” he wrote in an email message. “This is akin to allowing a drug user to go free in order to convict a drug dealer.”

Dellapana said it is likely a better policy for abortion opponents to reject criminal punishments for women who undergo abortion. “This was the position, by the way, of Susan B. Anthony, Tennessee Claflin, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Victoria Woodhull, and nearly all the other nineteenth century feminists,” he said.

Some possible ways of implementing punishment if abortion were made illegal would be of course to give the more severe punishment to the abortionist or the one profiting off the abortion practice.  He or she would have a much greater understanding of what abortion actually is, and what it does to a developing human fetus.

The lesser punishment should be given to the woman guilty of inducing abortion “with increasing severity for repeated offenses.”  Nonetheless, history shows that it has been difficult to generate material evidence sufficient to convict women of the crime; therefore, “It may be appropriate to offer the woman impunity or a lesser charge in exchange for testimony against the abortionist.”

For every crime, penalties vary.  If we as a society determined a lesser penalty for abortion then say the standard homicide, a “lesser” penalty would not mean that abortion is less heinous or that fetuses are less valuable humans.  For example, most states have more severe penalties for killing police officers, but this does not mean killing average citizens is less heinous or average citizens are less valuable.  As a society, we should decide what penalty would be severe enough to deter the abortionist from the practice as well as persuade the woman contemplating an abortion to choose an option that would not result in the physical death of her child.

Yet, like the crime of murder, abortion will not cease to exist because it is illegal.  Nonetheless, a criminal penalty for abortion would dissuade many from committing the crime.  As well, a penalty for abortion would give the unborn the rights and protections of all other citizens~meaning, those who would do them harm would suffer some consequence.  Criminalizing the act of abortion would grant dignity to all persons, born and unborn, from the womb to the tomb, and demonstrate that ALL human life is precious.

Abortion advocates must agree that abortion at every stage of pregnancy should be made a criminal offense, with exceptions to preserve the life of the mother.  In only this instance, abortion is saving one life instead of losing two.  This is the standard historical position and it is consistent with the pro-life position that life begins at conception and the taking of that life during any stage of pregnancy is wrong.

And though there are many “good reasons” why people would consider abortion, there are also many ” good reasons” people cheat, steal, and murder.  Yet, when they are caught in their offense, regardless of the reason, the thief and the murderer still have their day in court.  As well, murder was made illegal near the beginning of human history, yet thousands each year choose to disobey both the divine and earthly statutes ~ they break the command “Do Not Murder.”  The same will be true of abortion.  Even though there would be those who would still commit abortion, if they are caught, abortionists should have their day in court.

Society cannot agree at what point in human development we “become” human or we are made “alive.”  Therefore, to avert falling into moral error and unwittingly destroying innocent human life, the safest practice and method to end a pregnancy is through a process called birth.  More often than not, birth terminates a pregnancy without ending a life.

Abortion abolitionists, do not back down from the question of how abortion should be punished.  We are armed with grace, mercy, truth, compassion, and love.  God created us all in his image, and in his likeness (Gen. 1:27).

Abortion is the civil rights issue of the 21st century.  As with other groups in the past that have gained their rights and freedoms, it’s up to us who have a voice to speak on behalf of those who do not.  Freedom was never won without a fight!  Let us abolish the evil practice of abortion.

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