Should Women Be Prosecuted?

In addition to there being concerns about women dying if Roe is overturned, there has been a rash of concern lately that women would be hauled off and locked up in prison for pursuing illegal abortion. AtCenterNetwork filmed this video of abortion protesters who were all caught off guard when asked if women should be punished for having an illegal abortion. There have been several blogs about this lately as well, for instance here, here, here, and here. I'd like to spend some time going through, what I think might be, an answer that a lot of us could agree on.

1. Should women be prosecuted? Women should not be prosecuted for pursuing or going through with an illegal abortion. Instead, the physicians (nearly 90% of illegal abortions were done by physicians pre-Roe) and the few laymen and laywomen that actually carry out the act of abortion should be the ones that are prosecuted. A law of this sort will discourage many physicians from doing an illegal abortion in the first place. ("It's not worth getting my license revoked!") In addition, women will be more likely to testify against the physicians that do their abortions if they do not have to face a penalty, which is an added benefit. Laypersons that perform an illegal abortion should be prosecuted, but not held to as high a standard as physicians.

2. Why shouldn't women be prosecuted? First and foremost, we need to realize that women, for the most part, aren't happily running off to their abortions. Usually, this is a decision that they put a lot of thought into. They usually have an abortion because of an external pressure in their life. Sometimes this is a partner. Sometimes it is financial constraints. Sometimes it is school or business pressures. It is true that some women just do not want children, and they just don't need to put a lot of thought into it, but I would say that is the exception to the rule, although certainly these are the ones who we commonly hear from. Women have abortions because if they do not, some area in their lives will be troubled, turned upside-down. They have an abortion as an act of desperation to keep things peaceful in their own lives.

Simply put, women should not be prosecuted because it would send the wrong message. It would send the message to women that not only might their life be miserable if they do decide to give birth (which is how they see it), but there's a chance that if they abort, they might be thrown in jail. It sends the message that society does not care about women. Where would she find hope and compassion then? Remember, she isn't going to trust the vast majority of pro-lifers who took her choice away and threaten her with jail time. She's going to seek out that illegal abortion if she can't find a way to make giving birth work for her.

3. What if a woman tries to do her own abortion?
Coat-hanger abortions are always the rallying cry amidst the pro-choice movement. More commonly, a woman will try to swallow a mixture of herbs to induce an abortion. Again, this is an act of desperation in most cases, where the woman is doing what she thinks is right. She feels she has no other recourse. If a woman attempts her own abortion, it should be viewed as an attempt to harm herself, much like a suicide attempt. She should be helped. She should be stopped if possible, but she should not be prosecuted.

4. But isn't abortion the murder of a child - why the inconsistency here? First, I don't characterize abortion as murder. (I can hear the gasps.) I don't.
Murder, to me, carries some sort of malice with it. Women that have abortions don't do so out of malice. Abortion is a form of killing though. It does end life. To many women, however, they seriously think that it is them or the baby. Therefore, it is compassion that should be given toward the women who are considering abortion (illegal or legal) as well as toward those that have an abortion.

It is the physician - the one that is put in a place of authority to protect and do no harm - that should be culpable. The physician is not in the middle of a stressful situation. They have the insight and the knowledge to be able to say, "No, but here is another way." There is not a lot of precedent for this line of thought, but there are other situations where the pursuer is not held liable for the actual event. Take
assisted suicide, for instance. In some states it is illegal to assist someone to attempt suicide, but the person who hires the physician is not charged with a crime. In another instance, alternative therapies that go wrong create a situation where the authority figure (doctor, counselor, whatever) is held responsible, while the client and/or the client's parent are not. Medical malpractice demands that physicians be held responsible in the face of the desires and demands of their patients, no matter how compelling.


This is such a cursory look at this, however. So much is needed before we can honestly expect women to not turn to abortion. If Roe was overturned tomorrow and things remained the same, the illegal abortion rate would be right around the legal rate right now, dropped only because of some physicians who would not risk the punishment. It is society that would need to change in order for women to feel supported and comfortable giving birth instead of aborting - meaning our attitude towards woman in the popular media, our attitude toward pregnancy in the workplace, our attitudes toward the unborn (meaning both we should not discount the fact that the fetus is a developing human but nor should we hold the fetus above the concerns of the woman), and our attitude towards unwed mothers and women who seek abortion.

Support for women - starting now - is paramount. Stop holding the rights of the unborn (who don't have any legally right now) above her concerns, desires, and needs. Start educating women about their fertility cycles and birth control options. (There are only 2-5 days that a woman can get pregnant during her cycle. Why aren't we making that known??) Family planning can and should exist, but it should not involve abortion. Start holding the men accountable when they threaten to leave if a woman wants to parent. Why aren't they shunned the same way single mothers and women who abort are? This isn't going to be an easy thing to do, and this is only the tip of the iceberg, but this is what is necessary to make abortion the option that is just not thought of by the majority of women.


GrannyGrump said...

Something we need to point out is that women weren't being prosecuted before Roe, so there's no reason to believe they'd be prosecuted afterward.

The Pro-Woman Pro-Lifer said...

Very good point Granny. TY

Rachael said...

I'd heard stories from the pro-choice movement that women having illegal abortions were taken to jail and forced to describe how the abortion was preformed for the prosecution (of the abortion provider) in court.

The Pro-Woman Pro-Lifer said...

That would make sense Rachael, and that's a good point to make...they had to aide in the prosecution of the abortion provider...they weren't prosecuted. Thanks!

Rachael said...

Here are some of such stories and information on illegal abortions: http://www.cbctrust.com/nochoice/begin.html

Rachael said...

Actually what I ment was both: they had to aide in the prosecution of the abortion provider and sometimes they were prosecuted. So my question is: if we were to go back to abortion being illegal, would women also be prosecuted and if not how would we avoid prosecuting or bringing attention to them in the proces of procescuting the abortion provider?

The Pro-Woman Pro-Lifer said...

I had not heard that they were prosecuted - is that info given in the link above? I'll have to check it out.

We would need to stipulate in the law that was written that women would face no penalties.

Rachael said...

Yes, before legalization, in Canada, any woman or doctor caught procuring an abortion were prosecuted. The info can be found in that link. I don't know about the U.S. I did visit a site a while back on the underground abortion provider movement called "Jane", but I can't recall or find the website now. I've also had difficulty locating any sites on pre-Roe laws.

Michele Shoun said...

I’m a bit ambivalent on the subject, but I think someone needs to provide some arguments for the other side, such as “If it’s not murder, what is it? Negligent homicide? Manslaughter? Murder in the second degree? Reckless endangerment? Murder for hire? Solicitation for murder?” I’m not a prosecutor, so I don’t know all the categories that we could use. I do know that women who abort feel guilty about something.

I heard a Christian speaker once who had been approached by a woman who still felt guilty even though she’d sought God’s forgiveness for her abortion. The speaker shocked her by saying, “You know, it’s not your first murder.” She was referring to all of our culpability in the death of Christ. If God forgives us of that, then he also forgives us of any other sin, including abortion.

Might calling it murder send the right message – that this is something women don’t want to be involved in? I don’t believe being a feminist means we should shield women from the reality of and responsibility for their actions. Women don’t need to be pacified by making abortionists (mostly male) the only bad guys.

I’ve counseled teens saying, “Don’t you hope you’ll never become involved in killing someone?” I think most people have a horror of that (I do). Then I remind them that murderers don’t usually set out to do murder, but it creeps up on them because they’ve been involved in other lesser crimes that a death will help them cover up. Abortion is like that. It helps sinners cover up sexual sin, lies, cowardice, etc. Murder doesn’t have to be malicious, just self-interested.

We are right to expect women to be strong and responsible for their actions. The pro-life movement should continue to empower them to not cave in to their desire for self-preservation and the murderous wishes of boyfriends or others – pro-abortion friends, schools, employers, etc. – but to make good decisions that will allow those who are truly vulnerable to live. I found it ironic that a feminist blog would accede to the thinking that women are weak.

The Pro-Woman Pro-Lifer said...

“If it’s not murder, what is it? Negligent homicide? Manslaughter? Murder in the second degree? Reckless endangerment? Murder for hire? Solicitation for murder?"

If you're looking to call it something, I'd honestly just call it abortion. Abortion for hire...solicitation for abortion, etc. I think that calling it murder unnecessarily pushes women away from the pro-life cause. They don't think it's murder, therefore why would they want to receive help from someone who does? You would probably make the argument that this caters too much to women and ignores the truth. To that I would say that in order to be helpful to the most people (women and their children), this needs to be looked at differently than the drug dealer who kills someone for money, than the psychopath that murders his family, than the husband who kills his wife's lover to get revenge. Do you see the difference between those cases and the women that feel that abortion is their only answer?

Yes, some women (not all) do regret their abortions, and yes, God covers a multitude of sins, and abortion is definitely one of them. I just do not see the approach of "Do you really want to murder your baby?" as one that would work in real life.

I hardly think of my approach as pacifying women. I think that this is the approach that will hopefully diffuse the situation and be able to offer real help to women who look for an abortion or get one and need help. Women are already under a huge amount of pressure - pressure from within and without. I think that by punishing them for seeking an abortion heaps even more pain on them.

Yes, we are right to expect women to be strong and responsible for thier actions, but if the pressure and hardship is too much for her to bear, I would not advocate punishing her. Similar to what we do for suicide attempts, we offer help - not punishment. What do you suggest?

I found it ironic that a feminist blog would accede to the thinking that women are weak.

Not weak. Just vulnerable. Taken advantage of too much. Pushed around too often. In need of real help, support, friendship, answers. An unplanned pregnancy pushes some women into a tailspin, and when boyfriends, parents, friends, etc weigh in, the pressure can become too much. I see it happen all the time.