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.