But Women Are Infants!

Anna Quindlen recently asked the rather obvious question, "If abortion is murder, then shouldn't women who have abortions be considered murderers?" Quindlen's question was inspired by this classic YouTube video of an abortion protest in Libertyville, Illinois, where the anti-choicers hemmed and hawed and generally avoided the question.

Anti-choicers have refused to answer this question because it's a loser for them. Instead, they attack the doctors. This is, of course, rather significant proof that the pro-lifers are not exactly full of conviction that abortion is a moral wrong equal to murder. As Quindlen asks, "Is the message that women are not to be held responsible for their actions? Or is it merely that those writing the laws understand that if women were going to jail, the vast majority of Americans would violently object?"

Well, into the fray bravely wades National Review and their panel of experts, who answer Quindlen's questions, "Yes" and "indeed."

For example, Hadley Arkes, a professor of jurisprudence, asks rhetorically, "Is the implication that, if we use a gentler hand, we must not really think that human beings are being killed in these surgeries? It has apparently escaped the notice of Ms. Quindlen that the law does not need to invoke the harshest penalties for the sake of teaching moral lessons." Well, yes, but generally we do invoke the harshest penalties for the most heinous acts, like murder, for example.

Arkes continues, "In the tradition of legislating on abortion, a certain distinction was made out of prudence: On the one hand there may a young, unmarried woman, who finds herself pregnant, with the father of the child not standing with her. Abandoned by the man, and detached from her family, she may feel the burden of the crisis bearing on her alone, with the prospect of life-altering changes. On the other hand, there is the man trained in surgery, the professional who knows exactly what he is doing — he knows that he is destroying a human life, either by poisoning a child or dismembering it."

Boo! Evil, wicked Doctor! Never mind, by the way, that often the poor, unmarried young woman is instead a middle class, married woman, whose partner is standing beside her, sometimes literally. Also, never mind that if a single, eighteen-year-old, poor girl shoots a convenience store clerk, we charge her with murder -- even if the gun was given to her by someone older and wiser.

If you think there will be deviation from that line, you're wrong. Oh, Dorinda Bordlee argues, "How much jail time is appropriate for abortionists who expose women to startling increased risks of breast cancer, problems with future pregnancies, and a three to six times increased risk of suicide?" despite the fact that not one of those horrible threats to women's health are borne out by actual facts. But for the most part, the anti-choicers fall back on one of three arguments. The first is that women are just too stupid to have moral agency:

  • *"However, that tends to make us uncomfortable since we recognize the fact that many girls and women have abortions because they feel as if they have no choice, especially when health and legal authorities fail to tell them otherwise." --Pia de Solenni
  • *"[T]he woman is the second victim of abortion, and prosecuting women is counterproductive to the goal of effective enforcement of the law against abortionists." --Clarke D. Forsythe
  • *"No one wants to send a woman who has had an abortion to prison—she will suffer enough from her decision." -- Anne Hendershott
  • *"Society’s judgment about the relative lack of culpability of the mother of an aborted child in no way undermines the humanity of that child. The law assigns differing degrees of culpability in various situations — including killing other people — all the time. If you kill someone in self-defense, you get zero punishment." --Wendy Long (A response: so you're saying that fetus had a gun?)

The second is that doctors are evil:

  • *"Beyond the woman herself, there remains the abortion industry — a billion-dollar-a-year industry that some, at least, see as preying on women nearly as much as it preys on unborn children. Despite all the changes in the realities of abortion over the last century, it remains as true today as it was 200 or 400 years ago that going after the woman seems less important going after the industry." --Joseph Dellapenna
  • *"And the person to stop is not the woman, who may have only one abortion in her life, but the doctor who thinks it a good idea to sit on a stool all day aborting babies. End the abortion business and you end abortion." --Fredericka Mathewes-Green
  • *"Yes, I suppose there are women who have abortions for truly despicable reasons, like spite or sex-selection. But many women (I’ve read affidavits and testimonies from plenty) have abortions because they are coerced by boyfriends, bosses, parents, etc." --William Weber

And the third -- and probably most honest -- is to simply admit that America would never go for abortion bans if women could get arrested for having abortions:

  • *"Pro-life advocates generally stay away from the question of how much time a woman should serve for having an abortion because they’re fighting a battle that is both moral and political." --Pia de Solenni
  • *"Finally, it does seem that the public is more willing to accept a law that punishes doctors rather than mothers. Pro-lifers can thus achieve their goal of ending abortion without provoking a political backlash. That is neither unprincipled nor unwise." --O. Carter Snead
  • *"It makes far more sense, for example, to pursue the drug pushers, who do widespread harm, than drug users, who inflict harm mainly on themselves. Does this mean drug abuse is not illegal? No, it just means that striking higher up the food chain makes eminent sense. The same common sense points to targeting abortionists, not women." --Walter Weber (Another question: so you're saying abortion "inflicts harm mainly" on a woman having abortion? And that backs the idea that abortion is murder...how?)
  • *"The proper approach (after Roe) is to ask, what policy would reduce the number of abortions as much as possible now? For 34 years, American women have been taught that their unborn children have no claim on them — mere lumps of tissue to be discarded if inconvenient. If the law is to recover its sanity, it will have to proceed by degrees, forbidding what it can and enforcing its prohibitions by the mildest punishments sufficient to achieve the desired results." --Matthew J. Franck

It is Franck's argument that I think is most interesting, and most telling, because he alone of NRO's panel of geniuses admits that putting women in jail for having abortions may someday be necessary, and desirable. "It is plausible that we could begin by reducing the number of abortions in America by 90 percent with zero jail time for any woman who obtains one. In a more just society a generation or two after Roe, further reductions might require stronger laws. But by then, such laws would once again be tolerable and recognized as just." In short: yes, women who have abortions should go to jail, but we aren't going to get anywhere admitting that right now. Better to wait a generation or two.

It's honest. And it is the one argument advanced here that doesn't treat women as unwitting victims. And it tells us what we know: that this is a goal of pro-lifers, eventually. But they'll chip away at rights until they can reach their grand denouement.

As for the rest, it's as confused and muddled as anything on the Libertyville video. The fact is that Quindlen's question is a fair one: we jail drug users, we jail people who commit manslaughter, we jail people who may have had a really good reason to murder, who got coerced into it, who were not thinking rationally when they did it. If abortion is murder, as we are assured it is, there's no reasonable way to argue that a woman having one deserves no punishment.

There are, as Quindlen notes, two possibilities: women are not moral agents, or abortion is not murder. The pro-lifers listed here, with the exception of Franck, seem to answer that question emphatically that women are not moral agents, and abortion is not murder. Nobody who believed that abortion was murder could seriously argue that it was the moral equivalent of smoking pot. And nobody who believed a woman was ultimately morally responsible could argue that she deserved no punishment for causing death. Arguing that some women later regret having abortions is a straw man: I'm sure many murderers are regretful, too. No, the anti-choicers are anti-choice. They do not like that those childlike women can go have an abortion. They know better than those women, after all. And that holds for everything from sex to contraception to working outside the home. As always, ultimately, chipping away at abortion is a means to chip away at the independence of women, and I wish the anti-choicers would just admit it.

(Cross-posted from BotML)

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