Abortion and Punishment

Donald Trump made news recently for, at least briefly, suggesting that women seeking abortions would need to face some sort of “punishment” if abortion were indeed outlawed.  Critics were quick to jump on The Donald for this statement and he retracted it.  But the basic idea is out there for consideration.  If unborn babies really are human beings, and if aborting them is essentially murder, why would we not punish someone for an abortion, when we punish other murderers?  It’s a fascinating question.  The article points out that punishing women for abortions is not something new, and is not something unknown in other parts of the world, yet clearly implies that it’s ludicrous to consider it here in the US.

Granted in our culture there is an emotional aversion to the idea of prosecuting a woman for seeking an illegal abortion (or attempting to perform one herself).  But a woman can currently be held legally responsible for actions that are potentially destructive to her unborn child, and someone else who inflicts bodily harm on a pregnant woman can be charged with manslaughter or murder if the baby miscarries.   Why would it be different if abortion were outlawed?

Immediately we need to recognize that only holding women responsible is completely ridiculous.  To my knowledge there has only been one immaculate conception.  If we want to take seriously the reality of abortion being murder, then both parties need to be held accountable.  But what if the guy doesn’t know she’s pregnant?  Doesn’t know that she’s trying to get an abortion?  Well, what about the guy who beats up or kills a woman but doesn’t know she’s pregnant?  Are they still held accountable for their actions?  Of course.  Why is this any different? The man is responsible for his actions, and if he doesn’t know the outcome of his actions, then he needs to control his actions appropriately.  I don’t think many women (feminists or otherwise) would argue with that logic as it applies to battery or assault or murder, yet we shrink back from it in this situation.

Why?  Because it’s sex.  Culturally we’ve determined that sex should be available to anyone, anytime.  Sex isn’t a crime.  However sex has a habit of creating babies, which means that sex isn’t as carefree and free-wheeling as we’d like to portray it as being.  It has some very real, serious consequences.  So far, the focus has been eliminating this consequence via abortion.  If we want to seriously deal with the issue of abortion as murder, we have to treat it within the larger context of sexual activity, and not many people (outside Catholics) seem willing to do that.

In this cultural context, the baby is the bad thing, an unwanted thing.  What is wanted is the sex.  What isn’t wanted is the commitment, the relationship, or the family that naturally result from sex.  We’ve criminalized the baby, rather than dealing seriously with the reality that unfettered, uncommitted sex has serious, long-term effects on the people actively involved as well as the larger community.  If we really want to deal with this question best, we need to acknowledge that the Sexual Revolution was misguided.  We need to acknowledge that in demonizing the miracle of a baby, in disdaining commitment, relationship, and family, we’ve cut the supports out of our culture and set us adrift.  Until we recognize this, we aren’t going to stop the violence and hopelessness that plagues our youth, and we aren’t going to stop killing babies.

It’s not a matter of criminalizing this or that, of punishing this person or that person, but rewiring our culture so that they value life.  Relationship.  Purpose.  Something beyond the moment.  If we are willing to work towards that, it won’t be necessary to worry about who to prosecute.


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