May 10, 2021

Under Penalty of Death

Don’t Have a Choice

What should be the punishment for women if abortions were made illegal?

Some people protesting outside an abortion clinic were asked this question, and they were taken off guard:

Aug. 6, 2007 issue – Buried among prairie dogs and amateur animation shorts on YouTube is a curious little mini-documentary shot in front of an abortion clinic in Libertyville, Ill. The man behind the camera is asking demonstrators who want abortion criminalized what the penalty should be for a woman who has one nonetheless. You have rarely seen people look more gobsmacked. It’s as though the guy has asked them to solve quadratic equations. Here are a range of responses: “I’ve never really thought about it.” “I don’t have an answer for that.” “I don’t know.” “Just pray for them.”

You have to hand it to the questioner; he struggles manfully. “Usually when things are illegal there’s a penalty attached,” he explains patiently. But he can’t get a single person to be decisive about the crux of a matter they have been approaching with absolute certainty.

Rob, at Say Anything where he asks If Abortions Were Made Illegal, How Much Jail Time Should A Woman Get for Having One? states:

Regardless, the obvious answer to the question is: The woman should be charged with premeditated murder and sentenced with whatever punishment is associated with that in the jurisdiction she’s being tried in.

Abortion is, in fact, murder and no amount of biological gerrymandering, emotional rhetoric about rape and molestation or semantical arguments about who is and is not “a person” are going to change that.

But is this answer correct?  Let’s assume, for a moment, that he’s right in his supposition that the woman should be charged with whatever is the appropriate crime for killing a life.  Did she really kill it?

In fact, it may be the case that she’s more an accomplice or the get-a-way driver than the actual murderer, since in most cases the doctors and nurses that actually do the breaking, vacuuming and disposing of human life.  One would say that they should be the ones sitting on death row or locked away forever.

And you could also go so far as to say that if a woman was mislead into having an abortion, she could actually be a victim instead of the accomplice.  That difference could be hard to prove in a court of law should the woman ever be tried.

What do you think?  Who is responsible in the killing of a baby by abortion and what should their punishment be?

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23 thoughts on “Under Penalty of Death

  1. I just wouldn’t go there. The thought of punishing some woman who was desperate enough to get an abortion…talk about piling agony on agony. Presumably we are also going to punish the man who got her pregnant and who wasn’t prepared to raise his child?

  2. Wow. You ask the tough questions! I don’t have an answer for you, but I would venture to say that until the pro-life community can come up with a satisfactory answer, then protesting and condemning the women who choose abortion should stop.

  3. Because in most cases the doctor and nurses are physically performing the abortion, I believe that they would then be liable for 1st degree murder.

    I do not see a problem with defining the woman as an accomplice, if the unborn child was killed by someone other than herself. As an accomplice, a person has the same degree of guilt as the person he or she is assisting, is subject to prosecution for the same crime, and faces the same criminal penalties.

  4. Buffy, I think that you’re assuming motive– she may be desperate or in agony, or she may be “exercising her choice”. If we’re talking the court system, there are different punishments for different circumstances, and motives factor into play.

    Amanda, I don’t know who the arbiter is as for as “satisfactory-ness”. In other words, who decides when an answer is satisfactory or not? In either case, I know that most protesters are concerned that the woman not make a mistake that she will regret– the murder of her own child. So, they’re concerned for the woman, not seeking to judge her.

    Jenna, I’m right in like with your thinking on the topic.

  5. I don’t know who would decide satisfactory-ness (like the word, btw) either. I think that I do have to agree with you on the murder charges though. Abortion is murder. Anyone who performs the procedure is a murderer. Anyone who chooses to have the procedure is also a murderer. I watched the movie Premonition last week and, at one point, the main character asks, “If I didn’t stop so-and so’s death, is that the same thing as killing him?” And I think the answer to that is… yes.

  6. Wouldn’t this be almost exactly like if someone hires a hitman to kill his spouse? There may be a variety of reasons one would go to that point (some understandable, some simply callous, none legal) — and the punishment would and should follow suit.

    Isn’t the act of killing another human being, at its core, a despicable act? But, because of making abortion legal and painting it with the brush of “choice,” it has somehow become less so.

    Further, I strongly believe that the people (and the reasons for) killing unborn babies would look very different from the folks who would do so in a world where the act is definitely illegal and a punishable crime. So the question and the shock at the response belies a false assumption: that criminalizing a behavior will have no impact on one’s decision to participate. Hence, it seems so cold and heartless to demand criminalization.

    I believe that the murder of an unborn infant should carry the same punishment as murdering a 6 month old, a 6 year old or a 60 year old — at least life in prison or a death penalty (again, with exclusions for situations where the pre-born infant was abusive to the mother, just like there ought to be for woman who fight back against violent men). However, I’m confident that we wouldn’t be executing nearly as many cute little 15 year old girls who just got a bad break as some might think. The long arm of the law (esp. with the threat of prison or death) has a way of making regular folks (that is, the non-psycopathic types)figure out other ways to deal with their problems than to kill one another.

  7. Good point, Matthew. We cannot expect current rates of abortion to continue if it were made illegal. Therefore the question is misleading at best. It’s trying to setup the question just the way you suggest– do you want to kill the innocent 15 year old– when in reality it would be punishing those rare people that engaged in the activity knowing the consequences. It’s assuming that the demand stays constant regardless of the law.

    It’s like saying that we’re all free to eat apples, but if it were illegal and the punishment be 50 years in prison would we want to send all of our teachers to jail? It’s assuming the result (that the teachers would eat the apples anyway in the same quantity, disregarding the law), and reasoning backwards. I would assume that we’d have to find a way to put apple juice into automobiles or something, but we wouldn’t eat them.

    Which, by the way, is entirely the point.

  8. Considering the fact that abortion is murder, I say the women need to serve a life sentence, or receive the dealth peanalty.

    They took a life and I believe they should be punished for it.

    I have heard of court cases where a woman was pregnant and her unborn child was killed by a perpetrator, they received a long sentence for the murder of the unborn child.

  9. It does seem like a double standard. If someone kills your unborn child, they’re guilty of murder. If you kill your unborn child it’s a choice. There’s something wrong there.

  10. I agree that it’s murder and should be punished as such, women and doctors accordingly. But if it is ever made illegal, it’s going to go underground in a huge way. There are too many activists that feel it’s imperatively a woman’s right for it to die a natural death, just because of legalities.

    It took the Civil War to abolish slavery, and open people’s eyes to what an atrocity it was, and even took several more decades before blacks and whites were mingling as God meant them to…

    Abortion, euthanasia, sperm cells, cloning–it seems as time goes on, the odds are greater in this fight for sanctity of human life. I do wonder what will become of us in the next fifty years.

  11. MInTheGap asked

    I don’t know who the arbiter is as for as “satisfactory-ness”. In other words, who decides when an answer is satisfactory or not?

    I’d start with God as I’m sure you would too. The fact that the prolife movement can’t answer such a question is a sad endictment of the state of the American church.

    Once upon a time this was not all that hard. Sir William Blackstone wrote commentaries on the common law of England (upon which most of our laws are based) which clearly repudiate abortion as murder. The common law of England dates back to Alfred the Great who rewrote the laws of England based upon God’s standards of morality …the Bible.

    What’s my point ? Ultimately in our country we have not only a religious tradtion but a civil law tradition that tells us the Holy God of heaven has already decided what is a satisfactory answer.

    Abortion is murder.

    As for deciding the punishment of the mother….I would argue she is if acting willfully and knowingly, not just an accomplice but a co-conspirator.

    And “the lost book of the law” has plenty to say about co-conspirators.

    Shame on us as a people for not knowing what it says.

    (great blog btw!)

  12. I, too, believe that, should abortion ever be made illegal, the penalty for those who perform the abortion should be the same penalty as is prescribed for any other murder. I also agree with placing the woman in the category of accomplice.

    Here’s a thought: once upon a time, abortion was illegal. What were the consequences then, and would those former consequences be a satisfactory solution to this question?

  13. That’s a good question. I can’t remember any big “she killed her unborn baby, and now she faces death row” stories– even as propaganda to keep abortion legal. I wonder if there were really a lot of prosecutions. And truly, if these people really cared for the woman, and not just the money they could make off the murder, then they would shift to helping women find legal alternatives.

    I wonder if it’s a correct analogy to compare PP with the mob– hiring doctors to bump babies off for money.

  14. Here is an excellent article about the history of abortion. I don’t necessarily recommend the rest of the site but this history seems unbiased.

    I suggest anyone who is arguing we execute women for having an illegal abortion should at least read up thoroughly on the history of the subject. For the record I would like to see the number of abortions drop significantly but I don’t think threatening women with the death sentence is the way forward.

  15. I just want to state I didn’t recommend this site because of its views on abortion but it is a good summary of the history of abortion.

  16. The article is interesting. I found the statement by Augustine more interesting than some of it. I mean, I understood that abortion has been around a long time. People used to leave their children on hillsides to the wolves, offer them as sacrifices to gods, and kill them in the womb by whatever means they could– but I don’t find this as a justification for not making it illegal.

    There was a statistic mentioned in there that 30% of all pregnancy related issues were from problems due to illegal abortions in big cities. That’s interesting, but not very telling, since the percentage isn’t for the whole country and we don’t know what percentage of births take place in these cities.

    What I would also like to find out is just what punishments women were getting for committing an abortion while it was illegal. Not just what was on the books as the punishment, but what were they actually getting. My hunch is that very few women paid any sort of big penalty than whatever was happening to physically.

    Buffy, I can go with you that we shouldn’t be threatening women, as I believe that part of the answer is better help– a place to turn in time of crisis. Abortion is not the answer to the problem.

    However, there are definitely two classes of individuals here. There’s the ones that are doing it as a means of birth control– for them abortion being illegal is a deterrent. Then there are those that are doing it because of crisis– for them there should be someone to help.

  17. I agree with you that just because abortion has been more or less accepted throughout most of history doesn’t mean we should accept it now. I like to think that life has become more precious over the last thousand years and not less precious (well, in most countries).

    On the whole women have not received penalties for having illegal abortions. The people who have been punished have been the ones doing the abortion. Usually the punishment has been a few months in prison. (If you get the chance you should see the film Vera Drake, it’s about a working class woman who ‘helps girls out’ in the middle of the twentieth century when abortion in the UK was illegal.)

    There’s information about how people were punished in the US here was punished?

    The thing is that viewing abortion as a form of ‘murder’ is a relatively recent viewpoint because for a long time an embryo was just not seen as a living human being with a soul.

    Abortion by a doctor has been legalised simply because a lot of women who try to self-abort end up killing themselves or making themselves very sick, so having it done under relatively safe conditions is the lesser of two evils.

    If you make abortion illegal you’re taking a step backwards because you’re just going back to backstreet abortions. Women will not stop aborting because it is illegal.

    I think we would do better to look at the specific reasons why women have an abortion and address these issues. For example, this website tells us that most women have abortions because they either cannot afford to have a child or because they feel unready for the responsibility. These sound like clear ‘lack of support’ issues to me. There are also the issues of people having sex far too young, which our culture encourages, and an apparent inability to use contraceptives adequately.

  18. “If you make abortion illegal you’re taking a step backwards because you’re just going back to backstreet abortions. Women will not stop aborting because it is illegal.”

    I’m sorry, but women are responsible for their own actions. If I am stupid enough to walk out into on-coming traffic, then I need to deal with the fact that I will probably be seriously injured, if not killed. Likewise, if a woman thinks that it is a good idea to let someone stick her with a coat hanger, then she is making a decision that she knows will most likely cause her physical harm, if not kill her.

    In our current day, pregnant women can get LOTS of free services from the government. There is health insurance, food assistance, and welfare if she cannot work. It isn’t perfect, but being pregnant in the United States is hardly an inhumane situation. What I do think, however, is that it should be easier for families to adopt the children that these women do not want.

  19. Buffy, while I can definitely say that we need to figure out how to better minister to women, Jenna’s right. We have a lot of government provision for women. A whole lot more than we did before 1973. The other thing– like it or not– is that single parenting does not carry the stigma it once did.

    The site you quote for reasons why they are aborting acknowledges the presence of bias in the source, and if you take their numbers you have 42% saying what you said, but that leaves 68% having them for other reasons. And again, this also presupposes that the women believe that it is not a life inside them, but a blob of tissue.

    We can play what if’s all day. Suffice it to say you cannot state what will happen if the government were to say “Hey, this is a life, we cannot just kill it. Abortion is now illegal.” as I cannot. However, I know that if there were a crime associated with abortion, the number of people having them would go down. They would not look for the nearest coat hanger.

    The problems would still be there, the fear would still be there, and people would have to come in to minister to these people, but the number of abortions would go down.

  20. Did you change the photo? I seem to remember a different one that was quite a bit more … um, provocative. Perhaps my memory is wrong, though. 🙂

  21. Yes, Revka. Quick eye there. In context I think that the photo was borderline, but when it showed up on the sidebar next to the modesty posts there was some complaint that it wasn’t very modest. And they were right, so I took a crop of it and now we have this image.

    Did you want to weigh in on the photo’s appropriateness?

  22. Well, since you asked, I’ll let you know what I thought.

    I was rather shocked by the photo, to be quite honest. The unladylike way she was sitting diverted attention most inappropriately. This image seemed sexy and provocative, certainly not in keeping with you modesty series. 🙂

    Having said that, this is your blog, and the choice of images is entirely yours. 😀

  23. Well, I appreciate all input– and I’d rather someone say something that go away thinking I’ve gone crazy or something! 🙂

    Thanks for your honesty.

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