Greg Koukl and Alan Shlemon of the Stand to Reason podcast recently responded to an issue raised in the U.S. Republican campaign, “Does Pro-life Logic Mean Women Who Get Abortions Should Be Punished?”
Here’s how they outline the dilemma for pro-life Christians. Christians declare that abortion is murder, but you can’t have a crime without the appropriate punishment. Both the abortion provider and the woman herself should be severely punished—this is murder, after all.
On the other hand, that paints Christians as callous and unfeeling, so maybe we shouldn’t impose a harsh penalty on the woman. Or maybe any penalty at all. But in that case, what happened to the “abortion = murder” claim? Was that just hyperbole? Does the Christian carrying the sign know that abortion isn’t really murder? If it’s just a little harmless exaggeration to make a point, how compelling is the pro-life case?
Though the boys tried mightily to extricate the average Christian from the punish-her-or-not dilemma, none of their attempts eliminated the problem.
Attempt 1: suicide analogy
If only the labeling of the crime (which the pro-lifers want) could be detached from the associated punishment (which they don’t want). They point to a recent article that gives an analogy they’d like to follow. From that article:
Until the late 1960s, suicide was illegal in the United States. Of course the successful suicide cannot be prosecuted. Still, given that the great majority of suicide attempts are unsuccessful, we could in principle prosecute large numbers of people for unjustified attempts on their own innocent lives. Why don’t we do this?
We don’t now because attempted suicide has been decriminalized. But in the 1960s, in some states it was a misdemeanor or even a felony. That is, it was a crime with a punishment. (Is there any other kind?)
Public opinion has since softened. The article continues:
In general, it doesn’t seem either prudent or constructive [to punish suicide attempts]. Suicidal people typically aren’t a public safety risk. Anyone who wants to end his own life probably needs support and care.
The parallel is that women who have abortions are also not public safety risks, which allows Christians to sidestep punishing those women.
What actually happened was that the hypocrisy of toothless laws against suicide led to it being decriminalized. Does the pro-life movement want to simply repeat that blunder and criminalize abortion with no threat of punishment? Is this just hyperbole, or is abortion actually murder? If so, demand the appropriate punishment.
This parallels the problem with many Christian anti-gay arguments. They point to the Bible to argue that homosexuality is wrong (it doesn’t say that—see here and here), but then they refuse to bring along the Old Testament’s punishment. With both abortion and homosexuality, there can be no crime without a punishment.
Drug use is another parallel. The drug user is the pregnant woman, and the drug dealer is the abortion provider. Punish only the latter, Koukl says.
The analogy argues that drug users only hurt themselves, like the person attempting suicide. Drug users do hurt society if their habit drives them to crime—robbery or burglary, for example—but of course when they commit those crimes, they get the regular punishment. When a woman asks for and then consumes a chemical abortifacient (the preferred approach up to about two months of gestation), she should logically receive the punishment due any crime she committed.
As with suicide, the trends aren’t going where Koukl wants them to. Attempted suicide was criminalized; now it’s not. Drug use was criminalized, but that’s being reduced. Crimes are punished consistently; it’s just that some things are no longer crimes. Koukl wants the unbalanced situation where abortion is a crime … without punishment for the central participant.
Attempt 3: fetal homicide laws
Koukl notes that 38 U.S. states have fetal homicide laws in place. These laws apply to “fetuses killed by violent acts against pregnant women.” There you go—killing a fetus is homicide.
There’s just one point that must be emphasized. It’s a small point. Indeed, it’s so trivial that I hesitate to muddy the water by mentioning it, but it must be made clear: sometimes the pregnant woman very much wants to keep the pregnancy and sometimes she very much doesn’t! These are two completely different situations, and fetal homicide laws are meant to protect the woman and fetus in the first situation only. For our discussion, this is a red herring.
Read the other posts in this series:
- “Pro-Life Advocates Running from the Consequences of their Actions“
- “When Abortion is Illegal in America“
- “Arguing the Pro-Life Case (Such as It Is)“
- “Do Pro-Life Advocates Want to Reduce Abortion? Sure Doesn’t Look Like It.“
If men struggle and strike a woman with child
so that she has a miscarriage,
yet there is no further injury,
he shall be fined as the woman’s husband may demand of him,
and he shall pay as the judges decide.
— Exodus 21:22–3
Image credit: Anna Levinzon, flickr, CC