Can you have a crime without the corresponding punishment? This is a continuation of our analysis of the question, “Does Pro-life Logic Mean Women Who Get Abortions Should Be Punished?” by Greg Koukl of the Stand to Reason podcast. (Start with part 1 here.)
The question puts pro-life advocates in a dilemma. Declaring abortion to be murder demands punishment to fit the crime, but that makes them look heartless. Is there another way?
A parallel from the Bible
Here’s a Bible parallel to Koukl’s dilemma. In the story of Jesus and the woman taken in adultery (John 7:53–8:11), some of Jesus’s enemies try to put him in a no-win situation. Here’s a woman found in an adulterous situation, they say. What should be done with her?
If Jesus says to free the woman, he’s violated Mosaic law. If he says to stone her, he’s violating his preachings about love.
Koukl is in the same boat. He wants to charge the woman having an abortion with murder, but then he comes off as unfeeling.
Jesus’s response was, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone,” which isn’t actually part of the law. Koukl’s response is equally ungrounded. His wishy-washy compromise is to label the act as murder but pretend not to hear the demand that he attach the relevant punishment.
Moral question vs. policy question
Koukl wants to disentangle the moral question (Is abortion wrong?) from the policy question (If it’s wrong, what punishment should apply?). He says that you can correctly answer the first without having an answer to the second and assures pro-lifers in this situation that they’re not inconsistent.
Here’s his prerequisite for deciding the policy (punishment) question.
We can’t ever make a decision on the policy concern unless we’re really, really clear on the moral concern. (@8:40)
Are you really, really certain that abortion is murder? Then you’ve suddenly become really, really clear on the policy response as well. If the punishment that goes along with murder doesn’t apply, then the crime couldn’t have been murder.
This is what happens when pro-lifers play games with definitions. It suits them rhetorically to call abortion “murder,” so they do. They want to retreat from the consequences that come along with that definition. In the same way, it suits them to call a single cell a “person,” ignoring that in common parlance persons may be big or small, but that only extends down to newborns. Persons have arms, legs, and faces, and they aren’t microscopic. (I expand on this spectrum argument here.)
If you detach yourself from reality in one place, it may bite you in another.
Koukl next grants himself permission to avoid the policy question. Pro-lifers can judge the moral issue, but they can justifiably avoid the policy question if they’re not “specialists in the law,” he says. But how difficult is it to decide that if something is “murder,” it should get the penalties that go along with murder? The word and the punishment are well understood.
This is hardly the first instance of pro-lifers having their noses rubbed in the consequences of their thoughtless rhetoric. In November, 2015, three people were killed and nine injured by a gunman at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs. Koukl’s backpedaling about the consequences of his stand on abortion is like that from the pro-life community as they distanced themselves from a gunman whose actions were the reasonable consequences of their “abortion = murder” rhetoric.
(And I must point out a tangential but flagrant inconsistency. Koukl and other Creationists have no reluctance judging evolution. They lose no sleep over the fact that they’re not biologists and are not qualified to even evaluate the evidence, and yet they still declare evolution false. But in the case of abortion, Koukl is suddenly cautious about the boundaries between disciplines. He’ll call something “murder” but say that he’s not a “specialist in the law” and so can’t figure out what that means. Oh, please.)
As a final attempt to stop the leak in this dike, Koukl says that even if he were to grant that pro-lifers were inconsistent, so what?
[That] says nothing about abortion; it says something about us! (@9:40)
Yeah, and what it says about you is that you have no argument. If you can’t provide a coherent argument without self-contradictions, then it’s useless.
It certainly doesn’t follow [from our supposed inconsistency] that if we are being inconsistent in our view that our view is false. (@10:00)
I don’t conclude that your view is false, it’s just you’ve done nothing to argue that it’s true!
Continue with When Abortion is Illegal in America
Human life only holds value until you take it out of the package.
And then it is worth nothing.
— Trevor Noah
(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 4/27/16.)