So there’s a new You-Tube video spreading around meant to be the final word in exposing the hypocrisy of anti-abortion advocates. In what many seem to believe is highly telling, an interviewer asks a group of demonstrating pro-lifers that, should abortion be declared illegal, if they would punish women who had abortions. Apparently the confused looks, murmured “I don’t know, I don’t think they should be punished,” and the otherwise general indication that they hadn’t thought much on the issue, somehow shows that pro-lifers do not believe that abortion is murder, or even the taking of human life. There is a huge amount of self-congratulatory straining of shoulders, clapping themselves on the back for having discovered this one-shot knockdown argument.
What should be surprising is that from all of these heavy science-advocating religious-detracting gurus, we have very few comments on the rigor of such a study and what conclusions you can actually draw from it. While I am in no way implying that the responses in this video were “cherry-picked,” or that the people studied were not representative of pro-lifers as a whole, I would suggest that seeing this as a knockdown argument is perhaps giving way too much credit to this video.
Before we start into justifications, though, it should be somewhat disquieting that the answer wasn’t obvious to all the demonstrators, though one girl had a very good response, the subject of which I’ll touch on later. The answer, of course, is if abortion is illegal, it should be punished. Breaking the law should entail punishment. So, if a group of pro-life demonstrators have difficulty in answering this, maybe we should take some time and delve into the matter.
Perhaps the first thing that is being neglected by all of these gleeful cheers for secular science, is that while pro-lifers deplore the crime of abortion, we still have compassion for the difficulties people go through when contemplating abortion. We understand to a large extent the shock, the fear, the bewilderment, and even despair that women, especially young women still in school, go through when they find themselves unexpectedly pregnant. We understand that the belief that the future has just been ripped to shreds plays a large role in many abortions that are contemplated. So to suggest that being lenient on a woman who has somehow procured an abortion translates to not believing that abortion is not murder is to completely remove Christian charity and compassion from the picture.
To a large extent, we have a tendency to view women who have had abortions as victims—victims of a society that tells them religion is evil, that the material is all-important, and that they are fully justified in destroying the life carried within them—and thus need no further suffering in their lives. They need love, truth, and prayers. That is not to say that we don’t also view those who have had abortions with a fair amount of censure, as well. But, as one woman in the video said, once the abortion has been committed, a woman has to then suffer the guilt for the rest of her life. And there is plenty of evidence that such suffering does occur.
Moreover, there has always been a disparity between what is legal and what is moral, between what is permitted and what is right. We Catholics understand that there is reckoning beyond this life. While we always seek and strive for justice in this world, we know that perfect justice can never be attained by human measures. For some, the need to punish, legally, someone who has had an abortion, is less important than other factors. The first of these, of course, is the psychological, emotional, and physical damage abortion entails. The second is that no amount of human justice can ever compensate for the murder of an infant, who has not yet been permitted a breath of air or the sanctifying grace brought through baptism. (Of course, the punishment factor is more to act as a deterrent, since no amount of human restitution can ever bring the child back.) Third, to some extent this heinous act, while there is plenty of evidence that it does harm society in general, is a matter between the person who has procured an abortion and God. By this I don’t mean some amount of soul-searching and dealing with the conscience, but the actual facing down of the Almighty at the time of judgment and discovering just what a terrible thing had been done. We know that ultimately divine justice will render all their due, and to that extent, we’re not so heavily concerned with the exact legal consequences.
This is not to say that there shouldn’t be any legal consequences, especially if abortion is deemed illegal and especially if abortion is deemed a homicide. Those crimes carry heavy punishment because of the gravity of their nature.
In consideration of what punishments should be applied to people who have illegally had an abortion, that depends on how abortion is classified when it is illegal. Even if abortion is classified as a homicide, it may be that abortion would not entail as heavy penalties as other forms of murder. Due to the inherent emotional and psychological turmoil an unexpected pregnancy evokes, there may be some amount of mitigation that is just naturally absorbed into the statutes. On the other hand, it is hard to describe abortion as anything other than premeditated. The balancing of all of these factors requires a more legally educated mind than your average demonstrator on the streets possesses (as many in the video pointed out).
Personally, I believe that abortion is murder, and that for women having the abortion, it should carry a sentence comparable to manslaughter. In contrast, I believe that anyone who performs an abortion should be charged with first degree murder. If we assume that it is a physician performing the abortion (and not the young woman self-administering with a coat hook in the alleyway, as the cliché runs), then we have a situation where the emotional factors we mentioned before do not apply, and thus the abortion can be nothing but cold-hearted, premeditated murder.
Part of the problem of properly adjudicating such statutes and punishments for abortion are the cases where it is not clear cut that an abortion has occurred. There are some drugs that can be fairly easily procured that, when taken, induce a miscarriage. The question becomes, in the case of a legitimate miscarriage, should there be any legal investigation to ensure that it was a miscarriage and not an abortion? On the other hand, if we simply state that any miscarriage is free from investigation, does that not provide a fairly extensive loop-hole in the system? In situations like these, it can become very difficult to judge intent, and the means of handling this are not obvious.
There is also the question of what happens in various medical procedures that carry a risk of losing the fetus. For example, it is morally licit to perform surgery to transplant a fetus that has implanted in the fallopian tubes in an attempt to plant it safely in the uterus. This operation carries a high risk of losing the child, but nevertheless is licit because an ectopic pregnancy runs counter to the natural functioning of the body and places both mother and child at risk. The question then becomes, if a child is lost in such a procedure, would the physician involved face investigation? If yes, many honest doctors would find themselves involved in a court case while completely innocent. If no, then another loop-hole potentially exists in which false diagnoses could lead to risky operations that carry the “unfortunate” result of “losing” the child. These situations also weigh heavily on how abortion is classified and how it is punished.
Other concerns deal not so much with the concerns of the mental state of the women seeking abortions, but instead the concerns harbored by the people being questioned in the video. Part of the problem that we face in making an accurate and thoughtful response is trying to abstract from a state where abortion is legal to a state where it is not. It is so often the case that someone who is directly connected to a particular crime tends to act more compassionately and favorably towards people in general who commit such a crime. It is unfortunate, but most of us know someone or know someone who knows someone who had an abortion. In asking if people we should punish people who had an abortion, our answers are colored by whether or not we would want to punish our friend, our cousin, or our father’s brother’s nephew’s cousin’s uncle’s former roommate. Whether or not we actually fear retroactively applying punishment on these people, our natural empathy makes us wary of being too hasty in handing out punishment. On the other hand, if we are not closely connected to someone who has had an abortion, we could maybe find it much easier to simply say, “All dem wimmin should be larked behind bares.” Of course, neither response does justice to the full extent of the situation.
And this brings me to my final point. I’ve already expended over one thousand words in a painfully brief exposition of a portion of the problem. If you look at the You-Tube video, what you see is a single, simple question repeated endlessly, with maybe some short interactions, but in general with only brief responses. Only a couple of times was the conversation allowed to go on for more than a minute. The short interactions with the interviewer scarcely allow for the dialogue necessary to reveal the true depth of a person’s position. To handle such an inquiry in this fashion indicates a lack of desire for any depth of discussion. Furthermore, we have to consider the format in which we see people on the street having their answers videotaped. The question then becomes how big a factor political correctness plays. We see a questionnaire produced with a particular ideological bent made to send short “zingers” at people knowing that if the interviewed answer “incorrectly,” that opens the doors to public excoriation by the most vocal of the PC crowd. The last woman interviewed wanted to know where the interviewer was from, and her guardedness suggested to me that she felt like she was being set up for something unpleasant.
I would like to believe that were I ever posed with this set of questions personally, I would answer much the same as I have written here. And I would hope that now knowing that the “game” between pro-life and pro-choice activists has taken this particular turn, that other pro-lifers will consider the matter deeply and provide an even better rebuttal than I have here.
What saddens me though, is knowing that these “advocates” of human intelligence and rational discourse will pay the arguments no mind and instead resort to the mindless ideological chants that we’ve all come to know and love ever so much.