Thursday, March 09, 2006

Should the Women Be Charged?

Via Digby and The Talent Show... At Center Network has a video* of anti-abortion protesters being asked their feelings on women who have illegal abortions.

The video brings up an interesting point, one I haven't seen discussed elsewhere: if abortions are illegal, what should the penalty be for the woman? All of the restrictions I've seen subject the physician to sanctions of one sort or another, but nobody mentions the woman.

As I've mentioned, I spent many years as a police officer, so here's my take. And read the whole thing before you start screaming, please... you'll see my logic at the end.

Scenario 1

A woman wishes to terminate an unwanted pregnancy, so she enlists the assistance of her local MD. Since most insurance plans don't cover abortion in the first place, and certainly would not cover an illegal procedure, the woman pays the doctor to perform the abortion. Following the logic of the right-to-life crowd, a human life is terminated in the process.

Scenario 2

A woman wishes to terminate an unwanted marriage, so she enlists the assistance of her local gangbanger. The woman pays the gangbanger to kill her husband, which results in the termination of a human life.

Since the current crop of laws really do not take into consideration the motive for seeking an abortion -- mother's health, incest, rape, convenience, whatever -- the motive here is unimportant. Using the same logic, it is unimportant to worry about the motive in the marital case, whether it be infidelity, insurance, abuse, or boredom. In both cases, the woman pays another person to end a life.

There should be no question in anybody's mind that in Scenario 2, both the hitman and the woman are guilty of murder and conspiracy to commit murder. They both receive hefty prison sentences (in some cases, death sentences). I don't think anybody would argue the logic of charging both participants in this case. The hitman obviously is guilty, in that he whacked the husband, while the woman is obviously guilty of arranging the hit (in other words, conspiring with and paying the hitman; it is a settled legal principle that all conspirators are equally guilty of any criminal acts conducted in the furtherance of the conspiracy).

How does this differ from Scenario 1? In both cases, two people conspire to end a human life. In both cases, a payment is made for services rendered. In both cases, a human life is terminated. (Remember, for the purposes of this discussion, we are ignoring the woman's motivation, because the law ignores it.)

For the life of me, I cannot see any difference.

Yet in the AT Center video, the anti-abortion protesters, for the most part, don't believe the woman should face any legal consequences (most say the woman will have to face God, or live with the consequences of her actions, which is, to me, legitimate). These are the same people, however, who are in favor of charging the physician with murder. Unless it could be proven that a doctor was performing unwanted -- as opposed to illegal -- abortions, both parties logically must be charged with murder and conspiracy. Doing otherwise would be akin to charging the hitman in Scenario 2, and giving the woman a free ride. Consenting to -- or actively seeking out and participating in -- an illegal activity is conspiracy. And a conspiracy that results in the termination of a human life exposes both conspirators to murder charges.

Since the law in South Dakota (and many of the other laws under consideration in other states) would effectively make all abortions illegal, any woman who seeks out or consents to an abortion must be equally guilty in the eyes of the law.

But the protesters in the video don't see it that way. Most say the woman should not face legal consequences. Several say it would depend on the circumstances, or the woman's motivation. Only one says that prison time -- even a life sentence -- might be appropriate, "based on the circumstances".


The whole point behind the South Dakota law is that circumstances don't matter.

If you have or perform an abortion, you are violating the law.


Since the women in the video do not feel the woman should be subject to legal sanctions, they are, in effect, saying that the woman is not committing a criminal act. If having an abortion is not a criminal act, why is performing an abortion a criminal act? Selling drugs is a criminal act, but so is buying drugs. Engaging in prostitution is a criminal act, but so is soliticing prostitution.
Bribe receiving by a public official is a criminal act, but so is bribing a public official. For the life of me, I cannot see any difference.

Since these protesters are at least implying the woman is not committing a criminal act by having an abortion, where is the justification for imposing criminal sanctions on the doctor for performing the abortion?

The answer, I think, is this: having an abortion is not illegal, performing an abortion is. Sounds hypocritical, right? Not necessarily. If providing an abortion is illegal, but having one is not, it gives the anti-abortion crowd a little loophole for when Buffy gets pregnant. See this post from the Rude Pundit as to why having a loophole is so important (Warning: VERY strong language). But it still allows the fundamentalists to force their beliefs down everyone elses' throats.

They want to have their cake and eat it too.

The only other option I can think of it that "women can't be trusted to control their own emotions/desires/passions/bodies", and that we men must take care of the "little ladies". Could this be it?

One thing I've noticed over the years (although it is not evident in the At Center video) is that the most vociferous anti-abortion activists are men. This has always irked me. It is not the men who endure the stresses of pregnancy (other than finding "their supply" cut off for a few months); it is not the men who are stuck with the vast majority of child-rearing duties (especially since most of the men seem to be Southern hillbillies who wouldn't condescend to doing "woman's work"). But it is the man who gets to make these decisions?

I think -- and this is just my opinion -- that these hysterical anti-abortion men are afraid of letting women make their own decisions. Why? Because if a woman can decide for herself whether or not to have an abortion, she may start deciding other things on her own... like whether she wants to stay with Bubba after he whacked her around last week. Or whether it's fair for her to be working two or three jobs while Bubba spends his time drinking, hunting, and bass-fishing with the boys.

What American society needs to realize is that having an abortion is like getting a tattoo: it is the decision of the person (in this case, the woman) affected, and of her doctor. It is not, and should not, be a decision made by anyone else, even a father. It is a decision that, once made, cannot be reversed. It is a decision that leaves its mark on a woman for the remainder of her life.

But it is not, and should not, be a crime.

I'm not sure where I stand on abortion. On the one hand, a girlfriend long ago had an abortion. Not because her life was at risk, or even her health, but because she was not ready for the commitment a child would require. She would have been unable to finish college, or pursue a meaningful career. Could that baby have been the next Sophocles or Schweitzer? I don't know. The baby could have grown up to cure cancer, or discern the secrets of the cosmos. We discussed it, and I made my feelings known, but ultimately, it was her decision, and hers alone. I believe she made the decision that was right for her, at that time (and yes, I agreed, and supported her throughout).

On the other hand, several years later, another girlfriend became pregnant, and her personal beliefs prohibited abortion. Again, we discussed all the various options; she decided to have the baby. Our son -- who is going on 12 -- is a bright, wonderful boy. He consistently aces math and science tests ... without studying. I could smack him, if I weren't so damned proud of him. His mother and I married, and although the marriage didn't last, we will have a life-long bond. This woman made the decision that was right for her, at that time (and again, I agreed and supported her, and continue to do so to this day).

Is abortion wrong? I don't know. I do know, however, that it is a very tough decision, probably the hardest decision a woman will ever have to make. It is a decision that should be made after discussion with the father (assuming the sex act was consensual). The father should be allowed his input, but the decision is the woman's alone. The father must support the woman regardless of the decision, both financially and -- more importantly -- morally and emotionally.

*The video requires RealPlayer, which has a free player available. If you haven't already installed it, I would recommend having it as the default player only for Real Network's proprietary formats; use Windows Media Player for everything else. And for God sake, don't choose the auto install -- it sets Real as the default player for everything and is a bitch to reset.


  1. You laid that out very nicely. Personally I think the whole anti-abortion issue is the yanking of the female chain by men. Last bit of control over women to "keep them in their place". I could write a zillion words about this but they have all been written before. Bottom line, it's a woman's choice along with her Dr. There is no murder. If men gave birth to children we wouldn't be having this discussion. I think we can all agree on that.

  2. POP,

    Coming from a person with your talent, thank you very kindly. I was kind of surprised to see you had left the old digs, but your new place looks wonderful. Pease come back often.