And They Accuse Us of Brainless Sloganisms

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.

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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.

33 Responses to And They Accuse Us of Brainless Sloganisms

  • Matt McDonald says:

    Ryan,

    a good discussion.

    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.

    No less than a private murder of an innocent person in their home or anywhere else that they ought to be safe.

    I think in justice, one must give abortion the weight in law that it is due, and under the conditions that apply to homicide in general. The justice system has a means of considering the degree of free will attached to the killing of another human being under particular circumstances, and provides manslaughter when it is diminished. To specifically define in the law that for a mother to kill her unborn child as less serious a crime than a man killing a guard while robbing a bank is not just.

    Obviously, there would need to be intermediate measures to eliminate access to abortion and educate the populace before it could be charged criminally.

  • j. christian says:

    I’d be interested in reading anything the Church might officially say about this (???). Absent that, I’m sure there are some articles out there by Catholic thinkers on what just abortion laws would look like (???).

    (My wife and I were just talking about this last night, how Margaret Atwood’s “Handmaid’s Tale” has deluded people into believing that the pro-life cause wants a world in which every miscarriage is investigated by secret police or some such nonsense.)

  • Ryan Harkins says:

    No less than a private murder of an innocent person in their home or anywhere else that they ought to be safe.

    Of course, I realized that the statement I made sounds very soft, and I tried to qualify exactly what I meant. Let me try again to explain what I meant there.

    With abortion between a person and God, I don’t mean exclusively, because obviously abortion has severe societal impact. I mean that ultimately, all justice will be meted out, and everyone will receive their due. Some people who have abortion will sincerely repent, spend their time in purgatory, and eventually come out cleansed of their sins. Others will not repent, but due to ignorance of important details, they will spend their time in purgatory and come out cleansed. Others may persist in placing their lifestyle above God, reject God, and be lost forever. In the end, we will all reap what we have sown. To that extent, worrying much over the worldly punishments we would exact on people who have abortions is secondary to trying to outlaw abortion. Furthermore, the problem has legal ramifications that would be better served by a team of legal (and hopefully faithful Catholic) advisers who can try to make the system as a just as possible in light of the crime. Finally, trying to state on the spot what punishments should be exacted runs the risk of being vindictive and retributive in nature, rather than corrective and just. Thus, given the complications, the nuances, and everything else, it is simpler at the moment to say, “I know eventually everything will be squared away at the final judgment, and then it will be between a person and God, regardless of what happens legally.” It may seem like a cop-out, but I personally take it as an acknowledgment that the answers are neither simple nor adequately addressed by a lay person on the streets.

    I do believe a discussion of what abortions laws should look like is important, and that maybe we could take some time to look at them here. My view is in my post, but what do others think? Do you agree that a doctor giving the abortion is more culpable (or at least deserves a harsher sentence) than the woman receiving the abortion? Do we need to worry about the claims that every miscarriage would be investigated?

  • Matt McDonald says:

    Ryan,

    I don’t think I misunderstood you, I just disagree. I would propose that, ultimately, abortion should be defined as homicide, the justice system would sort out whether the subject’s actions and state of mind merit charge and conviction under manslaughter or murder. Obviously, if I was involved in a case I would orient towards the former for mothers, and the latter for the purveyors, but not necessarily in every case.

    I would agree that in the general case the doctors deserve a harsher sentence.

    I don’t think we need to worry all that much about miscarriage’s being investigated, any more than they already are. Doctors or others who discover evidence of intentional miscarriage would have the same obligation to report such to the authorities as I would assume they do for any other case of wrongful death. It certainly would not be the place of police to seek out these cases without any sort of complaint. This will certainly happen though, and law enforcement should probably focus efforts on the sources of the drugs rather than the recipients.

  • Ryan Harkins says:

    I don’t think I misunderstood you, I just disagree.

    Well, obviously (tongue-in-cheek) if you disagree with me, you misunderstood what I said! Heh…

    How exactly, then, do you disagree? We seem to be in lockstep with that abortion should be defined as homicide, with some statutes that pay attention to the state of mind of the woman getting an abortion. My statements in regard to abortion being between the woman and God were not to exclude any legal ramifications, but to explain why some people haven’t given the punishment issue much thought, and why some are justified in not concentrating on the issue. It was also an attempt to show why this pro-abortionists aren’t justified in using the lack of a definite answer as indication that pro-lifers don’t really believe abortion is murder.

  • Matt McDonald says:

    Ryan,

    some statutes that pay attention to the state of mind of the woman getting an abortion

    I believe the current statutes which make the distinction between manslaughter and murder #2, or #1, should suffice without a specific reference to abortion and the mother. It’s perhaps reasonable that this case could be addressed provided that it does not preclude the conclusion that mother is guilty of a greater crime should circumstances dictate.

  • Ryan Harkins says:

    I believe the current statutes which make the distinction between manslaughter and murder #2, or #1, should suffice without a specific reference to abortion and the mother. It’s perhaps reasonable that this case could be addressed provided that it does not preclude the conclusion that mother is guilty of a greater crime should circumstances dictate.

    Not knowing the exact statues, I might hesitate, but in general, yes, I’m lockstep with you here, as well.

  • Concerning the Video, a couple of points you did not make. First, when I am out on the lines with my sign, and someone approaches me, I get slightly nerved up, or stressed – not a lot, just a bit. There is always the possibility that person is going to start ranting at me or something. That stress response is increased for most people when someone is holding a camera on them. The stress is increased even more when they ask you a tough question, and they are obviously trying to get you to say something they can use. Second, most people, even those on the lines, are not practiced speakers adept at articulating ‘hot button’ topics on the fly. You can tell clearly several of the interviewees are just hoping the camera people will go away.

    It is more of a cheap shot that you make it out to be.

    Beyond that nit picking, great post. It is true we need to talk more in the pro-life community about what criminalizing abortion would really look like.

    Also, if abortion were criminalized, imagine what would happen. How would the opposition react? Not just politically. Statutes and penalties should also include dealing with people who run conspiracies (organized crime) to provide abortions.

    Thanks for a great post.

    Paul @GNW_Paul

  • Ryan Harkins says:

    Thanks for the input, Paul! I admit, I did gloss over the majority of the impact of being confronted by someone with a camera just looking to get a few snippits of dialogue that they can use. Thanks for pointing that out!

  • Ryan Harkins says:

    Tito,

    Thanks. As per request, I have delivered. Of course, while the bucking bronco is one of UW’s great symbols, it was also on the back of the Wyoming state quarter. (And NOTHING else!!!! We could have put in Devil’s Tower behind it, but noooooo….) So I figured it would symbolize well both my Wyomingness and my University of Wyomingness, the former being important because I might just graduate one of these semesters… (Thinking December…)

  • Cminor says:

    Ryan,
    Historically in the U. S. women who underwent illegal abortions were not punished. Prior to the 19th century incomplete understanding of human embryology combined with the difficulty of proving intent in an early abortion meant that there was little effort made to prosecute anyone connected.

    The first generation of feminists–the suffragists of the 19th century–opposed abortion to a woman. This was only partly because of the risks the procedure held for women; they–perhaps more than most men outside the medical profession–quickly realized the implications of the scientific advances in human development. The Revolution, the feminist paper launched by Susan Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, often decried abortion in the strongest terms and refused to sell advertising to purveyors of “patent medicines” (many of which were abortifacients.)

    Anthony, Stanton, and their sisters-in-arms called for punishment for those who performed abortions, but not for women. Their reasoning was simple. They recognized that, while there were women who aborted out of selfishness, most did so out of desperation and for reasons that stemmed from the inherent inequality of women in the society of the day. Women were, in a sense, co-victims with their murdered babies even when they survived the abortion.

    I think there is a case for continuing this policy were abortion to be outlawed again:

    1. While legalizing something does not make it right, it does create the public perception that it is. Likewise, outlawing something creates the perception that it is wrong. Thus there are good reasons for outlawing heinous acts apart from the opportunity for prosecution of the perpetrators.
    2. Our legal system allows for compassion in the case of crimes committed under duress. (Moreover, the ethics upon which the system is founded call for compassion in such cases.)
    3. Even today, women who resort to abortion frequently do so because they feel they have “no other choice.” Abandonment or compulsion by the baby’s father or other family members is still not unusual, and societal pressures still lead many women against their consciences. Abortionists are not as a rule coerced into the trade.
    4. Women procuring an abortion may or may not have full understanding that they are taking a human life; abortionists do, or should as they are usually medical professionals.
    5. Women who have abortions do not profit financially from them (there are nonlethal alternatives to the costs of birth and childrearing) and may suffer physical or emotional harm; abortionists generally profit handsomely.

    There. Now when somebody sticks a camera in your face, you have some ammunition.

  • Matt McDonald says:

    Cminor,

    while it’s likely that a transitory period could be considered, it would be unjust to treat abortion so much less serious a crime than murder. What about women that kill born infants because of stress and pressure? Do they not largely meet those conditions? Now, every case is different and there is a degree of lattitude permitted to prosecutors, judges, and juries with regard to charges being laid, and sentencing, and that is the place to determine any mitigating circumstances, no differently than any other murder.

  • Now I’ll try that Avatar again.

    Cminor, I agree that the abortionists should be treated more severely under the law than the women, but women who seek out abortions should be judge in court – their circumstances can be considered then.

    Paul

  • Cminor says:

    Matt and Paul,
    I’ll concur and dissent, but with the caveat that if you embark on this discussion with the guy with the camcorder, anything you say will be used against you. ;-)

    Matt, you point out that abortion isn’t really different from killing a born infant, and I agree. Nonetheless, if the objective is to obtain legal protection for unborn children, I would caution against impeding that end in the name of justice. I don’t think we’d have a chance of overturning Roe v. Wade if we made prosecuting aborted women part of the deal.

    It will be a great day when aborting a preborn baby is regarded by society at large with the abhorrence normally reserved for infanticide, but I don’t think we’re going to accomplish that overnight. Our society may well evolve to that point eventually.

    In the meantime, we have to work with the society we have. Were an HLA to be passed tomorrow, we would still have to contend with a sizeable segment of the population that had become accustomed to thinking of abortion as a “right” and of the preborn baby at whatever stage as a “blob of tissue.” We can make it harder for them to act on that viewpoint, but we will not be able to change every heart and mind. (I live in former Jim Crow country. Trust me, it may take a few generations.)

    I’d predict that if we prosecuted aborted women, many would end up getting clemency because of duress anyhow–few women decide to have abortions independently of the decisions of others. There’s the impregnator’s part in the act to consider, for example, and often that of family members or employers. I don’t think it’s at all just to single out the woman for special punishment just because she’s the one who carried the baby. Besides, we could end up with some awfully crowded courtrooms. But this could turn into a very long discussion, so I’ll leave it at that.

  • Matt McDonald says:


    I’ll concur and dissent, but with the caveat that if you embark on this discussion with the guy with the camcorder, anything you say will be used against you. ;-)

    Agreed. Wrong time and place for sucha discussion.

    Matt, you point out that abortion isn’t really different from killing a born infant, and I agree. Nonetheless, if the objective is to obtain legal protection for unborn children, I would caution against impeding that end in the name of justice. I don’t think we’d have a chance of overturning Roe v. Wade if we made prosecuting aborted women part of the deal.

    It will be a great day when aborting a preborn baby is regarded by society at large with the abhorrence normally reserved for infanticide, but I don’t think we’re going to accomplish that overnight. Our society may well evolve to that point eventually.

    Absolutely, I am all for incremental approaches that make slow and steady progress. Even a law which bans abortion except in the case rape/incest/life of mother would be a massive step forward and would also serve to help develop the culture of life.

    In the meantime, we have to work with the society we have. Were an HLA to be passed tomorrow, we would still have to contend with a sizeable segment of the population that had become accustomed to thinking of abortion as a “right” and of the preborn baby at whatever stage as a “blob of tissue.” We can make it harder for them to act on that viewpoint, but we will not be able to change every heart and mind. (I live in former Jim Crow country. Trust me, it may take a few generations.)

    Very true, as I acknowledged earlier, a transitory period would be necessary.

    I’d predict that if we prosecuted aborted women, many would end up getting clemency because of duress anyhow–few women decide to have abortions independently of the decisions of others. There’s the impregnator’s part in the act to consider, for example, and often that of family members or employers. I don’t think it’s at all just to single out the woman for special punishment just because she’s the one who carried the baby.

    Here is where we depart company. I agree we shouldn’t single out the woman, and I’ve never said we should. Only that all the pertinent parties should charges to the extent of their participation, and degree of culpability. Let the legal system figure out the details on any particular case.

    Besides, we could end up with some awfully crowded courtrooms. But this could turn into a very long discussion, so I’ll leave it at that.

    What does the severity of the charge have to do with the degree of overcrowding? Or are you suggesting no charges at all?

  • Cminor says:

    Oh, I’m all for going after abortionists. Beyond that, no, I’m not for going after women; my intent was to suggest that if we did, it would be only fair to go after anyone who by action or inaction led the defendant to abort. Hence my remark about the “crowded courtrooms.” Somewhere in there was intended to be the suggestion that I think making a case stick at this point would be difficult given cultural factors. Sorry, it was late.

    At some point in the future, there may well be a case for prosecuting aborters. But I think society would have to have reached a point at which there was no compulsion to abort.

  • Matt McDonald says:

    I’m not for going after women

    Could we apply this exemption to early infanticide? Or is it only for women who kill their babies in the womb that no criminal penalty applies? We must apply the law evenly, that is why justice wears a blindfold.

    action or inaction led the defendant to abort.

    Wow, that’s a giant leap of jurisprudence. There is no legal system in the world which would consider that standard to make a person an accomplice to a crime. If I don’t give money to a beggar, do I go to jail with him when he robs me, or someone else? Good grief.

    At some point in the future, there may well be a case for prosecuting aborters. But I think society would have to have reached a point at which there was no compulsion to abort.

    If a person is coerced into commiting a crime then there is either a diminished or eliminated culpability, the law provides for that and is within the power of prosecutors, judges and juries to respond accordingly. Why should there be a special case for women who murder their unborn children?

    My whole point is related to the ultimate situation in which abortion is not readily available on the open market. Where any abortions which take place will be obvious to the participants to be murder, if they proceed then they ought to be charged. Obviously, as long as abortion is legal, or appears legal it isn’t just to target those who reasonably believe they are not comitting a crime.

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