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We Don’t Want To Punish Women, We Just Don’t Think They’re Citizens Responsible For Their Actions

[ 3 ] March 27, 2006 |

I see Patterico, in an extremely rare move, has actually tried to defend the transparently indefensible GOP abortion platform. Alas, it is a complete failure, as generally tends to happen when you make arguments on behalf of claims that are self-evidently wrong. His arguments defending abortion regulations I’ll pick up in a follow-up post tomorrow. (UPDATE: it’s here.) And with respect to his claim that not equating abortion with murder (which was, of course, the focus of Amp’s original post) “doesn’t mean that we are happy about abortion. We would like to see fewer of them,” it’s remains unclear why pro-lifers would focus on criminalization, which is a highly ineffective and inequitable way of reducing abortion rates. Bans on “partial-birth” abortions are, of course, simply irrational, and since they don’t save a single fetus but do endanger women’s lives, they can’t even be defended in “half-a-loaf” terms. But let’s focus on the his attempt to defend the pro-life tactic that gives away the show, the argument that abortion is a serious crime when doctors do it but not when women pay them to perform one:

Even when the policy is expressly designed to accomplish the exact opposite of punishing women, this guy employs sophistry to make the policy appear to be designed to punish women. For example, in his very first example, he argues that abortion bans which protect the mother from any legal consequences are designed to punish women, even though they are expressly designed to protect women from punishment. Meanwhile, they are inconsistent with equating abortion with murder, because you wouldn’t punish a contract killer and not the person who hired them.

Of course, the guy misses the fact that sensible people would rather not haul women into court and prosecute them for abortions. Morally blameworthy or not, these women are often more pathetic and desperate than the doctors who kill dozens or hundreds of babies a year. Given that juries may well nullify if forced to judge the guilt of such women, it makes perfect practical sense to pass a law targeting the doctors but not the women.

With respect to the claim that this policy doesn’t actually “punish” women, Neil and Amanda have already taken care of it. So let’s discuss the many other reasons this is abject nonsense from A to Z:

  • There’s nothing “sensible” about not wanting to haul women into court given pro-life premises. It’s simply can’t be a serious crime when doctors perform them but not when women choose to get them. The quantity is beside the point; 100×0 is still zero. The contract killing analogy remains 100% accurate. There is simply no rational justification for making abortion a criminal offense but refusing to apply any sanctions at all to the person who has the greatest moral responsibility for the action.
  • And, of course, giving away the show is the “pathetic or desperate” excuse. First of all, it is facially asinine–if we can’t prosecute people who are “pathetic or desperate,” the jails are going to get pretty empty. And, of course, we’re right at the heart of the matter: women who get abortions don’t really bear responsibility; after all, if they were rational they would obviously agree with Patterico. But we can’t hold these silly, hysterical women responsible for what we consider criminal acts as we would anyone else. The sheer contempt for women here couldn’t really be more obvious; again, it’s not an accident that the exclusion of women from punishment under abortion laws is a relic of the 19th century. (And, of course, since as we know Patterico seems to think that the state has exactly the same interest in regulating children and adult women, this isn’t surprising.)
  • And the jury nullification argument won’t fly, because barring a serious injury juries have typically nullified attempts to prosecute doctors too, even when social mores against abortion were stronger. And moreover, if abortion laws are going to be arbitrarily enforced, what does that tell you about the pro-life argument? Obviously, that the number of truly principled pro-lifers are a very small minority.
  • Finally, all of this remains true whether or not abortion is exactly the same as murder. Let’s say it’s more like manslaughter. (I don’t see how, since it’s premeditated, but let’s say.) The argument still immediately collapses. How can it be manslaughter when a doctor performs one, but not even a parking ticket when a women hires someone? Again, at least if you consider women rational, rights-bearing individuals it’s simply indefensible. Either you prosecute doctors and women for the crime, or accept that most people disagree with you and leave the criminal law out of it altogether. Period–no other solution is remotely defensible, and fatally undermines the only rational reason for the legislation in the first place.

Now, with respect to his argument that some pro-lifers “believe that they have a lot more to gain through persuasion, education, and peaceful protest,” well, hey, fine with me–that’s your privilege. But as soon as the criminal law–whether through outright (but hopelessly arbitrary) bans or regulations that affect only the most powerless class of women (more later)–gets involved, then we continue to have a problem. Create a social consensus, develop an actually coherent and rational set of policies, and until then keep the goals of the forced pregnancy lobby out of the statute books.