I know there are at least a few HuffPo readers who self-identify as "pro-life." So here's a question for you: How much time should she do?
One goal of the anti-choice movement is to outlaw abortion. But, as Anna Quindlen points out, anti-choice activists are almost never able to identify what the legal consequences should be for women who terminate their pregnancies. So, pro-lifers, tell me: What should the penalty be? How much time in jail should a woman face for abortion?
Anti-choicers emphasize that a fetus is a person, invested with all the same* natural rights as you or I. Life begins at conception. That fertilized egg has all of its DNA, making it just as human as all of us and endowing it with the right to live. But if a fetus is a person, and abortion indisputably kills a fetus, then abortion is murder -- deliberate, pre-meditated murder. That certainly isn't a new concept for anti-choicers -- the "abortion is murder" line has been around for decades now. But we punish people for murder. We sentence them to long prison terms, often for life. Sometimes we execute them.
Do you support executing women who have abortions?
Do you support jailing them for life? For a few decades?
What if they have multiple abortions? What if they had access to all the literature and information that anti-choicers believe women considering abortion should be required to receive, and therefore could not be construed as ignorant or unaware of what they were doing? What if they acknowledge that they know exactly what abortion entails and thtey feel no guilt or shame for terminating their pregnancies?
Lawmakers in a number of states have already passed or are considering statutes designed to outlaw abortion if Roe is overturned. But almost none hold the woman, the person who set the so-called crime in motion, accountable. Is the message that women are not to be held responsible for their actions? Or is it merely that those writing the laws understand that if women were going to jail, the vast majority of Americans would violently object? Watch the demonstrators in Libertyville try to worm their way out of the hypocrisy: It's murder, but she'll get her punishment from God. It's murder, but it depends on her state of mind. It's murder, but the penalty should be ... counseling?
If women are so infantile that our bad acts toward fetuses must be punished with counseling or left to God, does that apply when our bad acts are directed at born people? If I kill my next-door neighbor, can I simply say that because of my tiny lady-brain and tinier lady-morals, I just didn't know any better? Can I get counseling or some smiting instead of jail time?
Anti-choice legislation has centered on the idea that life begins at conception, and that the legal defintion of "person" should include fertilized eggs, embryos and fetuses. According to the National Right to Life Act, introduced to Congress this past January (and several times before that), "The terms `human person' and `human being' include each and every member of the species homo sapiens at all stages of life, including, but not limited to, the moment of fertilization, cloning, or other moment at which an individual member of the human species comes into being."
The definition of murder is "killing a person with malice aforethought." If personhood is established at the moment of fertilization, and all people are invested with equal rights under the law, then there is no getting around the fact that under anti-choice legislation, women who terminate pregnancies are committing murder -- or at the very least, paying someone else to do it.
Some anti-choicers argue that doctors should be punished, not women. So I'll ask this:
How much time should doctors do?
Do you support executing doctors who perform abortions?
Do you support jailing them for life? For a few decades?
How do we justify prosecuting doctors for performing abortions, but not the women who pay them to perform the abortion? Are there other situations in which a person can pay another person to commit an illegal act -- an illegal act that allegedly takes a human life -- and not be held culpable?
What about women who self-induce their own abortions, without the aid of a doctor? Do they qualify as illegal abortionists? Should they be prosecuted?
How can it possibly be legally (or even morally) consistent to attach full rights to a fetus and then treat its death as somehow less important, or different, than the death of a born person? Is a fetus's death less important, or different, than the death of a born person?
Some anti-choicers argue that women are the secondary victims of abortion, that they do not know what they are doing and cannot be held responsible for their actions. If that's the case, how can we hold women responsible for killing born people? If a woman pays someone to kill her three-year-old child, can she simply argue that she didn't know it was murder and therefore lacked the malicious mindset to qualify it as such? Can she say that she was a victim? If abortion is illegalized and the law states that terminating a pregnancy is murder, then surely women will be on notice, which makes it difficult to argue that the poor dear just had no idea what she was doing. If what she needs is some good pro-life counseling, will that be the new standard for any woman who commits murder? Why does the age of the "person" killed, or their born or pre-born status, change the punishment for killing them?
Anti-choicers sometimes offer the solution of criminalizing abortion, but not qualifying it as murder and not prosecuting women. But that isn't the route that anti-choice legislation is taking. And if we do go that route, why? Is killing a person through abortion less bad than killing a person after they're born? If not, then what justifies the different treatment?
To complicate things a little more: If life begins at conception, and from the moment of fertilization an egg is a full-fledged human being with the same rights as you or I, what do we do about calculating the death rate? The miscarriage rate? After all, more than half of fertilized eggs fail to implant in the uterus -- are a majority of Americans dying before they're even born? What about identical twins, who at the moment of fertilization are one person but days later become two?
What do we do about all those embryos in fertility clinics? Do we force women to implant them and carry them to term? If not, how do we justify forcing women to carry naturally-implanted pregnancies to term? If the answer is that we don't force women to be implanted with embryos, but we don't kill the embryos either -- we just let them be -- then would it be OK for pregnant women to simply remove their embryos/fetuses without purposely killing them and just hope for the best?
If a fertilized egg is a full-fledged person under the law, what other legal activities -- other than abortion -- would have to go? We know that most "pro-life" groups already oppose fertility treatments and the use of contraception. Would we make those things illegal? What would the punishment be? Would we outlaw any medical treatment that could potentially harm a fetus, even if foregoing it meant that the woman would experience severe health complications or death? What about ectopic pregnancies, wherein a fertilized egg implants outside the uterus, usually in the fallopian tube, threatening the woman's health and life? Ectopic pregnancies are never viable, and it is often possible to simply give the woman a shot of methotrexate, which dissolves the egg, or to perform surgery to remove the pregnancy and saves the woman's life. But that would qualify as the intentional killing of a human being. Do we go with the current "pro-life" solution, which involves removing the entire fallopian tube, compromising the woman's fertility and killing the embryo -- but is justified because it wasn't a direct killing?
What about pregnant women engaging in behaviors that are risky for the fetus? Can she be prosecuted for child abuse or negligence if she, say, drinks coffee while she's pregnant? If she eats tuna? If she smokes? If she drinks? What about if she goes skiing? What if she didn't know she was pregnant, but should have known, and she does something risky -- like goes binge drinking every night and survives off of Cheetos? Willful blindness? Neglect? What if she miscarries, and perhaps you can attribute it to something she did -- negligent homicide?
What do doctors do if they're faced with a life-threatening pregnancy? Do they force the woman to continue it, knowing it will kill her? I mean, it's not the fetus's fault, and it can't really be construed as self-defense to terminate the pregnancy. And their lives are equal, aren't they? Do we just let nature take its course, then?
Finally, what about if we're deciding between an embryo and a born child -- who wins out? Lots of feminists have asked this question before and we've never gotten a straight answer, so let me try again. Take this hypothetical, adapted from a great many abortion-related conversations: There's a fire in a fertility clinic. Inside the clinic there's a three-year-old boy who you've never met and have absolutely no connection to. There are also 100 embryos in a box, none of which you have any connection to. You only have time to run into the clinic one time. You cannot carry the boy and the box at the same time. What do you do? Do you save 100, or do you save one?
Those who want to see abortion criminalized need to think long and hard about the consequences of their ideal policies. They need to think long and hard about their true beliefs when it comes to fetal personhood. Because this post is long and I know all your time is valuable, I'll even let busy "pro-life" readers off the hook with this one. If you don't have time to address all the above-raised points, just answer this one: How much time should she do?
*This point is highly disputable -- after all, no born people have the right to physically attach themselves to someone else and use that person's body for their own survival, against the will and at the physical expense of the attachee. But that's another post. Or a Judith Jarvis Thomson article.