In an recent MSNBC interview, Chris Matthews and Donald Trump were discussing the logistics of banning abortion in the United States. Mr. Matthews asked the Republican frontrunner if women who have an abortion should be punished since Mr. Trump’s pro-life views hold that abortion is the willful destruction of a human life and, as such, should be dealt with under law. Mr. Trump answered, yes, there should be some form of punishment. Women who are driven to abortion certainly deserve compassion and help, but punishment? No. The ancient code of chivalry that commands men to hold all women as sacred applies even, if not especially, in the case of women who have abortions.
The cultural corruption rampant in the United States alone makes the question of punishment for abortion absurd. Many if not most women understand abortion as a legal and acceptable procedure, and have for their whole lives. Some vague idea of their baby being just a “potential person” is enough to ease their conscience and make the decision, unpleasant though it is nonetheless. The voices proclaiming the truth about abortion are not easily heard, drowned out as they are by a liberal, relativistic agenda. Physicians and medical organizations support the practice of abortion, and many women choose abortion when it is suggested or imposed upon them by family, friends, social workers, or doctors. Are such women punishable? Though there must be some element of willful ignorance involved in any abortion, that willful ignorance is so ingrained in society that it is an almost invincible ignorance, and therefore an almost innocent ignorance. What woman actually chooses to kill her child? Women who choose abortion simply do not wish to be pregnant. If women are not morally aware of their actions, they are not morally responsible, and are victims together with their babies. They do not deserve punishment.
The legal and logical practice for a century before Roe v Wade in America was to prosecute abortionists who performed these atrocities and not women, for the purpose of law is to protect, not to degrade. The hypothetical case of illegal abortion in the future might, for the sake of illustration, be compared to that of present day infanticide: a crime judged less serious than first-degree murder because its perpetrators are mostly a danger only to their own children and under tremendous duress. Given that abortion is, in reality, a type of infanticide, the emotional and psychological conditions that typically accompany it might preserve the guilty from punishment under law. Hence, history’s concentration on criminalizing physicians in terminating the life of a child in utero in accordance with founding father James Wilson’s words in his “Of the Natural Rights of Individuals”:
With consistency, beautiful and undeviating, human life, from its commencement to its close, is protected by the common law. In the contemplation of law, life begins when the infant is first able to stir in the womb. By the law, life is protected not only from immediate destruction, but from every degree of actual violence, and, in some cases, from every degree of danger.
This understanding of the unborn person is entirely counter-intuitive and counter-productive to the notion of punishing the woman. The antiquated, yet moral, laws against abortion were designed to dissuade and prevent abortionists from their trade, and protect the desperate people who sought their services. It was, in fact, very rare that women were ever charged in the United States as an accomplice in performing an abortion upon herself. There are only two recorded cases in which a woman was included in a legal indictment concerning abortion: one in Pennsylvania in 1911 and one in Texas in 1922. Since this latter prosecution, there is no other documented case in America. Given this precedent, which is grounded in the grisly reality of abortion, it is unreasonable to think that any new attitude or policy against women who seek an illegal abortion would change in the future.
One year prior to the 1922 case, Margaret Sanger founded her birth control clinics to promote women’s decisions to dictate their fertility and further the science of eugenics. This movement opened the door to the acceptance of abortion, and illegal performances accelerated in the 1930s. By the 1960s, Planned Parenthood was born and the United States Supreme Court can claim the ensuing national moral-contradiction tailspin that now puts a child’s life and its constitutional rights at the mercy of the decision of its mother.
Abortion does not demand punishment to bring justice to the dead. All are punished already, and have been for decades. Abortion is the single most monstrous reality that plagues this nation, snuffing out the beautiful, innocent lives of millions of children every year. The effects are traumatic, even if they are quiet. The scars run deep, even though they are invisible. The disease is present, even as it is denied. Though some form of punishment for willingly killing an unborn child through Mr. Trump’s supposedly illegal procedure may be a matter of strict justice, it is not inconsistent for people who believe that abortion is murder to desire to season justice with a necessary mercy. Every American stands under judgment for their country—a country that allows for the butchery of babies. This is a truth that all will have to answer for in one way or another. We pray for mercy.