Vox’s Anna North argues that Williamson’s past suggestion that women be executed for aborting their babies is an “actual policy recommendation” with “prominent” political support. But considering her evidence was weak even by Vox’s standards—a quickly-recanted statement from an Idaho politician and a handful of statements and proposals that endorsed punishment but didn’t specify the death penalty—others have instead decided to admit that most pro-lifers have no interest in punishing women…which somehow proves we’re big, fat phonies.
On Friday, the Washington Post saw fit to publish not one, but two op-eds arguing that Williamson’s position demonstrates a logical consistency that’s sorely lacking from the pro-life consensus, which is that punishment for abortion should fall on the abortionist alone.
“[W]hat Williamson said is also, from his point of view, intellectually honest, which is more than can be said for many who oppose abortion rights,” deputy editorial page editor Ruth Marcus wrote. She claims the rest of us don’t want to prosecute women as murderers simply because we would “prefer to avoid the implications of [our] asserted conviction that life begins at the moment of conception.”
WaPo senior political reporter Aaron Blake agrees. “If abortion is murder, isn't that at the very least being an accomplice to murder?” he asks. “If you stop short of that, it sort of undermines your entire argument that abortion and murder are the same thing.”
Yes, we really believe abortion is murder. Yes, the standard consequence for taking a life is at least imprisonment, if not necessarily capital punishment (which many pro-lifers oppose, demonstrating more consistency than our liberal betters). But to conclude we must therefore support throwing women in jail (or worse) demonstrates a glaring ignorance of abortion’s legal history, as well as an unsurprising disregard for how carefully pro-lifers have thought through this dilemma.
Limiting prosecution to abortionists isn’t just something modern pro-life activists made up for PR purposes; it’s a settled legal standard that long predates Roe v. Wade. On Thursday I quoted Villanova University law professor Joseph Dellapenna’s explanation that prosecuting women for abortions was found to be detrimental to prosecutions of far-more-dangerous abortionists. Today let’s refer to Americans United for Life president and attorney Clarke Forsythe:
In fact, the irony is that in nearly all of the reported court cases explicitly addressing the issue of whether a woman was an accomplice to her abortion, it was the abortionist (not the prosecutor) who pushed the courts to treat the woman as an accomplice, for the obvious purpose of undermining the state’s criminal case against the abortionist (including the abortionist Ruth Barnett when Oregon last prosecuted her in 1968).
Leslie Reagan, in her 1997 book When Abortion Was a Crime, admits that states did not prosecute women for their abortions and concedes that the purpose behind that law was not to degrade women but to protect them.
But our stance is not only pragmatic; it’s compassionate. As former Planned Parenthood clinic director turned pro-life activist Abby Johnson said back when Williamson originally made the comments, “abortion is the ultimate violence against women and their unborn children. We must not, in turn, respond with violence against those who are misled and living in spiritual blindness.” She added that most women seeking abortions say they felt forced into the “choice,” meaning that punishment would only compound an already-nightmarish situation.
Justice also requires recognizing that while every individual does bear responsibility for the evil they do, neither the woman (nor even the abortionist) is the only guilty party. For generations, the very institutions we’re supposed to look to as authorities—government, public schools, academia, the media, leading medical journals, and even some churches—have indoctrinated people with the lies that life doesn’t begin at conception and that “terminating a pregnancy” only destroys some vaguely-defined mass of tissue. Women who go to abortion “clinics” are met with supposed healthcare professionals whose job is to lie to them.
There’s nothing inconsistent about considering all this when deciding how much culpability we should assign to women who abort, just as Abraham Lincoln sought to abolish the institutionalized, indoctrination-backed evil of his time without punishing former slaveholders.
Now, long after we’ve recriminalized abortion and uprooted its propaganda from polite society, future generations might well decide that abortion-seeking women should be presumed to fully understand what they’re destroying, and face prosecution. But that’s not the world we live in today, where fighting to protect mother and child alike more than suffices.
Finally, it can’t be stressed enough that these “here’s why pro-lifers don’t really think abortion is murder” arguments are nothing new. They’ve been a staple of pro-abortion apologetics as long as I can remember, for a simple reason: the never-ending quest to dismiss the pro-life argument without refuting it.
Let’s assume for a moment that everything Marcus and Blake said about us was true, and that pro-lifers really are just too squeamish to carry our rhetoric all the way. Would it follow that life doesn’t begin at conception? Would it change the settled biological criteria that define the preborn as every bit as human as Jeffrey Goldberg at every stage of development?
Of course not; as one of the Left’s favorite thinkers likes to say, science is true whether or not you believe in it. Yet a debate about the science is the last thing most pro-aborts want, and recycling tortured theories about our motives is the easiest way to change the subject.
So rather than most pro-lifers’ disagreement with Kevin Williamson somehow proving we’re wrong, the Washington Post’s spin is yet another reminder that deep down, many of our most vocal foes know we’re right.