I hesitate to wade into the fever swamp that has arisen over the past few days over the question of whether women who have abortions should face prosecution. (A question that is, as a friend suggested to me earlier this morning, the “ultimate gotcha question” for abortion advocates to pose to politicians running on a pro-life platform.)
And yet…and yet…
I’ve made no secret that I have serious problems with the way the pro-life movement handles certain aspects of the decades-long war. I’ve written about the problem with abortion politics, and the need for us to demand, unequivocally, intellectual honesty (read: scientific truth) about abortion. In 2015, I went to the March for Life and interviewed marchers on the street about why they still come after 42 years with no major successes. I keep trying to understand what we’re doing wrong. I keep trying to understand why we seek a political solution to an inherently moral problem.
And now pro-lifers are up in arms because, when pressed repeatedly by Chris Matthews, Donald Trump said that women who seek abortions should face “some form of punishment.”
This isn’t a post about Donald Trump. It’s a post about us. About how we think, about how we approach this topic, about why we fail to win even the debates over abortion, which should be a slam dunk.
You see, fellow pro-lifers, we have very little credibility. We say abortion is murder, but then we often act like it isn’t.
In today’s world, it’s almost impossible not to know someone who has had an abortion, or helped someone else get one. Many of us even have these people among our circle of loved ones. Family members. Friends. We live with the knowledge of this horror marring the past of those closest to us. That abortion is a sin of murder is indisputable. That murder is (in a civic sense) a crime is also indisputable.
But when someone that such a crime should be punished, the very loudest voices arguing that abortion is a crime turn their ire on the person saying it.
The fog of cognitive dissonance we have had to live with for over 40 years on this issue no doubt mitigates individual culpability to a degree. But it is neither illogical nor absurd to suggest that, in the event that abortion were outlawed, there should be some criminal penalty levied against the mother who seeks one.
I’m not motivated at all to prosecute all the hurt, even broken women, who have been led into this error by force or deception. But jurisprudence demands that we be consistent, not arbitrary. And the reason this issue is being discussed right now was a question of jurisprudence – and policy moving forward.
The pro-life movement is nauseatingly dishonest when it comes to certain issues. Think of all the pro-lifers who admit exceptions in the case of rape and incest.
Really? So it’s murder except when it reaches a certain level of discomfort? Tell me more.
There are not a few women who are victims of abortion, flat out — coerced into an action they want no part of. There are others who are both perpetrator AND victim — women who make the choice freely, but are deeply conflicted over it, and who likely would not make such a terrible choice if it were not so readily available, or if they knew they had better options. And there are some who, as hard as it is to understand, are callous and bloodthirsty. These last are proud of the abortions they’ve had.
This spectrum, like any human action, has a diverse set of factors that must be taken into account when assessing culpability, both morally and legally. Not least is the near-total societal approval for this heinous act.
But if a day came when abortion was again outlawed, such circumstances would require the assessment of criminal penalties for those found guilty of what would then be a criminal violation of the law. I’m not anticipating or arguing for Nuremberg trials for past abortions here. That would be impossible and unwise. I’m talking about the fact that a broken law necessitates consequences — for the purposes of restitution, rehabilitation, or simply the satisfaction of justice. Even addicts, who may well have a morally limited freedom because of their addiction, are still arrested and prosecuted when caught using illegal substances.
We have to make sense in how we approach this. Nobody should be shouted down for bringing the logical consequences of a desired change in the law on abortion to the table — least of all those who are advocating for that very change to the law. I understand that there are many emotions involved, and not a few such advocates are too close to this issue for comfort, having been guilty at some point in their lives of abortion themselves.
But these emotions cloud our logic, and mar our credibility as advocates for the unborn. We must not allow this to happen. It’s incredibly damaging to the cause.
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher and Executive Director of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have seven children.