“How Much Jail Time for Women Who Have Abortions?”

A column by Anna Quindlen in the current issue of Newsweek begins:

Buried among prairie dogs and amateur animation shorts on YouTube is a curious little mini-documentary shot in front of an abortion clinic in Libertyville, Ill. The man behind the camera is asking demonstrators who want abortion criminalized what the penalty should be for a woman who has one nonetheless.You have rarely seen people look more gobsmacked. It’s as though the guy has asked them to solve quadratic equations. Here are a range of responses: “I’ve never really thought about it.” “I don’t have an answer for that.” “I don’t know.” “Just pray for them.”

Since the Pro-Life Action League sponsored the Face the Truth Tour demonstration at which this video was filmed — in fact, I was one of the Tour coordinators, so I was there that day — Quindlen’s article deserves a response from us. First, Quindlen didn’t check her facts. She says that the video was filmed “in front of an abortion clinic in Libertyville, Ill.,” even though the video doesn’t say anything about its taking place in front of an abortion clinic. In fact, it couldn’t possibly have take place in front of an abortion clinic in Libertyville, because there are no abortion clinics in Libertyville, as a quick check of a listing of abortion clinics in Illinois reveals. When a writer makes an error like this in the opening sentence of a column, it doesn’t do much to boost her cogency. The video’s purpose is quite clear: It sets out to show that the average pro-lifer has never seriously considered the question of what — if any — sort of punishment should be given to a woman who has an abortion. Here, Quindlen thinks, is the rhetorical equivalent of green kryptonite — “a slogan that stops people in their tracks: how much time should she do?” She works up to this conclusion:

But there are only two logical choices: hold women accountable for a criminal act by sending them to prison, or refuse to criminalize the act in the first place. If you can’t countenance the first, you have to accept the second. You can’t have it both ways.

Ironically, however, this is a false choice. Shortly after this video was first posted on the At Center Network website nearly two years ago — long before it first appeared on YouTube — Eric and I both posted comments responding to the video. This is what Eric said:

Take a look at the first few seconds of this video. You see a yellow-shirted coordinator unloading signs. Those selectively interviewed on the video are wearing a red shirts. The red-shirts are volunteers. They hold these signs because they want to educate Americans on the reality of abortion. That they don’t have all the answers to what a scarcely imaginable post-Roe world would look like says nothing about whether abortion is just or not. If the interviewer had bothered to interview Joe Scheidler or another of the Truth Tour organizers, he would have gotten a clear answer to the question. Clearly, the goal was to interview a handful of volunteers without all the answer, thus to “prove” that the pro-life movement hasn’t thought the issue through. The answer is that the abortionists would be penalized for performing illegal abortions. This is what the situation before Roe v. Wade was. Women would not be penalized — certainly not with prison terms. If you’ve got a problem with that, you can advocate for women to suffer the same penalty as abortionists if you want to, but we would oppose that. The original laws against abortion were advocated by feminists, who believed abortion exploited women. They did not wish to penalize the women being exploited by abortion; penalties were imposed on the abortionists. It’s unfortunate that abortion advocates are so little interested in learning the truth about abortion or really finding out what the leaders of the pro-life movement think. Or perhaps, from our perspective, it’s just as well they remain so deliberately benighted; the less they understand us the more they will continue with the same failed tactics that have helped turn America increasingly against abortion on demand.

This is what I said:

In spite of this video’s disingenuous portrayal of anti-abortion activists as a gaggle of slack-jawed bumpkins, it unwittingly dispels a common misperception. To wit, the absurd notion that vindictive pro-lifers are gleefully anticipating the day when they can begin rounding up women who have abortions and exact Torquemada-style justice upon them. The idea of punishing women who have abortions could not be further from pro-lifers’ minds. Several who were interviewed spoke about the need to treat post-abortive women with love and to provide them counseling and assistance. The last interviewee noted that post-abortive women are already “punished enough,” clearly recognizing that women are victimized by abortion. Pro-lifers’ real motivation is rooted in charity and compassion for unborn children and their mothers. This video makes that point abundantly clear, and plainly shows that vengeance has no rightful place in pro-lifers’ minds.

A few minutes ago, I spoke with Paula Emmerth, a longtime pro-life activist who was also interviewed by the man behind the camera at the Libertyville demonstration. When he asked her if she thought there should be a legal penalty for women who have abortions, she said:

No, I believe she should be dealt with in a pastoral way, compassionately, and that the crime should be placed on the physician who is breaking the law and performing the abortion.

Interesting, isn’t it, that you didn’t see her on the video?

Share Tweet Email