Punishment Aborted

This week Donald Trump guaranteed his place among great leaders such as Abraham Lincoln, FDR and Ronald Reagan. Drawing on the tradition of great American oratory, he expressed a vision for our nation which brought together two divergent groups that had never been able to agree on anything. His eloquence unified both the pro-life and pro-choice movements. Unfortunately for Mr. Trump, opposition to him served as the fillip for this unlikely coalition. It began when Chris Matthews asked the ubiquitous hypothetical question nearly every American politician receives. Whether running for Dog Catcher or President of the United States there’s a good chance someone will ask, “Should the Supreme Court overturn Roe v Wade what should happen to women who have abortions?” The presumptive GOP nominee said that she should face some kind of “punishment.” Outrage followed.

While indignation has tended to become the normal response to Trump’s observations, this one was different. A candidate, who’s avowedly pro-life at least for this week, became the target of scorn and derision for expressing his support of that position. Why? Mr. Trump’s critics have said his response showed that he didn’t understand the pro-life movement. They pointed to the fact that prior to Roe v Wade American abortion laws targeted the abortionist: not the “mother”.

This is where the defenders of the “sanctity of life” lose me. Is referring to someone who is voluntarily terminating a pregnancy as the “mother” really the right word to use? Those on the pro-life side ardently emphasize their commitment to “protecting the lives of the unborn”. If the fetus is “alive” that would mean abortion truly is “murder”, as they claim. If the person having the procedure is the “mother”—their word–, doesn’t that make her guilty of homicide? Based on that logic, if they’re really serious about this, why don’t they want some form of “punishment” for the woman? I find this inconsistent.

This advocacy of “punishment” for victimized women has an ignominious history on the hustings. When Clayton Williams ran for Governor of Texas against Ann Richards in 1990, he drew ire by comparing the crime of rape to the weather. “If it’s inevitable, just relax and enjoy it,” he said. (1) During the 2012 Indiana Senate race, Richard Mourdoch generated criticism for his thoughts on abortion. “And even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that is something God intended to happen.” (2) It’s hard to imagine being victimized through such a dehumanizing assault on one’s dignity. It’s more unconscionable to imagine forcing someone against her will to carry her assailant’s child. It’s unthinkable to tell this same woman that God wanted her to get raped.

While the media pounced on Mr. Mourdoch’s comments during the election cycle, I found his views consistent with the position of pro-lifers I’ve known personally. During my thirteen years as a Catholic school student the abortion issue came up numerous times. I recall the question of whether abortion should be permitted in cases of rape, incest or when the pregnancy jeopardized the life of the mother receiving the glib response that “all life is sacred”. On the latter point, I found it intriguing that the Church opposed the death penalty for murderers, yet believed a woman deserved to die for wanting to bring life into this world. I solved my share of geometric proofs in school. They didn’t teach me the reasoning skills to rationalize this concept.

As a precocious youngster I remember asking my seventh grade religion teacher why the emphasis on making abortion illegal. “Won’t people have them, anyway?” I asked. The nun chuckled and said, “Well, there are people who only do things because they’re legal.” What a trenchant observation. That would explain why Prohibition ended alcohol consumption before policymakers abandoned it as a complete failure. It would explain how the “Drug War” through draconian methods such as eliminating privacy, negating the Fourth Amendment and the enforcement of “mandatory sentencing” ended illegal drug use. It would also explain why abortions never occurred in this country until January of 1973 when the word first entered the American lexicon.

These kinds of discussions aren’t constructive. They reduce the excruciating decision to end a pregnancy to a joke. Let us never forget that abortion is a serious matter which affects the lives of all involved. America has too many serious political and economic issues right now for every election to get bogged down over specious arguments regarding abortion. The subject warrants a serious national dialog. Both sides placing more emphasis on education would help. (The ad campaign regarding “Meth Mouth” has undoubtedly deterred more potential drug users than the threat of jail time.) Criminalization guarantees our nation’s return to the era of back alley abortion clinics and unsafe medical procedures. As uninformed as Mr. Trump’s comment was, it showed at least some common ground exists between both the pro-life and the pro-choice camps. Let’s work together to keep abortion rare, safe and legal: not make it a punishable offense.

 

(1 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clayton_Williams Retrieved 4/2/16)

(2 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Mourdock#2012_U.S._Senate_election Retrieved 4/2/16)

 

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