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Should Women be Prosecuted if They Have an Abortion?

route 18 abortion signs-001
A sign near our home in rural Northwest Ohio

Imagine for a moment a banker, automobile dealer, racecar driver, and a career criminal get together to plan a bank robbery. The banker will provide blueprints for the bank and the combination for the safe. The automobile dealer will provide a fast getaway car. The racecar driver, putting his NASCAR skills to work, will drive the getaway car. The career criminal will be responsible for actually robbing the bank. Is only the career criminal culpable for the bank robbery? Or does material participation in this criminal enterprise make each participant guilty of the crime? I think all of us would agree that every person who played a part in the crime is criminally liable.

Evangelicals believe that abortion is murder. From the moment of conception, according to pro-lifers, that which grows in the womb of the mother is a human being who deserves complete protection under the law. Imagine my surprise then, to hear Evangelicals distance themselves from Donald Trump’s recent statement that women who have abortions should be punished. Granted, Trump later walked this comment back, but his first comment accurately reflects taking pro-life dogma to its logical conclusion.

If abortion is murder, then every person who materially participates in the killing of the zygote/fetus is equally culpable. Pro-lifers are quite willing to use the force of law to prosecute doctors who perform abortions. Some Evangelicals even go so far as to say that performing an abortion is a capital crime worthy of the death penalty. In past years pro-life zealots have murdered abortion doctors. Many within the pro-life movement think that such murders are justifiable homicide. In 2005, Polly and I attended a church where one of the church members wanted to have a moment of silence on the February 6th birthday of pro-life hero Paul Hill. You may remember that Hill murdered abortion doctor John Britton and his bodyguard James Barrett. He was executed by the state of Florida on September 3, 2003. According to pro-lifers, abortion doctors are no different from the Nazi or Japanese doctors who experimented on prisoners of war during World War II. Abortion doctors are no better than serial killers, men and women who — according to pro-lifers — place no value on human life.

But what about abortion clinic staff? Are the nurses who materially participate in abortion procedures criminally liable? How are they in any way different from the banker, automobile dealer, and racecar driver in the story above? And surely the woman having the abortion is the bank robber in the story above. She is the one who decides to abort her fetus. She is the one who makes the appointment, goes to the clinic, takes off her clothes, puts on a hospital gown, lies on a table, and allows the abortion doctor — with his nurse assisting — to terminate the pregnancy. Surely the woman is criminally responsible for the murder of her unborn child.

Why all the Evangelical angst and dancing around the issue when asked if women should be punished for having abortions? This issue seems quite clear to me. If life begins at conception and abortion is murder, then the women making choices to kill their babies — regardless of whether they take abortion-inducing drugs or have surgical procedures — are guilty of premeditated homicide. Some Evangelicals try to avoid the logical conclusions of their abortion equals murder beliefs by suggesting that women having abortions are in some way or the other mentally or emotionally incapable of understanding what they are doing. I think most women who have abortions would be quite offended by such false assertions. While certainly deciding to have an abortion can be and often is a difficult decision for women to make, to suggest that women are somehow unable to rationally make this decision is ludicrous. For whatever reason, women choose to have abortions. It is their legal right to do so. Our law recognizes that women have a fundamental right to control what happens to their bodies — even though that right is currently under vicious attack by pro-life zealots.

It is time for pro-lifers to own their beliefs. The last 10 years have seen an unprecedented assault on women’s rights. Realizing that it is unlikely that they will ever overturn Roe V Wade, pro-lifers have turned to the states to advance their draconian anti-abortion laws. These new laws have been so successful that in some states it is almost impossible for women to find an abortion provider. Pro-lifers will not rest until fertilized eggs are granted the same constitutional rights as 30-year-old women. I do not think for a moment — once they successfully outlawed abortion — that they will continue to view women who have back alley abortions as victims. As has been clear over the past 25 years — at least to me — many Evangelicals will not rest until they have turned the United States into a Christian theocracy. Once they have gained this power, they will use it just as ruthlessly as ISIS and other violent theocratic groups. Quite frankly, Evangelicals cannot be trusted with our civil liberties. Bound by the Bible and its teachings, they have no recourse but to push God’s laws into every aspect of American life. It is for this reason that people who value secularism, humanism, and freedom must oppose theocratic Evangelicals at every turn.


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    You make a very compelling case there, Bruce. If abortion is to be viewed as ‘murder’ then everyone connected with the commission of the crime should be held to account and dealt with accordingly.

    The issue, of course, is by whose definition has a crime been committed? To say that abortion is murder is simply an assertion, and only ever has been. I have virtually no knowledge of the bible, but have a feeling that there is no, if any reference there, to the legality of abortion. So, again, if I’m correct, then to say abortion is murder is just someone asserting an opinion. My view is that abortion is not murder; the foetus is an organ of the mother’s body until it is born.

    I don’t deny that abortion isn’t something that should be taken seriously, and there are ethical considerations of a secular nature that must be transformed into law. Roe vs Wade is, in my view, very good law.

    People need to grow up about abortion. However strongly they oppose it, it has to be accepted as a matter of personal conscience. If you don’t approve of it then don’t do it, but do not force that decision on others! And for goodness sake, get the topic away from the presidential election! Do Americans not realise it cheapens what is already seen as a carnival of the clowns?

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      Karen the rock whisperer

      But, but, it’s MURDER! MURDER! You can’t just go around letting women MURDER their innocent babies! /snark

      This is the classic case of a little knowledge being a dangerous thing. Most USians don’t have the first idea about the exceedingly complex process that starts with a human ova and a batch of sperm and ends with a live human birth. Somehow (probably because it’s comparatively easy to understand), fertilization has become equivalent to personhood in a lot of people’s minds. One lucky sperm gets into that egg and presto! Full human being! The rest of the nine months is just feeding the little human while it grows. And of course, the independently-alive, fully-formed human doing this feeding inside her body is of secondary importance. This is the foundation for US obsession with abortion.

      But there’s more. There’s the Christian notion that the fertilized egg has a soul, and having a soul is what makes a human being. Undifferentiated clump of replicating cells? But it has a soul! Where they got that from in the bible, I haven’t a clue. And finally, if you paid attention to my first statement, I used the term “innocent”. Innocence is a Big Deal to a lot of USians. It’s why you see signs with Baby On Board in vehicles on the roads here; presumably, other drivers will be more careful around INNOCENT babies. To many of these people, abortion isn’t just murder, it’s murder of innocents, which is somehow infinitely worse. I guess, once you’ve had a chance to sin, your life becomes cheaper.

      The people who believe this way are often single-issue voters, and there are enough of them to count at the polls. Hence the abortion addition to the carnival.

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      Reply to Geoff:

      I agree.

      Either from trauma or during medical intervention, many people have said that they ‘died’ because they had to have their hearts re-started with a electric shock from a defibrillator. Other people have—for a short time during transplant surgery—have gone without a heart at all. Still others were no so lucky, declared dead by medical personnel even though their tissues were kept alive with a heart-lung bypass machine so their organs could be harvested for transplant. Absence of a heart beat is NOT how medical personnel determine death.

      Medical science defines death as brain death … so when does life begin?

      In most jurisdictions, therapeutic abortions are legal during the first 24 weeks of life, before the nervous system is fully formed. Termination of a pregnancy before 24 weeks is legally not murder because the fetus is technically not alive yet.

      On the other hand, a couple wanting to become parents would likely grieve the loss of a fetus—a fetus of any age—to spontaneous miscarriage. Aside from a few callous, unthinking individuals, most people who decide to go through with therapeutic abortions would also grieve the loss of what might have been.

      It is a highly individual decision—as you say, a decision of personal conscience. Women who strongly oppose abortion should not have one, neither should they force their decision onto others.

      It is much too late for the US presidential election to be seen as anything more than a tragic carnival of the clowns.

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    Exactly! As you know, there is just no deeper thinking involved within this anti-woman rhetoric these folks spew. IF they REALLY believed babies were being murdered, they’d raid the clinics en masse and shut them down. Instead, they just continue to bully women.
    As a clinic escort, I am repeatedly called a murderer and a “Judas Goat”, leading women (who must just not understand what they are doing) to heartbreak, while leading their babies to the slaughter.

    Thank you for speaking up. Women are RIGHT NOW being sent to prison for their self-induced abortions and “questionable” miscarriages, as well. Guess these women deserve it because they weren’t deceived by the “abortion industry”?

    Folks, these ARE the Christian Taliban, and they want to erode all rights and privileges afforded a human being that do NOT fit their religious text as interpreted by their pastor.

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    The Christian Theocracy is every bit as ugly as the fundamentalism of Islam but part of the brainwashing that is its beginning in a person, sets it up as outside the realm of questioning, outside criticism and challenge. (Talk to your pastor about your concerns but do not offend God!) Once you have a person willing to listen to the bullshit Bible and be quiet, then you are on your way to another whacko movement. Look at any patriarchal, evangelical Christian petri-dish church and you will see the sickness thriving.
    A mother is only a vessel used by God to make babies. It is not that she has only lost the right to control her own body. She has lost the right to think freely, to say ‘no’, to be an independent human being in the world. Christianity strips away basic freedom: Be set free by Jesus! Give up your rights in this fallen world and dress properly for church. When the pastor asks for your teenage daughter, do not hesitate and doubt the authority of almighty God: Give your daughter to dear Pastor Godthard. Encourage your daughter to allow her personal boundaries to taken away. God gave his Son! You are dirt and lucky to invited to be abused by the preacher. Remember, Jesus loves the little children! Let us prey.

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    One of my counterpoints is that usually the “pro-lifer’s” are also against sex education and birth control, which never makes any sense. However one way to counter it is if “Abstinence Education” is a “good” way to teach about sexuality, have them think about “Abstinence Driver’s Education!”. Somehow they don’t think that minimal information is a good way to teach driving. When you point out that sexuality is normal part of being human and we’re not born with the instruction manual, they’ll generally figure that knowledge is better.


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      Scott: No, I don’t think so….they believe you can figure it out on your wedding night, and get better at it while trying to make babies. Because not only is abstinence the requirement before marriage; after marriage, sex is about procreating. Sure, some more mainstream sects allow for recreational sex during marriage, but the fundamentalists are messing that all up along with everything else they are against.

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        J.D. Matthews

        Save up all the sex until marriage… but after marriage, don’t use contraception, birth control or any kind of family planning… which means if you don’t want to have babies, no sex!

        Religion is nothing if not a culture of double binds.

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    Informed or uninformed Sex is perfectly fine providing it does not lead to dancing. Diddling children is acceptable sex as is old men taking child brides providing there is no dancing! Avoid sin, this is the important matter!

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    Andrew James Patton

    Of course women who procure abortions should be prosecuted. Of course those who assist or enable abortion should be prosecuted. I am ashamed of those who shy away from this logical conclusion.

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      Why should women, or those assisting them, be prosecuted for what is a perfectly legal procedure? If you oppose abortion then, by all means, refuse it, but you have no moral right to refuse it of others exercising their choice.

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      Brian Vanderlip

      How the Patton guy loves to hate! He is ashamed of those who have a fuller humanity than he is capable of… typical of evangelical belief, very typical.

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