Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Punishment for Abortion

This week, my Facebook feed is on fire with Catholic friends and Pro-Life activists insisting that it has never been a Pro-Life position advocate punishing women who procure abortions. These folks are appalled that anyone would suggest such a thing. It is like, they are utterly disgusted that it could possibly be suggested that women be held legally responsible for the murder of their child.

I for one never gave this much thought until; probably because it seems like such a stretch to imagine a situation where abortion is illegal, let alone argue about who should be punished for it. I think I always assumed that in Christendom there would be some legal penalty for women who procured abortion. After giving this some more thought this week, I have to say I am not totally opposed to the concept of punishing women who have abortions.

It has been a staple of the Pro-Life movement that abortion is murder. If that is the case, then the abortionist is a murderer and the woman who procures and abortion is an accessory to murder. This is rather straight forward. This is the fundamental truth.

However, it seems that another staple of the Pro-Life movement has been to portray the woman as the "victim" in an abortion case: a victim of Pro-Choice propaganda, of Planned Parentood, of unsympathetic relatives who insist on abortion, of the abortionists who downplay the risks and reality of abortion - and, after the abortion has been carried out, a victim of her own guilt.

Anyone who has dealt with women who have had abortions knows that they are under tremendous suffering and often struggling with immense guilt over their deed. In order to help these women heal, the Pro-Life movement has usually chosen a "soft" approach with these women, which necessarily implies helping them get over the guilt of their deed. The "victim" approach makes this easy.

But while the victim approach may be helpful from a psychological point of view with regard to helping the woman heal, there are also legal ramifications. A person has been murdered. The mother who procures the abortion has ordered the murder of a human being. Yes, the abortionist did the killing, but at the mother's behest and with her consent. If abortion truly is murder, then the mother is truly an accessory.

From a legal standpoint, how can that irrelevant? While most Pro-Lifers would advocate strict punishments for abortionists, should the accessory to murder simply go away with no legal ramifications for ordering the death of a human being?

Yes, these women are hurting. Yes, they are probably very troubled. But everybody who murders somebody else is troubled. That is nothing new. And the fact that someone is hurting or confused or guilty or whatever has never been a legal argument that they should not be punished for being an accessory for murder. Yes, the mother is often repentant...but so are many people who kill other people. When has that been justification to omit any legal penalty?

If I hire a hit-man to kill my wife, the hit-man is the murderer and I am an accessory to murder. Both of us will be charged with crimes. Now, if we really believe abortion is actually murder, how can it not be inferred logically that the woman who wills murder, pays for murder, assents to murder, and procures murder is not also legally responsible, at least to some extent?

Will it help women heal from abortion by advocating a legal punishment? I don't know. I don't know if it helps the murderer heal to throw him in prison. I am not addressing a psychological question, but a legal one - is it just that the accessory of murder be punished, at least in some sense?

I am not here advocating any particular punishment. I am merely asking - is advocating some legal ramifications for women who have abortions really that far out there? Should Pro-Lifers who have loudly insisted for 40 years that abortion is murder really be so mortified that someone should suggest that the accessories to murder face some legal penalty for this? It does not seem really that far fetched.


Fr. Evans Julce said...

The fact that Catholic women who willing and knowingly procure an abortion (and anyone who assist them incurs an automatic excommunication should be evidence enough that penalty is possible and also just. I thought think a woman with 3 children should face jail time for killing her forth. But a punishment is not other-worldly. Even the Church still applies one.

Amateur Brain Surgeon said...

Yes, the Mom is guilty of procuring the indefensible death of an innocent person. She should be punished.

If Mom ain't guilty for paying a pro to whack her child then Stan ain't guilty for hiring Steve to beat his wife Barb after Stan found out she was fornicating with Louis, the Chef at the local country club.

Poor Steve, cuckolded; do you know what that does to a man and how it ruins his reputation and causes all the either guys to call him a ball-less Wallace?

One can rationalise away punishment with nearly every other crime imaginable.

One just has to be a liberal, like most pro-life folks are.

c matt said...

The law should punish, that is the point of making something against the law. But the law also allows for mitigating circumstances. Even ABS's scenario would probably qualify Steve for some mitigation of punishment.

So, to answer your question - no, asking for some punishment for the abortion procuring mother is not far fetched. It is just not politically palatable in our culture at the moment, this the hue and cry from the pro-life establishment.

c matt said...

Sadly, Texas Right to Life has jumped on the "No Punishment" bandwagon. I suppose they don't view women as moral agents, or abortion as true murder. Hard saying, I suppose.

Woody said...

Hard cases make bad law. Abortion is only another form of contraception, is it not? Think of all the ways to partake in the conjugal act and take steps to prevent conception. Should the woman be punished for using contraception? Is there a point when contraception, absent abortion of the pregnancy, becomes murder? A human life begins at conception. Many forms of contraception cause a human life in his or hers earliest beginning to come to an end...with intent to do just that. Is that murder? Is it the taking away of human life without justification? The legal use of contraception to prevent a pregnancy takes us down the road to allowing abortion. You cannot condone contraception and expect abortion to go away. As Catholics, we should be against ALL forms of contraception. This should be shouted loudly from all pulpits in all Catholic churches throughout the world. Especially in Rome, Italy.

Anonymous said...

Plus if there was a punishment as heavy as serious is the crime, a great percentage of women who would have aborted would not. And they would save themselves the pain, guilt and everything else that comes with it. Punishment will save many women.
The law is a teacher as well. Right now many only see their mistake afterwards since everyone is telling them it's OK to do it. Starting with it being "legal". Which helps them be able to convince themselves they are not doing what they know they are doing.
If abortion were illegal but without punishment, it would still not send the message that it is wrong, would it?

Konstantin said...

This is the repost of a comment I made at the blog St. Louis Catholic, which applies mutatis mutandis to your post, Boniface. I am happy to see your logical reasoning and that you have again tackled a difficult issue:

Originally I decided to stay out of this discussion, but now I had a change of mind and would like to add a couple of thoughts:

Many people say (all) women that had an abortion "hurt" or go through "pain" -- but do they repent of it? That is not the same thing. Also, not all women seem to feel pain. I have a relative that had four abortions (while married) and who doesn't seem to be affected by it at all. Some women even brag about it.

Even if someone feels pain for his past crimes, does this generally mean that they should go unpunished? Nobody would say that for any other violent crime (yes, abortion is a violent crime). When Alessandro Serenelli finally repented of having murdered St. Maria Goretti three years later, nobody said he should be let out of jail. And Alessandro was well aware that he deserved doing time: "I accepted to be condemned because it was my own fault".

Neither would anybody say a mother or a father should go unpunished for killing their child outside of the womb. It's just ridiculous to image a headline that reads "Mother killed toddler. No jail sentence since she feels pain."

I think Ted Bundy once said that he felt loathing after each of his crimes. I don't think anybody would say that this would have been enough to save him from being executed or even incarcerated (This doesn't mean that I think women who had abortions are like Ted Bundy or should be executed).

One last thought: A couple of months ago, a very unhappy man was arrested in Spain for having performed hundreds of "illegal" and forced abortions on female fighters as a field doctor with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Many of the underaged girls that had to undergo these forced abortions had been raped by other FARC fighters. They had also been forcibly recruited earlier. Nonetheless, quite a number of the girls and women that were chosen by this so-called doctor refused to have their child killed. Well, guess what happened? They were executed and their corpses were used as specimens in the "doctor's" training sessions for field medics. I'd say the vast majority of women in first-world countries don't risk losing their lives if they decided against aborting their child. Fear indeed is a factor that makes you less culpable, but if there are women who chose death over abortion (and they probably didn't know the Catholic Faith very well), I think any woman should be ready to face trouble with her "boyfriend" or her parents instead of opting for abortion.

All in all, I don't know what punishment women should receive for having aborted, but the argument that they should always go unpunished seems rather unfair on other people who have committed crimes that led to the physical injury/death of others and have to face time for it.

Anonymous said...

Interesting article. I agree with the logic, but the fact that Trump made the comment, and then Hillary Clinton refers to the unborn child as a person is another indicator that we're living in very strange times.

Tom Healey said...

I've always seen it from the church's three factors that must be present for mortal sin to be committed - serious matter. Sufficient knowledge and full consent. And considering the pagan culture, the second and third mitigate the first. In view of your post and comments, it's hard to avoid the necessity of some kind of legal punishment.

Mark Citadel said...

The entire issue of life seems shot through with false-differentiations that do not hold up to scrutiny, and this is one of them. If someone holds that a husband who hires a hitman to kill his wife has committed murder, then there is NO LOGICAL reason that the mother who hires a hitman to kill her child has not committed murder.

The special pleading here is as egregious as those who say abortion is fine if the child is deformed, but straight up murdering deformed people in the street isn't okay.

Either the child is a human life and matters, or it doesn't. So-called 'pro-lifers' need to pick one.

James Joseph said...

I think that the principle that we don't hold young women responsible for their actions is everywhere.

Consider a 19 year old high school who has sex with her teacher. He becomes a pariah; possibly goes to prison. Meanwhile, the age of consent is 16. And we call her a victim.

Kneeling Catholic said...

Hello Unamsanctamcatholicam!

I just posted on this topic here ( http://kneelingcatholic.blogspot.com/2016/04/why-is-planned-parenthood-only.html )

a few thoughts, since Mr. Trump, courtesy of Chris Matthews, has stirred many of our minds to plumb deeper....

1. culpability. I think a 14 year old girl whose parents counsel her to have an abortion, is not culpable, but they are. maybe we should be talking about punishment for all those who conspire to take a life (and carry it out). the Church's old automatic excommunication for anyone helping to procure abortion serves as a civil guide. Certainly the controlling boyfriend or the incestuous step-father or other such low hanging fruit could be ripe for prosecution and punishment. So the topic of punishment probably could use some expanding rather than contracting it down to a lone abortionist.

2. Because abortion has been legal, I think it is necessary to impose milder penalties-for the time being-maybe most aborting women could be given the option of community service-in a neonate clinic, handicapped children's home. Didn't the Penitentiary model originally start with the idea of criminals doing serious penance?

3. the official Right to Life position has now been revealed to be: No punishment for 99.999% of those involved in abortions (the aborting women plus their abettors minus the abortionist). This seems to me to be pretty close to the pro-choice position. Why all the fuss?

4. lastly, since most will not read my post. It is the definition of irony that that on the eve of the Wisconsin primary, Planned Parent chose to go after only one candidate: Trump. What does that mean?

B flat said...

In all Catholic understanding of Tradition, when considering Christ's role in our Redemption from sin - every sin - the question of satisfying God's Justice is raised. Without this, what was the point of the Passion and Death of Our Lord on the Cross?

Voluntary abortion requires the woman's consent. It is that consent, and the consequences of it in the murder of her child, which torments her conscience while she lives. Unless Justice is done for her crime, she can never find peace of mind. How will she make satisfaction, even supposing she has repented her crime, if there should be no penalty to pay?

F. M. said...

Is it not very arrogant to want all citizens impose Catholic morality by the Criminal Code? Imagine, other religions want to impose their morality by the criminal law? Do you really want a Catholic theocracy in the US? Just as the Islamic states Iran and Saudi Arabia enforce their morals by the criminal law? I hope the American people recognize this danger and defend the strict separation of church and state, so as not to slip into a Catholic-dominated state.

Alex A. Biral said...


Then what morality do you propose should guide the criminal code? Certainly there are people out there who think a man is perfectly justified in killing his wife if she cheated on him. Then why should the criminal code impose its view that it is indeed a crime to kill one's wife? Why should the criminal code discriminate against muslims and not allow then to implant sharia law in the communities they are majority? All of this is just as arrogant, as far as I can see.

Either we have objective morality, or we don't. If there is objective morality, if there is a true distinction between right and wrong, then we must discuss things on their own merits. Saying that punishing abortions is Catholic morality isn't really addressing the issue at all, it isn't really addressing morality, but rather fleeing from it with an appeal for multiculturalism. On the other hand, if there isn't true morality, then it is pointless to condemn the morality of any criminal code whatsoever (and also a whole lot more would be pointless in that case, but that is another discussion).

Ethan Hayes said...

I have heard similar logic of absolving the woman of guilt as a victim concerning another sexual issue. A couple of years ago I remember someone suggesting that prostitution laws punishing the women offering the service ought to be softened or removed so to aid law enforcement in being able to apprehend the real moral malefactor of the sexual consumer. I see this as a similar case where the woman is acquitted of any legal guilt in a adulterated effort to uphold a moral value. This similarly turns a bling eye to the moral wrong of the woman 'victim' citing poverty, desperation, and loss of family structure, to forget the greed, sloth, and lust of this sexual vendor.

A. Real Conservative said...

I think we should punish both the mother and father if an abortion takes place. Murder is murder, but we need to remember that there are two parents -- not just a mom.

Unknown said...

Government should be punished. Government made it legal. Government opposes God's laws & makes God's Laws Null and there abortion laws legal. Government has done THIS. Government is Guilty.

Boniface said...

^That's pretty vague. "Government" itself is not at fault. It depends on what sort of government and all the particulars. Government isn't always and essentially bad or something.

chris griffin said...

Jesus said "the one who handed me over to you is guilty of the greater sin. She is the primary murderer, the abortionist is the secondary murderer. Yes she deserves severe punishment in almost every case (excepting underage, mentally ill...etc).