Are back-alley abortions coming back to America? In her latest column, Michelle Goldberg points to several examples of women who faced prosecution for inducing their own abortions. One particularly difficult story involved a 17-year-old Utah girl whose impregnator is now facing charges of child pornography. She did not have transportation to the abortion clinic or the money to stay in a hotel to satisfy Utah’s 24-hour waiting period, so instead she paid a man $150 to beat her to induce a miscarriage:

The fetus survived, but she was charged with criminal solicitation to commit murder. When her case was thrown out on the grounds that her actions weren’t illegal under the state’s definition of abortion, legislators changed the law so they would be able to punish women like her in the future.

I’m particularly interested in the response one pro-life leader had to offer: “The pro-life movement has never supported jail sentences for women who are victims of the abortion culture and abortion industry.”

This is dissembling, given the fact that the pro-life community supports and promotes these laws—and supports the toughest versions of them. The National Right to Life Committee has a page devoted to fetal homicide laws, which shows a mother holding the body of a baby killed by assault in the ninth month of pregnancy, with the headline “One victim or two?” NRLC approvingly lists Idaho, Utah and South Carolina (the states where women faced jail time for inducing abortion) among the states that provide “full-coverage” of unborn victims’ rights at all stages of development. Laws that only protect the fetus at certain stages of its development are “gravely deficient,” says the NRLC. Iowa’s laws would be among the “gravely deficient” ones since a pregnant Iowan who fell down the stairs, potentially injuring her fetus, escaped prosecution for feticide because she was in her second trimester and not her third. If Iowa’s criminalized the damage of a fetus in the second trimester, like the laws that NRLC approves as ideal, the woman might not have escaped prosecution.

This is an example of a moment when the rhetoric obscures honest argument in the abortion debate. Pro-lifers want to say that they’re pro-woman, and they certainly don’t want to say that they would throw a 17-year-old victim of a child pornographer into jail for paying someone to beat her. But it’s a fact that pro-lifers do actually believe that the 17-year-old girl is guilty of a criminal solicitation to attempt murder, and they support laws that would charge her with murder. If they actually believe the fetus is a person, they should support laws that throw women in jail for inducing their own abortions.

A fruitful debate has to start with each side honestly representing its position—not a softer, dishonest version of it.

Raised Right by Alisa Harris

Alisa Harris’ new memoir, Raised Right: How I Untangled My Faith from Politics, is now available for pre-order.


About The Author

Alisa Harris

0 Responses to The Harsh Laws Pro-Lifers Support

  1. Joshua Keel says:

    Alisa, you seem to be interested in a “fruitful debate”, but the title of this post has already decided the laws are “cruel”. That doesn’t seem very fair if we are to have any debate worth having.

    • Joshua Keel says:

      Just to clarify, I find no fault in what you say in this post. In fact, I appreciate it. I simply object to the title. A more appropriate title in my opinion would have been “The Laws Pro-Lifers Support”.

  2. DMP says:

    “This is an example of a moment when the rhetoric obscures honest argument in the abortion debate.”
    Can such a thing as honest debate exist in this issue when we object to rhetoric? If one side is correct, and the object of abortion is a human person, then abortion is no less than cataclysmic. If the other side is right, the right to control the surgery on one’s own tissue is threatened by the use of governmental force. But how, I wonder, when the stakes of the debate swing so heavily from cataclysm to perhaps-not-cataclysmic-but-still-serious, how can one suggest there is some rhetoric-free ground upon which a fruitful debate might take place. Didn’t Mother Teresa once ask a question like “When a mother can kill her own child, what is left of civilization to save.” Vitriolic, if you don’t agree with her. Prophetic, if you do. It seems to me only one side of this issue benefits from the freedom from rhetoric, if such a thing is possible in any discourse. Much to ponder in this article. Thanks for posting.

  3. Rob says:

    Interesting thoughts. I wonder, though: if abortion constitutes murder, as it certainly does for most pro-lifers, then how is imprisoning someone who “commits” abortion–regardless of motive–“cruel”? To the bleeding heart progressives, I can understand the ascription of cruelty, but as DMP notes and as I am sure you are certainly aware, the other side isn’t coming to this debate with the same terminology and priorities as the progressives. Our contemporary criminal codes, after all, do not provide “excuses” for murder; for instance, except in highly extenuating circumstances, it is not legally (or even morally) acceptable for a woman to kill her husband because he occasionally beats her (unless it were literally a clear case of self-defense). Nor is it acceptable to kill those who will bring you shame or heavy financial burdens and debts, even though these are all cases in which desperation would plausibly lead to extreme reactions. In any case, the argument by some voices in the pro-choice movement that abortion could be considered a legitimate killing in self-defense (if and only if carrying the fetus to term would endanger the mother’s life) is generally regarded as a rather extreme argument, no?

    Meanwhile, sure: pro-lifers would logically see prison or some form of criminal penalty attached to the crime of abortion, were it actually a crime in the United States. On the other hand, few, if any, of the more reasonable pro-life voices have argued that abortion should come with a life sentence, much less a death sentence. More commonly are heard calls for mandatory counseling, etc. I’m not sure I see the same widespread mendacity within the pro-life movement at large that is apparently evident in your cherry-picked quotation.

  4. Dan Allison says:

    I totally agree, Alisa. I was executive director of the Pinellas (St. Petersburg/Clearwater, Florida) Right to Life Committee from 1988 to 1992; I also served on the Board of Directors of Florida Right-to-Life. Pro-lifers need to stop speaking out of both sides of their mouths. They SAY they are against prosecuting women, but the laws they propose do EXACTLY that. Of course, passing laws is the great American quick fix and instant gratification, an easy way for politicians to grandstand and pander for cheap, easy votes. Christians who REALLY want to reduce the number of abortions — significantly — would support raises in wage levels for working women and families, unions, and anything else that would enhance the ability of working people to afford and raise children. Yet these same “pro-lifers” support the party that would ABOLISH the minimum wage and crush unions once and for all. It’s so much easier to carry picket signs and shout slogans than it is to build a culture and society that fosters and nurtures families and family life. The “pro-lifers” also must see that their legalistic churches actually promote abortion with moralistic, attitudes toward unwed mothers. Finally, any church that doesn’t allow women in leadership is simply a joke. There’s no way a group of middle-aged white men in suits can even dream of speaking with ANY credibility on matters like spouse abuse or abortion. I think pro-lifers live in a fantasy world. I thank God for waking me up — and many others. A change IS coming.

    • Scott says:

      So, “pro-lifers” also must also have moralistic attitudes towards unwed mothers? What if they don’t?

      Also, I laughed at the phrase “middle aged white men in suits,” not because it’s clever, but because it’s such a ridiculously clichéd line thrown out by someone seeking to villianize people from the left. It’s not bad enough that they’re “white me” (shudder), but that they’re middle-aged (heaven forbid!) AND they’re WEARING SUITS! How dare they! Suits! (I’m wearing a short sleeve button-down and jeans, so I’m ok, even though I’m a white male nearing middle age, right?)

      I agree with you that moralism is bad. Well, I mean, except if it’s MY moralism, because real Christians believe in a minimum wage set at the level I deem appropriate and in unions. But, of course, that’s not really moralism, that’s just called BEING RIGHT. Moralism is when white guys of a certain age in suits (GRRR! SUITS!) do it.

      • Scott says:

        In the second paragraph, it says “white me” where it should say “white men.”

        I use “white me” to refer to myself, because I’m obviously male, am not quite middle aged, and don’t wear suits often anymore, except on Easter Sunday to freak out the progressives at my church with my moralistic apparel choices.

      • Dan Allison says:

        Well, a lot of smart-alecky Glenn Beck-style invective, and an admission that you’ve never seen a group photo of the elders from any Southern Baptist or Calvary Chapel Church, but otherwise, you’ve refuted nothing that I’ve said, and in fact, you’ve proved most of my points. Thanks!

  5. Scott says:

    There have been 50 million abortions in the United States since 1973. There has been exactly one 17-year-old in Utah who paid a man $150 to beat her up because she couldn’t have an abortion. Of course, the 17-year-old’s story is tragic, but there’s a real problem with making law based on the actions of the most desperate people.

    And, yes, paying someone to beat you up to cause a spontaneous abortion should be against the law. Yep. Absolutely it should. Anything else would truly be cruel. Of course, the person violating this law should never be put in jail, but should be forced, BY LAW, to receive mental health treatment. Suggesting that it’s cruel to have laws in place preventing a 17-year-old girl from hiring a man to beat her in order to induce an abortion is absurd and horrific. Honestly, Alisa, in a rush to paint people who disagree with you as cruel, you’ve really shown your own position to be, in my opinion, untenable.

    Of course, I could always go the anecdote route in arguing my point. Something like, “The Cruel Procedure Pro-Choicers Support.” Then I could tell the story of a Kansas girl who was taken to an abortion clinic in her third trimester by a boyfriend who finally pressured her to the point that she agreed to an abortion. Over the course of two days, a kind of false labor was induced… you can see where I’m going here. It’s gruesome and the only reason to type out the details of a partial-birth abortion is to shock, horrify and shame people into agreeing with me.

    You call for a real discussion at the end of a post that is dedicated to ridiculing the other side of a debate based on a few (admittedly horrible) stories. I’m not sure this qualifies as the intellectual honesty you are demanding from the other side.

    • Rob says:

      In other words, it may be that what Alisa is actually doing, whether disingenuously or unintentionally, setting the rhetorical terms of the debate herself with reference to the idiom of the pro-choice camp. She is thus not actually calling for open and honest dialogue but is giving primacy of place to one side of the debate.

      Of course, I have no idea where Alisa actually stands on the issue, so I’m making no assumptions there. But this editorial seems to be an instance of precisely the sort of rhetorical sleight-of-hand that it purports to eschew.

  6. johnny says:

    i find it funny that all the critique here is coming from men.

    maybe i’m too simple-minded about this issue, but most of my fellow males here who are nit-picking her word choices have no subjective view of this debate (and none of them can; they don’t risk pregnancy in the event of something horrifically scarring like forced, unwanted sex, or any sexual act for that matter). ultimately, it’s not like i have some answer from the mountaintops to bring down.

    to put it simply (and as objectively as i can make it, given my anatomy), i don’t think there are practical ways to really enforce against abortions, regardless of the trimester. many of them seem like very bad ideas to me if we actually fleshed them out. i can’t say anything beyond that because i don’t understand much of the woman’s psyche during pregnancy, regardless of how it came about. all i know is that some are impoverished, or irresponsible with their bodies, or are way too young to be having children. why do we need the government to get involved in such an emotionally charged and complex issue?

    • Scott says:

      Hi Johnny –

      I’m not, nor have I ever been, a U.S. Senator. Does this mean that I am unable to have an opinion as to how they should act? Can I, as a man, not have an opinion on female genital mutilation or female sex trafficking? Can my wife enter into a discussion about circumcision? Seriously, this line of reasoning is absurd. Of course men can (and do!) have subjective views about that debate. They also can (and do!) have objective views about this debate.

      Beyond this, I don’t think that the MEN (omg!) critiquing the article are doing the whole ABORTION BAD as much as you seem to think. My critique is directed more at the use of anecdote (averaging less than one tragedy a year, according to the link) to paint an entire spectrum (well, entire half-spectrum) as CRUEL and then trying to take the moral high ground by saying that we all need to be able to disagree respectfully.

      I would suggest that you re-read the article and the critiques again. This isn’t really about whether abortion should be legal, it’s about whether or not people who oppose abortion are, by that fact, CRUEL.

    • Rob says:

      In my efforts to be charitable, johnny, I am attempting to clarify precisely your point. First of all, I agree with you when you claim that there are few, if any, “practical ways to enforce against [sic] abortions.”

      But beyond that, your argument waxes a tad ludicrous. Are only women permitted to speak authoritatively on the issue of abortion? What about the court of 100% men who declared abortion constitutionally protected? Conversely, are there no pro-life women? Perhaps you could elucidate your claims somewhat. As Scott points out (a bit “loudly”), the idea that only women–and not only that, but women who have actually been pregnant and personally contemplated the question of abortion–can speak meaningfully about this topic runs into obvious problems.

      Meanwhile, notice that I have not actually declared a pro-life position. I’m sympathetic, though I ultimately reject, the idea that men, who come blustering into the debate bloviating against abortion, which is clearly an issue that impacts pregnant women more than adult men, but that question isn’t even relevant here. To wit, Alisa, by my reading, isn’t actually making a claim about abortion either but rather a claim about the terms of the debate. My critique is that she is doing so arbitrarily and, though she calls for “impartial” dialectic rather than rhetoric, is actually falling into the same normative rhetorics that she disclaims. Upon whose authority should those (few) pro-lifers who advocate hard time for women who seek abortions admit that such a penalty is cruel? Pro-lifers and pro-choices don’t even agree that a fetus constitutes a human life deserving of constitutional protection. We thus can’t expect them to agree to neutral terminology on second-order, subsidiary questions. And as other thinkers have oft-noted, there is little, if any, neutral ground on the question of abortion.

      Even aside from that, the purely anecdotal evidence Alisa provides for her claims is questionable at best.

      All that said, how is my gender relevant, then?

  7. johnny says:

    i’ll be honest: i didn’t put much thought into my argument because abortion is one of those issues that i don’t really feel likes merits much of my time. that being said, this is one of those few times i give much thought to it.

    scott: i think pro-lifers who somehow do put more emphasis on either a woman or a fetus (in many cases, the latter), and ask that laws be made to do so are, in fact, cruel. i didn’t mean to paint you (or anyone for that matter) in a light where you’re giving a franckenstein-esque retort of “ABORTION BAD!” to this article; again, i merely feel like you’re nit-picking her word choices, and, to me, that’s just annoying.

    rob: thank you for the charity.

    both of you: for one thing, is it really that much of a stretch that people can’t speak very authoritatively about things they will never have to worry about in their lifetime? that being said, that doesn’t change the difference of opinions had by many different people; i’m just saying that there are many men that wax on and on against abortion when women, in my mind, seem to have much more at fault for most sexual sins (and any and all fallout thereafter, such as terminating an unwanted pregnancy) than men. i feel like it can be very reflective of a sexual culture in america (that happens to permeate a good portion of the american church, mind you) where men really don’t see/feel much consequence for abusing their own sexuality compared to women.

    for another thing (as an example), my home state of pennsylvania has a bill in the state’s house setting up a committee that gives criminal investigations for every miscarriage. every single one. its ability to pass completely besides the point, this is the kind of ground alisa covers in this post. i’d really like to know how asking a woman who just had their child die in utero whether or not they murdered their child isn’t cruel.

  8. Joshua Keel says:

    Hi johnny, I’d like to address a couple of your last points if you will indulge me.

    “for one thing, is it really that much of a stretch that people can’t speak very authoritatively about things they will never have to worry about in their lifetime?”

    I think it’s a mistake to think that men will “never have to worry about” abortion. Men have to deal with this every day. They have wives, sisters, mothers, friends who are going through this, so we can’t act as if this issue doesn’t affect men. It does in a very powerful way. Just because it doesn’t affect their bodies directly doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect them. Any fetus in question was created with help of a male.

    That said, I am sympathetic to your point about sexual sin and how it impacts women possibly more than men, particularly with regard to pregnancy. However, it does annoy me a bit that this issue of men vs. women gets dragged out so much. We’re all humans. Why can’t we talk about this stuff like civilized human beings instead of trying to pit the sexes against each other?

    Just to respond generally to your point about the cruelty of the law in the PA legislature and other laws in question, I would just say that if the pro-lifers are right and a fetus is a human being, I think we’ve got to give that human being the full protection of the law. To my mind, the miscarriage law would be taking that a bit far, but if the fetus is a human being and has equal protection under the law, it’s not that different as far as I can see from when a man is murdered and his wife is the prime suspect and is questioned by police, “did you kill your husband?” You could consider both situations to have elements of cruelty, but wouldn’t it be equally cruel to allow a human life to be snuffed out without so much as an investigation? Of course, all of that argument hinges on the idea of “is the fetus a human being worthy of equal protection under the law or not?”

    Just some thoughts I had.

  9. Patrick Sawyer says:

    Life begins at conception or at least by implantation (typically no more than 10 days after conception). THE SERIOUS STUDENT OF ABORTION KNOWS THIS. While serious and enlightened abortion advocates know and admit that human life exists either at the formation of the human zygote (conception), or at least at the moment the already growing blastocyst (the fertilized egg) becomes attached to the uterine wall (implantation), many in the pro-choice camp are ignorant (some willfully) of this central detail. In reality, there is no real debate as to whether human life is present by the time of implantation. This is a settled fact in the medical community. There are only obfuscations on the part of some in the pro-choice community who have no interest in this fact being settled in the minds and hearts of Americans who may act and vote in accordance with their conscience.

    The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) is the national organization for OB/GYNs. Their official stance is that life begins at implantation. Med schools across the country are in line with ACOG’s position and essentially all medical literature on this subject takes ACOG’s position: that life begins at implantation.

    David Boonin, in his reputed landmark work on abortion, A Defense of Abortion, said: “In the top drawer of my desk, I keep [a picture of my son]. This picture was taken on September 7, 1993, 24 weeks before he was born. The sonogram image is murky, but it reveals clear enough a small head tilted back slightly, and an arm raised up and bent, with the hand pointing back toward the face and the thumb extended out toward the mouth. There is no doubt in my mind that this picture, too, shows [my son] at a very early stage in his physical development. And there is no question that the position I defend in this book entails that it would have been morally permissible to end his life at this point.”

    Peter Singer, noted Princeton professor and abortion advocate, said in his book, Practical Ethics, that “it is possible to give ‘human being’ a precise meaning. We can use it as equivalent to ‘member of the species Homo sapiens’. Whether a being is a member of a given species is something that can be determined scientifically, by an examination of the nature of the chromosomes in the cells of living organisms. In this sense there is no doubt that from the first moments of its existence an embryo conceived from human sperm and eggs is a human being.”

    Dr. Alfred M. Bongioanni, Professor of Pediatrics and Obstetrics at the University of Pennsylvania, has said “I have learned from my earliest medical education that human life begins at the time of conception” and that “human life is present throughout this entire sequence from conception to adulthood and that any interruption at any point throughout this time constitutes a termination of human life.”

    Dr. Hymie Gordon, Co-Founder and past Co-Chair of the Program in Human Rights and Medicine at the University of Minnesota, past Professor Emeritus of Medical Genetics at the Mayo Clinic, and Founder and past Director of the Mayo Clinic’s world renowned program in Medical Genetics, has stated “By all the criteria of modern molecular biology, life is present from the moment of conception.”

    Given that all abortions take place AFTER implantation, how long will we continue to give this genocide a pass? God help us all.

  10. The very term “pro-life” suggests that the opposing point-of-view is “anti-life”. Aren’t “pro-choice” and “anti-choice” better descriptors?

    • Rob says:

      No, unless one is pro-choice. See how that works? Both sides prefer to make themselves seem affirmative, though affirmations of these kinds also involve a reciprocal negation. So which negation is worse?

      I submit, by the way, that quibbling over names is, in this case, a distraction from the issue at hand.

    • Scott says:

      So, people who are against abortion are somehow also against choices? What do they do at a McDonalds? Do they just stand there, unable to choose and unwilling to let anyone else choose for them? I think I’ve been behind some of these “anti-choice” people. Super annoying. I mean, it’s McDonalds, for Pete’s sake! It’s not like they added something awesome yesterday. Just get what you usually get and move out of the way.

      • mik says:

        yes, super annoying. i will will have an order of viagra with this big box of condoms. oh screw the condoms just give me the viagra. let that b*tch figure that out.
        next. no sorry lady, we dont sell birth control here. i am a conscientious objector. next pharmacy, sorry, i mean mcdonalds, is 45 miles away.

  11. naturally like your web site but you need to take a look at the spelling on several of your posts. Many of them are rife with spelling problems and I to find it very troublesome to inform the truth then again I’ll certainly come again again.

  12. Jenny says:

    Interesting that all the comments here are from men–who have absolutely no idea what great vulnerability it is to be female, poor, and pregnant.

    I’ve long said that the radical right wing will usher into existence the very government control and fascism they’re terrified of by their very own world views–which are inherently untenable and extreme.

    Alisa–good job. We are all too aware of the horror of abortion, but we are not as willing to be as aware of the horror of living a life trapped in desperate need, abuse, and so forth. Keep writing, girl.

Leave a Reply

Set your Twitter account name in your settings to use the TwitterBar Section.