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.


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Alisa Harris

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