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The abortion-seeking woman: perpetrator or victim?

By Matt C. Abbott
Op/Ed
Catholic Online

In a column in the Aug. 6, 2007 issue of Newsweek, on the subject of abortion, Anna Quindlen wrote:

"Lawmakers in a number of states have already passed or are considering statutes designed to outlaw abortion if Roe is overturned. But almost none hold the woman, the person who set the so-called crime in motion, accountable. Is the message that women are not to be held responsible for their actions? Or is it merely that those writing the laws understand that if women were going to jail, the vast majority of Americans would violently object? Watch the demonstrators in Libertyville [Ill.] try to worm their way out of the hypocrisy: It's murder, but she'll get her punishment from God. It's murder, but it depends on her state of mind. It's murder, but the penalty should be ... counseling?

"...But there are only two logical choices: hold women accountable for a criminal act by sending them to prison, or refuse to criminalize the act in the first place. If you can't countenance the first, you have to accept the second. You can't have it both ways."

Well, yes and no.

Ms. Quindlen does point out a weakness in the right-to-life movement. Much like the debate among pro-lifers on the issue of contraception - which, incidentally, has become more prominent in recent times, thanks to the efforts of Father Tom Euteneuer, Joe Scheidler and Judie Brown -- the debate about whether the abortion-seeking woman should be treated as a criminal is something many in the movement are seemingly not comfortable addressing.

Now, I realize that, at this point, it's really not a relevant aspect of the pro-life position. Abortion remains legal, and, sadly, such will likely be the case for quite some time. Thus, we pro-lifers should be focused on helping women and children in need and on continuing to educate the public about the terrible reality of abortion. We can worry about the legal penalties for abortion if and when abortion is outlawed (although we do have a moral obligation to vote for candidates who oppose legalized abortion).

Still, since Ms. Quindlen, a known advocate of legalized abortion, has brought up the subject, I will give my two cents.

Ms. Quindlen is correct in her assertion that if one believes abortion to be murder, one should advocate treating it as such in our legal system. If, however, one asserts that abortion is murder, and should be illegal, but the abortion-seeking woman shouldn't be punished because she, like her unborn child, is a victim, well, I agree that said line of argument can be hypocritical.

But here's the catch: Not all abortion-seeking women are perpetrators. Many are coerced into procuring an abortion by their boyfriends, husbands, or parents. Certainly these women should be considered victims, not perpetrators. Those who are doing the coercing -- and, of course, the abortionists themselves -- are the perpetrators. They're the ones who should be thrown in prison. (No, I don't support the death penalty.)

That said, I do believe, in some cases, the abortion-seeking woman is indeed the perpetrator. She knows very well what she's doing. She's not coerced by anyone. Perhaps she's even going against the wishes of her loved ones. This is the woman who should be treated as a criminal - if not a murderer, then an accessory to murder.

What would be an appropriate prison sentence for such a woman?

Fifteen years-to-life sounds reasonable, no? Of course, one would have to take into account all the circumstances in a particular situation, and it wouldn't be an easy task. But it could be done.

I envision certain readers will try to poke holes in my argument, but the bottom line is this: Abortion is the taking of an innocent human life, the killing of an unborn child. If and when abortion is outlawed, those who are involved in the procurement of an abortion should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. That will always involve the abortionist, but it will also involve the other parties, including, in some cases, the abortion-seeking woman.

Perhaps a number of pro-lifers will not be happy with this column, but to portray all abortion-seeking women as victims is, in my view, a case of misguided compassion.

_________________

(Matt C. Abbott is a Catholic columnist with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication, Media and Theatre from Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago, and an Associate in Applied Science degree in Business Management from Triton College in River Grove, Ill. He is the former director of public affairs for the Chicago-based Pro-Life Action League and the former executive director of the Illinois Right to Life Committee. He was a contributor to The Wanderer Catholic newspaper and had numerous letters to the editor published in major newspapers, including the New York Times, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, and the Chicago Sun-Times. He can be reached at mattcabbott@gmail.com)

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