The Nation's Pulse

Safe, Legal, and Dishonest

How about jail time for politicians who lie about pro-lifers?

By 3.11.08

"You wanna' criminalize women and their doctors and we disagree. ...You would want to put every doctor and every mother as an accessory to murder in prison."

So roared Bill Clinton, who, campaigning for his wife recently in Steubenville, Ohio, seemed stunned by a pro-life protestor who responded to his remarks on health care by asking: "What about the 4,000-plus children that are scheduled for abortion tomorrow? They are people too and we want answers."

Clinton's red-faced response, thinly reported in the media but an instant hit on YouTube, highlighted more than his famous temper. It also underscored an increasingly familiar pro-choice retort: If abortion becomes illegal, women who abort would be thrown in jail.

Consider Third Way, a new strategy center for progressives, part of whose mission is to help conservatives and liberals find common ground -- a third way -- on abortion "without throwing women in jail." Consider also a new initiative by the National Institute for Reproductive Health (NIRH) that focuses on developing the "winning message" that "[i]f abortion is outlawed, the woman having one will be a criminal."

"How Much Time Should She Do?" asks NIRH, which insists abortion advocates can prevail if they make "an emotional connection by focusing on the real life consequences of criminalizing abortion."

THAT THE "JAIL TIME" argument is raised at all is cause for encouragement to pro-lifers. It means the old pro-choice arguments no longer work. It wasn't so long ago that abortion advocates invoked science to discuss the amorality of aborting what involved little more than a "clump of cells."

But the debate over partial-birth abortion as well as advancements in ultrasound technology and fetal development research have produced "windows to the womb" that reveal unborn children as living, breathing, feeling human beings.

Such developments forced abortion advocates to concede, as Kate Michaelman and Francis Kippling, two leading voices in the abortion-rights movement, did in a recent editorial, that "[s]cience facilitated the swing of the pendulum" that allowed pro-lifers to gain "the moral high ground." A recent Third Way poll found two-thirds of respondents felt abortion is the "taking of a human life" and "morally wrong."

As the child in the womb became more visible, the abortion lobby began to talk less about science and more about choice (as in, "It's my body, my choice"). But abortion opponents began to focus their efforts on exactly that: passing laws that offer women more information with which to make that choice. In 2007 alone, approximately 400 state bills related to abortion were considered (more than double the number in 2006). A significant number of these laws focused on informed consent.

Abortion advocates' opposition to most of these measures made pro-lifers appear more "pro-choice" than the so-called pro-choice advocates. As Third Way admits: Conservatives have won "the battle of reasonableness on abortion."

The changing abortion landscape has produced some striking results. A recent report by the Alan Guttmacher Institute found a 25-percent decline in the number of abortions since 1990. According to Gallup, the percentage of Americans who consider themselves "pro-life" has increased 12 points in 12 years, while the share calling itself "pro-choice" has gone down 8 points -- a 20-point swing.

Numerous polls show a sea change in abortion views among young people, who are now significantly more pro-life than any other age cohort since Roe v. Wade. As Michaelman and Kippling lamented, "Twenty years ago, being pro-life was declasse. Now it is a respectable point of view."

Having relinquished the mantles of science and "choice" to pro-lifers, it's easy to see why abortion advocates have resorted to the "jail time" scare tactic. The only trouble is, as columnist Bob Novak has noted, "No serious anti-abortion legislation ever has included criminal penalties against women who have abortions, much less their parents. Jailing women is a spurious issue raised by abortion rights activists."

Proposed state abortion bans in South Dakota and elsewhere explicitly state that aborting women would not be criminally penalized.

PRO-LIFERS OPPOSE prosecuting women who abort because they regard them as the "second victims" of abortion. In Great Britain recently, artist Emma Beck committed suicide after aborting her twins.

A suicide note read: "I should never have had an abortion. I see I would have been a good mum....I told everyone I didn't want to do it, even at the hospital. I was frightened, now it is too late. I died when my babies died. I want to be with my babies: they need me, no-one else does."

Beck's tragedy sheds light on the growing body of empirical research suggesting a causal link between abortion and psychological problems and confirms the reality that some women are seriously hurt by abortion.

It also highlights what pro-life activists who counsel women with crisis pregnancies learn well, and polling confirms: many pregnant women feel intense pressure to abort. Beck's mother said, "She was only going ahead with the abortion because her boyfriend did not want the twins. I believe this is what led Emma to take her own life -- she could not live with what she had done."

Jail time for women who abort? No chance. As Georgette Forney, co-founder of the Silent No More Awareness Campaign, has stated, "Women are already serving time for abortion right now in our own prisons...of guilt, shame and remorse." It's the prison of abortion from which pro-lifers seek to liberate would-be mothers, and their children.

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About the Author

Daniel Allott is a writer in Washington, D.C.