Perhaps one of the most commonly used words to describe the medical act of aborting a human fetus is the legal word murder. The notion that “abortion is murder” is so prevalent along the entire pro-life spectrum that its origins seem to be lost to history. If anything the notion that abortion means murdering an innocent human baby is so deeply entrenched in that position that to question it seems heretical.
Yet question it we must since, if abortion is murder, then this has profound moral implications for what we think about women seeking abortions.
Yes there it is, the sticking point. Certainly in a society where abortions are forced on women then those women have no moral part in the killing of their unborn fetus. In those cases the woman is just as much a victim as her never-born baby. But in our society, where abortion is legal, it would seem that women who seek out an abortion are responsible for the procedure. Then if abortion is murder, does this not make women murderers?
This is a rather serious accusation isn’t it? But of course if we are being honest in claiming that abortion means murdering an innocent person, then it is no different than the kinds of horrors inflicted during slavery or the holocaust, both of which are commonly used analogies for the moral issue that is abortion. (Though one might add that they are weak analogies no matter how common they are.)
Now of course as Christians we are called to love and forgive, and certainly we must do both. However we cannot tolerate killers and allow them to kill even once, not if we can stop it. If you saw someone about to commit a murder, and it was within your power to stop them, wouldn’t you do it?
But that is why this is a sticky issue, we don’t always seem to be sure that abortion is murder in our approach to dealing with women who seek out abortions. So we need to look at the two most popular pro-life approaches to this issue in order to figure it out.
First approach – Street Preachers and Protesters
One way that the pro-life movement operates is to protest directly outside of clinics that perform abortions. This generally means picketing Planned Parenthood, but any center that performs abortions, and even some hospitals, will serve as the focus for the pro-life street preacher. The approach of these protesters veers from quiet prayer to open hostility and everything in between. However they all seem to be unified in their beliefs about the women who seek out abortions.
The street preacher sees the women seeking an abortion as a victim. She has to be, otherwise there would be no point in trying to convince her to make a different choice than the one they fear she is making. She must be coerced into this (although according to a Guttmacher study from 2004 less than 1% of women claimed that coercion was an overriding factor). The mother is innocent, and is therefore a pawn. According to John Finnis in his essay Abortion and Healthcare Ethics, women who have abortions are those “whose consent is given in a state of emotional upheaval and distress.”
So let’s break it down point by point. Women who have abortions cannot be responsible for them since they are coerced into having them by partners, parents, spouses, society, culture, and their own unreliable hormones and emotions. Therefore a woman is not responsible for murder if she has an abortion, because after all she does not really choose to have an abortion so much as she is manipulated into having one.
Second Approach – Lawmakers
The opinion that women are not guilty, however, is not one shared by those who actually make laws and policies on abortion in the US. From 2011-2014 States passed at least 231 laws designed to restrict access to abortion. Now, while this has some people in the pro-life crowd cheering this does not bode well for the street preachers and protesters.
The idea of legally restricting access to abortion for women who are seeking one out is predicated on the notion that the woman herself is not innocent, but is in fact a serious threat that must be dealt with. The lawmakers see women as guilty for the crime of abortion, and treat them as such.
Examples of these restrictions that are designed to target women include, but are not limited to: mandatory waiting periods, non-medically indicated state-mandated ultrasounds, and 20 week bans.
To be sure there are restrictions placed on clinics, but the focus of many of these laws is to either deter women from having abortions, or else punish them for having abortions. Many states now have feticide laws that incarcerate women for contributing to the deaths of their fetuses through imbibing drugs, alcohol, or simply having a miscarriage.
One of the most high profile examples of this is the case of Purvi Patel, a women who was convicted of feticide in the state of Indiana, and sentenced to 20 years in prison, for having a miscarriage.
From the perspective of the lawmakers the situation is simple, women are just as guilty as clinics or doctors and are just as subject to punishment for their crimes. They are not victims, nor are they innocent, and they do not deserve a chance to be converted. They must instead be deterred or punished.
The final verdict?
To those who protest at clinics, or run crisis pregnancy centers, women are victims in need of conversion. To those who pass laws and run state governments, women are perpetrators guilty of the crimes of murdering their unborn children, or at least they will be unless they are stopped.
I do not share the opinions and beliefs of the pro-life movement, as I am pro-choice myself, but I do understand the great difficulty they have with this point.
If abortion is murder, then the person who does the killing is a murderer. But this is a unique hostage negotiation, you have to try to convince the woman who is the greatest threat to the unborn that she should not only stay pregnant but also become a mother. And you must convince her to do all these things of her own free will, as pregnancy is a difficult and complex process requiring full cooperation from the woman.
So which is it? Do you treat her like a victim or a killer?
Or…you could also consider treating her like a person who has to make a choice that you cannot make for her. Good luck.