On jailing women for abortion, Neil Steinberg draws an obvious (but important) conclusion:
[A] fellow columnist was addressing abortion, and he upbraided a presidential candidate who suggested that banning abortion would “criminalize young girls and perhaps their parents.”
“No anti-abortion legislation ever has proposed criminal penalties against women having abortions, much less their parents,” he wrote. “Jailing women is a spurious issue raised by abortion rights activists.”
And he hurries on. But I found myself lingering, wondering why, exactly, this is. Why would abortion rights activists raise the issue of jailing women?
The answer is obvious.
If abortion is to be a crime, as many would like, then somebody has to be punished for the crime. The assumption is that this would be the doctors, exclusively, while the women undergoing the abortions get off, I assume, with a stern lecture.
That is not, however, how it usually works in criminal law. In criminal law, if you are planning to rob a bank, and I drive you to the bank and wait while you are inside doing your business, then I am not an innocent party. I am a bank robber, just like you, and if you shoot a guard while inside, I’m a murderer, too.
So if abortion is murder — the reason we’re banning it, supposedly — then why would not the women who delivered their fetuses up to slaughter be equally guilty as the physician who actually does the deed? That’s how they do it in South America.
The answer, obviously, is because re-criminalizing abortion is a hard enough sell in this country — 34 years and counting, somebody’s dragging their feet — without raising the specter of teenage girls being packed off to jail.
Besides — and this is the strange sociological part — jailing the women would imply that they are complete adults responsible for their acts. And once you admit that, you’re halfway to granting them control of their own bodies, and thus not banning abortion in the first place.
It certainly is a conundrum.