Was Trump Right That Women Who Have Abortions Should Be Punished?

By John Zmirak Published on March 30, 2016

Abortion is unique because pregnancy is. The fact that an unborn baby resides entirely inside the body of another human being with rights of her own makes mincemeat of our whole approach to justice, which is based on individual rights, balanced against the rights of others and the claims of the common good.

Yes, the baby has the right to life, but the mother has the right to control her body, too, so how can we disentangle the claims of two people who literally inhabit the same space, eat the same food, and are intimately related? To what else can we compare this situation: Siamese twins? A stubborn, unwanted tenant? A famous violinist who needs to share a healthy person’s organs, whose fans have kidnapped her and hooked the two together? Since no other relationship is exactly akin to pregnancy, all analogies finally fail. Abortion has no prefabricated answer, but requires the careful needle of a custom-tailor statesman.

Donald Trump in his blundering way put his finger on the core difficulty yesterday when he asserted, and then denied, that pro-life laws should include legal penalties for the mother. His flip-flop probably was what his rival Ted Cruz asserted: the kind of reversal you go through when you really think about an issue for the first time in your life.

Or maybe Trump has faced the question before. He has publicly boasted of sleeping with uncounted women — many of them the wives of other men. What are the odds that not a single one of these women became pregnant, and came to him for answers? Some reporter should ask him about this, perhaps with this tactful formula: “Mr. Trump, given the thousands of women you claim to have had sex with, how many abortions have you demanded or paid for?” Given Trump’s willingness to drag his opponents’ wives’ medical histories into the campaign, this question seems fair game to me.

For those of us who, like Senator Cruz, have been pro-life for decades, the issue has already vexed us: We know that abortion is homicide and are willing to punish the doctors. Indeed, I’m in favor of quite strict punishments for abortion profiteers. But since the woman who hires the doctor is the primary author of the decision, does it really make sense — as all prominent pro-lifers have prudently chosen to say — that we would never punish such a woman? What’s the logic there?

Well, the first logic is political. We know that treating women as exclusively the victims of abortion, and never as its author, is absolutely critical to passing any pro-life legislation. So we’re willing to overlook the moral inconsistency, rather than let the “best” be the enemy of the good. In the same way, most pro-lifers reluctantly make an exception for genuine victims of rape, who never willingly took the risk that their body might be on loan for the next nine months. We don’t like it, we know it doesn’t quite embody justice for the unborn, but we fear that such is the best law we could probably ever pass and really enforce.

The problem with the rape exception is obvious: We don’t have the death penalty for rapists themselves, so why should we impose it on their children? There is no satisfying answer, but you could ask the very same question about a pregnancy that directly endangered a mother’s life: That child is just as innocent. It isn’t as if he were trying to kill his mother…. We acknowledge the wretched messiness here and try to pass the least bad law that we can.

So no, it wouldn’t be perfectly fair to severely punish doctors who provided illegal abortions, while completely absolving the women who sought them out and paid their fees (not to mention the ne’er-do-well boyfriend who drives her to the abortionist, happy to be relieved of the burden of a newborn making the case for him growing up and becoming a responsible husband and father). At the same time, there is a real difference between a woman who hires an assassin to murder her husband, and one who procures an abortion. The obvious difference is that the first woman has other options for getting away from a husband, however abusive. A pregnant woman can’t escape her pregnancy, however unwanted or traumatic, without taking an innocent life. Many, perhaps most women who make the lethal choice of abortion are terrified and desperate. The decision itself does them grave emotional, spiritual and even physical harm. Any one of these factors would be enough to mitigate the remaining punishment that might be called for.

In fact, the most productive and compassionate approach to this vexing question may be this: We decide as a society to stigmatize abortion as such a desperate, self-destructive and irrational act, that it cannot be treated as grounds for a criminal prosecution of a mother. Instead we will treat women who go outside the law to end their pregnancies the same way we treat people who attempt to commit suicide. We might mandate that they get help, in the form of counseling — instead of leaving them to face the crushing guilt without support, as Planned Parenthood leaves the young women who fall into the organization’s clutches today, shooing them out the door after taking their fees and selling their babies’ organs. We would waive all charges against a woman in return for her help in prosecuting the doctor. As to him, he should get the same legal treatment as Dr. Kevorkian, the ghoulish suicide doctor.

This answer isn’t perfect. Some will say that it infantilizes women by treating their (im)moral choices about their pregnancies as pathological. It’s not a great answer for women who repeatedly decide to have illegal abortions. But it’s the closest thing to a fair solution possible in our degenerate society.

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  • Liz Litts

    Those who trick. pressure and corice women-especially young ones–those who look the other way while abusers force their victims into the death mills–they are the ones who should be punished.

    • faustinaagatha

      Yes they should be punished. So should women procuring abortion because are pregnancy is inconvenient.

  • ” abortion is homicide ” This cannot be correct. Murder would require that an established individuality i.e. a developed unique individual…had his or her life terminated by violence. You cannot terminate what has not commenced.

    • Roknor

      Homicide is the killing of another human being. Murder is the unlawful killing of another human being. Abortion is not murder because it is not unlawful, but it is still homicide, because the human child is killed by another human being. It commenced, as you say, at the point of conception.

      • Cassandra

        >>Murder is the unlawful killing of another human being.

        No. Murder is killing with malice. Whether the civil law recognizes a murder as murder is another issue.

        • claytr

          Malice would include reckless disregard for human life

      • Only if you define potential humanity as actual humanity.

        • Roknor

          Not potential, he or she is an actual human being. But I guess if we get to arbitrarily decide what a potential human being is, maybe someday, potentially, you will be human.

          • I see you are clear on what ‘human’ means – and are willing to exclude others from that category at your convenience.

    • opit, yes, abortion is homicide — but it depends on who does the killing. Roe v Wade protects the abortionist.

      Some 37 states have fetal homicide laws which give the unborn baby personhood status. This is designed to punish the murderer (or, shall we say, the unlicensed abortionist…). There are criminals who have killed a pregnant woman and have been convicted of a double homicide. Both are persons recognized in law.

      You can be forgiven for being confused. Pro-life laws are attempting to limit the killing unborn babies.


      • Laws to presume a humanity which has not developed into place resemble a mockery giving chimpanzees personhood without legal rights…which still makes a lot more sense than for corporations. How can you murder that which does not exist ?

  • Kathy Weill Lee

    My feeling is this: Any “punishment” should come from our Lord God.✝

    • West

      Same with arson or robbery?

    • Jude

      At what stage of human development do you think any punishment should be dealt with by society? Does that argument hold for a 25 week fetus? 32? 36? Is punishment handled by God alone if the baby is less than three days old? Or do you just not believe that the unborn are persons with inalienable rights?

  • Jude

    First of all, I am a woman. It’s time to move past this “women are the helpless victims of abortion” scenario. Yes, I have known women who were pressured to have an abortion. But it was not a gun held to their heads. If I tell you that your life will be hard and you will be financially inconvenienced unless you kill the stranger next to you, do you get to kill without consequences? Moral culpability can be lessened by duress, but not completely excused. And there are far too many cases of abortion where no one is pressuring the woman. It is her choice. Heck, there are many who brag about their abortions and call them empowering, even the best choice they ever made. You can’t claim on one hand the equality of women and then on the other hand give them a special permanent victimhood status that excuses them from their actions.
    Trump is absolutely right that if abortion was made illegal, women who obtained an abortion and were caught would have to be punished in some legal way. I don’t see that as some great tragedy for society.

  • faustinaagatha

    This is ridiculous; it is the way of complete moral relativism.. Yes there are abused people hounded into this by significant others. If/when abortion becomes illegal that can be decided on the merits of a particular case. There is also the case of women having multiple abortions.

    • West

      Exactly correct. You charge those who murder. If a person was coerced then the law deals with that as it does now in every case.

      Trump has exposed the corrupt Right within politics and within the faith.

  • Mara319

    Thanks, Mr. Zmirak. Your answer may not be perfect but it’s so far the best solution this important moral-political problem.

  • 6thinclass

    I, too, have wondered how many abortions are in D Trump’s past – and, if recalling those incidents may have caused him to back-peddle?

    Come to think of it, the campaigns not over – maybe a lot of illegitimates will be crawling out of the woodwork! I don’t believe we have seen the worst of the mud-slinging (if The Donald is nominated).

  • Praelium

    Very good analysis by a brilliant author. “Magnam gratiam.” Great thanks. In an abortion the child is zero percent guilty, the mother is 51% guilty due to a mess of hormones, the doctor is 100% guilty due to his free choice of industry, the pro-abortion judge is 100% guilty for rejecting sound reasoning, and liberal politicians and media are 100% for preparing society to accept abortion. As a Catholic and a tax payer, I am probably 10% guilty for not protesting where my taxes go and not praying the rosary outside of abortion clinics. Yes, everyone should “stigmatize abortion” as well as homosexual actions, since both sins are connected. As K.W. Lee comments below, “punishment should come from the Lord.” That is 100% going to happen, thankfully. Time to fast and pray.

  • Matamoros

    “Instead we will treat women who go outside the law to end their pregnancies the same way we treat people who attempt to commit suicide. “

    The answer is yes. Your analogy is wrong. The correct analogy is if I decide you want to kill someone, and you hire a hitman to do the deed, and the killing is completed, who is at fault. The clear answer from law is that the hitman may have done the killing, but you procured it. Therefore you are also guilty of murder.

    That is the true situation with regard to women and abortion. They are, in deed, murderesses.

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