Should Women Who Have Abortions Be Punished?

There has been a great deal of discussion on the internet recently about whether women who have abortions should be punished by law if abortion were to become illegal. It is often argued that abortionists should be punished, but not the women who visit them. This is the dominant position in the pro-life movement today. But this belief is dead wrong and I’m going to explain why in this article even though the reason should be obvious.

Let’s say a woman is raising a one-month-old child and decides she no longer wants to be a mother because of the stress and cost of taking care of that child. She regrets not having an abortion because then she would not have to deal with the consequences of giving birth to a child. So she hires a hitman to abduct her baby and kill him so that she no longer has to be a mother. Should she be held legally responsible for the crime of hiring a hitman to kill her child? If you answer, “Yes,” then on what basis should a woman who hires an abortionist to kill her unborn child not be held legally responsible? The only difference between a one-month-old and an unborn child is the level of development. The only way you can make an argument that mothers who kill their unborn children should not be held criminally responsible is by agreeing with the pro-choice logic that killing an unborn child is fundamentally different than killing a child who is already born. Every objection against holding women who have abortions responsible for what they have done could be used against prosecuting the woman in this scenario who hires a hitman to kill her child.

By saying that women who have abortions should not be punished, the modern pro-life movement is saying that it is not actually interested in abolishing all acts of abortion. If the pro-life movement had its way, almost as many abortions would take place as they do now. Surgical abortion would simply be replaced by chemical abortion. And there would be no accountability for women who take abortion-inducing drugs under this policy. That would mean a woman who smokes marijuana is more legally liable under the law than a woman who takes a drug to end the life of her unborn child.

Those who argue that women who have abortions should not be criminally charged fail to cite any Scripture to support their position. That’s because this viewpoint does not come from the Bible, but from the Roman Catholic Church which was involved in the pro-life movement before most Protestants were. This argument is built around the myth that women who intentionally kill their unborn children are victims rather than accomplices in a murder. There may have been a time when a woman could claim that she did not know what she was doing when she had an abortion. But the time for ignorance is past. The amount of knowledge we have today concerning the development of the child in the womb is incredible in comparison to the days of Roe v. Wade. Anyone with access to the internet can see pictures of every stage of development in the womb.

The Bible says in Ecclesiastes 8:11 that, “Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed speedily, the heart of the children of man is fully set to do evil.” Laws against evil serve as a deterrent to restrain those who are evil. This is the true purpose of the government (Rom 13:4). Without any legal accountability for abortion, there is no incentive for a woman not to have one. This is the reason why we punish both prostitutes and those who visit them. The same is true for those who purchase illegal drugs and those who sell them. Both parties must be punished or else only the seller would have an incentive to not engage in criminal behavior. Decriminalizing an action is the same as legalizing it because either way there is no punishment for the one who commits it.

One of the objections to the position advocated here is that this would result in punishing women who are in crisis rather than helping them. A woman with an unplanned pregnancy is a woman in crisis. But a woman who has had an abortion is no longer a woman with the crisis of an unplanned pregnancy because she has dealt with that problem through abortion. She is now no longer a woman in crisis, but a woman with the guilty conscience of having murdered her child. When ministering to a person who has committed murder, the church has a role to play in proclaiming the gospel to him or her and the government has an obligation to punish those who take life.

Another objection is that this would make it more difficult to prosecute abortionists because women would fear coming forward to testify against the abortionist for fear of being criminally charged. But why do prosecutors need the testimony of women who have participated in abortion to prove that the abortionist has committed a crime? When a woman hires a hitman to kill her husband, is her testimony against the hitman essential to proving the case? Holding women accountable for abortion would actually increase the likelihood of having them testify in court against abortionists because prosecutors can offer them the plea deal of a reduced sentence for their crime in having the abortion. If these women have not committed a crime, then no plea deal could be offered to them and they would have less of an incentive to testify.

Some might argue, “But women who had abortions before Roe v. Wade were not held legally responsible.” That is true. And that is one of the reasons why Roe v. Wade became the law of the land. Not punishing women involved in abortion helped to create a pro-choice culture because there was no deterrent against it. It was inconsistent to punish abortionists while not punishing the women who hired them so the courts stopped punishing abortionists.

But what about situations where a woman is forced into having an abortion by the father? In that case, the father or those who pressured her into having an abortion should be held responsible. A woman who feels as if an abortion is the only option should contact her nearest crisis pregnancy center or visit a church who can help her. There are many Christians waiting to help women in crisis if they only knew where to look.

As others have indicated, inconsistency is the sign of a failed argument. It’s time for those who are in academia and leaders in the pro-life movement to listen to the voice of the church instead of Roman Catholicism. I would be in agreement with Tony Miano’s position on abortion.

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