Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Pragmatism and compassion: a pro-life perspective

Kevin Drum over at Mother Jones has this to say about the ongoing abortion debate:
There is, of course, no logical reason why women who get abortions shouldn't be prosecuted for feticide if abortion really is murder. And they probably will be, too, if Roe v. Wade ever gets overturned, as LaBruzzo and his allies hope. After all, LaBruzzo has merely said a little more bluntly what lots of other anti-abortion have previously said more circumspectly: the only reason to exempt women from prosecution is that it would be hard to pass a bill that didn't. It's not that they don't think these women are murderers who ought to be in prison. They do. They just don't quite have the votes to make that stick yet.
I'm not sure if he's right on either point, but he could be. That's part of what makes the abortion debate weird for me. I don't think my position on the issue is especially "conservative," in the traditional sense, yet that's how the issue seems to line up in mainstream American politics. Sometimes these alignments get a little incomprehensible to me.

From my perspective, of course it makes sense not to prosecute women for having abortions, for the simple reason that both women and children are the victims. I think it was Frederica Mathewes Green who said something like, "A woman doesn't want an abortion likes she wants a car or an ice cream cone. A woman wants an abortion like an animal caught in a trap wants to gnaw off its own leg." And we can extend that metaphor fairly plausibly. If you see starving people resorting to cannibalism, do you prosecute them for it? Maybe there's actually something wrong with us, who let life go by without taking care of such desperate people.

It makes sense to me to prosecute abortionists, i.e. the doctors who perform abortions, who with full knowledge of the facts break the first rule of medicine: do no harm. They ought to endure the responsibility of providing a false solution to a hard problem. And while I am well aware that many women have abortions despite having full knowledge of the facts and despite having the means to choose otherwise, it would still make sense to determine laws based on the all too widespread disadvantages women have been given in this society.

The fundamental principle at work here is that laws are meant to protect the vulnerable. If both women and their unborn children are vulnerable members of society, then it is not inconsistent to suggest alternatives to holding women directly responsible for seeking abortions. And if this happens to be pragmatic, so much the better. My goal is to see more people live, not to achieve perfect abstract consistency in legislation.

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