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Why aren't women who abort punished?
March 8, 2006 11:00 AM   Subscribe

Why do people who are fighting for abortion to be made completely illegal never ever talk about what punishment the woman should get? If it's murder, why isn't the woman who gets prosecuted? Why just doctors? How does that make any sense, if it's really murder? Isn't the woman a criminal too in their eyes?

(i've been wondering this for quite a while, and this post at digby occasioned this q)
posted by amberglow to Law & Government (68 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Why do people who are fighting for abortion to be made completely illegal never ever talk about what punishment the woman should get?

Because they don't want their daughter to go to jail.
posted by Jairus at 11:05 AM on March 8, 2006


Ah, mate, I have no idea. I think that the idea of making it completely illegal comes from the (erroneous) belief that people wouldn't do it if it was against the law.

I read recently that a woman dies from an unsafe illegal abortion every six minutes. [No source was given for this info, not that I'm saying I doubt it.]
posted by different at 11:06 AM on March 8, 2006


(1) Because it would be bad PR if they said that they wanted a 19-year-old scared girl sent to prison for life on a murder-one conviction.

(2) Because they really don't give a shit. My sense of the anti-abortion movement is that, as a measure of central tendency, they don't much care how many abortions actually take place. If they did care about that, they'd behave differently than they do and wouldn't oppose programs that demonstrably reduce abortion rates. But they do (generally) oppose them, therefore they must not (generally) really care very much about actually preventing abortions. What they seem to actually care about is that abortion is made illegal. Not that abortion stops. Not that people are necessarily punished, even. But that they can rest easy knowing that there's a law against it.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:06 AM on March 8, 2006


As I understand it, in an overly simplified way, the fight against equal rights for women and in turn the fight against abortion rights, is about the women's "innocence" being so grand as to not allow them to do all the dirty things men do.

When don't spit, fart, or even poop. They don't swear, they shouldn't fight, let alone be allowed to fight in a war. They shouldn't have dirty thoughts and shouldn't wear dirty outfits. They are perfect and innocent and we need to protect them from being less than perfect, from being men. In my opinion, it is this perception of "innocence" that is the nature of the struggle. In turn, I would think that is it this "innocence" that disallows anti-abortion activists to see the error in their argument and realize that in order not to be hypocritical, they should advocate the punishment of women for getting abortions, not just the abortion doctors.
posted by pwb503 at 11:13 AM on March 8, 2006


The same reason that prostitutes are regularly prosecuted and johns seldom are.

If you want to stop an illegal service, it makes the problem much more tractable if you go after the providers instead of the clients.

(my apologies for suggesting that abortion opponents might in fact be sensible and practical in pursuing their cause. I don't believe dehumanizing people I disagree with)
posted by tkolar at 11:13 AM on March 8, 2006


I think it's part cynical self-preservation and part that they think it's obvious - they do use the word 'murder' pretty freely, after all. Plus, as others have said, they are more focused on making it something almost impossible to get than they are concerning themselves with the repercussions for people who manage to do it anyway.

You only have to watch the screaming about "you're going to kill your baby! don't kill your baby!' outside a clinic to know what they think the actual offense is, however.
posted by phearlez at 11:13 AM on March 8, 2006


...don't believe _in_ dehumanizing...
posted by tkolar at 11:16 AM on March 8, 2006


tkolar, that doesn't make a whole lot of sense, becuase if they successfully scared away all (or most) of the abortion-performing doctors, then women would just go back to fishin' it out with a coat hanger. Are they saving the "it's illegal to undergo an abortion" law for when this procedure becomes popular in the US again?

I also get the feeling that they don't really care all that much about saving fetuses as they do about cementing their ability to tell women/people what they can and can't do.
posted by rxrfrx at 11:16 AM on March 8, 2006


rxrfrx writes...
tkolar, that doesn't make a whole lot of sense, becuase if they successfully scared away all (or most) of the abortion-performing doctors, then women would just go back to fishin' it out with a coat hanger.

First of all, let me congratulate you on that absolutely lovely imagery. :-)

Second, from what I've seen and read there is a pervasive sense in the right-to-life camp that abortion doctors are the big problem.

That coat-hanger abortions will return seems to be recognized, but it is treated as a much smaller secondary problem -- my impression is that they believe that the rate of coat-hanger abortions will be drastically smaller than that of clinic abortions.

This is another area where I disagree with them, but I understand their motivations -- if they think they can stop 90% of abortions by targeting doctors, then that's where they need to focus.
posted by tkolar at 11:28 AM on March 8, 2006


I think there may be a useful analogy in the fact that people convicted of selling illegal drugs are punished, while mere possession w/o intent to sell is a much lesser offense.

The entire question seems to me to be purely argumentative. Pro-Choice folks (and amberglow, I presume) aren't really actually mad that Pro-Lifers don't seem to want to lock up pregnant women, are they?

Amberglow, you aren't actually upset about the failure of anti-abortion advocates to also advocate severe punishment of women who have abortions, are you? Surely you, at least, think that denying a woman a sanitary and safe abortion by a competent doctor is punishment enough for whatever evil there may be in having an abortion, right? If a woman is so desperate to have an abortion that she will resort to unsanitary and life-threatening, illegal means, do you really, honestly believe that she should then be punished in addition to what she's already been forced to go through?

The law punishes a store that sells cigarettes to minors far more than it punishes the minor who buys the cigarettes. How does that make sense, if it's really a crime?
posted by JekPorkins at 11:30 AM on March 8, 2006


I think tkolar's reasoning makes sense, but as a counter-example, when someone hires a hitman to kill someone, it usually is the "client" who goes to jail. As abortion, in many people's eyes, is essentially murder-for-hire, I think amberglow raises an interesting question.

An argument can, I guess, be made that women seek more abortions because they are legal; i.e., they would behave more carefully if they did not have abortion as an option. So in that sense, one can then say that criminalizing abortion would decrease the number of times it happens, as people might be more risk-conscious when it comes to birth control knowing that they're (legally) stuck with whatever happens.

Would that actually be the case? I don't know. My guess is that the number of illegal abortions would go up (obviously, though not to the level of legal abortions we have now), as would the number of unwanted/adoptable kids and the usage frequency of "alternative" BC methods (pills, condoms, etc.). At that point, I guess we have to make a normative decision as to which scenario is better.
posted by SuperNova at 11:32 AM on March 8, 2006


I've heard rhetoric to the effect that women who get abortions are victims of the process, too.
posted by tentacle at 11:32 AM on March 8, 2006


Quite a lot of pro-life women have either had abortions themselves or have friends/sisters/daughters who've had abortions and so they're hardly going to say they should go to jail. Abortion doctors are scary and evil, but ordinary women who've had abortions are...well, ordinary women who've had abortions.

The bad PR thing is a factor too. That's also the reason most pro-life groups aren't so vocal about the fact that they also oppose all forms of birth control - they know that they can get a significant number of people on their side when it comes to abortion, but it would be a very small minority of people who would support the complete elimination of contraception.
posted by speranza at 11:32 AM on March 8, 2006


[a few comments removed. please take your wisecracks and snarks about religion to email, start a meta thread, or flesh them out so that they actuall answer the question.]
posted by jessamyn at 11:36 AM on March 8, 2006


Well, speaking of this, has anyone taken to the time to figure out how South Dakota's law punishes those who are getting abortions?
posted by smallerdemon at 11:37 AM on March 8, 2006


raaka wrote...
Critical thinking skills are not taught in church.

Sorry for going off-topic, but I feel like this should be answered.

While you're right that religion tends to predict where people come down on this issue, I personally know some very rational atheists who believe that abortion is murder. I also know a large number of rational church educated people who think it isn't.

The very abstract philosophical question of "When is it murder to kill off a bunch of human cells?" is one on which rational people can disagree.

Where religious fervor gets to be a problem is in a much less abstract philosophical question: "When is it required for you to force your beliefs on other people?"
posted by tkolar at 11:38 AM on March 8, 2006


Jek, I think i might understand and respect their position more if it was at all consistent--If women who abort are "murdering their babies" then they should be punished. It's not doctors who force people to go to them, nor is it doctors who are doing anything other than provide a medical service--it's women who go in under their own free will, who are making a (for now legal) choice. This is a glaring and weird omission--why aren't women to be punished for killing their babies? why the silence? I do honestly think that if you believe that abortion is murder, the woman is the murderer. I do honestly think that if you want it made illegal again, you can't only talk of punishment for a third party, but you have to explain your case, and explain what happens to women who are caught.

On every other hot-button issue raging, people don't run away from the conclusions of their fights, do they? are we not supposed to even ask?
posted by amberglow at 11:39 AM on March 8, 2006


Also, why are fetuses being given rights and being described as "human beings" in legal documents in South Dakota and nationally? What does that mean? What are the implications of that? If i kill a human being, i go to jail, not the person who sold the gun--they just get fined if they sold it illegally, and usually don't at all get punished.
posted by amberglow at 11:41 AM on March 8, 2006


Two possibilities. 1. abstractification (search for it) 2. The majority of pro-life folks are Christians*, and the bible doesn't discuss penalties for abortion directly, although what it does say about it seems to be a contentious issue. I don't recall anything too specific though, at least when compared to some of the other material.

* informal Google survey: 'bible abortion' 10,500,000 hits. 'koran abortion' 860,000 hits. 'torah abortion' 318,000 hits.
posted by jwells at 11:45 AM on March 8, 2006


amberglow, in my opinion (and by my observation), aside from the most rabid psycho anti-abortion activists, pro-lifers don't actually believe that abortion is equal to murder of an already-born person. They frame it as murder because of the legal history of the debate, IMO. But if they had to choose between imprisoning a woman who had an abortion and imprisoning a woman who smashed her 2 year old's head in with a brick, and the other would not be punished, I suspect they'd imprison the latter every time. I know some extremely adamant pro-lifers, and I don't think any of them actually equates abortion with murder of an already-born person except when they're arguing.
posted by JekPorkins at 11:46 AM on March 8, 2006


Pro-Choice folks (and amberglow, I presume) aren't really actually mad that Pro-Lifers don't seem to want to lock up pregnant women, are they?

If there's a legitimate anger there, I believe it's because the argument to criminalize abortion is often framed by religious pro-lifers in terms of a matter of faith. That is, if you believe life begins at conception, all abortion is murder, and since we've already all agreed that murder is bad, we must punish those who commit abortion. You can't argue with "matters of faith," you can only respect others' beliefs on the subject, right?

To merely criminalize performing an abortion on someone else, and not punish women who may perform an aboriton (i.e. murder) on their own child is logically inconsistent with the above-stated "matter of faith" argument and it exposes the possibility that it wasn't really a matter of faith all along, but rather that religious beliefs were used as an excuse to shelter pro-lifers from legitimate criticism.
posted by rxrfrx at 11:49 AM on March 8, 2006


Ok, what if it's made illegal and there are no doctors legally performing it anywhere--Is it just the medical procedure as performed by a medical professional that will be outlawed, or is it the murder of a human being still in the womb that will be outlawed? If a woman does it herself and gets caught (as used to be the case), is she prosecuted for murder, or for performing an illegal medical procedure?
posted by amberglow at 11:50 AM on March 8, 2006


amberglow wrote...
I think i might understand and respect their position more if it was at all consistent

amberglow, I am hard pressed to think of any moral or political issue where humans are consistent.

You might as well be asking "why aren't state prison executioners put on trial for murder?", or "why aren't soldiers generally prosecuted for the deaths of innocent bystanders?", or "why do people who believe in the rule of law routinely break the speed limit?"

The human race is all stumbling along together, trying to do what we think is right. If absolute consistency was required, none of us would ever get anywhere.
posted by tkolar at 11:52 AM on March 8, 2006 [1 favorite]


I think the "matter of faith" involved is the belief that abortion is morally wrong. Equating it to murder, I think, results from legal attempts at making sure that abortion is not legal. Similarly, I think the "who do you punish and how" questions are largely logistic issues that don't really reflect on whether or not the original "matter of faith" is correct or incorrect.

But it doesn't make sense to indict a belief about morality by pointing out that its adherents can't figure out all the logistics of enforcement.

That enforcement is a logistical nightmare may be a legitimate argument against prohibition of a given act, but it is not a legitimate argument against the idea that the act is morally wrong to begin with. It would be impossible to enforce a law against people being assholes to each other, but that doesn't mean that being an asshole is OK.
posted by JekPorkins at 11:56 AM on March 8, 2006


Partly, I think, because the Religious Right wants *mothers*. If you imprison a woman for having an abortion, she can't repent and have more children. And most of the anti-choice protesters I've heard screaming along the sidelines of pro-choice rallies have focused on the "You're misguided women! The government is trying to trick you into killing your children!" rhetoric, which as mentioned above, is all about how the women are innocent victims of a baby-killing industry. "We care about women" and such statements were all the rage at the last pro-life march I heckled.

And for tkolar and SuperNova, from Planned Parenthood:

Legal Status and Abortion Rates

Contrary to the arguments of abortion opponents, making abortion legal does not appear to increase the incidence of abortion — in fact, the opposite seems to happen. A study by the Alan Guttmacher Institute published in 1999 found that abortion rates are no lower overall in areas where abortion is generally restricted by law (and where many abortions are performed under unsafe conditions) than in areas where abortion is legally permitted (Henshaw, 1999). Some of the lowest abortion rates in the world occur in countries where abortion is legal (e.g., Western Europe) and some of the highest abortion rates occur in countries where abortion is illegal (e.g., Latin America) (Marston, 2003). The study concluded that both developed and developing countries can have low abortion rates. Most countries, however, have moderate to high abortion rates, reflecting lower prevalence and effectiveness of contraceptive use. Stringent legal restrictions do not guarantee a low abortion rate (Henshaw, 1999).

The Netherlands, for example, has a non-restrictive abortion law, widely accessible contraceptives and free abortion services, and the lowest abortion rate in the world (WHO, 1998). Data suggests that an increase in contraceptive use in Mexico and Colombia is associated with an apparent drop in abortion rates in the metropolitan areas of those countries (Henshaw, 1999).

In contrast, countries in Latin America have some of the strictest abortion laws in the world. The vast majority — 95 percent — of abortions in the region are illegal (Henshaw, 1999; Ipas, 2005a). Despite the legal restrictions, many women seek abortions. The estimated rate of abortion is high, ranging from 25.1 per 1,000 women in Mexico to 56.1 per 1,000 women in Peru. Only three countries in the region — Barbados, Guyana, and Cuba — allow legal abortion for a wide range of reasons (Ipas, 2005a).

Case in Point: Guyana
Six months after abortion was legalized in Guyana in 1995, admissions for septic and incomplete abortion dropped by 41 percent. Previously, septic abortion had been the third largest, and incomplete abortion the eighth largest, cause of admissions to the country's public hospitals (Abortion Access Project, 2004).
****

But, from what I've seen and read, while the idea of back-alley abortions frightens the hell out of most pro-choicers (and is, really, the reason most of us are pro-choice: We're trying to prevent *that*, we're not trying kill babies), I haven't seen it addressed from the anti-choice side at all.
posted by occhiblu at 11:58 AM on March 8, 2006


Amberglow, as to your last question, some of it was discussed in a recent FPP; I'm not having luck finding it, but in general doctors were charged with higher felonies than the women who had sought the abortion, but the women could still be charged.
posted by occhiblu at 12:04 PM on March 8, 2006


It's an interesting question, but the discussion's so far lacking in the legal terminology. This is how I'd phrase it:
If it's murder, why isn't the...
pregnant woman an accessory to the crime?

Because surely, since it's the doctor who terminates the fetus, he must be the murderer, if you believe life begins at conception.
posted by Rash at 12:06 PM on March 8, 2006


But is she only an accessory? If i make a plan, and hire you to kill someone, am i only an accessory? wasn't it my idea in the first place?
posted by amberglow at 12:10 PM on March 8, 2006


I think tkolar's reasoning makes sense, but as a counter-example, when someone hires a hitman to kill someone, it usually is the "client" who goes to jail.

Your "counter-example" shows why tkolar's reasoning doesn't in the least make sense. If abortion is murder, then a woman who pays for an abortion is committing murder by hire, just like the murderer who hires a hitman. It makes no sense whatsoever to consider the woman a victim. The whole "murder" thing is pure hypocrisy; nobody actually believes it, they just use it to whip people into a froth.
posted by languagehat at 12:10 PM on March 8, 2006


On non-preview, what amberglow just said.
posted by languagehat at 12:10 PM on March 8, 2006


occhiblu wrote...
I haven't seen it addressed from the anti-choice side at all.

Here's a nice link for you if you're truly curious.

However, I'm not quite sure what Planned Parenthood's article on abortion safety has to do with amberglow's question.
posted by tkolar at 12:13 PM on March 8, 2006


We make distinctions in degrees of murder all the time: something done in the heat of passion generally gets less punishment than a cold-blooded, planned murder.

The pro-lifers probably believe that the pregnant woman is young, scared, brainwashed -- in other words, that there are mitigating factors and she is in some way a victim of the process too. Whereas the doctor has no such excuse. The doctor trained for years to do this, and does it unemotionally, for money.
posted by selfmedicating at 12:18 PM on March 8, 2006



The law punishes a store that sells cigarettes to minors far more than it punishes the minor who buys the cigarettes. How does that make sense, if it's really a crime?


Jek, as a point of fact, this makes absolutely no sense. It is not illegal for minors to purchase cigarettes. The crime is in fact for businesses to sell cigarettes to people under 18. This means minors are free to purchase cigarettes online. The proper analogy is that of a hitman: it's pretty clear that in the case of an abortion a woman is hiring another party to kill somebody in return for payment.
posted by nixerman at 12:19 PM on March 8, 2006


>I'm not quite sure what Planned Parenthood's article on abortion safety has to do with amberglow's question.

Y'all were discussing the idea that making abortion illegal would stop illegal abortions.
posted by occhiblu at 12:30 PM on March 8, 2006


I think it's because it's generally the doctor that performs them. Good points, though, especially to the hitman analogy.

Where religious fervor gets to be a problem is in a much less abstract philosophical question: "When is it required for you to force your beliefs on other people?"

I've heard this question posed before, in the guise of "immoral shouldn't be illegal". Most would agree that, say, premeditated, unjustified [adult] murder is wrong,
and that's clearly based on a moral underpinning.

What I'm curious about, though, is the financial implications. If legal personhood begins at conception, what about welfare? Tax deductions? Can I get a social security number? An ID card?
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 12:31 PM on March 8, 2006


There's also the argument that abortion results in such emotional long-term scarring that the woman is going to suffer, whereas (as selfmedicating suggests) the doctor is a trained, rational professional. More anti-woman rhetoric.
posted by goo at 12:32 PM on March 8, 2006


languagehat wrote...
I think tkolar's reasoning makes sense, but as a counter-example, when someone hires a hitman to kill someone, it usually is the "client" who goes to jail.
Your "counter-example" shows why tkolar's reasoning doesn't in the least make sense.


Here's a thought: what if the reasoning in my example and the reasoning in the counter-example both make sense? What if human moral systems have outright contradictions inherent in them?

What if practicality plays a larger role in human events than philosophical purity?

The question that was asked was "why are people acting the way they are?" The practical answer, as it almost always is, is "Because they are trying to do the right thing."

You and I might disagree with their view of what the right thing is, but that doesn't make them stupid or evil.
posted by tkolar at 12:38 PM on March 8, 2006


Occhiblu wrote...
Y'all were discussing the idea that making abortion illegal would stop illegal abortions.

Gotcha. I don't think anyone here needs convincing on that topic, but if you followed that link I posted I'll bet you could find quite a few.
posted by tkolar at 12:43 PM on March 8, 2006


Here's the relevant sections of the SD bill:
No person may knowingly administer to, prescribe for, or procure for, or sell to any pregnant woman any medicine, drug, or other substance with the specific intent of causing or abetting the termination of the life of an unborn human being. No person may knowingly use or employ any instrument or procedure upon a pregnant woman with the specific intent of causing or abetting the termination of the life of an unborn human being.

Any violation of this section is a Class 5 felony.

...

Nothing in this Act may be construed to subject the pregnant mother upon whom any abortion is performed or attempted to any criminal conviction and penalty.
posted by Johnny Assay at 12:44 PM on March 8, 2006


We live in a country where real value is placed on the idea of "just do something". But not much value is placed on thinking things through, or researching real solutions, or achieving measurable results. The question assumes a level of analysis which just doesn't exist.

The pro-life folks just want to save unborn babies, and save women from the horror of abortion. Just that. Stop trying to think it through. Just do it.

If you find this shallow logic very disturbing in this context, then good for you. I feel the same way. But if you reject it as the legitimate answer to your question you'll never understand. We, as a nation, care more about action than results.

We can find endless examples of this. Politicians can always win support by calling for tax cuts, even if they advocate increased spending in the next breath, and then fiscal responsibility in the next. The most invasive and expensive things we've done to prevent terrorism wouldn't have stopped the 9/11 attackers. But doing the simple and obvious things which would have doesn't make good talking points. So we spend huge amounts on "feel good" solutions.

Said another way - The sort of logic you are questioning isn't best understood in the context of abortion, but rather in the context of our nation and cultural psyche.

And given this dynamic where "just do it" is more important than "do the job right", potent sound bites will always win over solid research and logic. What is the sound bite which trumps "save the unborn"? We have scare tactics such as "back alley abortions", but that's trumped by pictures of bloody fetuses.

Personally I'm comforted by the fact we can even hold off the "save the unborn" folks as long as we have.
posted by y6y6y6 at 1:10 PM on March 8, 2006


I think the premise here is all wrong: anti-choice advocates are perfectly happy to punish a woman who chooses to abort her child, and are actively using the courts in creative ways to have fetuses given full rights. They aren't loud about it now, but allowed the full scope of their desires they would gladly throw a woman in jail for aborting her child.

Of course, these are laws that would be selectively enforced. Poor, African American women who shoot themselves in the stomach would be caught and punished, while wealthy white girls slip away to states or countries where abortion remains legal. It's interesting to note that the woman in the article is being charged with "illigally inducing an abortion" instead of murder, which treats her like a rogue abortion provider. Despite the final clause in the SD law, I expect a woman who tried to self-abort could find herself in a similar place.
posted by junkbox at 1:27 PM on March 8, 2006


tkolar writes "That coat-hanger abortions will return seems to be recognized, but it is treated as a much smaller secondary problem -- my impression is that they believe that the rate of coat-hanger abortions will be drastically smaller than that of clinic abortions."

Part of the thinking may also be that so many illegal abortions are so risky that the woman has been punished already just by taking on the risk. Even if she doesn't die or become sterile from incompetence or infection.
posted by Mitheral at 1:41 PM on March 8, 2006


toklar: The same reason that prostitutes are regularly prosecuted and johns seldom are.

If you want to stop an illegal service, it makes the problem much more tractable if you go after the providers instead of the clients.


Is that true? I always assumed it was because most johns are men, most prositutes are WOMEN, and most johns are of a higher socio-economic standing than prostitutes are. [I'm not being sarcastic, btw, it never occurred to me to think there might be a different reason.]

JekPorkins: Pro-Choice folks (and amberglow, I presume) aren't really actually mad that Pro-Lifers don't seem to want to lock up pregnant women, are they?

Well, no. I for one don't want women locked up for having an abortion, legal or not. I don't like the seeming lack of logic in (many) Pro-Lifers arguments. The one that *really* gets me is when someone claims that abortion is murder, but that it should be allowed in the case of rape or incest. Huh? How does that make it not murder, if that's what you believe it is otherwise??

But back to the actual question... amberglow, my guess would be because the issue of abortion is largely an argument based on emotion. And emotion isn't always logical, though it can be. A lot of arguments that Pro-Choice people make are considered non-logical from the point of view of someone who's Pro-Life. I know that to some people it makes no sense that I'm both Pro-Choice and Anti-Death Penalty. To me it makes perfect sense. (I'm not going to go into my reasoning, of course, but I'm just pointing out that I do *have* reasoning for it.) So, even though it seems like a logical step to me to prosecute the woman who had an abortion, I'm guessing that to others it doesn't.
posted by INTPLibrarian at 1:54 PM on March 8, 2006


Jek, as a point of fact, this makes absolutely no sense. It is not illegal for minors to purchase cigarettes. The crime is in fact for businesses to sell cigarettes to people under 18.

BZZT, thanks for playing. Herein lies the risks of making across-the-board statements about laws when 50 states are free to make their own. You are wrong, at least in Florida and likely in many other states as well.

from http://www.flsenate.gov/statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&Search_String=&URL=Ch0569/SEC11.HTM&Title=-%3E2005-%3ECh0569-%3ESection%2011#0569.11

(1) It is unlawful for any person under 18 years of age to knowingly possess any tobacco product. Any person under 18 years of age who violates the provisions of this subsection commits a noncriminal violation as provided in s. 775.08(3), punishable by:


Penalties for sale are seperate and can be found here.
posted by phearlez at 2:03 PM on March 8, 2006


Wow, this meme is spreading like wildfire. I just saw it on dailykos.

I suspect they'll come up with an answer soon enough (Probably that the penalty should be for the doctor).
posted by delmoi at 2:03 PM on March 8, 2006


As long as we're jumping into the deep end of the reductio ad absurdium pool, if abortion is murder, and doctors who perform abortions are murderers, wouldn't a doctor who performed multiple murders be a serial killer? Should they then be eligible to receive the death penalty (assuming their state has it)?

Just to return to actual facts: what is a class 5 felony in South Dakota, and what kind of punishment does it receive? What's the penalty and felony class for regular ol' homicide?
posted by LionIndex at 2:06 PM on March 8, 2006


Ok, what if it's made illegal and there are no doctors legally performing it anywhere--Is it just the medical procedure as performed by a medical professional that will be outlawed, or is it the murder of a human being still in the womb that will be outlawed? If a woman does it herself and gets caught (as used to be the case), is she prosecuted for murder, or for performing an illegal medical procedure?

Actually, in texas it is murder, and if a a baby is misscarried, and someone other then the mother did something to help induce it, they can go (and have gone) to jail for life.
posted by delmoi at 2:10 PM on March 8, 2006


INTPLibrarian: The one that *really* gets me is when someone claims that abortion is murder, but that it should be allowed in the case of rape or incest. Huh? How does that make it not murder, if that's what you believe it is otherwise??

In the criminal law, that's what's referred to as an "affirmative defense." It's still murder, but it's ok, because a given condition exists that exonerates the defendant. Some examples of traditional affirmative defenses are self defense and duress. One rationale I've heard for the proposed affirmative defenses of rape or incest is that it's an issue of whether the pregnancy arose as a result of a choice on the part of the woman (it could also be looked at from an assumption-of-risk perspective, I suppose). I hope that helps you to understand it better.
posted by JekPorkins at 2:26 PM on March 8, 2006


Perhaps for the same reason or reasons that those who are anti-death-penalty rarely advocate trying the prosecutor or executioner for murder.
posted by iconjack at 3:06 PM on March 8, 2006


amberglow,
the answer is: "polls".
the Fetus Folk -- and their political arm, the Republican Party -- must have commissioned quite a few polls these last few years (you know, the ones that told them that the "partial-birth" nonsense would actually push the right buttons). I bet that "life is sacred", "life begins at conception" etc polled consistently well. but I'm sure that "arrest, try and convict for Murder1 a woman who just had an abortion" polled very badly.

that's your answer, I guess. say what you want about the anti-Roe crusade (I certainly do!), but they know which buttons to push and which buttons to leave alone. poll first, frame issue later.
posted by matteo at 3:36 PM on March 8, 2006


You and I might disagree with their view of what the right thing is, but that doesn't make them stupid or evil.

No, it makes them hypocritical. I don't know why you're trying so hard to make their irrationality and hypocrisy look sensible.

And what matteo said. It's about polls and pandering, not making sense or being consistent.
posted by languagehat at 5:11 PM on March 8, 2006


INTPLibrarian wrote...
tkolar: The same reason that prostitutes are regularly prosecuted and johns seldom are.

If you want to stop an illegal service, it makes the problem much more tractable if you go after the providers instead of the clients.
Is that true? I always assumed it was because most johns are men, most prositutes are WOMEN, and most johns are of a higher socio-economic standing than prostitutes are. [I'm not being sarcastic, btw, it never occurred to me to think there might be a different reason.]


It seems likely to me that both statements are true. The approach of shutting down the supplier was probably chosen for practical enforcement reasons, but it has never been seriously challenged because the people who bear the brunt of arrests lack the political resources to make trouble.

It's hard to read too much sexism into the generic 'shut down the supplier' strategy, though. The same approach is used with narcotics, where the users are both male and female, but the suppliers overwhelmingly male.

Same with bootlegging, back in the day.

Of course, this point of view really annoys my drug using acquaintances, who believe that drug laws are really just a way for THE MAN to keep them down.

If you are of the school of thought ... and some people are ... that the prostitution laws exist solely to keep women from earning a living as independent providers, then I apologize for making excuses for THE MAN. :-)
posted by tkolar at 5:25 PM on March 8, 2006


languagehat wrote...
No, it makes them hypocritical. I don't know why you're trying so hard to make their irrationality and hypocrisy look sensible.

I'm one of them there peacenik types. I believe the future of humans lies in peaceful understanding rather than in mutual disrepect.

What, you thought all the hippies were gone?
posted by tkolar at 5:33 PM on March 8, 2006


Because they're not being rational. The anti-abortion argument is fundamentally irrational because it blindly refuses to see the crucial difference between an entity (the foetus) that is biologically joined to (and, in a sense, symbiotic with) another entity (the mother) and a fully independent entity. This distinction is crucial, yet anti-abortionists, in their (usually religion-driven) zealotry, either refuse to see it or dismiss it as unimportant.

It is fatuous to an offensive degree to try to claim that a foetus is the same as a baby, or that a foetus should be granted the same rights as an independently functioning human entity, or especially to claim that it should have the same rights as the woman carrying it. To demand that the microscopic collection of cells that exists immediately after conception should be granted full human rights is the utter madness to which this sort of irrationality leads. And plenty of these inhuman idiots believe that.

Again: when dealing with anti-abortionists you're usually dealing with irrational people making emotional rather than rational arguments.
posted by Decani at 5:48 PM on March 8, 2006


Decani, would you care to enlighten us as to what the "crucial difference" between a foetus and the mother is? I assume that this crucial difference is either legal or moral, and that it's something that, once one "sees" it, it's also undisputable, right? Or there's at least persuasive legal, ethical or scientific authority behind it? (or, dare I hope, some appropriate quote from SCIENCE! to guide us)

You seem to simply be framing the abortion issues however you want to and then criticizing fictional others for not framing them the way you do. That's not the most productive way to discuss an important issue. Of course, I don't really think abortion is all that important an issue, but that's just me.
posted by JekPorkins at 7:28 PM on March 8, 2006


Jek, there are many important and crucial differences, maybe the most fundamental being that a fetus/embryo/zygote/blastula is parasitic, and cannot live on its own. It is wholly dependent on its host for life. It does not meet any of the criteria for life, unless you see viruses and bacteria and cancer cells as having no crucial differences from people either.
posted by amberglow at 7:58 PM on March 8, 2006


make that "any of the criteria for human life"
posted by amberglow at 7:59 PM on March 8, 2006


Do you really think that a human fetus is equivalent to a virus, bacteria, cancer or a parasite? Or that the mother is the "host?" Wow. I mean wow. Or that there are some legal, moral or scientific "criteria for life" that a fetus doesn't meet? I'm seriously blown away by that.

A fetus/embryo/zygote/blastula is not parasitic. It is not like cancer, a virus or bacteria. And that analogy is just severely f-ed up, and I think it's revealing of why pro-lifers often are disgusted by pro-choicers. I think women should - on ethical and moral grounds - have the right to choose. But I also think - on ethical, moral, and scientific grounds - that equating an unborn child to cancer or a virus is completely wrong and morally reprehensible. Obviously, that's just my opinion, and not worth much, and I don't think that you're a bad person or anything just because you've enunciated that opinion, but damn.
posted by JekPorkins at 8:37 PM on March 8, 2006


speranza writes: That's also the reason most pro-life groups aren't so vocal about the fact that they also oppose all forms of birth control - they know that they can get a significant number of people on their side when it comes to abortion, but it would be a very small minority of people who would support the complete elimination of contraception.

Could you elaborate more on this? Not that I don't believe you, but having a couple sources for this would be handy to keep in my back pocket, mentally speaking.
posted by Handcoding at 9:17 PM on March 8, 2006


Of course it's parasitic. ... Fetuses are uniquely different from born human beings in major ways, which casts doubt on the claim that they can be classified as human beings. The most fundamental difference is that a fetus is totally dependent on a woman's body to survive. Anti-choicers might argue that born human beings can be entirely dependent on other people too, but the crucial difference is that they are not dependent on one, specific person to the exclusion of all others. Anybody can take care of a newborn infant (or disabled person), but only that pregnant woman can nurture her fetus. She can’t hire someone else to do it.
Another key difference is that a fetus doesn't just depend on a woman's body for survival, it actually resides inside her body. Human beings must, by definition, be separate individuals. They do not gain the status of human being by virtue of living inside the body of another human being—the very thought is inherently ridiculous, even offensive. ...
Ultimately though, to have a "right to life" requires that one be an individual capable of living an independent existence. One must "get a life" before one has a "right to life." A fetus is not a separate individual—it lives inside a pregnant woman and depends on her for its growth. In fact, the biological definition of "parasite" fits the fetal mode of growth precisely, especially since pregnancy causes a major upset to a woman's body, just like a parasite does to its host. I'm not trying to disparage fetuses with the negative connotations of the word parasite; in fact, parasites and their hosts often enjoy mutually supportive relationships, and this obviously includes most pregnancies. However, the parasitic relationship of a fetus to a woman means that its continued existence requires her consent11—if she continues the pregnancy unwillingly, her rights and bodily integrity are violated. ...

posted by amberglow at 9:22 PM on March 8, 2006 [1 favorite]


A fetus/embryo/zygote/blastula is not parasitic.

Uh, yes it is. Take a moment to put aside your tedious moral grandstanding and look at the definition of a parasite:

An organism that grows, feeds, and is sheltered on or in a different organism while contributing nothing to the survival of its host.

And... ugh, I won't even go into it. amberglow's question has been answered. I think it's pretty clear that Americans won't stomach prosecuting women who pay for abortions or self-abort (and thus the intense hatred for doctors). It'll be interesting to see just how far the Republican Party lets this move forwards.
posted by nixerman at 9:25 PM on March 8, 2006


[reminder: this is NOT an open thread on the abortion debate. Please answer the question, or take it to metatalk or email]
posted by jessamyn at 5:18 AM on March 9, 2006


Jek: Please, back it up with a cite. I don't see how you can possibly make a logical argument here. An emotional one, absolutely. No problem! You've asked for SCIENCE! Now give it back or admit you are only arguing from emotion.

Otherwise, I go along with the whole notion that the Pro-Life folks do as they do purely as a marketing thing. "Marketing" in politics makes lousy democracy.
posted by Goofyy at 6:22 AM on March 9, 2006


When you're pushing a policy that the majority of people disagree with, you have to be strategic. Jailing desperate women is not a popular image. Doctors can be portrayed as merely greedy. Jail them instead. Why not put pictures of blastulas on pro-life billboards? Because people do not relate emotionally to a blob of cells. Show them a baby, or something that looks like a baby. It's all just PR to facilitate a hard sell.
posted by nanojath at 2:04 PM on March 9, 2006


The subconscious (or possibly just unspoken) reason is because property doesn't commit crimes. The pro-life movement is just another part of the fight against the erosion of the male-dominated society.
posted by forrest at 3:08 PM on March 9, 2006


Oh, there more on it: ... If the unborn are legal persons, as numerous South Dakota laws assert, then a pregnant woman who has an abortion can be prosecuted as a murderer under already existing homicide laws.

Farfetched? Not at all.

Prosecutors all over the country have been experimenting with this approach for years. In South Carolina, Regina McKnight is serving a 12-year sentence for homicide by child abuse. Why? Because she suffered an unintentional stillbirth. The prosecutors said she caused the stillbirth by using cocaine, yet, they did not charge her with having an illegal abortion — a crime that in South Carolina has a three-year sentence. Rather, they charged and convicted her of homicide — a crime with a 20- year sentence. They obtained this conviction in spite of evidence that McKnight's stillbirth was caused by an infection.

Thus far, South Carolina is the only state whose courts have upheld the legitimacy of such prosecutions. But in fact, women in states across the country, including South Dakota, have already been arrested as child abusers or murderers — without any new legislation authorizing such arrests. In Oklahoma, Teresa Hernandez is sitting in jail on first-degree murder charges for having suffered an unintentional stillbirth. In Utah, a woman was charged with murder based on the claim that she caused a stillbirth by refusing to have a C-section earlier in her pregnancy. ...

posted by amberglow at 4:43 PM on March 9, 2006


JekPorkins, thanks for the answer and, yes, it does help me understand it better. Of course, then I wonder why it wouldn't be manslaughter, but I've never understood exactly what determines when something is considered manslaughter... and that's a whole 'nother topic...

And tkolar...
It's hard to read too much sexism into the generic 'shut down the supplier' strategy, though. The same approach is used with narcotics, where the users are both male and female, but the suppliers overwhelmingly male.

Well, "they" say they're going after the dealers, but what's the number of suppliers in jail versus the number of addicts and/or users? I don't really know nearly enough about the topic, but I've read stories about how many of the women in jail for drug offenses are girlfriends or wives of dealers who weren't able to cut a deal, whereas their boyfriends or husbands were.

BUT, since I'd guess that more doctors that perform abortions are men than women (and, duh, all those having an abortion are women), this trail of reasoning doesn't seem to apply to the question asked. Hmmm. So, uhm, nevermind.
posted by INTPLibrarian at 6:44 PM on March 9, 2006


Decani, would you care to enlighten us as to what the "crucial difference" between a foetus and the mother is?

Err... I did. In that post. Didn't you see it? Something in the way, perhaps?
posted by Decani at 6:49 PM on March 9, 2006


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