Illegality, Abortion, and Jail

I had always assumed that “pro-lifers”, who freely call women having abortions ‘baby killers’, and talk about abortion as a holocaust, would be very happy to throw women in jail for very long terms if they have abortions, as is done in El Salvador. So it never would have occurred to me to think that it would be interesting to ask clinic protesters what penalties women should get for having abortions. Turns out I was completely wrong. There’s a fascinating video, discussed by Anna Quindlen, that consists of just such questioning. It looks like protesters have never even considered the issue. As The F-Word points out, this is yet another manifestation of their failure to actually think about the woman involved. On the other hand, once they are forced to think about it they actually show some compassion for women, and in a way that reveals they don’t really think that women who have abortions are murderers. They think murderers should go to jail, but that the women should “be treated with love”, “be prayed for”, hopefully “feel sorry” for what they’ve done. One interviewee does concede that the women should go to jail, when pressed on the consequences of her views, but she’s clearly really uncomfortable.  This looks like a really interesting line to pursue when debating abortion.  The video is here.

5 thoughts on “Illegality, Abortion, and Jail

  1. Jender,
    The woman in the NY Times piece in El Salvador was imprisoned for strangling her born child. The New York Times’ ombudsman had a column on this a while back.

  2. JivinJ, it’s true that the woman cited there was imprisoned for strangling, but the fact remains that El Salvador does put women in prison for getting abortions.

  3. That video is incredible. How can the campaigners not have thought of this!?! V. interesting that, when pressed, many claimed that praying, or pity, or love, should be directed towards the women who have abortions. Perhaps the following Strawsonian line of argument might be offered to them:

    Holding someone responsible just is being disposed to have the reactive attitudes towards them (resentment, gratitude, etc).
    When we judge a person to be blameworthy for doing some action x, we undergo an episode of the reactive attitudes (resentment), or judge such an attitude to be appropriate. (The Strawsonian thoughts).
    To view a woman who has an abortion as blameworthy would be to have (or judge appropriate) the reactive attitude, resentment, towards her.
    Such an attitude is manifestly *not* the attitude undergone even by those who propound the view that such a woman has done something wrong (nor is it judged appropriate); rather attitudes such as pity, love, etc manifested.
    Either the attitudes manifested (pity, love) are misplaced (and should be discarded) or the belief that she has done something wrong is false.

    I know which disjunct I would go for…

    Such an argument goes beyond the problem posed in the video, where the campaigners had to either revise their view that abortion was illegal, or the view that the women ought to be punished. If they really believe that the women should not be punished, and conform their belief as rationality requires, they could hold that whilst abortion shouldn’t be illegal, it is still wrong, and so blameworthy.
    But if the Strawsonian line on the reactive attitudes and their significance in our moral practices is taken even this view would have to be revised.

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