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Monday, April 04, 2016

Trump and The Hunter's Snare

Recently, Donald Trump made a statement about punishing women for trying to get an abortion. While he has walked those remarks back, many of his supporters continue to insist that Trump was essentially correct - women should be punished for abortion.

Here is the transcript of Trump's abortion remarks, with the relevant portion below:
MATTHEWS: Do you believe in punishment for abortion, yes or no as a principle?
TRUMP: The answer is that there has to be some form of punishment.
MATTHEWS: For the woman.
TRUMP: Yeah, there has to be some form.
MATTHEWS: Ten cents? Ten years? What?
TRUMP: I don’t know. That I don’t know. That I don’t know.
MATTHEWS: Why not?
TRUMP: I don’t know.
MATTHEWS: You take positions on everything else.
TRUMP: Because I don’t want to -- I frankly, I do take positions on everything else. It’s a very complicated position.
MATTHEWS: But you say, one, that you’re pro-life, meaning you want to ban it.
TRUMP: But wait a minute, wait a minute. But the Catholic Church is pro-life.
MATTHEWS: No, let’s not talk about my religion.
Has the pro-life side (a) ever said women should be punished and (b) displayed inconsistency by saying women should not be punished? After all, if it is murder, shouldn't the one attempting murder be punished?

The answers are (a) no, no state in the Union has ever prosecuted a woman for attempting to have an abortion, nor has the pro-life side ever attempted to get that to happen and (b) no, it is not inconsistent to say that the abortionist should be punished while the woman should not be.

Consider: a man who attempts suicide has, according to pro-life principles, also attempted to commit murder. So has anyone who assists such a man in his suicide attempt. Yet pro-lifers have always insisted that only doctors who assist suicide (e.g., Dr. Kevorkian) should be prosecuted, not the man who attempts it or who hires Dr. Kevorkian to assist him in completing it. 

For those who insist Trump is correct to punish women, I ask a simple question: would you also support prosecuting and punishing those who attempt suicide?

And for those who do not like this analogy, keep in mind what Planned Parenthood itself celebrates as a pro-abortion attitude:
In a magazine article some years ago I wrote, “No one wants an abortion as she wants an ice-cream cone or a Porsche. She wants an abortion as an animal, caught in a trap, wants to gnaw off its own leg.”

To my surprise, this line revealed a place of agreement in the midst of the deadlock. Not only was it quickly picked up by sympathetic pro-lifers, but it was “Quote of the Week” in Planned Parenthood’s Public Affairs Action Letter, and “Quote of the Month” in the Pro-Choice Network newsletter. Apparently pro-choice partisans could agree with pro-lifers that, no matter what their political differences, abortion was a miserable choice.
We don't punish people who are trapped by the hunter's snare. We punish the people who ensnared them. 

Trump answered as a pro-abort Democrat imagines a pro-lifer would answer. He is wrong, and all who agree with him are wrong.


Sean W. said...

Are we sure we wish to be appropriating the logic of Planned Parenthood?

Regrettable life circumstances paired with judgment clouded by original sin, unenlightened by Church teachings, may mitigate moral culpability for abortion, but to imagine that they universally and totally exonerate all women of moral guilt (or should exonerate them of guilt under civil law) seems terribly misguided. One may as well say flat-out that women have little or no moral agency.

Put another way, if a mother murders her two-year-old because her husband left her and she lost her job, we would still try her for murder, no? Even if we assumed her judgment were clouded by mental illness, we would still at least make an effort to rehabilitate her. We wouldn't simply let her go back out into the world untreated, her crimes unacknowledged, potentially to do it again.

There may be good prudential arguments for refraining from focusing primarily on prosecuting women for procuring abortions -- cutting off the supply may be more effective than trying to discourage demand -- but to extrapolate a general principle from this seems terribly irresponsible, and it is already being used by the likes of William Saletan at Slate ( as an argument against the pro-life movement's credibility.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

It isn't a question of moral agency, it's a question of prudence in dealing with the problem.

Through the centuries, the popes have tried a lot of different ways of dealing with the problem of abortion, allowing individual priests to absolve it vs. withholding absolution until death vs. reserving absolution to just bishops vs reserving absolution to just the Supreme Pontiff. None of the attempts prevented the problem, and at least a couple turned out to be completely unworkable (reserving to the Supreme Pontiff and until death, for instance).

When it comes to a secular solution, many different attempts have also been made to resolve it: making it a crime for both doctor and mother (pre-WW II Germany), a crime just for the doctor, and "legal but rare". At this particular time in history, we know that at least 80% of abortions are forced on the woman by people within the woman's social situation (parents, siblings, lovers, husbands). As a nation, America has NEVER considered the woman a proper part of the criminal process. Now, we could follow the German tradition. As someone of German descent, you would think I would advocate for that, but I never have. Instead, I prefer Pope Francis' approach: I advocate for continuing the American tradition.

Andrew said...

So if a mother intentionally takes a pill to kill her unborn child, is she a "woman" who shouldn't be punished or an "abortionist" who should be?

Steve Kellmeyer said...

So, if a drug addict takes a pill to get high, knowing that s/he might die from it, how long do you want the addict's jail sentence to be?

If a (non-pregnant or pregnant) mother intentionally takes an overdose of barbiturates, how long should her prison sentence be? Or should she just be executed for attempting suicide, because attempted suicide IS attempted murder?

Andrew said...

If you're convicted of illegally possessing a controlled substance, then the prison sentence is going to vary on your state laws, your prior criminal record, which judge you get, etc.

So if a mother intentionally kills her own unborn child by taking a pill, is she an abortionist?

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Is she an abortionist? Obviously not - you have to have an M.D. behind your name to be an abortionist.

Andrew said...

If the deliberate killing of an unborn child isn't an abortion, then it's not exactly clear what banning abortion would do to protect unborn children.

Punishing attempted suicides wouldn't be the end of the world. Prosecution would face a few problems though- cooperation of the victim (who is also the defendant) in providing testimony, and also establishing motive. If someone actually wants to kill themselves, there are a lot of ways to do it, so if they attempt, the obvious defense would be that they weren't really attempting to kill themselves, but rather making a "cry for help". But assuming you could get a conviction, some form of punishment doesn't seem unreasonable, and actually we punish attempted suicides now, although we don't call it punishment. In my state you can get involuntarily committed for 72hours, and have your right to bear arms stripped from you for life, without even the benefit of a trial.

With abortion, you have an actual murder take place. Prosecution would still face problems in gaining the cooperation of any involved, but difficulty in prosecuting cases isn't necessarily a reason to make something legal. If you give one segment of the population (pregnant mothers) immunity from murdering another segment of the population (their unborn children) then nothing has really changed from our current situation.

God bless.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Ok, well, then let's walk this through.
Do we prosecute any woman who walks into an abortion clinic for attempted murder?
If she drives into the parking lot?
If she asks a friend about it?
If she googles it?

I'm sorry, I just don't see how this helps. Making abortion illegal is fine, let's prosecute the doctors and the drug makers/suppliers, sure. But there is no percentage in prosecuting the pregnant mothers, anymore than there is a point in prosecuting an attempted suicide. I can't see the rationale - at this point, you sound seriously demented to me. I don't see how it does anything but harden hearts.

I've known a lot of women who have had abortions and repented. I don't see how prosecution and/or jail time would have improved their likelihood of repentance. In fact, I know it wouldn't have helped at least a couple of them. I prefer them to come to Christ rather than rot in a jail cell.

Andrew said...

I agree that the state of the person's souls is incomparably more important then their criminal record, and I'm not even saying put a mother in jail (nor is that what Donald Trump said).

I think there is more agreement between us than I thought. As you said, many women repent after having an abortion. Now many, in response to Trump's comments are speaking of the mother as if she were an entirely innocent victim of the abortion. Is she is a victim. Yes she is. She's also an actor in the commission of a grave evil. If she didn't do anything wrong, she wouldn't have anything to repent from. God punishes us for our sins. Getting an abortion is a sin. God punishes people who get abortions. It logically follows from the idea "Anyone who wants to punish a woman for getting an abortion isn't pro-life" that God isn't pro-life. Which is dumb. "Pro-life" is a political slogan used to control people. It's interesting that many of the national pro-life groups didn't come after Trump or Kasich (or Romney, etc) for supporting the murder of children conceived by rape or incest. My state Pro-life organization just sent me a mailing saying Kasich is pro-life. Sooo...

If you support the killing of unborn children by abortion then you can be "pro-life"

If you support punishing someone for killing unborn children by abortion then you are not "pro-life".

That, to borrow your term, is demented.


Andrew said...

One more thought,

Another benefit of having some sort of legal penalty for a woman who has an abortion, is that the fact that something is illegal will keep many (although certainly not all) people from doing it. Whether or not punishment benefits the perpetrator is not the sole criteria to look at. Does it protect potential victims?

Finally, if you take the stand that a mother is immune from prosecution for killing her own child in the womb, then you need to explain why she shouldn't be immune from prosecution for killing her own child (or contracting someone else to do so) outside the womb. Will punishing a woman for killing her 1 month, 1 day, or 1 minute old child improve their likelihood of repentance more or less than punishing for killing her child in the 1st, 2nd, or 3 trimester?

P.S. Started re-reading Designed to Fail the other day. Thank you for the effort in writing the book.

God bless.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

You state that the reason for punishment is to deter others from committing a crime. Do you really think that a woman who kills her one-month old baby stops to think "Good heavens, perhaps I shouldn't do that, as I would be prosecuted!"?

Andrew said...

The deterrence effect of making something illegal is much more than a fear of punishment. Most people believe that for the most part, what is legal is moral and what is illegal is immoral. The guy or girl who turns down marijuana isn't necessarily thinking that they will get caught and be punished, but they are thinking that it is against the law and therefore something that they shouldn't do. As laws on drugs and sodomy along with other things change, people who would have nothing to do with them before when they were illegal under the civil law, will now be much more likely to approve of them or even participate in them.


Andrew said...

As an illustration, most people would view the mother that pays a doctor at the hospital to smother her newborn baby to death in the NICU, to be a monster.

Most of those same people would view the mother that pays a doctor to cut her unborn child up into little pieces, to either be completely within her rights to do so, or else simply someone who made a tragic choice under duress.

What's the difference? According to the state, the first act is legal and the second is not. Most mothers don't have their newborns killed, not out of any fear of punishment, but because they don't even imagine doing something so socially unacceptable. A big part of what makes it socially unacceptable is that it is illegal.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

OK, well, all I can say is, my experience with pregnant women doesn't match yours.

Sean W. said...

I'm perfectly open (as I said above) to the prudential argument that women should not generally be the ones prosecuted, that legal warfare could be more effectively waged against the supply side of the eqution -- but there's a difference between the prudential argument and the argument you advance in the OP, which is, effectively, that women are the victims of abortion (hence "trapped in the snare").

It's certainly true of some women, and many others are unduly pressured (as are, e.g., young gang members, who are rightly prosecuted anyway -- pressure doesn't strip people of moral agency, though it can temporarily cloud their judgment in ways that mitigate their guilt), but it's also true that many see abortion as last ditch contraception and are shameless in pursuing about it and even bragging about their abortions (#ShareYourAbortionStory), compounding their murders with scandal.

In some ways abortionists are just as caught in the snare as women: liberal modernity lies to them, too, after all, and their livelihoods are just as bound up in the industry as some women's lives are bound up with maintaining functional barrenness. I'm sure Abby Johnson could testify to that. A "caught in the snare" argument could just as easily be marshaled in their defense.