In a recent article in The Daily ("Body Politics: No Choice At All," originally published February 12, 2011), writer Jessica Valenti argued that many writers, activists, and general thinkers of the "Pro-Life" cause need to change their position: it is troublesome, says Valenti, that some think that the women who have abortions should face some sort of judicial consequences for their choice.
Let's give Valenti credit for this: she is consistent with her "Pro-Choice" view that the abortion of an unborn child is not, in fact, the taking of a life-- and thus bears no criminal penalty.
Let's give her credit for this also: she is right in pointing out the general inconsistency that many on the "Pro-Life" side exercise when they ignore the need for judicial consequences for all involved parties.
The argument against an criminal charges for aborting mothers is that they are "victims" of a coercive and manipulative system. They are the prey of cruel, heartless baby-killers masquerading as doctors, and they don't really know what they are doing. It would be unfair, the argument goes, to bring any charges against those who were functionally ignorant of the biological or ethical consequences of their acts.
It only took a couple of semesters in college for me to know better. I began college majoring in Theater, and my fellow Theater students were about as diverse as I could possibly imagine; I was quickly exposed to a variety of alternative views on politics, ethics, and relationships. Some of my classmates were surprisingly promiscuous-- yet some of the female students I knew found birth control and contraceptives to be inconvenient and troublesome. Thus, I knew of at least a few women who elected to gamble with unprotected sex, and abortion was the ideal solution to any unwanted consequences of their choices. They weren't unaware of what this procedure entailed; some had been through it more than a couple of times.
This may not be the normal course of events; indeed, my friends and acquaintances may be quite exceptional. In actuality, I believe that the women I knew and described above are not nearly as exceptional as most of us would prefer to think. Either way, I believe we are far too condescending toward women when we treat them as "ignorant" victims.
As a counter-example: the "Pro-Life" movement (such as it is) sometimes uses terms like "holocaust" in association with the large numbers of babies that are aborted annually. Of course, those numbers are horrifying, and insofar as a holocaust (in strict definition) is "destruction or slaughter on a mass scale," then surely, if unborn babies are living humans (which I believe they are), the high rates of abortion amount to a holocaust.
In the wake of the event known as "The Holocaust" we quickly learned how unambiguous our ethical stance on this question should be: those who participated at some level in the killing of millions were not allowed to plead that they were ignorant, nor could they cast the blame on those in positions of authority or superior knowledge. As participants, they were deemed to be accessories to murder or, in fact, murderers.
Why do we view aborting women as if they are uniformly blameless? Surely a functioning justice system would weed out those who were/are, and would determine fair punishment for those who were/are not. Regardless, however, we must have a higher view of life-- especially the lives of the women making the choices about abortion-- than the inconsistent position of a typical "Pro-Lifer" seems to espouse.
Jessica Valenti challenges that a consistent application of the Pro-Life position means that women who have abortions should face criminal consequences: "If abortion becomes illegal, women will go to jail." She is right... and they should.