Friday, November 30, 2007

IF ABORTION REALLY WERE MURDER

In last Wednesday night’s debate among the eight Republican candidates contending for their party’s Presidential nomination, a young woman, via a YouTube video, asked the candidates an important and telling question on the subject of abortion. If abortion were made illegal, she asked, what punishment would the candidates propose for a woman who broke the law and had an abortion?

To a man, the candidates who were opposed to abortion (apparently all of them, with the exception of former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani) declared that there would be no punishment whatever for the woman. Only the abortionist, i.e., the physician or whoever else performed the abortion, would be punished.

Now I am not an attorney. Still less have I had any experience working in a prosecutor’s office. However, I have watched innumerable episodes of the television program “Law and Order” and similar shows. “Law and Order,” of course, is the show in which one of the Republican candidates, former United States Senator Fred Thompson, has played the role of district attorney for the last several years.

What I have learned from such shows and from casual reading on the subject is that the law punishes premeditated murder more severely than murder that is not premeditated, and also that it generally punishes the instigator and planner of a murder more severely than the person who is employed to carry out the murder. Accordingly, let us imagine that instead of a woman who has had an abortion and has paid a physician to perform it, we have a woman who has arranged the murder of her husband by means of hiring someone to do it.

I can imagine Senator Thompson, in his role as DA, telling one of his assistants to offer the suspected “hit man” a “deal,” in the form of pleading guilty to a lesser crime than Murder in the First Degree, say “Murder Two” or even “Man One,” in the vernacular of the show. The purpose of the deal, of course, would be to get the hit man to “roll” on the worse offender, in this case, the person—the woman—who employed him.

I now ask, what is different in the case of abortion, if abortion really is murder? Abortions do not occur spontaneously, in an isolated moment of disordered thinking and uncontrollable emotion. They must be planned. A woman who wants an abortion, must generally make an appointment at a medical facility to have it done. Before the abortion takes place, she will probably have to undergo an examination and tests of various kinds to be sure that the procedure does not pose an undue risk to her life or health. Thus, some period of time must elapse before the abortion actually occurs.

Especially in an environment of secrecy and stealth, of kitchen tables and coat hangers, in which abortions would once again have to be performed if they were once again made illegal, there must generally be a more or less considerable lapse of time between a woman’s forming the intent to have an abortion and being able to have it actually performed. This is because in such conditions, an abortionist cannot be found simply by looking in the yellow pages or on the internet. One can be found only through a series of discreet and time-consuming inquiries.

The inescapable conclusion to be drawn from all this is that a woman who has an abortion must not only form an intent to have it but must also maintain that intent for a more or less considerable period of time. What is the name for this if not premeditation?

Accordingly if abortion really is murder, then it is premeditated murder. And by the usual standards of justice, the guilt of the woman, as the instigator and planner of the murder, is greater, not less, than that of the physician or other party employed to carry it out.

But there is more, and it is downright scary. Most or all of the Republican candidates who oppose abortion are in favor of the death penalty for crimes such as premeditated murder. Thus, the logic of their view of abortion implies that they should not only urge the severe punishment of a woman who has an abortion, but capital punishment. Their alleged love of the life of the unborn fetus that is taken in an abortion should, in logic, lead them to urge the death of the woman who orders the taking of that life.

I must say that I am confident that the common sense and personal good will of the anti-abortion candidates would continue to prevent them from advocating any actual punishment of women who would have illegal abortions, let alone capital punishment, despite the fact that that is where the logic of their beliefs would take them. However, the same is by no means necessarily true of all of their followers and of the anti-abortion movement as a whole. In today’s world there seems to be no idea that is too bizarre to find followers once it is identified as a logical implication of a deeply rooted belief.

Hopefully, there will be a larger number of more reasonable people, who will be led to question the premise that abortion is murder. To do that, they will need to question the premise that a fetus, especially, in the early stages of pregnancy, is an actual human being. In reality, when, for example, a fetus must still be measured in mere tenths of an inch, it is simply not a human being. At that point, it is nothing more than a growth in a woman’s womb that has the potential to become a human being. Removing it is not killing a human being but simply stopping—aborting—a process that if left unchecked would result in a human being weeks or months later. Weeks or months later, there would be a human being. But not at the time of the abortion.

Unfortunately, persuading people of this elementary fact of perception can be very difficult. There are far too many people for whom seeing is not believing, but rather, if anything, believing is seeing—that is, people whose mistaken ideas are held so strongly that they override the evidence of the senses. Epistemologically, the notion that a speck in a woman’s womb is a human being is not all that different than the notion, popular elsewhere in the world, that animals carry the souls of one’s ancestors. Both notions represent seeing what just isn’t there, based on a projection from inside one’s mind.

Seeing a human being where there is none and consequently murder where there is none, serves to destroy the lives of women, and of families, who cannot afford the burden of an unwanted extra child, which they are nonetheless forced to accept because the possibility of abortion is denied them. Because of this distorted conception of things, a woman has only to become pregnant, and ownership of her body is immediately claimed by the State. Whatever plans she may have had for her future, such as gaining an education, pursuing a career, or simply enjoying her youth, are forcibly thrown aside, as she is made to live with no more choice in her own destiny than a pregnant animal. She is compelled to defer whatever hopes, dreams, and ambitions she may have had until she has completed what is tantamount to serving a twenty-year sentence in going through an unwanted pregnancy and then raising an unwanted child.

And why? By what right is such devastation inflicted on her life? The answer is that here in the United States, just as in the Middle East, there are large numbers of people who believe that the cloak of religion and their claim to be inspired by the will of God entitles them to practice lunacy, in total disregard of the suffering and harm they cause to others. Their pretended “love” and “goodness” is a sham.


This article is copyright © 2007, by George Reisman. George Reisman is the author of Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics (Ottawa, Illinois: Jameson Books, 1996) and is Pepperdine University Professor Emeritus of Economics.

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