It’s not often that pro-life leaders and abortion advocates find something on which to agree, but that was the case at the end of March after Republican front-runner Donald J. Trump stated that he believed women who obtain abortions should be punished.
In an extraordinary display of unlikely uniformity, the pro-life and pro-abortion movements offered statements similar in nature condemning Trump for his statement and standing up for the rights and protection of the mother of the aborted child. “Women who choose abortion often do so in desperation and then deeply regret such a decision,” said Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life Education and Defense Fund. “No pro-lifer would ever want to punish a woman who has chosen abortion.” “Women’s lives are not disposable,” agreed Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.
There, however, the niceties between the two groups ended.
In the following days, criticism against the pro-life movement grew, with abortion advocates focused on what they called a breakdown of logic on the part of pro-lifers. If you believe abortion is murder, why doesn’t the pro-life movement support the punishment of women who choose to have abortions as it would any other murderer, they asked.
It’s a compelling question, and one that benefits first from a bit of historical context. As Clarke D. Forsythe of Americans United for Life pointed out in the Los Angeles Times March 31, prior to Roe v. Wade, even the government rarely charged women with the crime of being involved in an abortion, much less prosecuted them. Precedent simply does not exist.
For the pro-life community, of course, the reasoning extends beyond precedent to the nature of abortion itself. While the pro-choice community sees abortion as a “right” of every woman to be defended at all costs, the pro-life community recognizes abortion for what it really is: a tragic destruction of innocent human life that harms all, whether child, mother, father, grandparents, siblings or society at-large. Abortion advocates celebrate women who have abortions as victims of circumstance such as rape, incest, or economic or social fear and challenges. Pro-lifers see post-abortion women as victims, too, but not of circumstance. They recognize instead that, in choosing to have an abortion, the mother participated in a supremely unnatural act resulting in the death of her own child. As such, the woman is the victim of severe emotional scars infinitely greater than any type of punishment the world could devise.
For this reason, the Church seeks only to love and support post-abortion women through ministries like Project Rachel, which helps lead them on the path to reconciliation — with herself and with God — and healing. The Church understands the grace, humility and great good that can come from a woman who has found peace after having an abortion. Punishment would only be a barrier to holiness. The real lack of logic, therefore, is found in the pro-abortion movement, which treats the child growing inside its mother as a mass of tissue to be disposed of at-will or as an illness to be treated rather than as the child that it most undeniably is.
For Catholics, our path is clear. Each of us has the responsibility to protect human life at every stage and to care deeply for the women who bear it. Women, in a special way, are called to not take their God-given fertility for granted but instead to treasure it as the sacred gift that it is. This, alone, is logical. And this is the message that the pro-life community should be spreading far and wide.
Editorial Board members: Msgr. Owen F. Campion, associate publisher; Beth McNamara, editorial director; Gretchen R. Crowe, editor