The Strange Logic Of Anti-Choicers

The coverage of Drumpf’s punish-the-women comment has been fairly extensive. And from Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders to Ted Cruz and John Kasich, condemnation has come from both political parties and from both sides of the debate over abortion.

What I find fascinating, though, is the reaction of those who hold the anti-choice position. Cruz—who would force a woman to have a rapist’s baby—said, “Of course we shouldn’t be talking about punishing women; we should affirm their dignity and the incredible gift they have to bring life into the world.” Kasich, who proudly says he has “exceptions” to his anti-choice stance, said, “Of course women shouldn’t be punished.” Oh, yeah? Why not?

8 cell zygoteIf it came to pass that aborting a zygote became the legal equivalent of murdering a “child,” then why wouldn’t the mother, who presented herself to an abortionist in order to have her zygote-child killed, be guilty of a crime? The standard response from anti-choicers is that such women are “victims.” It is the doctors who are the real criminals. Really? Let’s take a closer look at the issues involved. Keeping in mind that those in the anti-choice movement believe there should be no legal distinction between a zygote and a child, let’s examine this controversy by way of an analogy:

Imagine there is a business across town that, legally and for a fee, would kill unwanted toddlers, kids between one and three years old—but only if their mothers brought them in. And imagine a woman bringing her child to the business, paying the fee, and leaving behind a dead kid. Now, imagine that you object, and object strongly and passionately, to this practice. You don’t believe such a business should be allowed to operate. You believe it is immoral to kill toddlers. What would you do?

Here are some of your options:

1. Fight for a law that forbids such a business, except in cases in which the toddler is a product of rape, incest, or is a danger to the mother. In those cases, you would have no objection to the practice. We’ll call this the Kasich Option.

2. Fight for a law that completely forbids such a business. We’ll call this the Cruz Option.

3. Protest in front of the business and encourage women not to bring their kids there to be killed.

4. Burn down or blow up the business.

5. Kill the business owner, who you think is a murderer.

6. Stop the woman before she can deliver her child to the business, either by kidnapping her or killing her.

Now suppose you reject the options that involve violence. Even though you “know” that just across town there are toddlers being murdered each and every day, for some reason your passions aren’t aroused enough to actually try to physically stop it. And if someone came along who did resort to violence, whose passions couldn’t be tamed and either bombed the business or killed its owner, you would condemn such a person. You would argue that people shouldn’t take the law into their own hands. This position happens to be the position of most of those who call themselves “pro-life.”

Let’s stop here to think about what we have learned so far about most anti-choicers in this analogy. They are convinced that killing toddlers is morally wrong. And they know that toddlers are actually being killed across town. Yet, their position is to let it continue and fight to stop it through the law. Doesn’t that sound a little strange? Especially if killing toddlers legally has been going on since 1973? That’s a lot of murdered kids.

In any case, let us now examine those whose approach to stopping toddler-killing involves changing the law. First, there is the Kasich Option. Those who adopt this method will tolerate exceptions. Under their proposed law, a business could kill only a certain class of toddlers, those who were products of rape or incest or who presented a danger to the life of their mothers. Let’s think about what this tells us about anti-choicers who embrace the Kasich Option. They believe that it is wrong to kill a toddler, but it is not always wrong to kill one. Some toddlers don’t deserve the protection of the law and their mothers are free to bring them across town and have them killed. Again, doesn’t that sound a little strange?

That brings us to the Cruz Option. After rejecting violence and thereby tolerating murder across town, suppose these anti-choicers were successful in getting a law passed that made killing toddlers completely illegal. No exceptions. (This is the position of about 20% of Americans, by the way.) We can quickly see this position is at least logically consistent. If it is wrong to kill toddlers, it is wrong to kill all toddlers. Even those who came into existence by way of rape, by way of a violent act against a woman’s will, deserve equal protection under the law.

Now let’s plug Drumpf’s original abortion remarks and his subsequent reversal into this analogy. Drumpf said “we have to ban” toddler-killing. The conversation he then had with Chris Matthews assumed that toddler-killing was illegal. That’s when Drumpf said, “There has to be some form of punishment” for the woman who has her toddler killed outside the law. You could see his mind slowly and painfully grasp the logic of his position: If we criminalize the practice, then the woman involved has to be a criminal. But Drumpf, under intense pressure, retreated and later offered us the standard anti-choice rhetoric:

If Congress were to pass legislation making [toddler-killing] illegal and the federal courts upheld this legislation, or any state were permitted to ban [toddler-killing] under state and federal law, the doctor or any other person performing this illegal act upon a [woman’s toddler] would be held legally responsible, not the woman. The woman is a victim in this case as is the [toddler]. My position has not changed — like Ronald Reagan, I am pro-life with exceptions.

Now we can clearly see how ridiculous all this is. If abortion is tantamount to toddler-killing, as the anti-choice movement insists it is, and if Drumpf or Kasich or Cruz had their way and abortions were outlawed, then it is absurd to claim the woman who has an illegal abortion is a victim. She would obviously be a criminal. The only question left is the one that perplexed Drumpf: what should the punishment be for the crime of having your child killed?

Not surprisingly, this isn’t the first time that this exact issue has come up in a presidential campaign. Back in 1988, Vice President George Herbert Walker Bush and Governor Michael Dukakis discussed penalizing women during their first debate. Mr. Bush had been pro-choice, until Republican orthodoxy required him to “evolve” on the issue. Here is part of that discussion:

ANN GROER of The Orlando Sentinel: Mr. Vice President, I’d like to stay with abortion for just a moment if I might. Over the years you have expressed several positions, while opposing nearly all forms of government payment for it. You now say that you support abortion only in cases of rape, incest, or threat to a mother’s life, and you also support a constitutional amendment that if ratified would outlaw most abortions. But if abortions were to become illegal again, do you think that the women who defy the law and have them anyway, as they did before it was okayed by the Supreme Court, and the doctors who perform them should go to jail?

BUSH: I haven’t sorted out the penalties. But I do know, I do know that I oppose abortion. And I favor adoption. And if we can get this law changed, everybody should make the extraordinary effort to take these kids that are unwanted and sometimes aborted, take the – let them come to birth, and then put them in a family where they will be loved. And you see, yes, my position has evolved. And it’s continuing to evolve, and it’s evolving in favor of life. And I have had a couple of exceptions that I support – rape, incest and the life of the mother. Sometimes people feel a little uncomfortable talking about this, but it’s much clearer for me now. As I’ve seen abortions sometimes used as a birth control device, for heavens sakes. See the millions of these killings accumulate, and this is one where you can have an honest difference of opinion. We certainly do. But no, I’m for the sanctity of life, and once that illegality is established, then we can come to grips with the penalty side, and of course there’s got to be some penalties to enforce the law, whatever they may be.

JIM LEHRER: Governor.

DUKAKIS: Well, I think what the vice president is saying is that he’s prepared to brand a woman a criminal for making this decision. It’s as simple as that. I don’t think it’s enough to come before the American people who are watching us tonight and say, well, I haven’t sorted it out. This is a very, very difficult and fundamental decision that all of us have to make. And what he is saying, if I understand him correctly, is that he’s prepared to brand a woman a criminal for making this choice.

BUSH: I just –

DUKAKIS: Let me finish. Let me simply say that I think it has to be the woman in the exercise of her own conscience and religious beliefs that makes that decision, and I think that’s the right approach, the right decision, and I would hope by this time that Mr. Bush had sorted out this issue and come to terms with it as I have. I respect his right to disagree with me. But I think it’s important that we have a position, that we take it, and we state it to the American people.

The elder Bush went on to win that election, of course. But so many years later the issue of criminalizing abortion is still packed with inconsistencies and contradictions. And for all the harm Donald Drumpf has done to the electoral process this season, he has done some good by inadvertently exposing those inconsistencies and contradictions.

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8 Comments

  1. I’ve been saying exactly this ever since the hoopla all began. Now, all of a sudden, TED CRUZ is the GOP champion for women?? Oh, the irony….

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    • I know, I know! Isn’t it amazing? The man has no shame. He would force women impregnated by rapists to have babies, but says “we should affirm their dignity.” That guy is one strange cat.

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  2. You have to wonder why kind of conversations he has with his wife, if any.

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    • It’s a strange thing when you think about it. We really don’t know if what we see in Drumpf is a character he has created or if what we see is the real thing. And, I suppose, that is what is so damned scary about the guy.

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  3. An excellent analysis of the issue, Duane, and good background from the Bush-Dukakis debate. I was unaware of that.

    What the argument really comes down to then, is that seminal question, “when does life begin?” But that doesn’t actually pin it down. A better question would be, “when does a fertilized egg become a person?”, but of course there’s no definitive answer to that because fetal development is a continuum transitioning gradually from mere tissue with DNA in it to the final product. At the beginning, a fertilized egg is no more a person than an approved house plan is a house. Nature aborts about half of all fertilized eggs herself (naturally), according to the National Institutes of Health, and wastes millions of potential people. That’s the process that evolved. So, when in the gestation cycle is a reasonable point to ethically terminate? The evidence seems clear to me that it is the first trimester at least. If all the people were born who might have been, if not for natural miscarriage, the Earth could not sustain them.

    The religious aspect of this issue can not be ignored. Intervention in an early pregnancy is, according to the thinking of evangelicals, thwarting the will of God that the child be born. That is obviously not the case, not only because of the random nature of natural abortions (miscarriages), but because of the large number of birth defects that do survive the fetal period, many horrendous like the microcephaly caused by the Zika virus. Unless, of course, God intends that birth defects happen, in which case He is a monster.

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    • Jim,

      Love the points you made. People forget that nature (or God, if you think God controls the birthing process, as so many of my evangelical friends do) is the biggest abortionist of all.

      As to the main point in all this, you are exactly right. It comes down not to when does human life begin, but when does human life become a person under our laws, under our Constitution? And despite the theological and philosophical considerations involved in this issue, ultimately the question is a political one. Do we want the government to control reproductive decisions for women?

      I have to admit that I have come to admire the reasoning in Roe v. Wade. Thus, it seems to me that the moral case against abortion is much stronger as the pregnancy proceeds than it is at the beginning. I recognize that aborting a baby at 7 months is much, much different from aborting a zygote. And because I recognize that, I am comfortable with placing some restrictions on late-term abortions. At some point, I believe society has an interest in seeing to it that we aren’t aborting what clearly appear to be babies, if there are other alternatives available, like easy access to contraceptives and early-term abortions.

      Duane

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      • Duane and Jim, I would like both of you to know how very much I appreciate your views and the fact that you are both conscientious and educated in those views as opposed to trying to impart some moralistic and simplistic (and, too often, unrealistic and callous) viewpoint. In fact, some (many, if all were honest but, alas, some fear persecution or eternal damnation for holding such opinions) of us women believe that it is immoral to forbid abortion at all costs – and equally as immoral to hold a cavalier attitude toward abortion (or pregnancy at all, for that matter). To me, any government restriction on reproductive health is inappropriate – and unconstitutional, as the Supreme Court has ruled. You are correct, Duane, in pointing out the dangers of government restrictions on reproductive decisions. If government is allowed to prohibit abortion, what’s to stop it from mandating abortion? I think this is the other end of the spectrum that most anti-choicers (I love that term, Duane!) don’t completely follow through on. Additionally, I just wanted to point out one aspect of restrictions on late-term abortions. Sometimes – thankfully, rarely – the fetus does not develop properly, even though it survives the first trimester, and maybe even the second. Today’s technology can show evidence of such deformations as organs growing in the wrong place (or not forming at all) or the death of the fetus while in the womb. Many years ago I had a friend who learned her baby had died at 7 months gestation. She was faced with the very painful decision of aborting the pregnancy at that time or carrying to full term and delivering a still-born baby. Which answer is the right one? Who among us can say, unless we are faced with the exact situation – and even then each of us is different and deals with such tragedy in our own unique way (in fact, she chose a different path than I would have in the same situation). Just as I would never want to be the one to make the lethal injection on a death-row inmate, I would never want to tell someone what choice to make in that situation (or any of the hundreds of other painful and tragic situations that women face all-too-often when pregnant). It’s just not black and white for me, and for this reason alone I consider myself pro-choice. I think it’s only fair – and respectful – to allow others the freedom to make such life-changing and difficult choices themselves without my rose-colored view on life interfering.

        Mostly, I believe in upholding the decisions made by the Supreme Court (maybe I can make a new label for folks like me – “SCOTUS Supporters”?) as they are pretty much more educated in constitutional matters than I am.

        But, hey, that’s just me….🙂

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        • Dawn,

          Wow. What a thoughtful explanation of a complicated matter. I especially appreciated this point: “If government is allowed to prohibit abortion, what’s to stop it from mandating abortion?” I confess I have never thought of it that way. Excellent.

          I don’t disagree with you at all that the issue of late-term abortions is not black and white. When I read a lot about Dr. Tiller in Wichita I found out there are a lot of situations women face that require very late-term abortions, which seem justified to me. I would never favor a ban of such procedures. But I do think a higher level of scrutiny should apply to late-term abortions, if for no other reason than technology has revealed to us that what is being aborted looks very much like a post-birth baby. Thus, I think as civilized people we have to make sure we are both respecting the woman’s right to make her own reproductive decisions, and also not being cavalier about the lives of nearly fully-developed fetuses.

          In any case, again, I appreciate the thoughtfulness that went into your response. Blew me away.

          Duane

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