The people who want to make abortion illegal have just been "outed" for a profound inconsistency. Donald Trump, shooting from the hip, suggested that since abortion is murder, women who have abortions should be punished accordingly. The outcry from conservative culture warriors was immediate. Almost all anti-abortion campaigners oppose such criminalization, because they know that advocating for it would create a huge backlash against their efforts.
The right to choose whether or not to have an abortion is the mother of all rights. If you can't be guaranteed the liberty to sort out something so intensely personal for yourself, what area of anybody's life is secure from government intrusion? It is not a matter that can be put to a vote. God gave women sovereignty over their own bodies. So abortion is a matter to be decided solely by a woman through her God-given conscience.
Once again, ham-handedly, Donald Trump has "outed" conservative culture warriors. The dirty secret of the anti-abortion crusade is now up in everybody's face. And I pray that this latest revelation in the presidential campaign will remain in the public consciousness. If abortion is murder, and women have abortions, then they are murderers. By saying that women should not be punished for having abortions, anti-abortion crusaders are admitting that abortion is not murder. And that wipes out their argument for making it illegal.
If the anti-choice folks succeed, inevitably they will face the question of what to do with women who have illegal abortions. They will no longer be able to pretend to have it both ways. They can't maintain the demeaning pretense that women who have abortions are just weak victims of Planned Parenthood propaganda, poor hapless creatures who should be pitied instead of punished. If abortions are made illegal, women inevitably will protest this injustice by going public when they have them. And they still will have them in huge numbers. It won't be like the old days when nobody talked about it, but just suffered in silence. There will be highly visible protests by women who have had abortions and don't look or talk like poor things. The anti-abortion culture warriors then will be trapped into advocating for harsh punishment. This, in addition to the public health disaster of countless unsafe abortions, will inevitably trigger a huge backlash to the whole idea of abortion being illegal in the first place. If abortion is banned, it won't be banned for long. It will be yet another untenable era of Prohibition. There is no way that America is going to put millions of women in jail for life, or at all, because they got stuck between a cross and a hard place with unwanted pregnancies.
The anti-abortion folks have only half an imagination on this subject. They correctly imagine that advocating for punishment of women who have abortions would end their campaign to outlaw abortion. That's why they were horrified by Trump's bumbling statement. But it seems they have not imagined what will happen after abortions are illegal and women inevitably go public with defiance. They're already punishing women by making it harder and harder for women to get abortions in many states. They are trying to ban it incrementally, which enables them to avoid the question of criminal punishment of women who get abortions. But Trump's fumble brings their hypocrisy out into the open, where it belongs.
Let us help our anti-choice friends more fully imagine the disastrous consequences that would follow the success of their efforts. Let us model for them how to trust God as individuals work out their personal moral choices with God. Let us help them see that the best path is to promote sex education, family planning, and universal access to health care, so that abortion is safe, legal, and rare.
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Associate Dean of Religious Life, University of Southern California