Thursday, February 18, 2010

Would outlawing abortion deter abortion

A friend of mine once told me that he thought that if there were laws passed against abortion, they would never be obeyed and never be enforced. Forget about the back alley abortionists. The front door of the abortion clinics would be open, and law enforcement would be powerless to enforce the law.

Now if a law is unenforceable, perhaps we are morally obligated to have the law anyway. But it would be worthless as a deterrent.


Blaise Pascal said...

Its not that easy. An abortion is not a completely secret operation that is know only by the patient and the doctor. There are a bunch of other people who know what is going on. Its like the illegal drug business. Everybody who is involved trys to keep it secret, but somehow that doesnt work.

kbrowne said...

Early abortion can be carried out by means of pills now. No operation is needed. At present these pills are taken under medical supervision and with the support of health care workers. If the pills were illegal a huge black market would spring up, with who knows what results for the women who take them.

I wonder how many anti-abortionists have given any thought as to how women who have abortions should be treated if abortion were illegal. Would they be imprisoned? Imprisoned for life, if you think they are guilty of murder? Or executed?

Steven Riddle said...

Dear Sir,

If I take your point correctly I would agree with the contention that we would be obligated to have it. As I see it good law serves two purposes--order and instruction. By making a law we are taking a moral stand whether or not the law is obeyed. Laws set the climate for the mores of society which in turn seem to set the tone for morality or amorallity.

Would laws against abortion be disobeyed? Without a doubt--it is clear to anyone with the desire to see that they were disobeyed when they were in place. Are laws against murder disobeyed? Does it occur anyway? Should there then be no laws against murder? Theft? Adultery?

In some sense laws set a society's expectations of behavior and as such set the tone for its discourse. If we start from a position that holds that life is not a sacred mystery but merely another commodity over which I should have control--not only my own life but the lives of those near me, we gradually encroach on infanticide, involuntary euthanasia, and other manifestations of the fallen nature of humankind and the ill-will of some toward others.

Should laws against abortion be in place even if they are not rigorously enforced or obeyed--it would depend on the instruction one wants to convey to society. Do we want to hold that life is sacred, beautiful, and a treasured gift, or that life is without meaning, without essence, and a commodity to be distributed at the whim of those who have life and health? I would prefer life in the society that holds (and really holds) with the former of the two propositions.

However, if one makes such laws one then must contend with the difficult problem of enforcement and punishment. And that's where things become potentially touchy and draconian.





Shackleman said...

Mr. Riddle,

Excellent post. I wish I could express myself as precisely and eloquently as you.

Victor Reppert said...

I explicitly pointed out that there may be good reasons for having a law even if it proves impossible to enforce. Steven, your post is a nice statement of the reasons that might be provided.

However, many suppose that overturning Roe will save the lives of millions of fetuses. Now the exact legal ramifications of such an overturn are less then clear to me, would it mean that any pre-1973 laws on the books would go back into effect?

Pro-lifers are typically shy about criminal penalties for women who get abortions, focusing instead on sanctions against the providers. I've even heard some diminished responsibility arguments used in the cases of the women.

But that raises problems for the murder rhetoric. If there's no morally relevant difference between taking the life of a five year old and taking the life of a fetus, then shouldn't they be prosecuted in the same way?

Steven Riddle said...

Dear Sir,

I would contend that one does not prosecute a person who performs an action under duress in the same way one prosecutes one who freely chooses an action. In this sense one might almost (and in some cases, perhaps reasonably) argue that the individual procuring the abortion is _non compos mentos_--not insane, as it were, but not in complete control of their actions--not actually willing the destruction but consenting to it as their vision is effectively blocked as to any alternative that will not destroy her life.

Not so the one who would profit from this desperate situation.

So, I can see arguing extenuating circumstances in such cases--but I do understand the nature of the argument, and have to say that it comes down for me to something like the Catholic definition of sin--you must know it is gravely wrong (illegal or evil), you must choose it freely (not under duress or other mind affecting situations). If God (according to the doctrine) can demote the offense from Mortal to Venial for lack of full consent, surely then our legal system should be able to judge between the two parties.

But, I keep coming back to the fact that it is not a simple or clear-cut issue and it is one that we must face head-on if we are to consider seriously any such change in the legal system. Moreover, I, like you, have my doubts about what overturning Roe v. Wade would do except return control to the individual state legislatures and then we could predict certain possibilities depending upon the states involved.

But thank you for asking the question and getting us all to think carefully about some of the issue that surround it. It is very helpful to be able to talk this way with people who think deeply and with compassion about the issue.