By Joyce Arthur
In a disturbing section of November’s The Interim ("Canada's Life and Family newspaper"), five prominent anti-choice spokespersons plus an anti-choice columnist consider the question of criminal punishment for abortion, if abortion were to be made illegal again. Shockingly, four out of six believe women should be prosecuted and sent to jail, while the other two want women subjected to mental health treatment. All six want abortion providers to be prosecuted for murder.
majority of Canadians would likely be horrified by the idea of sending
jail for having abortions. Most reasonable people would see it as
heartlessly punitive – not to mention totally unrealistic, given the
numbers of women who resort to abortion even when it’s illegal. But the
unimaginable prospect and horrific consequences of trying to arrest and
100,000 women a year in
Here’s the words of the four who favour prosecution of women:
Mary Ellen Douglas, National Organizer for Campaign Life Coalition, says: "We must not allow misdirected compassion for the mother to suggest that she and the person she hires to carry out the killing of her baby … should be above the law and receive no jail time. … [Our] desire for justice [for human life from the moment of conception] demands that severe penalties be given for crimes against the lives of defenceless people. … Jail time for those who commit the crime of abortion is not only just, but absolutely necessary."
Peter Ryan, Executive Director of New Brunswick Right to Life, says: “Women who undergo abortions should also be held accountable for taking a human life. Here, the law should perhaps resemble its present provisions for infanticide, which take account of the oft-present element of emotional duress." He says the law should be crafted "to distinguish between those who knowingly end a child's life and those ignorant about fetal life; that is, those who mistakenly assumed it was 'a blob of cells.' Crafting a law would be complex because of some dissimilarities with other homicides. But it could be done."
Rory Leishman, National Affairs columnist for the Interim, says that in 1969, the view of Trudeau and Parliament was that "any mother who attempts to have her child illegally aborted should be subject to up to two years' imprisonment. Few pro-lifers today would quarrel with that judgment," he claims. Leishman wants sex-selection abortion to be made a criminal offence punishable by imprisonment, and adds: "The same goes for any mother who would procure such an abortion. She, no less than the abortionist, should be subject to a severe criminal penalty."
issue of women’s punishment for the crime of illegal abortion became a
issue only recently, when an American filmmaker questioned a group of
anti-abortion protesters outside a clinic in
You have rarely seen people look more gobsmacked. It's as though the guy has asked them to solve quadratic equations. Here are a range of responses: "I've never really thought about it." "I don't have an answer for that." "I don't know." "Just pray for them.”
In response to such questions posed to anti-abortionists, Rory Leishman writes in The Interim: ”Many pro-lifers have been tongue-tied and for good reason: the question is not amenable to any simple answer.”
From the pro-choice point of view, however, the main reason most anti-choicers have never considered the question, or don’t want women punished, is because the anti-choice view of women is paternalistic and sexist. They don’t see women as morally capable of making their own rational decisions, especially when it comes to having an abortion. They believe women’s primary, ennobling role is to mothers, and that all women naturally want to be mothers. Women are either not in their right minds when they choose an abortion, or they are passive victims of an abortion foisted upon them—therefore they can’t be held criminally responsible.
This is borne out by two of the responses in The Interim from anti-choice spokespersons, who call for mental health treatment for women who abort.
Natalie Hudson, Executive Director of Right to Life in
Theresa Smyth, Executive Director of Aid to
About 62% of Canadians “support legal protection for the unborn” at some point before birth (according to a 2007 poll commissioned by an anti-abortion group). But a different poll in 2002 found that 78% of Canadians said Yes to the question: "Should women have complete freedom on their decision to have an abortion?" The startling contradiction between these findings probably means that people don't think through the implications—namely, that conferring fetal rights means restricting women's rights.
can connect the dots between the wish to create legal rights for
the wish to prosecute women for abortions. The result of both
objectives is the
same—pregnant women are criminalized and stripped of their rights. For
the anti-choice movement in
Anti-choicers seem to gloss over the apparently trivial matter of women’s rights—even to the extent of trampling over women’s dead bodies in their zeal to save the lives of fetuses. A recent study (by the World Health Organization and the Alan Guttmacher Institute) found that women are just as likely to get an abortion in countries where it is outlawed as they are in countries where it is legal. Half of all abortions worldwide are unsafe and mostly illegal, with 70,000 women dying every year, and five million left injured.
hard lesson learned by the developed world is that laws don’t
stop abortion. They only drive it underground, kill and maim women, and
them into criminals just for being women. This lesson has been very
catch on in poorer countries still largely influenced by the Catholic
example, Africa and