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Punishing the Mother

Anna Yocca protesters
Anna Yocca
Anna Yocca
Anna Yocca, the 31-year-old Tennessee woman charged in 2016 with attempted murder for attempting to terminate her pregnancy with a coat hanger. | Anna Yocca, Abortion, Murder, Attempted Murder, Rights, Life, Choice,

A lot of pro-lifers are fine with that

The right-to-life movement is shocked, shocked and appalled that Donald Trump says women should be punished for abortion along with the doctor. Right-to-lifers want you to believe that they would never, ever, ever think of punishing a woman for murdering her baby, unlike the filthy vile doctor who murders her baby.

"No pro-lifer would ever want to punish a woman who has chosen abortion," says anti-abortion activist Jeanne Mancini. National Right to Life likewise says it opposes penalizing the mother. Princeton professor Robert George says the very idea is a pro-choice myth used for "tarring pro-lifers as punitive vindictive people … Pro-lifers are compassionate, seeking the good of unborn children and their mothers, never pitting them or their interests against each other."

Very nice. Very warm-hearted. If only it weren't a big pile of bullcrap.

I don't mean all pro-lifers — or as someone once put it, forced-birthers — want women jailed. Some anti-abortion activists see the woman as a helpless victim of "the abortion industry" (a myth I've written about before). Women don't want abortion, they're coerced into killing their baby by doctors wielding the dark side of the Force ("This isn't the baby you were looking for … move along to the operating room.") and should receive pity, not jail time. Pundit Charles Canosy says, for instance, that a woman freely choosing abortion would deserve prison, but no woman ever makes that choice freely, so no problem. Right-wing pundit Peggy Noonan argues that a woman who aborts her baby is already suffering, so she deserves more compassion than the cold-hearted doctor.

Some forced-birthers see it differently. After Trump's statement (which he subsequently walked back), right-wing pundit Gina Loudon argued that a woman should be punished for hiring an abortion doctor just as if she'd hired a hitman. Troy Newman, one of the leaders of Pro-Lifers for Cruz, has said there's no reason to consider women who get abortions any differently from women who kill a kid ("any other mother killing any other family member would be called what she is: a murderer.").

Conservative attorney Jay Sekulow has said that while politically the movement can't afford to target the mothers, legally there's no reason not to jail them if abortion is outlawed. Pat Robertson says that while Trump's statement may seem "draconian," if abortion is murder "there has to be some penalty attached to it."

And then consider the simple fact that the law already punishes mothers for getting abortions. Look at just a few examples from the past 16 years:

Police have charged Anna Yocca of Tennessee with attempted first-degree murder for attempting to self-abort.

A court sentenced Purvi Patel in Indiana to 20 years under the state's feticide laws for aborting her own baby.

Police arrested Iowa resident Christine Taylor for attempted feticide for allegedly throwing herself down the stairs to end her pregnancy (no charges were filed because of a technicality).

Police charged Melissa Rowland in Utah with first-degree homicide after one of her twins was born dead. The reason? Rowland refused her doctor's C-section recommendation, a decision she was legally entitled to make.

(More examples in a previous column).

To the best of my knowledge none of these arrests or charges generated massive protests from the forced-birthers. Heck, Personhood USA applauded the Yucca prosecution and said that women who hire an abortionist should be treated the same.

Forced-birthers find lots of other ways to punish women too. Requiring they endure a wand shoved inside them before they can get an abortion. Requiring a woman undergo anesthesia if the fetus is past the 20th week. The Catholic Church's directives to Catholic hospitasl say that in an ectopic pregnancy (where the chance of the fetus surviving is near-nil) there's no abortion allowed. Ted Cruz believes even if the pregnancy will kill the mother, she can't abort (so much for George's claim the movement doesn't treat mother and child equally). Legislators in Virginia and Georgia have suggested that miscarriages should be treated as a police matter (after all, the woman might have secretly—well, you know). And one Georgia legislator said forcing women to deliver a dead baby rather than abort is no big deal — farm animals give birth to dead babies all the time.

A large chunk of the forced-birth movement wants to punish women. Don't let them fool you into thinking differently.

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Updated May 6, 2017 5:51 AM EDT | More details

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