Saturday, April 2, 2016

Should Women Be Punished For Abortion? One Sidewalk Counselor's Perspective

Donald Trump's recent remarks on abortion, particularly in regards to punishment for women who procure abortions against their children, have caused quite a discussion in Catholic blogosphere (and other arenas as well).  In pro-life circles, a difference of opinion has been made manifest - to put it mildly.

On the one hand are those who hold only the abortionist culpable for the murder of babies, believing that the women themselves are also victims of abortion.  On the other hand are those who seem to hold that all women are culpable (maybe to varying degrees) for the murders of their children.  So where does the truth lie?

Those in pro-life leadership, particularly of the Catholic persuasion, do tend to ascribe absolutely no responsibility to any of the mothers who procure abortions.  I hold that to be erroneous, as this view does not admit that the woman has any freedom of conscience, that she is not a competent moral agent.  While such a view appears to be compassionate, I think it can be quite condescending and patronizing to the woman.  How can such a woman achieve any real healing if she doesn't accept any fault and thus receive authentic forgiveness through repentance and the Sacrament of Confession?  Moreover, there remains the question of justice for the child just murdered.  If his/her life is to be respected, then the demands of justice do require a punishment for the crime of his/her murder.

That is one extreme view from pro-life circles.  However, on recent blog posts from fellow bloggers whom I respect (see here, here, here, here) I'm starting to see manifestations of the other extreme viewpoint, namely, that most and even all women are culpable for their abortions and should therefore incur punishments (in varying degrees).  I think caution is needed there, too.

For close to twenty years now, I've spent most Saturday mornings in front of abortuaries with other Christians, seeking to offer life-affirming assistance to these women who are abortion-minded.  These women by no means fit into any "cookie-cutter" mold.  Some of them would most likely be very culpable for their children's murders.  They walk in hard as nails, sometimes followed by a man pleading for the life of his child.

On the other hand, there are those women going in who are obviously ambivalent or remorseful about what they are about to do.  Usually they are being coerced: either by parents or by their male companions (whom I refuse to call "men").  I've no doubt that some of these women have been threatened or even subjected to physical violence; at times we counselors have also been attacked ourselves by belligerent males or the parents (seems like the mothers are the worst).  I recall one case when it was a cloudy day and the woman and thuggish boyfriend hurried past us. He was literally dragging her.  She had her head down and was wearing sunglasses on a cloudy day; it didn't take a rocket scientist to understand why.

It seemed to me that such women were under duress and thus not fully culpable for the abortion due to lack of free will.  I looked into a book on Catholic moral theology for clarification.  It's called "Moral Theology" by Father Heribert Jone, first published in 1953 (German).  That means no one can ascribe to it any "spirit of Vatican II" contamination.  It's available from TAN.

What is evaluated in moral theology are human acts.  These are defined as "those actions that proceed from knowledge and free will".  For the time being let's look at the "free will" aspect for in many of these women "free will" is hindered.  One such hindrance is violence, defined in the book as "force brought to bear upon one against his/her will by some extrinsic agent."  It then goes on to say that "absolute violence destroys free will.  Therefore whatever is done under its influence is not imputable."  Ladies and gentlemen, too many of these women are dragged in under credible threats of violence.  As I said a few paragraphs ago, we counselors can attest to this because we've been on the receiving end of just a few seconds of that violence by thuggish parents/males.  These women live with those brutes.

Unless we've been living in cocoons, we've seen account after account of women being murdered by "males" precisely because they refused to abort their babies.  So these "males" murder not only the women but their own babies as well.  Where's the educational outreach to them?  But I digress.  Following this paragraph are some accounts.  If these don't constitute "absolute violence" as noted in the preceding paragraph, I don't know what does.
If you want to see more examples, just google "murder of women who refused to abort".

The fear that many of these young girls face is real.  If pro-lifers are going to wag their fingers at them, they'd better be prepared to assist them should these girls need help.  If they aren't regularly and currently spending time in front of abortuaries to offer assistance, I've no idea what constitutes their basis of opinions.

I said above that in order for justice to be done for the primary victim of abortion, that is, the child, then proper punishment must be inflicted on the perpetrator.  Who is the perpetrator?  I think common sense dictates that the perpetrator is the one who is seeking the abortion and controlling the woman's situation.  That may very well be the woman herself, but quite often that is not the case.  It's probably the guy, parents, teachers, etc.  A proper judicial system will take all that into account.  Unless a miracle of God is visited among us in His mercy, I don't expect that to happen in my lifetime.


  1. Women who seek abortions do so out of desperation. It is inhuman not to acknowledge that fact. Millions of women live with lifelong guilt, psychosis, depression, deep regret and blame. A vast majority of women are talked into abortion as a solution without understanding the full reality of this horrid act. Yes, repentance is crucial and allows for healing. Punishment is no solution and would only push a mother who has committed this unspeakable act farther away from receiving God's mercy. If the goal is to stop abortion, punishing women is not the solution. Why no discussion of punishing the father for his culpability? The deep wisdom of the Church on this difficult issue is clearly evidence of the mercy of God. Women who have abortions are punished severely as their lives without the children they were meant to bear play out over time. As St. Benedict says, "Mercy before justice." James 2:13 "For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment."

    1. You write, "Why no discussion of punishing the father for his culpability?" Please read carefully my last paragraph, for most of your comment makes plain that you didn't do that. As far as St. Benedict's alleged statement, I googled that phrase and cannot find the quote to which you refer. Mercy and justice are not to be set at odds with each other for they both proceed from the same God; James should be read in that context. Mercy does not come without repentance for those who do not repent do not acknowledge their need for mercy and therefore render themselves incapable of receiving it.

      As I said, there is no "cookie-cutter" approach that is valid, for each woman's situation is different. I know what I've seen in front of the mills over these past years. Not all women are desperate; some are but not all. They will be harmed, to be sure. But without appropriate repentance, they cannot receive the healing that they need. You do them no service by blinding yourself to that fact.

    2. Also bear in mind when you read James that "justice" and "judgment" are not synonyms.

    3. Sorry - I did re-read the article and you're correct, I missed your last paragraph. I am not blinding myself to any fact - I'm simply trying to point out that I believe that punishment will only push women farther away from the mercy of God. I don't speak without experience - I've counseled many women who have had abortions and seen the effect on their lives. AND - if you read my comments I agree with you that repentance is vital. BUT - how do you encourage someone to seek repentance? Mercy, justice, love - they all proceed from the same God - but one cannot proceed or come before the other. Justice - in my view - must be administered WITH love and mercy. I think if we had a conversation about this, we would find we are actually saying the same thing.

  2. You are 100% spot on with this one!! Culpability does indeed vary, I do believe with all sin. Some of these women actually do not sin 'mortally', and........some of them do. Sin is sin regardless, but to the degree does vary, and yes there are many that are threatened with their very lives, which makes them, well, not so much guilty, albeit very damaging to them, as well as the ones that are determined to kill their babies. Regardless, I do believe that ALL of these women need compassion, love and mercy. I think Mr. Trump was talking about a subject he knows little about, nor has he put much thought into it. (as I think he does so often:)

  3. A very thoughtful post with which I wholeheartedly agree.

  4. I agree with you, Janet. I saw more than one woman dragged into the abortion mills when I sidewalk counseled. And motive has always been a factor in criminal cases, so, as you say, many women have diminished responsibility, particularly young minors. However, women should be held accountable for hiring hit men to kill their babies. Since they are not likely to be a threat to others (like the abortionist is), perhaps community service: cleaning furniture and washing clothes at a crisis pregnancy center, raking leaves and gardening, picking up trash, sewing baby blankets, etc.

  5. A tip of the cap to you for your work protecting innocent life. Thanks for that and for this thoughtful article. Well said.

    The dilemma is always the same. On the one hand there is the mother with a personal story of hardship and woe. On the other a baby whose life is on the line. What is the law to do?

    If we believe that the central issue is an innocent baby in the sacred space of its mother's womb, defenseless in every way, we must insist the mother's personal circumstances and/or hardship is irrelevant compared to the life of the child. This is no different than how the law treats a boyfriend or disadvantaged mother who tire of the responsibilities of parenting and abuse to death their living child. We cannot "pastorally" grant the premises of our opponents that murder chargers are appropriate on one side of the womb, but not the other simply because of dire need(s). It is murder. The law must reflect that pure fact somehow.

    I agree that circumstances may direct the law toward one target or another, but we MUST insist that there is not a dime's worth of difference between the life of a screaming fearful toddler in the stroller or crib and the baby in the womb. Harm to one is no less heinous than harm to another. Equal in every way. Law must simply determine culpability for the crime and apply punishment without prejudice. It is up to society to apply such laws wisely and adroitly to individual circumstance.

  6. Bravo!

  7. Thanks for your perspective. An example similar to what you describe can be found in Deuteronomy 22:23-26. Notice the Lord advocates impartial punishment for both the man and the woman involved, unless there was resistance by the woman, in which case she was to be granted immunity.

    The problem with an across the board granting of immunity to women who have an abortion, is that biblically this is partiality in judgement, something strongly condemned by God repeatedly throughout Scripture. Justice is to be impartially administered and not to be influenced by bribes, status, gender, etc. This would also include partiality based on perceived outcomes. The exhortation from God is "Justice, and only justice, you shall follow..." Deuteronomy 16:20

    Thanks for your post.

  8. Thanks, the respect goes both ways. In my post, I wasn't so much calling for punishment as merely defending the logical soundness of Trump's original comments. The whether and the how much are prudential matters for the state to decide.

  9. "They walk in hard as nails, sometimes followed by a man pleading for the life of his child."

    Few sentences written have ever devastated as much as that one.

  10. I was also a pro-life activist and sidewalk counselor for many years. I agree that the woman is sometimes not culpable for the dreaded act, especially juveniles coerced by parents and boyfriends. But I must say, most times ( and strangely, mostly white women in fairly expensive cars) would curse and scream at me and certainly gesticulate with the "finger". They knew exactly what they were doing. No victimhood here. The "pro-life" movement inc. has changed the dialogue to make the "feminist" whose intent and objective is to kill her child, a "victim". There should be punishment for ALL involved with a child's death, and culpability determined and adjudicated by the courts, as in any other crime.

  11. You might also be interested in the following that provides an approach to people like Matthews who seek to trap pro-lifers into looking hypocritical, etc.


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