The Meaning of “Pro-Life”

This Robert Novak column is really good at revealing the fundamental silliness of much of the pro-life movement:

Fred Thompson was well into a prolonged dialogue about abortion on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday when he said something that stunned social conservatives: “I do not think it is a wise thing to criminalize young girls and perhaps their parents as aiders and abettors.” He then went further: “You can’t have a [federal] law” that “would take young, young girls . . . and say, basically, we’re going to put them in jail.”
Those comments sent e-mails flying across the country, reflecting astonishment and rage from pro-life Republicans who had turned to Thompson as their best presidential bet for 2008. No serious antiabortion legislation ever has included criminal penalties against women who have abortions, much less their parents. Jailing women is a spurious issue raised by abortion rights activists. Interviewer Tim Russert did not bring it up in his questioning. What Thompson said could be expected from NARAL Pro-Choice America.
Thompson’s comments revealed an astounding lack of sensitivity about abortion. He surely anticipated that Russert would cite his record favoring states’ rights on abortion. Whether the candidate just blurted out his statement or had planned it, it suggested a failure to realize how much his chances for the Republican nomination depend on social conservatives.

For one thing, Novak isn’t saying that he disagrees with Thompson; neither of them wants to send girls to jail for getting abortions. If saying this would help Thompson win over socially liberal moderates in a general election, without leading to a real policy conflict with social conservatives (who, Novak assures us, have no intention of treating abortions as the murders they claim them to be), what’s the complaint? Shouldn’t that be the best of both worlds as far as Novak is concerned?
This column is unique in that it actually addresses the question of what ideal pro-life legislation would look like. According to both Novak and Thompson, it wouldn’t include any punishment of the women. This confuses me. I thought abortion was murder according to these people; if it is, then why shouldn’t women who get abortions be eligible for the death penalty, as other contract killers are? And what of the doctors? If pro-life legislation is to mean anything at all, it has to punish somebody, presumably the doctor or the patient. If the murder analogy is taken seriously, the doctor is the moral equivalent of a hitman, and a hitman with a whole lot of hits under his belt at that. Should his profession be made a capital offense, as contract murder is? And if not, why not? Why should abortion be criminalized if it doesn’t take a human life?
Too often, we act as if the policies supported by pro-life groups are obvious. They’re not, and I suspect if one begins to interrogate pro-life activists one will find that the policies are either ludicrous and frightening (like capital punishment) or in blatant contradiction to the movement’s rhetoric (like any other than capital punishment). Being pro-life is, in most circumstances, either a fringe or intellectually dishonest position, and should be treated as such.

2 thoughts on “The Meaning of “Pro-Life”

  1. It boggles the mind that someone can call themselves “pro-life” yet support the war and the death penalty, and even condone the bombing of abortion clinics & murdering doctors who perform abortions.

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