by Chris Bodenner

A reader writes:

It's fine to allow Santorum to use the slave analogy on the grounds that, as Klein puts it, "Santorum truly believes that abortion is murder--at any point after conception, even when the mother's health is at risk (as it was in the case of one of his wife's pregnancies)." I'm good with that extreme extension of logic beyond abstraction. But you must insist, in turn, that he extend the logic in the other direction. If abortion is pre-meditated child murder in all cases, then women who have abortion commit pre-meditated felony murder in conspiracy with doctors. That's first-degree murder.

In states with the death penalty, that would make them eligible for the death penalty. As a Catholic, I assume Santorum is opposed to the death penalty. So if he's going to argue the rhetorical fireworks of slavery, he has to also argue that his vision requires mass life imprisonment of women murderers - for life or the death penalty in certain states. I promise you he lacks the political courage to do that. So don't praise his fealty to principle. Some dramatic logical exercises are OK, others aren't.

Another writes:

I am a catholic Christian (Episcopalian) and a retired 30-year-plus Texas police officer. It is routine for those who want to restrict abortion to refer to it as murder. However, I personally have never heard this assertion carried through to its logical conclusions. For instance, in Texas, the homicide statute in the penal code makes murder a capital offense under two circumstances relevant to the idea that abortion is equivalent to murder. One is the murder of "an individual under six years of age". The other is where the person either commits murder or "employs another to commit the murder for remuneration or the promise of remuneration."

If the "abortion is murder" principle were in effect in Texas it would mean that every abortion (even those that were truly spontaneous) would have to be investigated by the police in conjunction with the various medical examiner's offices in order to separate the miscarriages from the murders. Assuming that the police would only become aware of such fetal deaths where the fetus was at 20 weeks or more in development (a standard used by the National Institutes of Health), that would increase the number of death investigations in Texas by more than 2,000 per year, based on census data and data from the NIH. By comparison, the number of known homicides in Texas in 2009 was 1,328.

In the cases that were determined to be murder-by-abortion, successful investigations would identify both parents, the person performing the abortion, and anyone who assented to it. Based on the penal code's section on complicity, several people including the mother could be indicted for capital murder. If indicted, the prosecuting entity could seek the death penalty. The idea of a woman being sent to death row in Texas for having an abortion is not something I've ever heard an abortion opponent in the state call for. However, it is a completely proper extension of saying "abortion is murder".

This puts opponents in an awkward position. If they argue that abortion is murder and we should be ready to execute women, doctors and others for having, performing, funding or assenting to abortions then they risk seeming like moral monsters. If they try to criminalize abortion as some kind of lesser offense, then they've ceded to pro-choice advocates the idea that a fetus does not have the same status as a human individual as a human outside the womb. While this would not necessarily prevent criminalizing abortion, it most certainly would bolster the pro-choice stance that the decision as to the moral dimensions of abortion for any particular case can only properly be made by the person most immediately affected - the mother.

The best of all possible worlds would one where there were never any abortions, either spontaneous or induced. That world is not the world we live in and I don't see any way that someone can coherently argue that abortion should be a crime without either discounting the unborn child or the moral-agency of the mother.

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