My uncle, Marc Newman, is a nationally-known prolife speaker. I recently had an interesting exchange with him over email on the subject of legal restrictions on abortion, and I received his permission to publish the exchange on this blog. Below is the conversation in its entirety (with only cosmetic edits).
Hi Uncle Marc,
I was having a discussion with a friend the other day about a blog post that has gone semi-viral, in which the author recounts his disillusionment with the prolife movement. It wasn’t so much this author’s experience that my friend and I were discussing, but his criticism of the nebulous political and legal goals of some prolife organizations. My friend and I both believe abortion to be murder. However, we were trying to think through the legal, political, economic and social consequences of various different sorts of legislation (and enforcement) against abortion.
My question for you is: if tomorrow (in an unlikely scenario) Roe were overturned and you were appointed by President Obama as the “Abortion Czar” with complete freedom to dictate federal policy (and let’s just throw in state policy, too) toward abortion in our country, what would that legal framework look like? What would be the penalties for abortion? Would they be enforced against mother, doctor and father? If there were a “life of the mother” exception, what would be the criteria and how would they be enforced? What sorts of pragmatic steps would you take in the area of public health, conceding (as you must) that some will circumvent the legislation and die in botched back-alley procedures, and that condom usage reduces the likelihood of pregnancy and incidence of abortion?
I am interested in your response as someone who is heavily invested in this cause as a proliferator of prolife ideas. (I have always wanted to use “proliferate” in a sentence with “prolife,” and now my dream has come true. I have some very modest dreams.)
What an unlikely scenario — Obama naming me to anything but a domestic pro-life list of people to watch closely (I’m probably on it already)– but I will try to answer the best I can.
If Roe v. Wade were overturned tomorrow, the abortion issue would return to the states. States such as California and New York would continue to have legal abortions with nearly no restrictions. States such as Utah and Texas would likely ban all abortions other than for rape, incest, and threat to the life of the mother. As “Abortion Czar” there is nothing that could be done unless there was a Human Life Amendment added to the Constitution.
Penalties for abortion would be severe. My guess would be life in prison for the doctor. Once education was widespread, and everyone really knew that Planned Parenthood had lied to women all these years, once an educational culture instilled in young people the truth about the humanity of the unborn child, then I would imagine that conspiracy charges would be brought against a woman seeking an abortion, as well as anyone else involved in the procuring of an abortion. Now when you make such a claim now, it makes people squawk. But let’s make an analogy. There was a time in which black people were considered inhuman. People were so invested in keeping slaves that they fought a war to protect that right. Once slaves were freed and the Civil War (or, if you are from the South, “The War of Northern Aggression”) was completed, it still took quite awhile for justice to be served consistently on those who mistreated or killed black people. But can you imagine anyone trying to get away with any kind of “less than human” argument today in a court of law in America were they to participate in the killing of a black person? It might take time, but once people are aware of both the humanity of the unborn child and the legal penalties attached to aborting children (or Child Murder as the suffragettes called it), then choosing to abort would be accompanied by choosing to bear the penalty if one is caught, prosecuted, and convicted.
Life of the mother exceptions are rare, and there are clear diagnostic “tells” — ectopic pregnancy, for example, or uterine or cervical cancer. C. Everett Koop argued that during his entire practice he had NEVER heard of a woman needing an abortion to save her life. The general statistic is that such abortions make up less than 1% of all abortions. You don’t “enforce” an exception. You might mean, how would they be determined. I would argue the same way all medical issues are determined, by a couple of doctors willing to testify to the presence of a life-threatening condition. Now, will there be unscrupulous physicians who will lie in order that some well-to-do people can obtain abortions? Probably. But making it illegal would have a tremendous influence on abortion rates. The law educates people. Where permissive abortion laws are the norm, abortions skyrocket and people feel less stress about aborting — in such cases, the law encourages abortion. Conversely, when abortion is illegal, the law educates people that the unborn are valuable and protected, and this creates a more life-affirming culture. There will always be abortions, but if the solvency threshold for passing a law against any behavior had to be 100%, murder would be legal.
I don’t know that I “must” concede the argument concerning back-alley abortions, if you are envisioning some old crone with a coat hanger. Back alley abortions were called such because women would enter the clinic through a door in the back alley. Most were performed by licensed physicians. The reasons so many died was not because of horrific conditions, but because of the unavailability of antibiotics. Women die every year from legal abortions today. For public health, I would launch a nationwide campaign stressing the humanity and value of the unborn, with units on fetal development mandatory (perhaps there would be a field trip to a pregnancy center where kids could see the unborn on a 3-D ultrasound). Where appropriate, education about the change in the law would be mandated, so that people would know it was coming, what the penalties were, and what alternatives were available: adoption and parenting.
On sex education, I would argue for an emphasis on chastity. In a sex-obsessed culture, as is ours, pitching chastity would be tough. Public schools will likely continue with “comprehensive sex education” but condom usage among teens is scattered at best. I ran across a study once concerning the use of condoms between partners, one of which was HIV positive. The study showed that condoms are a great preventive measure against HIV, however, a substantial portion of the sampling had to drop out of the study, because they had to be 100% compliant with the rules of the study which demanded that a condom be used in every sexual encounter. If the fear of getting AIDS is not enough to encourage you to wear a condom, how well will it work with teens who think they are invulnerable (and who, of course, can’t even remember to bring a pencil to class). Stressing condom usage actually results in an increase in pregnancy. Follow me here. Condoms, used consistently, would massively decrease pregnancy. But encouraging condoms among unmarried people is a cultural green light for sexual activity. People in the heat of the moment are inconsistent in their usage, so if there is substantially more sex, but only somewhat more condom usage, the end will be more pregnancies. We have been encouraging condom usage in high school sex ed for decades — have you seen a substantial decrease in teen pregnancy? (There is a decrease here and there, but the scenarios are complicated). Some forms — IUDS and versions of the pill — would have to be outlawed because they often work as abortifacients.
This is excellent, thank you. I think it’s important to recognize the difficulties inherant in enforcing any legislation. But the impossibility of 100% enforcement doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t legislate against a certain behavior, as you point out below.