Newsweek’s pro-abortion columnist, Anna Quindlen, recently wrote that pro-lifers have generally avoided the question of how women should be punished if they obtained the procedure when abortion was re-criminalized. The “news hook” for this column was a short documentary on the internet website YouTube where a man with a video camera asked a half-dozen American pro-life demonstrators what should be done with women who have abortions if the demonstrators got their way and abortion was illegal (again). Typical responses included: “I’ve never really thought about it;” “I don’t have an answer for that;” “I don’t know.” Quindlen concluded her column: “There are only two logical choices: hold women accountable for a criminal act by sending them to prison or refuse to criminalize the act in the first place. If you can’t countenance the first, you have to accept the second. You can’t have it both ways.”

Noting the YouTube clip at the National Post’s editorial page blog, Colby Cosh said, “Isn’t it rather amazing that people will risk abuse, injury and jail for a cause whose most obvious implications they’ve never even considered (or can’t admit)?”

The Interimasked five Canadian pro-life leaders how the law should treat women who have abortions when abortion is re-criminalized.

Mary Ellen Douglas National Organizer, Campaign Life Coalition

In Canada prior to 1969, the lives of babies in the womb were protected and women or doctors who attempted to procure an abortion faced a jail sentence. The issue of penalties for the mother and, I would hope, the doctor, in the days after abortion is finally re-criminalized, has to be examined. What if we ask ourselves what penalty should be prescribed by law if a mother deliberately murders her 2-year-old child? What if her child is 7 years old? What if the child is 14 years old? We know that this would be considered, at the very least in our liberal society, as manslaughter, which is punishable by a jail sentence. The judge may question the sanity of a woman who kills her child, because this is not normal behaviour for a mother.

We know that the child in the womb from the time of conception is as much a child as the child of two years, 7 years or 14 years. So we must not allow misdirected compassion for the mother to suggest that she and the person she hires to carry out the killing of her baby, the doctor, should be above the law and receive no jail time.

Penalties in law are designed to discourage criminals from carrying out actions that are illegal. Laws do not change hearts, but they control the heartless. We long for the day when all human life will be protected from the moment of conception (fertilization) until natural death. This desire for justice demands that severe penalties be given for crimes against the lives of defenceless people. Our society has denied justice for unborn children who are killed daily in their mothers’ wombs at the request of the mother. We need to correct this and return that protection to the unborn. It then follows that jail time for those who commit the crime of abortion is not only just, but absolutely necessary.

One of the greatest saints of our time, Mother Teresa, who is known for her kindness and compassion to everyone she met, was asked the question regarding jail time for women who sought abortions and she answered unequivocally that a jail term would be necessary, because the life of a human being had been deliberately taken. 

Jennifer Ha Editor, Life Immeasurable magazine

So far, in the criminalization of abortion, we have been presented with three possible answers to the immensely difficult question of who should be held accountable for the crime: the woman, the doctor or both. I’ve always believed that it should be the doctor. That said, as much as I do not believe that women should be punished legally for procuring an abortion, I believe that we should not stretch our sympathy to accommodate every individual woman who breaks the law to (commit) such an abominable act, no matter how sympathetic and desperate the circumstance. 

Natalie Hudson Executive director, Right to Life Association of Toronto and Area

There is no easy answer to the question of what the penalty ought to be for a woman who has an abortion. There is no question that the act of abortion takes the life of an unborn child and should be judged as criminal, but the psychological state of a woman who chooses to undergo this procedure should factor into a criminal charge.
Infanticide laws in England that have been in existence since 1922 charge mothers who kill their babies with the lesser charge of manslaughter, rather than murder. In the United States and Canada, there are many instances where an even lesser charge has been given in cases of infanticide: that of criminally negligent homicide. Whatever the charge, the act of infanticide remains criminal.

Attempting suicide was removed from the Canadian Criminal Code in 1972. There is an understanding that persons seeking to end their own lives are in serious need of immediate psychological assistance and that something must be done to save them from taking their lives. It seems reasonable to judge the woman in the volatile situation of being pregnant and seeking to kill her own offspring, or who has indeed undergone abortion, in a similar light, such that serious, immediate intervention through government and private agencies be enacted either to prevent her from abortion or counsel her once she has undergone one.
However, those who carry out abortions or who counsel a woman to abort should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law for murder. These people, in most instances, are gaining economically from the vulnerability of the women and are under no psychological duress. Their act is the epitome of cold-blooded murder and, because it is often repeated numerous times, they can be considered the perpetrators of genocide.

Peter Ryan Executive director, New Brunswick Right to Life Association

The main ones to be held accountable by the law should be those who commit abortions, those who assist at the procedures and those who promote abortions. But women who undergo abortions should also be held accountable for taking a human life. Here, the law should perhaps resemble its present provisions for infanticide, which take account of the oft-present element of emotional duress.

There should also be a defence for those coerced by others – for example, boyfriends or parents (whom the law should hold accountable).

My final suggestion is that the law be crafted so as to distinguish  between those who knowingly end a child’s life and those ignorant about fetal life; that is, those who mistakenly assumed it was “a blob of cells.”

Crafting a just law would be complex because of some dissimilarities with other homicides. But it could be done.

Theresa Smyth Executive director, Aid to Women

Until 1972, suicide and attempted suicide were illegal in Canada. The law reflected the belief that life is worth living and that suicide was unthinkable. Abortion is roughly analogous. It includes the killing of one innocent victim; the tremendous self-harm for the victim-perpetrators; and the loss to the family, peers and society of the missing victim. More than wanting to end a life, people involved in abortion are seeking an end to their pain. They need our support. And we need to ensure that further harm is prevented, particularly to other children within the family, born or yet-to-be-born. The state can impose treatment on someone who is a danger to himself or others.

Currently, people involved in abortion reflect not only interior pain, but a cultural disease. Unconsciously aware that something is deeply wrong, too many unhealed women are already “sending themselves” to jail for (other) crimes committed after abortion. By the time we succeed in re-criminalization, there will have been so much healing in our culture that abortion will once again be unthinkable. Thus, someone who committed abortion would be personally aberrant – most likely, insane.

Assuming that we enacted penalties for multiple contributors (the crime’s victim-perpetrators/observer-accessories), the mother’s “sentencing” could normally be through the mental health system. Most cases could even be “statused-out” so that prosecution was deferred pending treatment through a quality post-abortion healing program and treatment-compliant women could end up without a criminal record.