Abortion as murder

The comment thread on this post is open to anyone who opposes abortion as murder on grounds that a fetus (at the stage it is performed) is a person. Please either
(i) confirm that the correct response of society is to indict and prosecute the mother who arranges it for capital murder (premeditated) (if you like capital punishment, presumably with that sentence), or
(ii) explain why anything less isn’t either hypocrisy or sacrificing the lives of innocents and moral principle for political expediency.
Links to abortion opponents taking position (i) publicly would be nice.
Never mind explaining why a fetus is or isn’t a person; that’s for another place and time.

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.

65 thoughts on “Abortion as murder”

  1. All this talk about viability is nonsense. It’s a nice buzzword that pro-abortionists like to throw around in an attempt to minimize their culpability for murder, but it makes no sense. The dictionary definition for “viable” is: “able to live on its own”. A 6 week old newborn baby can no more survive 48 hours without a caretaker than an early second trimester embryo can survive without biological connection to the mother. Leave a 6 week old newborn in a closed room by himself/herself for 48 hours and see what happens. Sure the newborn can draw breath on its own and doesn’t have a biological connection to the mother in the strictest sense of things, but that newborn in a very real sense is no more viable than the unborn embryo. And then there are the incredible stories of unborn babies who are all but declared not viable but are brought to term and turn out just fine. By making a decision on who is viable and who is not, we are playing god. Let’s leave this whole misleading viability stuff out of the discussion.

    Tyler, as to your point, this is one of the silliest false dilemmas I’ve ever heard. You think by criminalizing abortion to the point that it’s a murder and carries a life sentence or longer, that we can dramatically reign in back alley abortions? Sure, they’re still going to happen, just like murder and rape will always happen. So should we say there’s only two options, either we legalize rape or let it happen in back alleys? No, of course not, we don’t settle for that kind of logic. We make rape illegal even though it’s still going to happen. Similarly, if we believe abortion is murder, then we make it illegal and provide a penalty that will deter most offenders.

  2. sven, of course I don’t believe in bombing abortion clinics; it solves nothing. In your example you give, shooting one lunatic who comes into a school to shoot at children would stop that problem right dead in its track. Problem solved, bad guy dead, children saved. But bombing one abortion clinic is not going to end abortion in America. It’s only gonna get me in jail. So we have to be more strategic about our approach in systematically ending the practice of abortion, which does not involve violence right now. But, as I believe Brett Bellmore said in one post, there may come a day where we have to resort to civil war in this country over this issue, just as we did over slavery before. I pray to God that he pours out his grace and mercy on us as a country, where we can resolve this and protect the sanctity of all human life without such a deep and violent divide in this country. So no, again, I don’t believe bombing abortion clinics is the right approach. It’s a kind of vigilante justice that does no good.

  3. Bux, there is a flaw in your analogy between rape and back alley abortions. In back alley abortions, the “criminal” often becomes the victim. This is because the women — generally young, poor, and desperate ones, because others will find a safe way to get an abortion — often die or suffer serious injuries from back alley abortions. Of course, you can reply that that’s a risk they choose to take. That’s most conservatives’ attitude to poor people.

  4. I think Bux provided the consistency that Michael was looking for. I’m not sure there’s another way of going about it.

    But what if we changed the premise to “opposes abortion as killing an innocent person – *but realizes that personhood is controversial and accepts that many don’t share his view and thus cannot be considered murderers*”

    I say this because I’ve always felt the abortion debate analogous in many ways to that of animal rights (and one in which I move to the side of the prosecution). Many believe meat is murder, especially if the animal is suffering. But one can also allow that it is a form of murder which is (like abortion) relative to one’s worldview. And that before we can accuse anyone of murder, we must establish in society a sufficiently convincing case that meat is indeed murder. We have not done that, and so we must allow people to eat meat.

    And we may never do that. It is simply not immediately apparent that animals should have the same rights to life as people. There have been many issues over which society has been slowly moved to condemn, such as slavery, women’s suffrage, miscegenation, etc. But I think those are cases in which it seems reasonably apparent that a right should exist. Now, hindsight may be 20-20, but something as abstract as the personhood of a fetus or the consciousness of a lower mammal seems a pretty steep mountain to climb.

  5. That is a risk they choose to take Henry. It irks me how we’ve become such a victim society, where everybody wants to cry “I’m the victim”. I guess next you’re gonna say that the bank robber who gets shot in the process of his botched robbery is a victim. So we need to make bank robbery legal because a robber runs a decent probability of getting hurt in the process? Now if the crime is reported and we arrest the shot bank robber (or the hypothetical criminal woman having a back alley abortion) in the process, I see it as our responsibility to provide medical care to bring them back to health alongside bringing them to justice. In the case of abortion, the medical community should also see what they can do to bring the baby to health if it’s a botched back alley abortion that is caught in the process.

  6. Eli, I am pro-choice with regard to abortion and also believe that killing animals for food, unless one is stranded in a place such as a desert and has nothing else to eat, should be illegal. That is not to say that “meat is murder,” which I do not think that any animal rights advocate means literally, in the sense that it should be treated legally as murder, as Bux would treat abortion. But morality is not determined by majority vote.

    To advocate that killing animals for food should generally be illegal is not to assert that “animals should have the same rights to life as people.” That should be apparent from the exception I acknowledge for people with nothing else to eat. If one must choose between saving a person or an animal from a burning building, one need not flip a coin. The point is that no one should kill an animal for a frivolous reason, and enjoying the taste of meat is a frivolous reason as compared with the life of an animal, as well as the lifetime of suffering of factory-farmed animals. There is no other reason for eating meat; it is certainly less healthy than a vegetarian or vegan diet.

  7. Bux has raised the possibility of a civil war over abortion, just as there was one over slavery. Slavery was legal in some states and illegal in others. If Roe were reversed, the whole issue would revert to the states. Abortion would be legal in some states and not in others. Would the abortion states secede from the union if they felt threatened by the non-abortion states? How would the armies align? Would there have to be a federal law criminalizing abortion? Would there have to be a federal law prohibiting women from traveling across state lines to obtain abortions from states in which it is still legal, or from traveling abroad to seek abortions from countries in which it was legal? Veterans of the pre-Roe days can tell you about women traveling to places where they could obtain legal abortions. Exactly how much power is Bux willing to vest in the federal government to ensure that pregnant women stay pregnant until term?

  8. @Brett- I was referring to (some place back in this thread) the idea of viability. There is a point where “viability for survival” gets sketchy. Someone posited that a fetus at six months gestation can be considered viable to survive outside the mother. But of course that is contingent on a vast aray of medical services and staff to administer them and more so on what the health of the baby is.

    If you go back and read my post you will find I stated that IMO few women would allow a pregnancy to progress to a late stage and then decide to terminate the pregnancy unless there was a serious medical problem that emerged. Usually such a problem involves serious developmental problems with the fetus/child. When you combine very early premature birth with severe developmental disabilities you get costs that run into the MILLIONS OF DOLLARS.

    In my personal expierience I was involved as a board member and volunteer at a facility that offered therapy to children in just these kinds of hopeless situations. They require round the clock medical care for all their short lives, all paid for by tax dollars (that the GOP is always trying to slash) Their lives are spent strapped into wheel chairs with life support eqipment and their families are compleetly absent or put their noses in the door so infrequently that it would probably be better if they were. I could go on but you get the picture or some corner of it.

    So who wants to adopt this little bundle of joy? In the years of my involement I saw one little boy who did get adopted because he was cute and his afflictions were not so dire and he didn’t seem destined to die too imedeately. One. That was it. And God knows there are plenty of non-disabled children languishing in what we euphamistically call “homes” waiting for all of the concerned, loving people who are lining up to adopt them. But they are black or older or “troubled” so who would want them. Just damaged goods don’t ya know.

    It seems to me that a lot of people have very simplistic ideas about how complicated and hopeless and terrifying life can really get in the blink of an eye. Count your blessings if you don’t have first hand knowledge of these things (I have more knowledge than I want) and don’t be so quick to say what is right and wrong. Sometimes right and wrong are very hard to weigh in the real world, where all choices are full of pain.

    I seem to recall a guy on this site who thought his right to have an extended clip for his target practice gun out weighed the rest of us being a little safer on the streets. That guy told me that absolutist arguments should be regarded as junk and dismissed out of hand. Should we dismiss his absolut abhorance of all abortions or instead understand that his heart is sincere and try to find some sane middle ground.

    God grant us more sincere hearts and the wisdom to find sanity.

  9. I have a not unusual condition. In my late twenties, pieces of my twin in the womb started erupting from my body. First was a hair ball and a portion of a jaw from my crotch, last was a three or four inch section of arm or leg bone.

    Did I murder my twin in the womb? I don't think so.

  10. I do believe that human life begins at conception. The question of murder turns on whether a woman who receives or a doctor who performs an abortion has the requisite intent to take a human life. I find it difficult to believe that an abortion would take place if either the woman or her doctor agreed with me that the unborn child was a human life.

  11. If a fetus is a person, do they need a guardian ad litem to argue their interests wither regard to any medical care that might plausibly affect their condition? What would happen if the guardian ad litem argued for termination? Or, conversely, at what point after birth should such guardianship end, since the parents' interests may often be opposed to that of a child?

  12. @Bux: "A 6 week old newborn baby can no more survive 48 hours without a caretaker than an early second trimester embryo can survive without biological connection to the mother."

    That's missing the point. There are plenty of elderly who can't survive with a caretaker. Steven Hawkings can't survive without a caretaker. And so on.

    The point is that pre-viability, the fetus is dependent on the mother and no other caretaker. In that sense it's part of the woman's body; in that sense, a reasonable argument can be made that it's not a separate life.

  13. It seems there is quite a dilemma for those who regard the abortion of an embryo or fetus as murder. A surgical abortion typically involves the provision of a physician's services in exchange for someone's payment of money, with the death of the embryo/fetus intended by both contracting parties. If this transaction is murder, it is necessarily premeditated murder for hire. Those who hire someone to kill another have traditionally been regarded as at least as culpable, and subject to the same penalties, as the actor who carries out the killing. (I have a former client, Jonathan Stephenson, on Death Row in Nashville because a jury found that he hired another to kill his wife.)

    If females who hire doctors to kill fetuses are punished for first degree murder–(after all, if the anti-abortion crusaders are correct, why should society value a twelve week fetus less than that East Tennessee jury valued my client's victim, Lisa Stephenson?)–that would be a hell of a lot of fertile vaginas/uteri taken out of circulation for at least the remainder of their potential childbearing years. The resulting imbalance in the free world–potentially virile males far outnumbering potentially fertile females–would have far reaching social consequences.

    Do Republican males really want to create a free world American poon shortage?

  14. There seems to be a lack of responses for either option (i) or (ii).

    Bux obviously fully stands behind (i)

    Any other takers for either (i) or (ii)?

    I personally don't see how position (ii) can be defended, and have a hunch the question was asked precisely because of that.

    There are no clear lines in this debate, other than the extremes: Bux's position and the opposite (abortion is legal until the birth of the child).

  15. I'm pro-choice, but I've always thought the, "We need to keep abortion legal because if we don't bad things will happen when people do it illegally" argument was silly. We don't generally care what happens to people who do things that are illegal. We accept that risks to life and limb are inherent when engaging in illegal activity. So if we're convinced that abortion is a terrible abomination (and again, I'm not), why should we care what bad things happen to the women who have illegal abortions or the doctors who perform them?

Comments are closed.