Marco Rubio, Scott Walker, and Mike Huckabee are firmly on record that an embryo is a person, and abortion is murder: no rape, incest or mother’s survival exceptions, end of story.  None of the other candidates volunteered a less absolute position.

OK, if you think abortion is murder, you must demand indictment, prosecution and at least life without parole for any woman who arranges her own abortion (am I misunderstanding the word premeditation?), but I’m not aware of any anti-abortion advocate, let alone a “tough on crime” candidate for office, who has done so.  If you think abortion is murder, and you aren’t calling at the top of your lungs for murder-one prosecutions of one in three women, you are a pandering hypocrite without the courage of your convictions, or a flat liar (about the “fetus is a person” part), or simply a coward who won’t say what you think.

More cowardly in my view are the reporters and pundits who get one of these absolutists across an interview desk or in a debate (I’m looking at you, Megyn Kelly) and never ask this question.  Here, say it out loud to practice: “You are sure that a fetus is a person. Do you demand first-degree murder prosecution of women who arrange to abort their fetuses? Have you filed legislation to accomplish this? If not, why not?”

Good followups: for tax-cutters, “How do you expect to pay to imprison for almost a third of all women?” and for death penalty advocates [channelling Barney Frank]: “Would it be correct to say you believe human life begins at conception and ends at birth?”

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.

33 thoughts on “Cowardice”

  1. The Frank jibe works better as referring to the right to life.

    Be careful what you wish for. Some radical pro-lifers are prepared to firebomb abortion clinics.

    1. Ditto on the careful wishing.

      Also, if we were going to get all self-righteous about this, we'd also have to go after all the IVF people, including the successful ones we now call "parents." Who got left behind? And the researchers, on diseases, fertility, and so on. (I suspect there is some sketchy stuff going on at our most prestigious unis in this regard. Mostly I try not to think about it. They are supposed to all have bioethics committees, right???)

      As for which these guys are, I think they are all three at once, plus not all that bright. They aren't the top of this pile. Mind you, I also think brains can be overrated too.

  2. I am pro-choice, so my only disagreement with this post is its apparent endorsement of life without parole for real murderers. No one should ever get life without parole. People can change, and the opportunity for parole gives them an incentive to do so. Remember Karla Faye Tucker, who had changed, but whom Governor George W. Bush not only executed but mocked?

    Life without parole should be banned as cruel and unusual punishment under the 8th Amendment. It is yet another example of how barbaric the United States is as compared to Europe. Spain, Germany, and France have banned life without parole, and the European Court of Human Rights ruled last month that it is inhuman and degrading and violates the European Convention of Human Rights.

    Wikipedia reports, "As of 2009, Human Rights Watch had calculated that there were 2,589 youth offenders serving life without parole in the United States." Getting back to the post, it would not be hypocritical for someone to claim that abortion is murder if he or she demanded that women who have abortions be tried for first-degree murder but not be sentenced to life without parole or, of course, the death penalty. Of course, those who claim to be "pro-life" are usually the most adamant supporters of the death penalty.

  3. You are absolutely correct that if abortion is murder, the pregnant woman is often (perhaps not always) a murderer. The rarity of anti-abortionists acknowledging that is one of many reasons to adjudge that cause as weak morally and logically. If you claim your cause is based in pure shining morality, you do not get to use cynically dishonest arguments and tactics; the anti-abortionists fail massively from that perspective.

  4. Agreed.

    You know, I had a thought about the whole "fetal personhood" thing. If fetuses are people from fertilization onward, then wouldn't forcing a woman to bear one be slavery? Coercion of one person without compensation to nourish and support another? I've used the term "womb slavery" in debates with anti-choice folks before.

  5. I am surprised never to have seen the anti-abortion forces use a tactic which could open up ground for them. So far as I know, they have not tried to avail themselves of the animal cruelty statutes which exist in every jurisdiction in the United States. Roe said that fetuses were not people but never said they were not animals. The thought has to have occurred to someone in that camp, but why has it never been brought to bear in the real world by seeking injunctions against abortion clinics under those laws?

    If I had to guess I would surmise that they do not want to abandon their "high ground" of regarding the developing human as a person; they are not willing to do anything which would treat them as animals even if this were to present a new legal tack on which to base their movement.

    I am not trying to give them any ideas here, but after 43 years, I am sure that the idea has occurred to someone on that side of the issue.

    I also would welcome any "debate" panelist putting forth the question to these extremists, though. They have been presenting themselves as protectors of women, whom they have framed as victims rather than perpetrators of abortion. The panelist could say "How is it different from a mother hiring a hit man to kill her child at kindergarten? How is she a victim there?"

    Again, we may be well advised to be careful what we wish for.

  6. “Would it be correct to say you believe human life begins at conception and ends at birth?”

    That question applies not just to “pro-life” death penalty supporters but to “pro-life” folks who support repealing Obamacare.

    I can see two possible objections to this. First, one can oppose Obamacare without wanting to return to the pre-Obamacare status quo. However, Republicans in the House of Representatives have voted repeatedly to return to the pre-Obamacare status quo. As far as I know that is the only alternative to Obamacare that they have actually put to a vote. So I think we can safely say that the typical Republican politician and his supporters don't merely oppose Obamacare; they specificly prefer the pre-Obamacare status quo.

    Second, Republicans might reject the notion that repealing the Affordable Care Act would actually result in Americans dying. But it is simple common sense that people without access to health care are going to have worse health and some will die. And the scientific studies seem to back that up (although the first link below does cite a 2009 paper that disagress with the conclusions of a 2002 study):

    Also, Obama's recent claim that the Affordable Care Act led to 50,000 fewer hospital deaths is grounded in solid evidence:

    It is one thing to claim to be pro-life but make an exception for people who have committed particularly heinous crimes. It is another to claim to be pro-life but make an exception for anyone who doesn't hold a job that provides health care benefits.

  7. kalmquist4's final paragraph refers to people who believe in capital punishment "for people who have committed particularly heinous crimes." It should say "for people who have been convicted of having committed particularly heinous crimes, whether or not they really did." People who support capital punishment must recognize that it results in the execution of innocent people, and must acknowledge that they find that a price worth paying.

  8. Michael's post so misses the point that it is scary. The point is that abortion currently is legal, so we can't discuss the right and just penalty for supporting or performing an abortion before we first resolve that it should in fact be illegal. There is no cowardice or hypocrisy in this. I count myself as an "anti-abortion advocate." I for one believe that it is in fact absolutely either murder or manslaughter, depending on the facts, and should be prosecuted that way. So there, you heard it from one "anti-abortion advocate." But again, it makes no sense to talk about the penalty, because sadly abortion is in fact permitted under the current law of the land. This is very simple logic.

    When it comes to abortion, there are really only four possible positions:
    1.The fetus is a person, and we know that.
    2.The fetus is a person, but we don’t know that.
    3.The fetus isn’t a person, but we don’t know that.
    4.The fetus isn’t a person, and we know that.

    Abortion in Case 1
    In Case 1, where the fetus is a person and you know that, abortion is murder. First-degree murder, in fact. You deliberately kill an innocent human being.

    Abortion in Case 2
    In Case 2, where the fetus is a person and you don’t know that, abortion is manslaughter. It’s like driving over a man-shaped overcoat in the street at night or shooting toxic chemicals into a building that you’re not sure is fully evacuated. You’re not sure there is a person there, but you’re not sure there isn’t either, and it just so happens that there is a person there, and you kill him. You cannot plead ignorance. True, you didn’t know there was a person there, but you didn’t know there wasn’t either, so your act was literally the height of irresponsibility. This is the act Roe allowed.

    Abortion in Case 3
    In Case 3, the fetus isn’t a person, but you don’t know that. So abortion is just as irresponsible as it is in the previous case. You ran over the overcoat or fumigated the building without knowing that there were no persons there. You were lucky; there weren’t. But you didn’t care; you didn’t take care; you were just as irresponsible. You cannot legally be charged with manslaughter, since no man was slaughtered, but you can and should be charged with criminal negligence.

    Abortion in Case 4
    Only in Case 4 is abortion a reasonable, permissible, and responsible choice. But note: What makes Case 4 permissible is not merely the fact that the fetus is not a person but also your knowledge that it is not, your overcoming of skepticism. So skepticism counts not for abortion but against it. Only if you are not a skeptic, only if you are a dogmatist, only if you are certain that there is no person in the fetus, no man in the coat, or no person in the building, may you abort, drive, or fumigate.

    So it's simple logic. Unless an in utero fetus isn't a person, and we know that with 100% certainty, then the woman who has an abortion should at the very minimum be charged with criminal negligence, possibly with manslaughter, or possibly with Murder 1. My preferred option for all Murder 1 offenders is the death penalty, minus the legal hurdles that have been piled against it by activist judges, which makes it a costly and delayed sanction. If we're not going the route of an effective death penalty, then there's no other choice but life in prison without parole. Again, a bunch of what-ifs, since abortion is currently legal. Should it suddenly become illegal, the question is will the penalty be applied retroactively to women who already had an abortion back when it was legal. I don't think this retroactivity can possibly happen, so it would be applied prospectively for any new abortion. Which then changes the cost calculation that you raise because it very likely that there would not be one-third of all women having an abortion due to the deterrent element of the new law making abortion illegal. Some women obviously would continue to break the law, and then we should be willing and ready to pay the price to punish accordingly.

    1. Some of us are comfortable with the fact that we must make decisions as to where boundaries lie in a universe that lacks objective criteria for setting them. Based upon what I know now, I have no problem saying that I believe that your Case 4 is the correct one. It's not a matter of being dogmatic so much as it is recognizing that in a world of imperfect knowledge, lines have to be drawn somewhere, and that you have to be willing to be wrong sometimes.

      "Skeptical" is not a synonym for "paralyzed."

      1. Ok, so in your world of being comfortable with making decisions about where boundaries lie, WHO gets to determine those boundaries? Is it a popularity contest? Does majority rule? Plurality rule? The ruling class rule? Are some people's opinions more important than others?

        1. Well, yes, in a democracy it does come down to something akin to a popularity contest. It's not quite majority rule, but pretty close. If you have a better way to resolve those sorts of dilemmas, let's hear it.

      2. And by your own logic (i.e., "in a world of imperfect knowledge"), you can't possibly same that Case 4 is correct. You've just said, we don't have perfect knowledge about the state of being here. In fact we don't even have evidence one way or the other. Can you show me any? So to say that you "know" that a fetus is not a person is the height of arrogance to claim knowlege about something that you really must admit (even by your own logic) that you are unsure of. You know that you do not know for sure that a fetus is not a person. So then just curious, how certain are you if you're not 100%? Are you 75% certain? 50% certain? And what supporting evidence do you have to support that level of certainty?

        1. As has been said before, it is not an objective call as to whether or not a fetus is legally and morally a human being. While there are objective facts underlying it, in the end, it's very much a subjective decision. Logic cannot answer the question: what are the qualities required to be a human being. So it's not really a question of how likely it is that I am correct and the percentages are both irrelevant and uncalculable. I do not "know" that a fetus is not a person in the sense that you seem to mean. I have accepted a definition of "human" and then apply that definition to the world.

          And if it is the height of arrogance to adopt a position without absolute certainty, it is an arrogance that every human being on the planet is guilty of every day. The universe is full of questions to which there is no certain answer. You do it to, and are demonstrating that you do it on this issue.

      3. I do find your statement about having to be "willing to be wrong" to be scary too. There are different costs associated with different potentially wrong decisions. If I think I know for certain that the Steelers are going to win the superbowl this year but I end up being wrong, so what? Who cares? But if I think I know that a fetus is not a person and I end up being wrong (whether in fact I can or will ever truly know that I'm wrong), that is a VERY costly wrong decision. If i'm wrong in that instance, it comes at the life of a precious human being. Murder! So again, not all potentially wrong decisions are equal. This must be considered.

        1. Except, if I follow your path and always take the safer option, I inflict a lot of harm on people, again without absolute certainty that I am right. And outlawing abortion does inflict harm on people. There are no utterly morally safe options to take.

  9. We cannot know or not know whether a fetus is a person, because it is not a scientific question. We call a fetus a person, or we don't, depending upon our view of abortion. Whether a fetus is a person does not determine the morality of abortion; our view of the morality of abortion determines whether we call a fetus a person.

    1. Jarndyce's response is quite typical of the person who holds to moral relativism, and to the dogmatic position that the only true source of knowledge is scientifc knowledge. If we cannot know that a fetus is a person, then we cannot know that, for example, a 2-year old child is a person. We thus cannot make a moral statement judging anyone who decides to take the life of a 2-year old child. Following Jarndyce's logic, or view of morality is only determined by whether we call a 2-year old a person. If I decide by my own choice not to call a 2-year old a person, then please don't judge me if I also decide to murder a 2-year old child. Irregardless of whether we can or cannot know whether a fetus is a person, if in fact there is an objective state of being (perhaps we can never know it but it objectively exists), then prudence would clearly err on the side of treating the fetus as a person.

      1. Well, yes, if you kill a 2-year old child, you will be treated as a murderer. The difference here is that a 2-year old meets the criteria that we, as a society, have determined defines what it is to be legally and morally a human being. We most certainly can make a moral judgment about the person that decides to kill one. We can make a legal judgment about it, too.

        Just because a judgment is not based upon objective criteria does not mean that we can't, or shouldn't, make it. In the case of abortion, there really is no non-arbitrary point at which we can establish the line between being human and not being human. That does not mean that we must allow everyone to be killed willy nilly.

        1. Again, you demonstrate the height of arrogance Michael Neal. When did "society" get together and determine that a 2-year old is a human being? I missed that meeting. Is society god? Is society's opinion more valid than mine, absent facts? What if society is wrong (it's not like society hasn't been wrong in the past, right?). If you don't believe in objective truth about when life begins, then don't you dare morally judge me if I don't think it begins until after 2 years old. How dare you? Sure, I stand to pay the price legally, because that it s a popularity contest.

          1. As I said above, "skepticism" is not a synonym for "paralyzed." I damned well will judge you morally, because killing a 2-year old is immoral. That you have deluded yourself into thinking that your morality is based strictly upon objective facts is not my problem. I'll go about living my life according to the moral code I can put together from the information I have available and what wisdom I can bring to bear.

            As for society, while it absolutely can be morally wrong, it will decide what is legally permissible. Again, if you have an alternative, let's hear it.

  10. Several Latin American countries have put young women in prison for long sentences for merely having questionable (to someone) miscarriages. The logic of abortion is murder is easily embraced, unfortunately, by many. This seems to include poster Bux above. Bux leaves out of his wonderfully logical presentation any description of the women involved in the situation. What will happen, when and if abortion becomes again illegal, is various illegal abortions, many much more life-threatening than at present. Meanwhile, women of means will have various legal medical procedures resulting in the termination of pregnancy. Same as it ever was. If Bux had a young teen daughter impregnated by a lout who already has children by four other young teens, it is 99 percent certain she will get her daughter out of the situation, in the safest way possible. If it takes a vacation to Switzerland, so be it.

  11. have you forgotten, FiddlinBill, that adoption is a an option (and a beautiful option in my opinion)? It is a false dilemma to suggest that abortion or termination of the pregnancy is the only option. I care deeply about women, and for the FiddlinBill to suggest otherwise is irresponsible since he knows nothing about me. I'm the proud father of three beautiful young women. I would not encourage one of my daughters to get an abortion or take a "vacation to Switzerland" if she got pregnant under the situation described. I would wholly encourage her to give birth to the child and place the child for adoption in the situation described. Adoption is beautiful, choose life!

    1. There's a huge market for attractive, healthy Caucasian babies. Black and brown, sick, poor babies? Not so much.

  12. I don't think it matters whether a fetus is a person or not. A person with end-stage renal disease is definitely a person, but no law can compel me to give that person my kidney even if s/he will surely die without it. I don't have to use my body to prevent another person from dying.

  13. It's not that hard to understand.

    Pre-Roe, the usual tendency in state law was, so I understand, to assume that any woman who'd try to kill her child must be insane, and treat her accordingly. While the abortionists was treated as a killer for hire, presumed to be sane, and particularly guilty because when confronted with the woman's insane effort at infanticide, he assisted instead of trying to stop her.

    Pro-lifers anticipate a return to this general rule when Roe is overturned.

    In the meanwhile, the primary objective is to save the lives of the unborn, punishing those who would kill them is decidedly a secondary objective. Since a lot of women have been persuaded that killing unborn babies isn't really murder, and have gone ahead and done it. Confronting them with the full horror of what they've done doesn't further the cause of preventing more infanticides.

    Once abortion is illegal again, it's assumed that the abortion rate will decline dramatically, just as it increased dramatically when legalized. And once the actual status of abortion has been made clear, the issue of whether women seeking abortions are crazy or evil can be revisited. But, for now, not threatening the women is a perfectly legitimate tactical decision in the pursuit of a hugely important goal.

    See, not so irrational or cowardly.

    1. So, the position is basically that women do not make rational choices. No, no war on women to be found here, we're just treating the pretty little ladies as if their heads are empty.

      1. No, the position is basically that women who murder their children do not make rational choices. Most women don't murder their children.

        1. I'm going to stick with my position. Rather than try to figure out why a woman is doing something, you just assume that she must be insane. I have no idea why women might find that argument repellent.

    2. It may be a canny/legitimate decision, but it is less than honest.

      I sort of have a policy against even talking about this, b/c there is no new argument that can be made. Hmm, should I say more, or should I stop now?

      ***Condoms, people.*** While we continue arguing about something that will *never* be settled… why not practice prevention?

    3. Did you just make this up? When have we ever assumed that someone who kills another person is legally insane? That's generally something the defense attempts to establish at trial, and as you probably know, it's rarely successful. And if she is insane, shouldn't she be committed to a mental institution?

  14. Another thing we're forgetting in this conversation, the real hypocrisy is that there already are laws that call the termination of a fetus a murder, but these laws mostly don't apply to abortion. In my state of Pennsylvania, there are several offense codes in our criminal code statute for murder (1 and 2) of an unborn child and aggravated assault on an unborn child. An unborn child is defined in PA statute to mean "an individual organism of the species Homo sapiens from fertilization until live birth." Notice fertilization is the starting point, not 2nd or 3rd trimester. So if I go out and knock a pregnant woman to the ground to rob her, and the baby inside of her dies (regardless of how far along she is), I can be charged with murder. Same rules should apply to the abortionist to be consistent.

    1. I'd find your claim of hypocrisy to be a lot more compelling if it were abortion rights supporters that had pushed to enact these laws. As it is, what you have is abortion opponents passing laws that create this situation, who then turn around and accuse everyone of hypocrisy. Sorry, but that's not a valid argument.

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