Pro-lifers are often criticized for saying abortion should be illegal. Some express concern that making abortion illegal will make it unsafe to the point where overwhelming numbers of women who have them will die.
But since abortion directly and intentionally kills an innocent human being, how else should we react?
Consider that in 1960—nine years before abortion was legalized in Canada and thirteen years before abortion became legal in the United States—Mary Calderone, then-medical director of Planned Parenthood in the United States, stated, "abortion, whether therapeutic or illegal, is in the main no longer dangerous, because it is being done well by physicians."1
Moreover, when abortion was illegal in Canada, very few women were actually convicted of having an illegal abortion. For the most part, those who performed the abortion were convicted.
Dr. Bernard Nathanson, a former abortionist and co-founder of the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (NARAL), confessed that he lied about the number of women he said were dying from illegal abortions. He wrote,
How many deaths were we talking about when abortion was illegal? In N.A.R.A.L. we generally emphasized the drama of the individual case, not the mass statistics, but when we spoke of the latter it was always ‘5,000 to 10,000 deaths a year.’ I confess that I knew the figures were totally false, and I suppose the others did too if they stopped to think of it. But in the ‘morality’ of our revolution, it was a useful figure, widely accepted, so why go out of our way to correct it with honest statistics?2
Interestingly, some of the people who performed illegal abortions were also the ones who performed legal abortions. So if these procedures were done so unsafely, why have the same individuals do them?
More fundamentally, though, is the question of whether we should legalize immoral acts and make them safe simply because people who currently commit those acts could be harmed in the process. In other words, should killing other human beings be made legal so that it is safer for those who kill those human beings?
In 1994, Susan Smith killed her two toddlers in South Carolina, by putting them in the backseat of her car and rolling it into a lake. Imagine that that was not an isolated incident. Imagine that more women do what Smith did. Whether they are stressed out with their children, or are dating men who do not want children, or have some other reason, they, in mass numbers, drown their offspring.
But unlike Smith, imagine that woman after woman drives her car into the lake with the plan of escaping out an open window. Now imagine that many women fail in their efforts to get out of the cars before they sink, thereby dying when killing their children. Should society, then, make drowning one’s children legal so that it is safe for these mothers? In fact, should society even facilitate the process by helping women kill their children in a manner that doesn’t threaten their own lives?
If a man hurts his fists while beating his wife, should we make spousal abuse legal and provide such men with boxing gloves to keep themselves safe and protected when they beat their wives?
Clearly we don’t change a law simply because someone who is going to break it may get harmed in the process.
Assault, bank robbery, and home invasions, for example, all involve risks to the perpetrators. Should we legalize these acts and attempt to make them "safe" for those who wish to engage in them without harming themselves?
Doing so would completely disregard the victims of these acts who would be harmed regardless of the legality of the act, and regardless of how safe we make it for the perpetrators.
Rather than making these acts easier to commit, we should be making them more difficult—and Canadian law can’t make them more difficult when it facilitates the process.
So if abortion becomes illegal, what should the consequences be for women who break that law? The answer is simple: the same as they would be if a woman killed her born child.
That may seem harsh and insensitive, but it only is if—if the pre-born aren't human. If they are human, why wouldn't there be consequences for those who hurt them, just as there are consequences for those who hurt the born?
It is worth pointing out that even in situations where women kill their born children, they don’t always go to jail. Their behavior is rightly classified as immoral, but a particular punishment may not be applied due to factors such as mental instability.
Consider Andrea Yates, the American woman who killed her 5 children by drowning them in the bathtub. While she was originally sentenced to life in prison that was changed on appeal where it was ruled she was not guilty on grounds of insanity. But no one argues what she did was okay, nor do they argue what she did should be legal.
By the time abortion becomes illegal in Canada, it will likely be unthinkable. Since most Canadians would recognize the pre-born as equally valuable to the born, very few Canadians would choose to kill them. So the number of women who would break that law and face jail consequences would be very few.
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- American Journal of Public Health, July 1960.
- Bernard Nathanson, Aborting America (Toronto: Life Cycle Books, 1979) 193.