Wednesday, August 01, 2007

How much time?

Ann Quindlen's recent column is entitled "How much jail time?" and starts off by describing an older video which is now on YouTube of a pro-choicer asking abortion protesters how women who have abortions should be punished. I had a post on this video and how pro-choice bloggers responded to it about two years ago.

In her column, Quindlen writes as if she were a logician,
But 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.
National Review has a long symposium of responses to Quindlen's column and the question of whether women should be jailed for having abortions.

I fancy O. Carter Snead's submission:
Quindlen's argument is profoundly confused. At one moment, she demands indignantly that pro-lifers defend an imagined post-Roe law that condemns women to prison. In the next breath, however, she bitterly complains that current abortion bans regularly immunize women from criminal liability (thus rendering the question of "How much time?" unintelligible.). So, are pro-lifers authoritarian brutes who will throw women in jail, or paternalistic softies who treat women with kid gloves? As Quindlen says, "you can't have it both ways.

Quindlen's legal arguments are even more puzzling. There is no "logical necessity" that ties the hands of lawmakers from invoking the familiar concept of immunity. One can imagine several perfectly defensible reasons for pro-life legislators to target abortionists rather than women. For one thing, abortionists are arguably more culpable in principle: they directly perform the lethal action; they are more fully aware that they are snuffing out a human life in process; they are not laboring under any duress; and they perform abortions for profit. As a prudential matter, prosecuting abortionists seems a sufficient means to ending the practice of abortion. Also, abortion is like a vice crime in that there is not likely to be a complaining witness. Immunizing one of the parties removes a powerful disincentive for confessions. Finally, it does seem that the public is more willing to accept a law that punishes doctors rather than mothers. Pro-lifers can thus achieve their goal of ending abortion without provoking a political backlash. That is neither unprincipled nor unwise. Frankly, it seems like good politics for a pluralistic society."

Thinking about this I wondered if Anna Quindlen would hold other issues to same "legal logic." For example, should a mother who leaves her child in a hot car receive jail time? And how much? If you're not willing to lock these women up, then I guess leaving your child in a hot car shouldn't be criminal, right?

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