With recent efforts to criminalize abortion and mandate punishments such as prison or even death for women who have the procedure, some on the right have taken the logic of the anti-abortion position to its inevitable conclusion. If abortion really is murder, as some have long contended, then prison or death is the appropriate consequence for the guilty, no?

Although many people who oppose abortion shrink from punishing women, preferring to focus on doctors and others in the health care system, they are simply refusing to follow where their stance was always going to lead, the only place their argument can logically end. To refuse to go there is to infantilize women — to say they are not responsible for their decisions — and to attempt to cover up the extremity and cruelty of the anti-choice stance.

There are those who read the book of Genesis as saying that God ordained the pain of childbirth as punishment for the disobedience of Eve, our first mother. But just as ancient peoples of many times and places turned to the gods to explain aspects of life they found hard to understand, the Hebrews at the time Genesis was written did not understand how the female reproductive system worked and had no way to know that thousands of years later, there would be anesthetics to ease the pain of birth, never mind contraceptives to prevent fertilization. I’d be willing to bet that most people who oppose abortion would not deny anesthetics to a woman giving birth, and a good number of them would allow her some form of contraception other than abstinence.

God does not ordain suffering for women or any of God’s people, nor does God want children to be born to parents who don’t want them or can’t take care of them. God allows human beings to make their own choices — including a whole lot of bad ones — and is always ready to help them cope with whatever mess they have made of their own, and sometimes others’ lives. If Jesus would not allow a woman caught in the act of adultery (in his time, a crime for the woman, but not the man) to be executed as the law required, why should we assume he would approve the execution of a woman who had an abortion because she could not afford to feed another mouth?

No matter what the zealots say, a fertilized egg is not a person, and enshrining fetal personhood in law will not make it so. There was a time it was illegal to help slaves escape from their masters, but that did not make slavery right or helping slaves escape wrong. The law can criminalize miscarriages, however, which the Mayo Clinic website defines as “the spontaneous loss of a pregnancy before the 20th week.” It goes on to explain that about 10 to 20 percent of known pregnancies end in miscarriage, “but the number is likely higher, because many miscarriages occur very early in pregnancy — before you might even know about a pregnancy.”

Most miscarriages occur, the clinic says, “because the fetus isn’t developing as expected.” In other words, it is a natural process to remove fetuses that have a low chance of developing into a baby capable of survival. But with the outlawing of abortion, the state will have an interest in assuring that a miscarriage was not brought on intentionally by the mother, thus adding involvement with the justice system to the shock and grief of losing a pregnancy. Since proving a negative (that one didn’t do anything that could possibly have caused a miscarriage) is notoriously difficult, it seems likely to me that many women could be wrongfully arrested after losing a pregnancy in this way. Cue the birth police.

At root, of course, all this carry-on about abortion, as well as the gestures at contraception and LGBTQ rights, is about fear of sex for pleasure and of women. Men’s fear of women has been the organizing principle of the world for millennia, that’s what patriarchy is. And the men in question are not about to relinquish the power they have managed to acquire by promulgating that fear. So what if our society now requires two incomes per family for survival? Those families with the terrible lack of foresight to fail to inherit wealth will just have to get along the best they can. And the women? They can go back to the kitchen and the nursery and stop thinking they can compete in a man’s world.


Sarah E. Reynolds is a former editor of The Republican Journal.