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Sunday, August 17, 2008

Abortion Is Not Murder: Proof in the Punishment

New SD Watch contributor William A. Anderson starts his blogging stint with a bang, laying bare the fallacy that abortion is murder* and the failure of anti-abortion activists to think through the implications of their activism. Anderson links to this video showing anti-abortion protestors stumbling and fumbling for an answer to a seemingly simple question: "What should the penalty be for a woman who has an illegal abortion?"

"I've never really thought about it," say many of the interviewees, who mostly say they've worked in the anti-abortion movement for a couple years or more. Many come out sounding more like pro-choice activists, saying that abortion is between a woman's conscience and God. Not exactly a powerful case for legal intervention by the state.

Anderson connects the dots to Initiated Measure 11:

Nobody seems to have an answer, they haven’t even thought of it. Is this because they differentiate, albeit subconsciously, between a living baby and a fetus? Clearly, they must. Otherwise, this would be an easy question to answer....

Section 1 of IM 11 tells us that abortions “terminate the life on an entire, unique, living human being…” Terminating the life of a human being is murder. So if we are to believe IM 11, we must concede that abortion [is] murder. And, given that this is a premeditated act, abortion would be first degree murder, which, in South Dakota, is punishable by death [William A. Anderson, "What Good Is an Abortion Ban If There's No Penalty for the Mother," SD Watch, 2008.08.16].

IM11 would make illegal abortions a Class 4 felony, maximum penalty 10 years in the pen, $20,000 fine. First-degree murder is a Class A felony, mandatory sentence of death or life in the pen, plus possible $50,000 fine. Second-degree murder is a Class B felony, mandatory life sentence, plus possible $50,000 fine. (See SDCL 22-6-1 for all felony classifications.)

Anderson is right: the unwillingness of anti-abortion activists to advocate full murder penalties for abortion shows that even they recognize a difference between terminating a fetus and killing a human being. The practical consequences of IM11 contradict the rhetoric its supporters are using to win its passage.

It's easy for some folks to pray loudly and publicly, to trot out simple slogans and fetus porn. But as I am trying to explain to Pastor Hickey, making good public policy is more complicated than making simple moral declarations.

Anna gets this; Rebecca gets this. Robbinsdale Radical gets this.

And deep down, as William points out in a strong blog debut, nearly everyone gets that there's a difference between a fetus and a living human being.

*Update 2008.08.18 08:40 -- Curious: I find Anderson's post has disappeared. Below is the archived text of Anderson's original commentary, just so you know what I was responding to. I also include Anderson's intro/bio, which has also gone poof:

Anderson: What Good Is an Abortion Ban If There's No Penalty for the Mother?

SD Watch - Sat, 08/16/2008 - 23:57

By William A. Anderson

IM 11 is undoubtedly going to be this year’s most controversial piece of legislation, but in the midst of all the debate, nobody is asking the consequential question that will inevitably have to be addressed: If we are to outlaw abortion, what should be the punishment for a woman who procures one?

Now, common jurisprudence will tell us that by outlawing something, you make a certain action criminal. If such an act is criminal, in our system of law and order there must be repercussions and punishment. Otherwise, what we’re given is a toothless law that does nothing. IM 11 provides no measure for punishing a woman who seeks out an abortion.

In this (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uk6t_tdOkwo) great video, we see veteran “pro-life” protesters being asked what the punishment for abortion should be. Nobody seems to have an answer, they haven’t even thought of it. Is this because they differentiate, albeit subconsciously, between a living baby and a fetus? Clearly, they must. Otherwise, this would be an easy question to answer.

Are we hesitant to punish these women because we’d rather believe what the pro-lifers would have us conceive – that women are coerced and forced into these situations, unaware of the consequences of their action? Or are we to just naively believe that if we outlaw abortion, all abortions will cease and women will no longer seek them? To think either of these assumptions true is an insult to our intelligence as rational individuals.

Section 1 of IM 11 tells us that abortions “terminate the life on an entire, unique, living human being…” Terminating the life of a human being is murder. So if we are to believe IM 11, we must concede that abortion in murder. And, given that this is a premeditated act, abortion would be first degree murder, which, in South Dakota, is punishable by death.

This is a serious question we need to address if we are to enact a law. IM11 provides no consequence for a woman who seeks an abortion. And as the man questioning the demonstrators in the video asks “What’s the point of making abortion illegal if you’re not going to punish it?”

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Welcome William A. Anderson to The Watch!

SD Watch - Sat, 08/16/2008 - 23:48

I’m happy to announce that William A. Anderson, a soon-to-be graduate from the University of South Dakota and Watertown native, will be a contributor to The Watch.

Here’s a little more about William from William himself:
Anyhow, I’m originally from Watertown, SD. I graduated from WHS in 2003 and attended USD for five years studying political science and English with a minor in women’s studies. I’m presently taking a break from my nearly completed studies as my fiance and I await the birth of our first child.

In my time at USD I wrote weekly columns for the Volante, spent time working on many campaigns, running a few progressive student organizations (Amnesty International, Sierra Club, College Democrats).

(This fall) I’d like to finish up my degree and attend law school.
Great. Just what we need, another lawyer! ;)

Please welcome William to The Fray! His first posting is on Initiated Measure 11.

(Oh, and Angie, you’re still welcome here too!)


  1. Let's see. A woman chooses to have an abortion at week 38 of her pregnancy. All legal and no consequences.

    The mother in I think it was Clear Lake had a baby, discarded it at birth (only two weeks later, if even that, in development) and is charged. So somehow in that short time the fetus/baby changed from not alive to alive. There's something wrong with this logic!

  2. Nobody would bury an abortion of a miscarriage, but a stillbirth, yes. We recognize that we're not people until we're out of the womb, outside of our mothers, living on our own.

    It's why we don't count pregnant women as "two" when the census rolls around. It's why for legal matters, we don't age people from conception, rather than birth.

    You may disagree, but you still haven't answered the question: What should the punishment be for a woman who has an abortion?

    Thanks, Cory, for the kind words and for picking this up!

  3. Thank you Madville Times for the wonderful work! I'd like to add to William's response to "anonymous" and say that an abortion after 24 weeks is ILLEGAL, so you have no argument there, it's already been decided.

  4. OK, I'll change my time line to 24 weeks. Babies are born at this gestational age and do live. There, now it's legal. Same argument from my side. A baby is aborted at 24 weeks; nothing illegal about that. A baby is born at 24 weeks, born alive, and the mother discards it; she gets charged for that. Still illogical to claim it's life at 24 weeks in one instance and deny it in the other.

    You know, we will never know the answer to this question "this side of the grass" as a friend of mine says. But I will be able to say that I sided with life. What will your answer be?

  5. My comment will be that I'm not arrogant to think that I know everybody's situation. Under Measure 11 if a baby dies in-utero at 25 weeks, the mother cannot have a Dilation and Curettage (D&C), also known as an abortion. According to about.com, "Dialation and curettage is also commonly performed following miscarriage or abortion in cases where the uterus fails to fully empty its content. Abortions induced before the 12th week of pregnancy are performed in a manner which is similar to the D&C."
    So for all you uneducated religious right-wingers, here's an example that maybe you can wrap your head around: under IM 11 a mother will have to carry around a dead fetus for the remainding 3 months and hope and pray that her body won't fail her and that her uterus will fully empty itself at some point. And guess what...if her uterus doesn't fully empty itself, it will become infected and she will die, or she can pray that she finds some doctor willing to put his medical license and practice on the line and risk being charged with a class four felony. If you are going to take a stance on IM 11 and post comments than you should really read the entire wording and truly understands what it means and who it will affect. Leslee Unruh and Steve Hickey, I'm directing this post at you.

  6. To say that a mother would have to carry the miscarried baby around in her uterus is an outright lie. There are exception for the life and HEALTH of the mother. If there is a situation where a miscarriage has occurred measures can be taken to rid the mother's body of the miscarried baby. That would be for part of the mother's health.

    Your statement is inaccurate and is being used as a scare tactic to convice people that are riding the fence on this and not willing to read IM11 for themselves.

  7. Tweeet! Ref blows the whistle on both preceding Anons, 9:25 and 1:59. If the fetus is already dead, IM11 wouldn't apply, as Section 2 criminalizes actions "with the intent of causing the termination of the life of an unborn human being."

    Anon 1:59 oversimplifies the exceptions. Where Anon says "life," please substitute (Section 3) "necessary to avert the death of the pregnant woman." Where Anon says "health," please substitute (Section 4) "serious risk of a substantial and irreversible impairment of the functioning of a major bodily organ or system of the pregnant woman." "Substantial and irreversible" -- how many doctors will want to go out on a limb on that standard against a state determined to practice medicine without a license?

  8. My guess on the "no penalty for the pregnant woman" clause is that they'd be trying to get women to turn in the doctors that performed the illegal abortion.

    If there was a penalty for both woman and doctor, there would be better reason for both to remain silent. If there's no penalty for the woman, but a large penalty for the doctor, they make it more risky for the doctor if they can encourage the woman to (as the APA study finds) "re-evaluate" the abortion as a sin or killing a child.

  9. It's only a few months ago that a woman in NE SD went in for a prenatal checkup and was told that the fetus was dead and that she would have to carry it until she went into labor. I can't remeber how far along she was. But I thought that was awfully unfair.

  10. To Inattentive Anonymous,
    You must read the whole law before making a judgement about it my friend.
    In case of life or death situation, an abortion is necessary, and may be performed on the mother.
    I am a doctor, I studied at Stanford University School of Medicine. I have an IQ of 167, and I guarantee I have counseled to more women who have had abortions than you have. And almost every single one of them absolutely regrets having the abortion. And yes, although I hate the word religion (because I believe it to be a relationship with Christ), I am your "uneducated religious right-winger."

  11. I decline to accept any professed credentials without a name. Any anonymous can claim to be a doctor, a genius, anything that seems to bolster the argument. Without a verifiable name, such claims add nothing to the discussion. If you want to argue from authority, you need to offer verifiable authority.

  12. No matter my IQ or profession, the facts I stated are the truth. If you do not believe me, then look for yourself.
    “He that cannot reason is a fool. He that will not is a bigot. He that dare not is a slave.”

  13. Make up your mind, Anon. One moment, you tout your alleged credentials, the next moment you say they don't matter. That's as contradictory as the IM11 supporters' position on punishment and the use of the word murder.

    ...and those who would not let women and doctors use their reason are tyrants.

  14. You still don't look at the facts. No matter what way someone presents the facts to you, whether the are fanatical or monotone and boring, facts are facts. Let me explain. You say I'm as "contradictory as the IM11 supporters' position on punishment and the use of the word murder."
    First off, let me say that I still have yet to contradict myself. Secondly, even if I did contradict myself, It wouldn't matter. It is not how I tell you the facts, facts are still facts.

  15. Actually, you uneducated anti-lifers just contradicted yourself, again. You say we are contradictory on how we use murder. hmm... A pregnant woman gets shot and dies- two murders. A pregnant woman gets killed in a car accident- two fatalities. In any situation (not including abortion) where the pregnant woman dies, the child she carry's is considered a human. Only when she makes the decision to kill the child is it not considered human. You are the one who needs to make up your mind. And Anon 9:25, you need to do your homework, and do it somewhere other than about.com and wikipedia, because, you don't have the facts straight.

  16. Hey, "Desmosthenes," get the rocks out of your mouth -- we're having trouble understanding you.

    Not looking at facts, Desmosthenes? Where are yours? Where's your counter-source to show the facts Anon 9:25 presented are wrong?

    No one here is anti-life. That's a silly name to call anyone.

    Contradicting yourself does matter. It does render your point invalid. And the contradiction remains on your side: you say abortion is murder, but you don't propose a murder penalty. In making abortion a Class 4 felony and not a Class A or B felony, IM11 acknowledges that there is a fundamental difference between a fetus and a human being.

  17. First of all, i still haven't contradicted myself, so that argument doesn't matter at all. It's pretty simple, but if you can't understand it, I'll break it down for you:

    1. You (being the pro-choice party, not singling you out, caheidelberger) contradict yourself when you say that abortion isn't murder, then, turn around and prosecute someone for two murders, when they killed a pregnant woman.

    2. The reason IM11 would make it a Class 4 felony rather than a Class A or B, is because if it was a class 4 felony, it wouldn't even make it to the ballot. For the same reason that we had to leave abortion open for people who have been raped.

    You seem like a smart person, think it through. If you can, look at an ultrasound timeline. tell me when the baby turns from a fetus to a human. IM11 may seem like it's saying there is a difference, but this is just a start. It is not a perfect law. I don't agree with everything about it, but it's a start.


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