At a Sunday night campaign rally for his wife in Steubenville, Ohio, former President Bill Clinton was greeted by pro-life students protesting legalized abortion. In response, he volleyed allegations that the pro-life position requires jailing women who have abortions.
After shouts and calls from the protesters, President Clinton responded angrily. A video posted to YouTube recorded his reply.
"You want to criminalize women and their doctors and we disagree. I reduced abortion. Tell the truth, tell the truth, If you were really pro-life, if you were really pro-life, you would want to put every doctor and every mother as an accessory to murder in prison. And you won't say you want to do that because you know, that you wouldn't have a lick of political support," President Clinton said. The video can be found at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7XfmJeIJpns
Baylor University Professor Francis Beckwith, author of “Defending Life: a Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice,” responded to the video in a post at the weblog "What's Wrong with the World."
Beckwith said the students should not have heckled the president. "What the students did was disrespectful, and as a pro-lifer I condemn such conduct," he wrote.
However, he said the former president's argument was flawed, writing, "this argument ignores the pre-legalization laws and penalties for illegal abortion and possible reasons why they were instituted. Although it is clear that these laws considered the unborn human persons, in most states women were granted immunity from prosecution and in other states the penalties were very light."
Beckwith continued, "jurists and legislators in the past believed that the best way to prevent abortions from occurring and at the same time uphold the sanctity of human life was to criminalize abortion, prosecute the abortionist, grant immunity or a light penalty to the woman, and show her compassion by recognizing that she is the second victim of abortion."
Father Frank Pavone, president of Priests for Life, replied to a similar question about criminal penalties for abortion in a Feb. 1 Priests for Life newsletter.
"The pro-life movement is not out to punish women. Our goal, instead, is to stop child-killing. What would throwing women in jail do to accomplish that goal? Their children have already died, yet the abortionist goes on killing hundreds and thousands of others. It makes far more sense to put the abortionist in jail, so that he or she can no longer kill children," Father Pavone said.
He noted that in prosecutions of abortionists, the testimony and co-operation of such women would be necessary, justifying lesser criminal penalties, if any, for women who had abortions.
He suggested that it is a cause for optimism that the question is being asked.
"This particular question will be raised more and more as we to come closer to restoring protection to the unborn. The question is actually part of the well-planned public relations attack that abortion advocates always try to make on us in the pro-life movement," said Father Pavone.