A recent article in The Interim (Canada’s Life and Family newspaper) discussed whether or not women should be held criminally responsible for taking a life if they choose to have an abortion. Not surprisingly all six contributors to the article, various anti-choice spokespeople, agreed that women should face criminal prosecution for murder, but they differed about what kind of punishment they should receive. Punishments ranged from life in prison to mental health treatment.
What made the article all the more disturbing is that the article originated in Canada, a country where abortion has been legal for almost 30 years, and where abortion has been available on demand, without being subjected to legislative restrictions since 1988, when the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the abortion law in the landmark case of Dr. Henry Morgentaler. Or maybe it is not as surprising as I want to think it is given that access to abortion has been slowly dwindling in Canada, as only 15.9% of hospitals across the county offer abortion services.
But fundamentally I have to ask myself why anyone would want to jail a woman for having an abortion. I understand that we all have different beliefs, some of us religious, some of us not, but in the end allowing women to have autonomy over their own bodies is a question of equality. It is easy for anti-choice people to make the argument about life, and when it starts, but no women who has an abortion goes into the decision lightly. Obviously there are circumstances in her life into which she feels a child should not be brought. What would jailing women accomplish? It certainly wouldn’t be a deterrent for other women, as history has shown us that women who want to terminate their pregnancies will go to any length to do so.
I also hate this notion that women should be punished for having sex. The negative view of sexuality in our society – that it is something only to be done in the confines of marriage, disturbs me. I don’t have sex with my partner because I have to, I have sex because I enjoy it, it feels good, it’s great for our relationship, and hey it even burns calories. Recently friends of ours went to a Catholic church for Sunday mass. In his homily, the priest talked about the destruction of the family and our society. He went on to blame children having sex, but in specific young girls having sex. Why is it just girls? They aren’t having sex alone, so why aren’t boys and men held to the same standards? In fact many women who seek abortions do so together with their partner, so should the men in the relationships be jailed as well for wanting or allowing the abortion to happen, or is it just the work of some Jezebel?
Punishing women for abortions does nothing for society. It will in fact only serve to send our maternal mortality skyrocketing once again. If we really want to reduce abortions, we must keep it legal and fully accessible, but also couple it with comprehensive sexuality education on how to prevent unwanted pregnancy.