It makes perfect political sense that the strictest anti-abortion law in the nation, signed Wednesday by Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, contains a reassuring passage stating "that a woman who receives an abortion will not be held criminally culpable or civilly liable."
Foes of abortion rights know that the vast majority of the public recoils at the idea of locking up women who choose to end their pregnancies, and that explicitly threatening to do so would brand their cause as cruel and extreme.
Otherwise, though, the Alabama reassurance makes no sense whatsoever.
The law, which will likely be at least temporarily blocked by the courts before it goes into effect, grants full human rights to "an unborn child in utero at any stage of development" and says doctors who perform abortions are subject to the same Class A felony prison terms as murderers, rapists and kidnappers.
Why punish the doctor but not the woman who seeks out the doctor, makes an appointment with the doctor, comes to the doctor's clinic and pays the doctor for the abortion?
"Mothers are victims in an abortion," explained National Right to Life President Carol Tobias in a March 2016 statement. She was among the many anti-abortion activists who hastily rebuked then-candidate Donald Trump for offhandedly observing during a TV interview that "there has to be some form of punishment" for women who get abortions.
Women who are unintentionally pregnant are under duress, goes this common refrain. They are morally confused and often unaware of their range of options, therefore legally blameless.
But talk about moral confusion! Under no other circumstances outside of legal insanity does the law excuse an adult or even a teen of methodically conspiring with another to commit a serious crime. Duress? Moral confusion? Unsure of where to turn? These factors may mitigate culpability, but they never erase it.
No amount of infantilizing and patronizing women to deny them agency can avoid one of two logical conclusions. Either:
1. Abortion opponents don't really think abortion at every stage of fetal development is tantamount to murder.
2. Abortion opponents are using a smokescreen of soothing platitudes to hide the inevitability that meaningful prohibitions against abortion must include harsh punishments for women who have them.
I'm of the view that a significant number of those who would simply like to see abortion restrictions tightened are in the first camp. They're uncomfortable with later-term abortions but believe that human rights accrue gradually along the continuum from zygote to blastocyst to embryo to fetus to viable baby in the womb.
But I'm also of the view that those who are driving this current explosion in anti-abortion legislation are true believers in the "abortion is murder" mantra.
They are openly attempting to get the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade and once again allow the individual states to set abortion policy. And when that happens, those now purring the "mothers are victims in abortions" pieties will go silent.
Already we have seen small, somewhat symbolic efforts in this vein, such as the introduction of a bill in Texas to remove the exception for abortion in the state's homicide laws.
Prior to the 1973 Roe decision, laws in 15 states called for women to be punished when they submitted to abortions. And although prosecutions were very rare, Michelle Oberman, a Santa Clara University School of Law professor, identified 413 instances of women prosecuted since 1973 in "cases of fetal demise" in her 2018 book "Our Body, Our Laws."
Most of the prosecutions involved women who induced their own abortions outside of the presence of a medical professional, Oberman reported. This method has become increasingly common with the availability of drugs that can be ordered online and taken at home to end pregnancy in the first trimester with generally few complications.
Such terminations blur the line between abortion provider and abortion patient, which will make the cynical, stealthy reassurances of the anti-abortion zealots even harder to believe.
Join the battle to stop them or cheer them on as you will.
But don't believe that after they've taken away women's reproductive freedom they won't next come after their literal freedom.
It makes perfect sense.
(c)2019 Chicago Tribune
Visit the Chicago Tribune at www.chicagotribune.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.