Should Aborting Women be Punished?

The greatest propaganda weapon anti-life activists use is the victim status. Pro-abortionists are especially accomplished at employing this tactic. Before Roe v. Wade, they tugged on people’s heartstrings by claiming that 5,000 to 10,000 suffering women died of complications due to illegal abortions, a number that its inventor, reformed abortionist Dr. Bernard Nathanson, later admitted was a bald-faced lie. Now that the pro-life movement has been making relentless progress over the past four decades, pro-abortionists are alleging that millions of helpless, desperate women will be jailed if they seek abortions.

jail cell black and white

Background of the Issue

The question of punishment for aborting women will progressively become more than theoretical as demographics continue to shift and the pro‑life movement becomes stronger and stronger. We should begin to ask ourselves some pertinent questions before the criminalization of abortion becomes a fact: after abortion is made illegal once again, should women be punished for seeking or obtaining abortions? To be consistent, how about those men who assist them in procuring abortions?

And, of course, what about the abortionists?

These questions have already been raised publicly several times. After the United States Supreme Court upheld the right of states to impose minor limits on abortion in its 1989 Webster v. Reproductive Health Services decision, the pro-abortion propaganda machine, ably assisted by the corrupt media, immediately crashed into high gear. Pro-abortion leaders claimed that Roe v. Wade was dead, despite the Court explicitly stating that it was not revisiting the Abortion Decisions.

Some of the more extreme feminist groups immediately started promoting underground abortion networks. For example, the week after the Webster decision, Frances Kissling, President of ‘Catholics’ for a Free Choice, said, “I would like to see a huge underground of activist women learning how to do menstrual extractions and vacuum aspiration abortions, mothers teaching their daughters, sub rosa [covert] classes at campus women’s centers.”1

Kissling did not see the irony in publicly promoting illegal abortions, which she has claimed many times are deadly to women’s health.

In 1991, Utah passed a narrow law that would make it easier to women to sue abortionists who had injured them. The American Civil Liberties Union became so hysterical over this law that it claimed that Utah would start executing women who obtained abortions.2


Despite the fact that the law explicitly stated that aborting women would be entirely immune from prosecution or punishment of any kind, the ACLU’s $30,000 full-page ad in The New York Times screamed:





Should a Mother Be Punished for Her Abortion?

There are two sides to the debate over punishing women who abort.

Opinion #1: Abortion Should Be Punished as Homicide

Some pro‑lifers say that, if we really believe that preborn children are equal in status to born children, we must treat abortion as murder under the law. After all, a woman who hires a hit man to whack her husband is charged with premeditated murder. If pro‑lifers are to be consistent, we should assert that a woman intent on having an abortion is hiring another type of “hit man” (the abortionist) to kill her preborn child. There is no practical difference between these two scenarios ― but only if we believe that preborn children are fully equal in status to other human beings.

Even some pro‑abortionists push this argument in their attempts to paint pro‑lifers as “inconsistent.” One speaker at a 1992 National Abortion Federation conference said:

If prenatal human beings are to be recognized as full‑fledged persons, it follows that those who kill them for reasons less compelling than self‑defense must be recognized as full‑fledged murderers and treated as such. Those who are rigorously opposed to allowing elective abortion on the ground that prenatal human beings are persons must confront this implication sincerely and sensitively, and they must be explicit about what they are willing to accept as the practical implications of their position. If they are not willing to accept that those who abort should be subject to exactly the same treatment as others who murder, then they need to recognize that they do not really believe that prenatal human beings have the moral status of persons.3

In reality, there were only a half-dozen known prosecutions of aborting women before Roe v. Wade, and these were for particularly egregious cases involving questions of whether or not full-term babies were actually born before they were killed. The likelihood of women being jailed under the law for obtaining abortions is slim indeed, even if Roe v. Wade is overturned. But this itself presents a serious problem; if a law is not enforced, what good is it? Before Roe v. Wade, pro-abortionists alleged that the law was not being enforced, so why have it in the first place?

Even before abortion was legalized in the United States, large abortion mills operated publicly with impunity and sometimes even with the protection of local police forces. Illegal abortionist Ruth Barnett, who had no medical training whatsoever, performed more than 40,000 abortions during her lengthy career in Portland, Oregon, without a single fatality. She wrote, “The duly elected officers of the law, members of the medical profession and state medical board knew we were in business. Trying to conceal the [illegal abortion] clinic, or its purpose, would have been as impossible as hiding an elephant in the parlor. The archaic [abortion] statute had never been considered.”4

Given the performance of the police and the courts before Roe v. Wade, it is simply not credible to assert that women will be prosecuted for seeking abortions if the decision is overturned — especially not after 55 million of them have been performed and our society has become accustomed to them.

Roe v Wade news headline with gavel on a copy of the United States Constitution legalization of abortion

If we only show sympathy and compassion for women who kill their preborn children while failing to acknowledge that abortion is truly the murder of a child, we are in a sense accepting abortion and weakening our argument for the child’s humanity and value.

Opinion #2: We Should Prefer Mercy

The fatal flaw of the “punish them” argument is that the majority of women are under some form of pressure or coercion to abort. Hundreds of pregnant women have been murdered by their boyfriends or husbands, and many thousands have been beaten up or kicked out of their homes for refusing to abort.5 Every crisis pregnancy center (CPC) counselor has heard too many stories about crushing pressure being brought to bear on pregnant women and girls to abort.

Most women who have abortions are unmarried. Even in the absence of external pressure, they feel that they have no choice and are facing a decision between salvaging their own lives or having an abortion. They may go to an abortion mill expecting unbiased counseling, but are instead lied to and pushed into having abortions. They are not told about pro-life CPCs that will support them, and they are told that adoption is an awful option. As Kristin Luker wrote in Abortion and the Politics of Motherhood:

Having a baby and giving it up for adoption, as pro‑life people advocate, is not seen by most pro‑choice people as a moral solution to the abortion problem. To transform a fetus into a baby and then send it out into a world where the parents can have no assurance that it will be well‑loved and cared for is, for pro‑choice people, the height of moral irresponsibility.6

So they are deceived into believing that abortion is their only option.

Women are usually also woefully ignorant of what exactly they are killing, because they have been subjected to years of unscientific propaganda alleging that the preborn child is just an unfeeling, insensate “blob of tissue.” Every CPC counselor has seen the shock on women’s faces when they finally learn about the preborn children they have aborted, and have heard over and over again the phrase “I would never have had that abortion if I had only known.…”

depression female girl indoors should women punished for abortion

Of course, abortionists do possess detailed knowledge about fetal development, and they are seldom compelled by anything other than greed to commit abortions. Therefore, there would rarely be extenuating factors in the trial of an abortionist. As third-trimester abortionist Curtis Boyd said, “Am I killing? Yes, I am. I know that…. I’ll ask that the spirit of this pregnancy returns to God with love and with understanding.” Another pro-abortionist said, “So what if abortion ends life? I believe that life starts at conception. And it’s never stopped me from being pro-choice.”


These are the people who should be jailed — those who are fully aware that they are killing a human being, and do so for money or convenience. These are the people who push-started the abortion juggernaut in the 1960s, and the people who will endlessly agitate once abortion is no longer legal. These pro-abortion leaders should be imprisoned, not the desperate women being pushed into abortion by their “pro-choice” boyfriends, the confused women who have been lied to all of their lives.

+ Endnotes

[1] Frances Kissling, President of ‘Catholics’ for a Free Choice, (CFFC), quoted in Brett Harvey. “The Morning After.” Mother Jones, May 1989, pages 28 to 31 and 43 (the Webster decision was released by the Supreme Court on April 26, 1989).

[2] Gail Quinn. “The ACLU and Truth in Abortion Advertising.” The Portland, Oregon Catholic Sentinel. May 31, 1991, page 5 [NOTE: The ACLU placed this hysterical propaganda in a $30,000 full‑page March 25, 1991 New York Times advertisement. This was in reaction to the Utah state legislature passing a law in January 1991 that merely made it easier for women who had been injured by abortions to file civil suits against their abortionists. The legislature specifically wrote into the law that women would be totally free of any penalties whatsoever for obtaining any abortions ― legal or illegal].

[3] National Abortion Federation. Second Trimester Abortion: From Every Angle. “Fall Risk Management Seminar, September 13‑14, 1992, Dallas, Texas. Presentations, Bibliography & Related Materials.” 1992.

[4] Ruth Barnett. They Weep on My Doorstep [Beaverton, Oregon: Halo Publishers], 1969. For quotes along these lines, see pages 9, 36, 39, 40, 46, 55, 70, and 106 to 107.

[5] For documentation on these cases, go to the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine and search for for Human Life International’s Pro-Abortion Violence website.

[6] Kristin Luker. Abortion and the Politics of Motherhood. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984, page 112.

Brian Clowes, PhD

Dr. Brian Clowes has been HLI’s director of research since 1995 and is one of the most accomplished and respected intellectuals in the international pro-life movement. Best known as author of the most exhaustive pro-life informational resource volume The Facts of Life, and for his Pro-Life Basic Training Course, Brian is the author of nine books and over 500 scholarly and popular articles, and has traveled to 70 countries on six continents as a pro-life speaker, educator and trainer.


  1. Joseph Bruno on April 28, 2021 at 5:33 PM

    Should Aborting Women be Punished? Your conclusion is the biggest non answer I’ve ever heard.

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