Blog | Monday, June 6, 2016

Should women who seek illegal abortions be punished?

Every four years, abortion gets more press and attention as the candidates compete for electoral support. My own position on this issue is not relevant for the points I offer here. We all know that candidates massage their position on abortion and on other issues in an attempt to maximize their voter support. It's fun to watch them thread the needle as they dance and pirouette for us. They are performers who can be as flexible as the amazing acrobats on Cirque du Soleil. The emphasis, if not the content of their message, changes depending upon the audience. Al Gore was ridiculed when he sported a more southern accent when he was campaigning below the Mason-Dixon line.

Donald Trump was clearly unprepared for the abortion question when he rhetorically collapsed during a typically vigorous and frenetic interview with MSNBC's Chris Matthews. Of course, you don't really have to prepare on an issue if you already have a principled position. You can just tell the truth.

Donald Trump initially responded that women who are seeking an illegal abortion should be legally accountable. This was the bombshell. While Trump walked this back in record time, I do not understand why his initial position was wrong. And yet, even the most conservative politicians, such as Cruz and Huckabee, do not advocate targeting women in these cases.

Why not?

If abortion is against the law, then why isn't a woman who seeks the procedure violating the law? I suspect the reason that there is no support for this—and I'm not saying that I support it—is that such a view would be the equivalent of swallowing political cyanide. I ask readers here to calmly explain from a legal perspective why the doctor and the abortion facility would be legally vulnerable, and not the woman. Yes, I know the argument that woman is already a victim, etc., but this is not how we approach other legal violations.

If gambling is illegal, and the police raid an illegal casino, do we expect the gamblers would be set free? If an illegal prostitution ring is discovered, are the clients not prosecuted? Of course they are.

To me this issue sounds like a duel between principle and pandering. We know how these contests usually end.

This post by Michael Kirsch, MD, FACP, appeared at MD Whistleblower. Dr. Kirsch is a full time practicing physician and writer who addresses the joys and challenges of medical practice, including controversies in the doctor-patient relationship, medical ethics and measuring medical quality. When he's not writing, he's performing colonoscopies.