Responding to a pro-abortion ad that depicts a woman being arrested in front of her family for procuring an abortion, a national pro-life group says that criminalizing women is not a widely shared goal among pro-lifers.
“Punishing women is not, nor has it ever been, a mainstream pro-life position,” Katie Glenn, state policy director for Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, told CNA.
“We want to help women, we want to support them, we want to give them better options. We certainly don’t think that criminalizing them is justice.”
Glenn’s remarks come in response to a recent ad from Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-California), which shows the arrest of a woman in front of her husband and children for procuring an abortion.
Swalwell tweeted the video with the comment: "MAGA Republicans want women arrested for having an abortion. This is what that looks like."
The ad urges support for Democrats in the midterms, so as to “stop Republicans from criminalizing abortion everywhere.”
— Eric Swalwell (@ericswalwell) October 18, 2022
Swalwell represents California’s 15th congressional district, which includes portions of Alameda and Contra Costa counties in the East Bay.
While lawmakers in states such as Louisiana have in recent months considered legislation that could subject women who obtain abortions to criminal prosecution and prison, those legislative efforts have been rejected by many pro-life leaders. None of the pro-life bills that have been adopted into law in U.S. states criminalize women for procuring abortions.
“That’s how the laws have been written and we have no reason to believe that that’s going to change,” Glenn said.
“We’ve made it clear as recently as this year where we stand on this issue, and the lawmakers we work with have as well," she added.
Glenn noted that earlier this year, more than 70 pro-life leaders, including the head of the U.S. bishops’ pro-life committee, demanded in a joint letter that state lawmakers refuse to punish or criminalize women who obtain abortions.
Glenn said that laws on abortion should focus on those actually carrying out the procedure or providing the abortion drugs, as well as those who profit from the abortions, rather than the mother. None of the states that have total bans on abortion explicitly provide punishments for mothers seeking abortions.
Legal scholar O. Carter Snead wrote recently in the Economist that “there is no documented case in America of a woman being prosecuted for seeking an abortion since 1922. There has been only one case of a woman being convicted for unlawful self-management of abortion, and that was vacated on appeal.”
Some observers commenting on Swalwell’s ad noted that the scenario that the ad dramatizes has not happened, but instead there have been several high-profile cases in recent months in which pro-life protestors have been arrested at their homes in a similar manner. Notably, Mark Houck, a Catholic father of seven, was arrested last month after an early-morning FBI raid at his home.
Laura Echevarria, a spokesperson for the National Right to Life, the pro-life group that coordinated the letter from pro-life leaders condemning punishments for mothers, told CNA at the time that the letter aimed to respond, in part, to rhetoric from abortion activists.
“We state unequivocally that any measure seeking to criminalize or punish women is not pro-life and we stand firmly opposed to such efforts,” the May 12 letter to state lawmakers reads.
The letter, published before the overturning of Roe v. Wade, took care to say that there are two victims with every abortion: the mother and her unborn child.
“The mother who aborts her child is also Roe’s victim,” the letter reads. “She is the victim of a callous industry created to take lives; an industry that claims to provide for ‘women’s health,’ but denies the reality that far too many American women suffer devastating physical and psychological damage following abortion.”
In bold text, the letter adds: “Women are victims of abortion and require our compassion and support as well as ready access to counseling and social services in the days, weeks, months, and years following an abortion.”
While the Catholic Church condemns abortion as a grave sin, it also stresses the importance of forgiveness and mercy for the women who have obtained abortions. Just as the unborn have inherent dignity and worth as human persons, so do their mothers.
“The Church does not … intend to restrict the scope of mercy,” the Catechism of the Catholic Church reads, but “makes clear the gravity of the crime committed, the irreparable harm done to the innocent who is put to death, as well as to the parents and the whole of society.”