As the tide turns about abortion, the issue of how to understand it legally has resurfaced. If the country, or at least some states, come to recognize human life in the womb, as the Scriptures advocate (e.g., Genesis 25:23 with Hosea 12:3), then legal protections for the child will imply penalty for taking that child’s life. The more important work is supporting children who are born, and their families, but this legal question will inevitably arise. Who should incur that penalty? Who is responsible? The woman? The doctor? The wonder of a new baby always involves three people (–the baby being one). So as I thought about it, I didn’t think that the mother aborting the child should be culpable. Instead I thought that the father, as representative of the union, should be.
I recently listened to an interview with Roland Warren, CEO of a network of 1,200 Pregnancy Resource Centers called CareNet. (For perspective, there are only about 3,500 pregnancy resource centers across our nation of 330 million people. So CareNet is the largest such network in North America.) Warren talks about how they extensively surveyed women who had abortions as well as of the men involved, using a nationally representative sample. They wanted to find out what was really going on in the decision to abort the child.
Abortion advocates like to cast the typical woman having an abortion as making her decision on her own, to make it about bodily autonomy. But Warren found that that was not so typical. The questions to the women were, “Who did you talk to in making your abortion decision?” And “Who was most influential in your decision?” The questions included a long list of possibilities to jog the women’s memories. The number one answer on both counts? The guy who got her pregnant. (“Guy who got her pregnant” is the appropriate designation because 86% of women who have abortions are unmarried.)
Then they asked the guy similar questions: “Who did she talk to about the abortion decision?” and “Who do you think was the most influential in her decision to do it?” Again, on both counts the men said, “I was who she talked to and I was the most influential.”
What does this double confirmation research tell us? In real life, the man often has the social power. The truth is that the fathers are typically the ones behind the abortion. This confirmed my bright idea about who ought to be held responsible. Hey, I thought, we have the technology to definitively identify both parents. Let us promote the responsibility, and lay the attendant consequences, where it chiefly belongs in real life.
Unfortunately, a friend who just took the law bar exam, assured me that our legal system does not work that way. We cannot prosecute a person for something someone else does. It wouldn’t work. Personal autonomy of another (in this case, the woman) breaks off your liability. So, not being a law-maker, I had to confess my inadequacy to come up with the right legal answer. He pointed out that there is some consequence like that already in place in the form of child-support. But we can quickly realize that this incentivizes the father, empowered to eschew the commitment of wedlock, to press for the child’s death, meaning more abortion.
Again, I am more enthused to encourage and build strong families, starting with strong fathers. But I still hope law-makers will handle this legal question wisely. Is there is some socially smart way to direct responsibility-taking earlier on, to the one to whom it should go? In my mind, along with the doctor, the father looms large. Both parents may be sinning but for me, this goes back to Adam and Eve. From the beginning they had different responsibility in doing wrong together. (Consider, for example, the discussion in G.C.Berkouwer’s Studies in Dogmatics: Sin, pp503-507). Though I don’t expect to convince our current culture of that basis, is there some way to diminish the bloodshed from awful choices?
Is there some way to help society recognize the asymmetry of intent in culpability of men and women in relationship? Later, after my friend thought about it, he suggested conspiracy as one area of law that allows culpability in another person not actually committing the act. If some guy walks into a gun store and says, “I hate my boss and I want to buy this shotgun” and you sell him the shotgun, the line of culpability starts to blur. You did not withdraw your support. So, also, where prostitution is criminalized, current law penalizes the pimps and users, not the women. The law recognizes the vulnerability of those trapped in the business of selling sex.
Could those who can understand the ramifications build this case, as difficult as it is in our context?