Trump, Abortion, & the Question of Culpability


“Woman’s Cause Is Man’s: They Rise Or Fall Together”

This article marks the web-logarithmic debut of Pseudepigraphus’s newest contributor, Konig. Welcome, Konig.

So there was this whole thing:

(tl;dr – Trump stated that if abortion is illegal, women who have them should be punished. Pro-life groups attacked him saying a woman who has an abortion is a victim and never should be punished. Trump later backtracked his statement.)

Now, I don’t really care what Trump said. He probably was confused at the time since he wasn’t giving his real stance, which is that he doesn’t care for abortion, but doesn’t really care about the legality either— the typical 90s Democrat view. I don’t agree with that stance, but I understand it. I also understand how Trump, who has never been a part of the pro-life movement, would logically infer that pro-lifers would want women who have abortions to be legally prosecuted if abortion is illegal.

What I don’t understand are the responses from the major pro-life groups.

If abortion is murder (and it is), the abortion doctor is clearly a murderer… but wouldn’t the woman at least be an accessory to murder?

If pro-life groups always say that the vast majority of abortions are just for convenience (and they do)… wouldn’t a woman who had a “convenience-abortion” be morally and legally culpable?

It seems completely logical that if you hire someone to kill another person, then you are also to blame for that murder. [ed: In the netherworld of the Mafia, this relationship is easily explained and not at all difficult to understand: if you pay Gino to whack Luigi, you’re a guilty party, even if you didn’t pull the piano-wire.]

So how do we explain this seeming contradiction in the “pro-life” view? I can think of a few non-exclusive answers:

  1. Political reasons. Pro-life groups purposely do not support punishing the women because they do not want a public image that is “anti-women.”
  2. No agency. Pro-life groups are actually extremely conservative and patriarchal and do not believe women have moral agency.
  3. Victimization narrative. Pro-life groups are inherently feminist (just not third-wave) and only see women as victims.

Explanation #1 is what I have seen most from pro-lifers here and there online. It is implied in statements like “the pro-life movement never says that.” The pro-life movement is dealing in political realities, not legal speculation, and it needs to appeal to the most people politically in order to reduce the number of abortions. As Doug Wilson said on his blog, “The political battle is over the merchants of blood, the women they lie to, and the children they kill.” There is political sense in attacking only those who provide and encourage abortions— you may in some way discourage demand for abortions, and those you are attacking are not going to be converted to the pro-life side, anyway. So this recent fracas would be a political one, unrelated to the actual moral implications of abortion-as-murder.

Unfortunately, if it is political, I don’t think most regular people with a pro-life stance are aware of it, which is why many of them, especially critics of the pro-life movement, guess at explanation #2. I don’t think this is very common, but some pro-life people may lean this way. Again, Doug Wilson explains:

We are dealing with millions of cases. It is the view of politically active pro-lifers that the penalties should fall on those who know what they are doing. Medically trained doctors know exactly what they are doing. The ghouls at Planned Parenthood know exactly what they have been selling.

And the view about the mothers, taken as a class, is that they have been fraudulently manipulated into a form of negligent manslaughter.

His view is that women, in general, do not know what they are doing when they abort their children. They must be unable to know. In Wilson’s view, no woman who actually knew what she was doing would have an abortion. So either women do not have the ability to discern the moral evil, or women in general could not possibly make such an evil choice. The blame can only fall on the men— the spouse, boyfriend, abortionist, media, etc. Which leads into explanation #3.

While it is unlikely that pro-life groups are so patriarchal that they deny female agency (despite what pro-abortion folk might say), they do embrace a feminist victimization narrative. While most modern feminists support abortion, there are many in the pro-life movement who buy into first and second-wave feminism. To wit, the following statement from the Susan B. Anthony List head Marjorie Dannenfelser:

Mattie Brinkerhoff, a leader of the women’s suffrage movement, said that when a woman undergoes an abortion it is evidence she has been “greatly wronged.” The Revolution, the newspaper owned and operated by Susan B. Anthony published an op-ed asserting that, on abortion, “thrice guilty is he who, for selfish gratification, heedless of her prayers, indifferent to her fate, drove her to the desperation which impels her to the crime.” Alice Paul was known to have called abortion “the ultimate exploitation of women.”

(Note: Susan B. Anthony was a first-wave feminist.)

According to this line of reasoning, the woman is a complete victim when it comes to abortion. This plays into what I would refer to as “Victorian” mores. If my operative use of the term “Victorian” puzzles you, read on.

Most views of male/female relationships fall into one of five categories: Egalitarian, Victorian, Feminist, Misogynist, and Patriarchal. These are distinguished by the inherent rights and responsibilities men and women have to each other:

Egalitarian. In an Egalitarian view, men and women have equal and identical rights and neither is responsible for the other.

Victorian. In a Victorian view, men and women have equal rights, and men are responsible for women, but women are not responsible for themselves.

Feminist. In a Feminist view, men are responsible for women, but have no rights, women have rights, but are not responsible for anything.

Misogynist. In a Misogynist view, men have rights, but are not responsible for women, and women are responsible for men, but have no rights.

Patriarchal. In a Patriarchal view, men have rights and are fully responsible for women, women neither have rights, nor are they responsible for anything.

To explicate these distinctions more fully, let’s look at the Fall of Man from each viewpoint:

Egalitarian – Adam and Eve are both fully culpable for eating the fruit individually.

Victorian – Adam is culpable for both himself and Eve, because the serpent preyed on Eve and she is an innocent victim. Eve was totally within her rights to talk to the serpent.

Feminist – Adam is the only culpable one. Eve did nothing wrong, she was the victim of the serpent. And Adam. And probably God.

Misogynist – Adam did nothing wrong and was tricked by Eve. Eve is fully culpable for her actions.

Patriarchal – Adam and Eve were both culpable, but Adam was more culpable, because Eve is his responsibility. Eve should not have been talking to the serpent without Adam; if he was there, then even worse on him.

With this in mind, we can better see the Victorian feminism present in the explanations from pro-life organizations. If women get abortions (the thinking goes), they must be innocent victims of men because they are not ultimately responsible for their own actions.

This is clearly different from the Patriarchal view in which women simply would not have the right to get an abortion; a woman’s choice to do so, although wrong on her part, would ultimately be the fault her husband or father for failing to protect her. The Patriarchal view may be what the early feminist suffragettes were reacting to 100 years ago, but I find it very doubtful that this is the typical case today.

Many who like to think they operate under an egalitarian view and also oppose feminism actually have an early-feminist Victorian philosophy of the sexes. This is true of the major pro-life organizations. Those who assume these organizations want to do everything possible to end abortions should probably look closer at their political and philosophical underpinnings. The March for Life states that its vision is “A world where every human life is valued and protected.” The SBA List declares that it “exists to pass laws to protect unborn children and their mothers from abortion.” This is prominently displayed on their websites— there is no subterfuge here. If you, like The Donald, thought their mission was to make abortion illegal with all the legal ramifications in mind, you may find yourself equally embarrassed.


+ Je fais la guerre dans l’amour du Christ