On the Criminalization Question

In 2007, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports, 90,427 forcible rapes were reported in the United States. It is well known that many rapes are not reported, so the actual incidence of rape is greater than that.

Rape is a felony in every jurisdiction in the United States, and has been for a very long time. So does the incidence of rape prove that criminalization is a failure and should be abandoned in favor of rape reduction strategies?

It would be hard to find anyone who would make that argument. But most would agree that criminalization is not enough by itself. We also need other efforts to address the causes of rape. In recent decades, there have been many efforts along this line. But they are not seen as alternatives to criminalization, but as complements to it. To the contrary, at the same time there have been efforts to strengthen the criminal laws against rape.

Now this multifaceted approach to address the problem of rape in our society is not controversial and in fact is generally accepted. But this is not true with regard to all other social ills. In particular, it is not true regarding abortion.

We frequently hear people saying that laws against abortion are not advisable because some would continue to have abortions even if it was illegal. Some say we should abandon criminalization strategies in favor of abortion reduction strategies involving such things as supports for pregnant women.

Abortion reduction efforts are, in fact, critical. We need to address the reasons why people have abortions. There are a whole range of public policies and nonprofit sector programs that can be helpful in addressing the desperation many women feel when they learn they are pregnant. And most of them have very important additional benefits as well. We should indeed be working hard to see these put in place.

The problem comes when people approach the question of laws restricting abortion and other abortion reduction strategies in an either/or manner. There is no real conflict between these strategies. Both affect the incidence of abortion. They are, in fact, complementary. I believe there is a synergistic effect when you move forward on multiple approaches to the problem at the same time.

So I implore all those that are seeking to protect the unborn to avoid either/or formulations and not to attack those who are concentrating on different ways to work for life. I ask those focusing on legal restrictions on abortion not to attack those emphasizing other strategies as not really being pro-life. I ask those emphasizing other approaches not to attack those emphasizing legal restrictions. We are all needed in the effort to get all human life treated with dignity and respect.

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2 Responses to “On the Criminalization Question”

  1. Matthew says:

    Great point Bill! This topic reminds me of my College English class where we watched Michael Moore’s “Bowling for Columbine”. After watching the movie, I realized that there was an inherent contradiction in thinking that society should either restrict the availability of guns, or restrict the availability of violent video games and movies. Many people assume that we should either restrict violent influences (such as video games or movies) or we should restrict the tools used to actually kill (such as guns). I think Bill is right, because it is inconsistent to try to reduce the root cause of abortion (desperation and lack of support for pregnant women) while still keeping the tool to carry out an abortion available (legal termination of unborn humans). In the same manner, I realized that it is inconsistent to try to reduce gun violence at its root cause (revenge being promoted as good by public leaders and the media) while still keeping the tools to carry out gun violence available (legal purchases of firearms). We should therefore try to reduce violence by restricting both the motivation to kill and the tools used to kill.

  2. Marysia says:

    Bill, when you speak of criminalization–who is it that is being criminalized?

    And there’s another issue. In the US, abortion restrictions/permissions are advocated (on both “sides”) within a paradigm of reward and punishment, which ethically and spiritually is not highly evolved enough to properly deal with an issue like abortion.

    In the US we need to take inspiration from European laws that are principally about effectively relieving conflicts between woman and fetus and finding solutions other than abortion. The emphasis is not on whether and to what extent abortion should be allowed or prohibited, but on aiding the woman and child to different and better outcomes however and wherever possible.

    Many antiabortionists in the US unfortunately do not propose legislation out of such a consciousness. And that is an enoromous problem.

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