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.