"I want to put them in jail for a long time and make sure we have GPS on them for the rest of their lives. One strike and they're ours. I want to know where they are forever."
That was Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney in Iowa this August, talking about what he'd like to see done with those who are convicted of sex crimes against children. But to listen to pro-legal-abortion activists, he could have just as easily been describing what he and his fellow pro-lifers would want done with women who seek abortions in a United States after the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
Celebrated writer Anna Quindlen recently fell into this common abortion trap-assuming that pro-lifers are pining for the day they can toss pregnant women in jail-in her Newsweek column. Addressing pro-lifers, Quindlen asked: "How much jail time?"-for women who seek abortions in a post-Roe U.S. She insisted that those who oppose abortion have "only two logical choices: hold women accountable for a criminal act by sending them to prison, or refuse to criminalize the act in the first place. If you can't countenance the first, you have to accept the second. You can't have it both ways."
Quindlen thinks there's a vast pro-life conspiracy afoot. That some recent state bans on abortion in states like South Dakota have post-Roe activation provisions that explicitly indicate that women will not be sent to jail-"Nothing in this section may be construed to subject the pregnant mother upon whom any abortion is performed or attempted to any criminal conviction and penalty"-only deepens the conspiracy. Quindlen explained: "Lawmakers in a number of states have already passed or are considering statutes designed to outlaw abortion if Roe is overturned. But almost none hold the woman, the person who set the so-called crime in motion, accountable. Is the message that women are not to be held responsible for their actions? Or is it merely that those writing the laws understand that if women were going to jail, the vast majority of Americans would violently object?"
Quindlen's suspicions, and her conclusions, are wrong. The answer to her bottom-line question-"How much jail time"-is: Life is a bit more complicated than that. The reality is not as black and white as pro-choice fright propaganda would have it. Still, she isn't the first and won't be the last person to ask the mistaken and misleading question.
In her 2006 book, How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America, Cristina Page asserted that "Clearly, pro-life states are eager to prosecute women. In some instances, they have already found ways." She pointed to a South Carolina case-a migrant farm worker from Mexico who drugged herself to miscarry and spent four months in jail-as evidence of widespread imprisonment to come. She continued:
That these convictions occur now, with Roe v. Wade intact, is an ominous sign. As a lawyer for the boy in the Michigan case [who was tried under Michigan's fetalprotection law for killing his girlfriend's unborn child by striking her belly with a baseball bat, at her request] pointed out, "What this case represents is a harbinger of things to come." After all, Roe now protects most people most of the time. With Roe gone, the number of acts of desperation by women and girls will multiply, as will convictions. And since pro-life compassion seems to extend only to the unborn-indeed, for those making difficult decisions they revel in the harshest penalties-we may one day see women condemned to death for abortion.
Condemned to death? Is she kidding? In a country that has trouble banning even partial-birth abortion, i.e., infanticide?
But even Republicans sometimes fall into this jail-time-for-abortion- seekers trap. Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, who thinks abortion should be legal, knows enough to stress to conservatives that he wants judges who stick to the Constitution-yet he still hasn't stopped talking about how he doesn't want women to go to jail. …