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Why Weren’t Women Prosecuted for Having Abortions Before Roe v. Wade?

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Deacon Greg Kandra - published on 04/01/16

This popped up in my Facebook feed this afternoon—a timely dissection of how law enforcement handled the issue of abortion in the days before it was legal.

From 2010, an analysis from Americans United for Life:

The political claim—that women were or will be prosecuted or jailed under abortion laws—has been made so frequently by Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and NOW over the past 40 years that it has become an urban legend. It shows the astonishing power of contemporary media to make a complete falsehood into a truism. For 30 years, abortion advocates have claimed—without any evidence and contrary to the well-documented practice of ALL 50 states—that women were jailed before Roe and would be jailed if Roe falls (or if state abortion prohibitions are reinstated). This claim rests on not one but two falsehoods: First, the almost uniform state policy before Roe was that abortion laws targeted abortionists, not women. Abortion laws targeted those who performed abortion, not women. In fact, the states expressly treated women as the second “victim” of abortion; state courts expressly called the woman a second “victim.” Abortionists were the exclusive target of the law. Second, the myth that women will be jailed relies, however, on the myth that “overturning” Roe will result in the immediate re-criminalization of abortion. If Roe was overturned today, abortion would be legal in at least 42-43 states tomorrow, and likely all 50 states, for the simple reason that nearly all of the state abortion prohibitions have been either repealed or are blocked by state versions of Roe adopted by state courts. The issue is entirely academic. The legislatures of the states would have to enact new abortion laws—and these would almost certainly continue the uniform state policy before Roe that abortion laws targeted abortionists and treated women as the second victim of abortion. There will be no prosecutions of abortionists unless the states pass new laws after Roe is overturned. This political claim is not an abstract question that is left to speculation—there is a long record of states treating women as the second victim of abortion in the law that can be found and read. To state the policy in legal terms, the states prosecuted the principal (the abortionist) and did not prosecute someone who might be considered an accomplice (the woman) in order to more effectively enforce the law against the principal. And that will most certainly be the state policy if the abortion issue is returned to the states. Why did the states target abortionists and treat women as a victim of the abortionist?

Read on for the answers.

Photo: Pixabay

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