Even if we succeed in outlawing abortion someday, would it really be fair to punish abortion doctors?
Bernard Nathanson in his book Aborting America observes that women who procure abortions seem undisturbed by the procedure, but it often takes a greater psychological toll on abortionists. Objectively speaking, both mothers (-to-be, if you prefer) and abortionists are engaged in murder, but culpability is a more subtle thing. The abortionist may be less likely to be aware of the nature of the fetus than the mother. He lacks her maternal instinct and her genetic closeness, indeed physical connection, to the fetus. The humanity/personhood of the fetus is a philosophical rather than empirical truth, and the abortion doctor is likely to have been exposed to reductionist metaphysics and utilitarian ethics and to have been trained to think of everyone as “just a clump of cells”. It’s only fair to put oneself in the place of an abortionist. Women are continually enticing him, practically throwing money at him to perform these procedures. He has invested time and money into being qualified to perform these procedures, and he has invested his ego in the belief that what he does is a service to rather than a crime against humanity. Such things can be hard to change. In the broader culture, there is an idea people have of abortion doctors as people who snuff out fetuses, and we shouldn’t be surprised if some of them live down to our expectations of them.
Of course, I’m not saying that abortionists should never under any circumstances be punished. There may be cases where it can be proven that they are fully aware of what they are doing. This would be true if it could be demonstrated that a given abortion doctor actually harbors pro-life convictions. In this case, it may make sense to punish him.
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