Update on February 26, 2008: For this blog entry, I relied on a press release by the group, "Students for Life," which referred to the hecklers as "prolife students." But I have since been told by several prolife students from the Franciscan University (Steubenville) who were present at the event that none of the hecklers was a student. So, students from the university were indeed protesting, but they were doing so in a respectful way. Although I did not mention Franciscan University by name, I can see why the protesting students from that fine institution would not like it implied that they had engaged in behavior in which they in fact did not engage.
In private email correspondence, Caroline Nye, a member of the Franciscan University College Republicans, has permitted me to publish on this blog her note of correction that I received on the evening of February 25:
I would first like to say that I applaud your support of the pro-life movement. However, as a member of College Republicans and as a Franciscan University student who personally attended the peaceful protest against Bill Clinton in Steubenville, Ohio, I would like to comment about the statement you made regarding students heckling the former president. You are quoted as saying, "what the 'students' did was disrespectful, and as a pro-lifer I condemn such conduct" (Weblog: "What's Wrong with the World" and EWTN news article). I would like to clarify that it was not in fact a "student" that yelled out during Clinton's speech. The man was not a student at Franciscan University and he had no connection with our organization. Furthermore, the entire goal of our protest was to be peaceful. While waiting outside, we prayed rosaries as a group. We recognize that violence and angry out bursts do not accomplish our peaceful objectives. I felt that it was necessary to bring the true facts to your attention and respectfully request that you retract your statement regarding "students" heckling the former president.__________________________ The original February 17 entry follows:
Bill Clinton said this today at a rally for his wife in Steubenville, Ohio:
I gave you the answer. We disagree with you,...You wanna criminalize women and their doctors and we disagree. I reduced abortion. Tell the truth, tell the truth, If you were really pro-life, if you were really pro-life, you would want to put every doctor and every mother as an accessory to murder in prison. And you won't say you wanna do that because you know, that you wouldn't have a lick of political support. Now, the issue is who, the issue is, you can't name me anybody presently in politics that did more to introduce policies that reduce the number of real abortions instead of the hot air putting out to tear people up and make votes by dividing America. This is not your rally. I heard you. That's another thing you need is a president, somebody who will stick up for individual rights and not be pushed around, and she won't.
Certainly, the prolife students, who you can hear in the audio portion of this video, should not have heckled President Clinton. What the students did was disrespectful, and as a prolifer I condemn such conduct. Nevertheless, there's a way to deal with such hecklers without engaging in an ad hominem attack against prolifers in general, which is precisely what President Clinton did in his remarks. In fact, it seemed to me (and this could just be my own bias at work) that the President's harsh response revealed a deep and unhealthy bitterness that he harbors against prolife citizens. Sadly, instead of taking the high road and defending the permissibility of abortion by explaining why he believes the view of the students is mistaken (or at least should be tabled for a more appropriate venue), the former occupant of the White House chose the low road and attacked the intellectual integrity of every American citizen who holds the prolife view.
In any event, I answer President Clinton's argument in chapter 5 of my book, Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice (Cambridge University Press, 2007), a portion of which I reproduce below (endnotes omitted):
Argument from Pity for the Women Prosecuted, Convicted, and/or
Sentenced for Murder if Abortion is Made Illegal
According to abortion-choice supporters, if abortion is made illegal, then many women will be prosecuted, convicted, and/or sentenced for murder (a capital offense in some states), because the changed law will entail that abortion in almost every circumstance entails the unjustified and premeditated killing of an innocent human person (the unborn). Abortion-choice activists argue that such a situation will unnecessarily cause emotional and familial harm to women who are already in a difficult situation. Such laws, if they are instituted, will lack compassion. But, according to the abortion-choice supporter, if the prolifer is to remain consistent with her position that the unborn are human persons, then she must institute such compassion-lacking laws. On the other hand, if the prolifer does not insitute such laws, then it is highly doubtful that she really believes that the unborn are human persons. In any event, the prolife position appears to be inconsistent.
There are several problems with this argument. First, if this argument is correct about the prolifer's inconsistency, it does not prove that the unborn are not human persons or that abortion is not a great moral evil. It simply reveals that prolifers are unwilling to "bite the bullet" and consistently apply their position. The fact that prolifers may possess this character flaw does not mean that their arguments for the unborn's full humanity are flawed.
Second, this argument ignores the pre-legalization laws and penalties for illegal abortion and possible reasons why they were instituted. Although it is clear that these laws considered the unborn human persons, in most states women were granted immunity from prosecution and in other states the penalties were very light. As I noted in chapter 2, the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade employed these latter two facts, and did not properly assess the former, to conclude that state anti-abortion statutes were not intended to protect the unborn's life but only to protect maternal health, and that this was not consistent with the view offered by the state of Texas that the unborn is a human person under the Fourteenth Amendment of the U. S. Constitution. The problem with the Court's conclusion is that it did not take into consideration the possible reasons why the statutes granted women immunity and light sentences, especially in light of the fact that in other places the law considered the unborn persons. Legal scholar James Witherspoon suggests three reasons....:
First, they [the legislatures] might have considered that the woman who would attempt such an act would only do so out of desperation, and that it would be inhumane to inflict criminal penalties on her after having suffered through such an experience. That legislators were moved by such considerations is indicated by the fact that legislatures which did incriminate the woman's participation generally imposed less severe penalties on the woman for this participation than on the person who actually attempted to induce the abortion.
Second, it is also possible that this immunization of women from criminal liability for participation in their own abortions was a result of the paternalism of the era, which limited criminal responsibility of women at the same time that it limited their civil rights. Despite her consent to the act, the woman was considered a victim rather than a perpetrator of the act.
Third, the immunity might have been motivated in part by practical considerations. Often the only testimony which could be secured against the criminal abortionist was that of the woman on whom the abortion was performed; perhaps the woman was granted complete immunity so that she would not be deterred from revealing the crime or from testifying against the abortionist by any risk of incurring criminal liability herself. That the non-incrimination of the woman's participation was motivated by this practical consideration is indicated by the fact that those states which did incriminate the woman's participation often enacted statutes granting a woman immunity from prosecution in exchange for her testimony, or providing that this evidence would not be admissible in any criminal prosecution against her.
Thus, it seems likely that by prudently balancing the unborn's personhood, the evil of abortion, the desperation of the woman, and the need for evidence in order to insure a conviction, jurists and legislators in the past believed that the best way to prevent abortions from occurring and at the same time uphold the sanctity of human life was to criminalize abortion, prosecute the abortionist, grant immunity or a light penalty to the woman, and show her compassion by recognizing that she is the second victim of abortion.
Consequently, if abortion is made illegal because the law comes to recognize the unborn as intrinsically valuable human persons, legislatures, while crafting laws and penalties, and courts, while making judgments as to sentencing, will have to take into consideration the following facts. (1) Unborn human beings are full-fledged members of the human community and to kill them with no justification is unjustified homicide. (2) Because of a general lack of understanding of the true nature of the unborn child--likely due to decades of cultural saturation by abortion-choice rhetoric and little serious philosophical reflection on the prolife position by the general public--most citizens who procure abortions do so out of well-meaning ignorance. (3) The woman who will seek and obtain an illegal abortion is really a second victim. Women who seek illegal abortions will probably do so out of desperation. Not realizing at the time of the abortion that the procedure kills a real human being, some of these women suffer from depression and guilt feelings after finding out the true nature of the unborn. And because both those who may encourage these women to seek an illegal abortion (family and friends), as well as the abortionist who will be paid for performing this deed, have no intention of discouraging her, it is likely that the pregnant woman will not be fully informed of the unborn’s nature (e.g., "You're not carrying a baby, it's a `product of conception,' `blob of tissue,' `a bunch of cells,' etc."). (4) Even if his intention may be to help the woman, the illegal abortionist will not be ignorant of the demands and purpose of the law and the nature of the being that the abortion kills. However, because juries may be reluctant to sentence such a physician to decades in prison let alone the death penalty, a lighter penalty may be easier to secure. (5) The government has an interest in preventing unjustified and premeditated killing of human beings, whether born or unborn, who live within its jurisdiction. Legislators and jurists that intend to pass and enforce laws and penalties prohibiting almost all abortions, if they are to be just, fair, and compassionate, must take into consideration these five points, as the legislators and jurists of the past did prior to the legalization of abortion. There is no doubt, therefore, that the law will reflect these sentiments if abortion is made illegal again.
Third, given my second response to this argument, those who defend it seem to embrace a simplistic view of the purpose of criminal law and the penalties for violating it. For sometimes the purpose of a penalty is to provide an incentive to a polity for the realization of the best possible circumstances for elimination of the prohibited act and protection for its victim, precisely because the act in question and the violation of its victim so morally transgresses what is good. For example, in some states it is a capital offense to kill a police officer in the line of duty but not an ordinary citizen on the job, but this does not mean that the ordinary citizen has less value as a person than the police officer. Consequently, precisely because prohibiting the act of abortion advances the public good--because abortion entails in most cases the unjustified killing of an unborn human being--a prudent legislature will take into consideration all the variables and types of individuals ordinarily involved in the act in order to protect as many unborn human beings as possible.