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Murder? Having Your Cake and Eating It Too on Abortion Rhetoric

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Posted on June 12 2010 7:00 pm
David Swindle is the Managing Editor of NewsReal Blog and the Associate Editor of FrontPage Magazine. Follow him on Twitter here
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Calvin Freiburger had a challenging post yesterday titled “Leftists: Being Pro-Life Is Selfish, Good People Endorse Murder” in which he responded to a Daily Beast article about the Boxer-Fiorina race.

But here’s the question: is abortion murder?

Calvin and I have debated amongst ourselves about this point before with me pointing out: “Well if abortion is murder then that means that every woman who has an abortion is a murderer, no different than a mother who hires an assassin to slit her toddler’s throat. So such women should spend life in prison or get the death penalty, right?”

Most anti-abortion advocates with whom I’ve dialogued don’t agree to this. In their idealized world in which abortion has been criminalized it’s only the doctors who would be charged with the crime of murder. The women seeking abortions are absolved of the crime — at least in the years following abortion’s criminalization — because they’ve been sold the lie that their fetus isn’t a person, thus they don’t know they’re committing murder. But the doctor knows enough to know what he’s doing is murder. That’s basically Calvin’s position.

I accepted Calvin’s explanation for awhile but I don’t anymore. And here’s why: if someone doesn’t know that the person they’re killing is a person and they’re not doing it with malice then it’s not “murder.” It’d be “manslaughter.”

Here’s the definition of murder:

“the crime of unlawfully killing a person especially with malice aforethought”

We’ll put aside for now that by definition something can only be murder if it’s against the law. But two of the relevant keywords: “malice aforethought.” In other words, it’s really only murder if you know what you’re doing and you have a malicious need to kill a person. In both the case of the abortionist and the woman getting the abortion, neither is intellectually comparable to a murderer. They do not regard the fetus as a human being, thus at worst they are committing manslaughter.

So here’s the choice: you can use the term “murder” to describe abortion but then to be consistent you would have to consider both women and the abortion providers murderers. None of this, “Oh the woman doesn’t know any better, she’s a victim, she shouldn’t be punished.” Further, you would need to regard all women who get abortions as knowing and believing that they’re killing a life. (Which from what Jenn Q. Public — expert anthropologist of the bowels of the neo-communist women’s blogs — tells me, some leftist pseudo-feminists do. But by and large I would guess that most do not.)

Or, you can eschew your use of the term, no longer characterize abortion as murder, and then hang on to the position that women who don’t choose life for their babies don’t deserve to spend the rest of their lives in prison.

If you’re going to pull out powerful rhetorical weapons then you have to take responsibility for the implications of using them.

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