Donald Trump recently created a firestorm when he suggested during an interview that women who have abortions should receive “some form of punishment” if abortion becomes illegal. Many, even in the pro-life community, were quick to cry foul. The president of the Susan B. Anthony List, Marjorie Dannenfelser, said she and her organization “have never advocated, in any context, for the punishment of women who undergo abortion.” She went on to say:
“But let us be clear: punishment is solely for the abortionist who profits off of the destruction of one life and the grave wounding of another.”
Laying aside that it was Donald Trump who said it, is it really unreasonable to suggest that a person who breaks the law should receive some form of punishment (he did not specify what) for having done so? Most people, including many Christians, have no problem with that concept regarding other issues such as immigrants here illegally. Even though difficult circumstances may have led them to enter the country the way they did, if they broke the law most agree there should be some consequences. Why is this different?
I believe it’s two things. First of all, despite our claims otherwise, we don’t really see abortion as murder. If a woman paid her next door neighbor to kill her two-year old, would anyone seriously suggest there should be punishment for the neighbor but none for the mother? Would any life circumstance or level of desperation on the mother’s part render her above prosecution? With the possible exception of an insanity plea, the answer is “no.” And even with an insanity plea, there are still legal consequences. So here’s the question, is a child in the womb as much a human being as a two year old? I believe one of the reasons abortion remains legal is because even many who oppose it don’t really believe taking the life of the unborn is the same as taking the life of the born.
Secondly, many Christians confuse the role of the civil government and the role of the church. The civil government has been given a ministry of justice, temporal and imperfect justice to be sure, but justice nonetheless. The God-ordained job of government is to reward good and punish evil (Romans 13:1-5) and few things are considered as evil by God as the taking of a human life made in His image. For this reason God, through Noah, instituted capital punishment for murder (Genesis 9:6). I’m not suggesting, lest the firestorm begin anew, that women who procure an abortion should be executed, just pointing out the seriousness of murder in the eyes of God. Our judicial system, as did the one set up by God for the nation of Israel, recognizes differing levels of murder with differing levels of punishment. One thing it does not do, however, is have a class of murder for which there are no legal consequences.
The church, on the other hand, has been given a ministry of grace. She is charged with going into all the world and preaching the gospel (Matthew 28:19-20), urging people to repent and offering the grace and peace of God to all who will come to Him. This includes murderers like the Apostle Paul, women (and men) who procure abortions and even the doctors who perform them. Not even Kermit Gosnell is beyond the grace of God. But, here’s the thing, the grace of God and temporal punishment by the civil government are not mutually exclusive. When the murderer on death row comes to Christ he’s set free from his sin but not from prison. Ministering God’s grace to people does not require that the temporal consequences of their sin be removed. Government and church operate in two different spheres with two different charges from God. And while the spheres necessarily intersect, we dare not confuse one with the other.
So what should the legal consequence be for a woman who has an abortion if it again becomes illegal? I don’t think there’s a single answer to that question. It probably should vary from none in some cases to very serious ones in others depending on the circumstances. But, that there should never be any at all, ever, is not an acceptable answer for those who claim to value the lives of the innocent.