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Criminalizing abortion: A thought experiment

While the law cannot impose morality, but it does teach it in a very basic sense: what we outlaw is wrong, what we legally sanction is right.

(Image: sebra/

With Roe v. Wade on the ropes, abortion may become a criminal act again in some states. How abortion would or should be prosecuted is an open question, however, one that will have tremendous ramifications on public opinion should the culture wars enter a new, post-Roe era.

Recently passed laws dramatically limiting abortion in Texas, Oklahoma, and Idaho provide the proper model: the woman who procures the abortion cannot be prosecuted (New York Times and Fairfax, VA, district attorney propaganda to the contrary should be ignored), but doctors, nurses, clinicians, and pharmacists who facilitate the act can be.

But let’s consider, by way of thought experiment, what would happen if we added one other person to the prosecutor’s list: unmarried fathers of aborted children.

An astounding 86% of abortions are procured by unmarried women. When, on the heels of the Sexual Revolution, public support for abortion rose in the late 1960s and early 1970s, men, more so than women, supported abortion’s legalization. Today men still outpace women 74% to 68% in calling for legal abortion in at least some circumstances.

It’s no mystery as to why. Abortion on demand allows men to indulge their sexual appetite without responsibility to woman or child. With abortion as their fail-safe, they can then continue their lives and career paths unencumbered by familial and financial obligations and without the scars abortion leaves on women. It’s no wonder, then, that unmarried men pressure their partners into having an abortion: “partner-related concerns” motivate women to seek abortion one-third of the time.

Equity may be the cultural rage, but there is no equity when it comes to pregnancy (“pregnant persons” notwithstanding, of course). But what if we made a creative attempt at equity when it comes to responsibility for pregnancy? What might happen in states where abortion is illegal to any degree if we held unmarried men legally accountable for the children they sired and then allowed to be crushed in the womb?

As a negative effect, we might see a spike in shotgun weddings to flee prosecution, followed by a postpartum return to the courthouse for divorce papers. While this outcome is less than ideal and would generate some parental acrimony, the child, now given his right to life, would then have a father registered as legally responsible for alimony.

In addition, the removal of the abortion fail-safe would cause the cries for free contraception, begun under the Obama administration, to grow deafening – with men shouting more loudly than women this time. Perhaps a swath of twenty-something men, weighing instant gratification and fear of the law over future paternity, would go a step further and sterilize themselves. Or they might frantically insist that their girlfriends do so – another act of oppression. The market for back-alley abortions would burn hotter than abortion lobbyists could have ever imagined with men’s futures now on the line as much as women’s.

All of these reactions attempt to preserve the lifestyle of sexual license that Roe guaranteed. Fear of prosecution for an illegal abortion might make men more conscientious in their licentiousness, but, in these scenarios, they remain licentious nonetheless.

The law cannot impose morality, but it does teach it in a very basic sense: what we outlaw is wrong, what we legally sanction is right. So, for the positive effects, laws outlawing abortion have the potential to foster a culture of life. Whereas Roe taught that human life is secondary to an adult’s personal will, a law prosecuting unmarried men for abortion would teach a new set of lessons that could renew American life in several ways.

The 86% of unmarried women seeking abortions include 31% who are cohabitating. The potential law may well be the prompt to move these couples to marriage, an institution that, though terribly battered these last decades, still carries notions of fidelity and permanence. Every sociological survey shows that children are more likely to thrive when their parents are married.

The potential for abusing marriage with shotgun weddings followed by quick divorces could prompt a revisit to, and then a rewriting of, no-fault divorce laws. Like abortion, easy divorce was supposed to liberate women from men’s domination. Yet we have known for decades, and still know, that no-fault divorce is another means to oppress women.

The combination of revisiting marriage and divorce practices along with holding men legally accountable for the children they generate may lead to an even greater surprise: the support of radical feminists for legal limits on abortion. Perhaps they will fancy the law holding men as accountable to children as women and punishing them accordingly.

Here we see the value of our thought experiment. Pregnancy is not solely a women’s issue. Men initiate pregnancy and therefore should be accountable for it, as they are – legally, culturally, socially – when a child is born into the world. If, then, unmarried men break the law by coercing their partners into an illegal abortion, and this coercion can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt through, say, verbal recordings or financial transactions, then they, along with the doctors and other facilitators, should be liable to prosecution, while the mother is not.

“Reproductive freedom” is abortion supporters’ greatest lie. With abortion on demand, only men are “free,” and it is a false freedom that comes at the expense of the woman and the death of the child. With abortion illegal and unmarried men liable, a desperately needed cultural shift could follow: men would have to take responsibility for their actions, their partners, and their children. Doing this would bring real liberation for women.

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About David G. Bonagura, Jr. 27 Articles
David G. Bonagura, Jr. is an adjunct professor at St. Joseph’s Seminary, New York. He is the author of Steadfast in Faith: Catholicism and the Challenges of Secularism. and Staying with the Catholic Church: Trusting God's Plan of Salvation.


  1. Regarding the non-prosecution of women who have killed their unborn babies:
    I have seen cars drive into our city abortion facility with a woman driving and a teenage girl in the passenger seat crying. It is easy to conclude what is happening there, and non-prosecution would seem to be appropriate.
    But Planned Parenthood’s own research department reports that 40% of their abortions are repeat abortions – 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc. I see no reason why these women should not be prosecuted, along with the abortionist. Women, even young women, who give birth and then dispose of the baby in the trash are prosecuted. I see no logical reason why they would not be prosecuted for killing the baby a few months prior.
    I know there are those who believe otherwise, but I do not see the logic in their position.

  2. If one conspires with another to take the life of an innocent human being, or coerces another to do so, or in any way knowingly facilitates the murder, the law prosecutes them even though they weren’t the one who actually took the life of the victim. This must be the case for fathers and grandparents of aborted children. If they were genuinely an accomplice in the crime they should be prosecuted. I know of cases where parents forced their minor daughter to abort against her will, as well as cases where the parents of the mother were vehemently opposed to the “legal” murder, and cases where fathers were as well.

    The mother of the child, if she freely chose to abort, the father and grandparents of the child, if they were accomplices, and certainly the abortionist-hit man, must all be prosecuted and punished.

    The hit man must be severely punished. The punishment for genuine accomplices in the crime must be tempered by the fact that for the last fifty years nearly every institution in society endorsed the murder of the child in the womb. The Supreme Court insisted abortion was a constitutional right. Licensed pysicians were happy to act as the hit man. The mainstream media assured everyone that it was only a handful of religious fanatics that objected to abortion (and ignored hundreds of thousands of Pro-Lifets who gathered every January in DC to protest Roe). The fact is that the accomplices were victims of the most orchestrated and vicious propaganda campaign since Joseph Goebbels was running Hitler’s Ministry of Propaganda.

    As the general public recovers from fifty years of brainwashing the punishments for accomplices in the crime should increase accordingly.

    The larger question is how we should deal with the institutions that were the true perpetrators of this holocaust. Nuremberg 2.0?

  3. SMH, where to begin with this?
    Short and sweet: prosecute everyone involved in the illegal activity and be done with it. The married and unmarried alike. The man, the woman, doctor, nurses, various aids, administrators. Everyone. If the man/father was not involved, then he doesn’t get prosecuted. If the woman can show she was assaulted, kidnapped, and forced into an abortion (gun point, knife point, etc), then she and the baby are victims of an assualt their assailants brought up on charges.

  4. The words of the Holy Father of the oneness in the wounds has given the answer , added to obeseravations of exorcists – the blinding effects of enemy powers that can afflict generations ..Inflammation as the pathology that sets of many other disorders in other realms – even Corona may not have been much of a threat if not for same ; adding many others – high cholesterol , produced by the liver to deal with inflammation that sets off a cascade ..same for the expensive social issues – as family discords , depression , addictions ..we do have The Light of Truth ..just that many have chosen to hide same under the ‘bushel baskets’ in desiring to see things in an upside down manner .. yet ,Lord too pouring forth His Mercy as oceans , such as in the Flame of Love devotion , meant to blind Satan that life would be loved with the Love with which The Lord loves same , The Church too helping more to see that Light .
    FIAT !

  5. The degree of guilt is different, but everyone who agrees – in some way – with abortion can be held legally – and certainly morally – responsible. Women are likely more guilty than the men because they willingly submit to the procedure. That said, typically it is the “active agents” – e.g. “doctors,” employees, etc. who are most often held responsible.

    Even the support of “laws” that permit abortion is wrong. A person supporting “laws” would be guilty of complicity with conspiracy to murder. The latter could be outlawed, and – at the least – it ought to be a good case for a priori censorship.

    “The law cannot impose morality, but it does teach it in a very basic sense: what we outlaw is wrong, what we legally sanction is right. So, for the positive effects, laws outlawing abortion have the potential to foster a culture of life. Whereas Roe taught that human life is secondary to an adult’s personal will, a law prosecuting unmarried men for abortion would teach a new set of lessons that could renew American life in several ways.”

    This is mistaken. What is wrong is that which – potentially – can be outlawed. Morality is of broader scope than law, but that which is illegal MUST be immoral. Sometimes the immorality is “created” by the law – e.g. traffic laws.

    Only the Catholic Church is infallible with regards to morals. Nine unelected justices who weren’t even Catholic certainly aren’t able to infallibly teach morality.

  6. I’m sorry??? You want the men, who have NO LEGAL SAY in preventing a woman from having an abortion to suddenly be held legally responsible?? I am a woman who has little respect for today’s young women. The age of woman “waiting” until marriage is long dead. If anything, they appear to have more interest in jumping into bed than the men do. A good friend revealed conversations she had had with the thirty-something women in her office.Sleeping with virtual strangers is the norm, and there is no interest in a relationship, just in sex. Anyone who wants to paint just men as sexually interested is very much mistaken.I am tired of the “me too” accusations made 20 years later with no evidence, with colleges who assume the MEN are the guilty party when accused and rob them of legal representation.With women who declare “my body my choice” and bar men from any legal input to an abortion, unless they are looking for a man to entrap for the next 20 years with child support. As a woman with sons, I say women have far too much power and control in this area, while men are robbed of their legal rights over and over. Its too bad that priests and ministers look the other way on the topic of ALL varieties of pre-marital sex, and have a marked reluctance to say anything on the topic while they blandly provide a church wedding to couples who are co-habitating for years prior to their marriage. Yes, they fear telling the truth means “losing” these couples to the church. But they fail to recognize these couples are ALREADY lost. Giving their actions tacit approval in the form of a grand church wedding in no way helps them get on the appropriate path. So,count me out on supporting criminal charges for men regarding an abortion. There is far too great a chance the man may not even remember who this woman is, let alone be aware she is pregnant and what action she planned to take. That is HER fault as much as his. If a driver with passengers has an accident for example, you cannot blame the passengers for the incident. While they are willing passengers in the car heading to the same place, the only one culpable for the accident is the DRIVER. Woman cant have it both ways. I suggest any young person ( man or woman) who does not want to find themselves in the shocking position of an unexpected pregnancy, would do best to heed old fashioned advice and keep your pants on and save your sexual experience until marriage. Not every man is a sexual predator and not every woman is Little Bo-Peep.

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