The other day I wrote about El Salvador's extraordinarily harsh abortion laws, which have included murder convictions for women whose only crime was miscarriage. I noted that if you think such a thing could never happen here, you haven't been paying attention.
For example, in Pennsylvania, a 39-year-old mother of three named Jennifer Whalen is serving a nine- to 18-month jail sentence for buying pills that induced an abortion in her pregnant 16-year-old daughter. She did not have a required prescription for the online purchase. In an interview with Emily Bazelon of the New York Times, Whalen said she had no idea she'd broken the law.
Having spent all of 2009 covering the battle over abortion in this country – a year that included the failed criminal prosecution of Wichita abortion doctor George Tiller by the state of Kansas and his subsequent murder by an anti-abortion religious extremist – I can tell you for certain there are people in this country who would like nothing better than to see women who have abortions be punished with prison terms.
Take National Review writer Kevin D. Williamson, who caused a Twitter storm over the weekend when he tweeted that women who have abortions should be put to death--by hanging.
"And not just the women," clarified Charles Johnson of the liberal website Little Green Footballs. "He says the doctor who performs the abortion, the nurses who assist, and the hospital staff who enable it should also be executed."
When Johnson pressed Williamson about whether he was serious, the National Review writer responded: "Yes, I believe that the law should treat abortion like any other homicide."
While this view may seem beyond extreme, I would suggest it is not as rare as you might think.
I have interviewed many abortion opponents who believe that terminating a pregnancy under any circumstance is murder and a violation of God's will. For many religious extremists, there is no situation at all that trumps the moral opposition to abortion.
I hesitated to say anything at all about Williamson and his extremist point of view. But I think it's important to know that people like him are out there. They have the ability to influence the conversation around abortion, or at least give tacit permission to the crazies who then feel emboldened to act.