The criminalization of abortion

I’ve been doing a good bit of research on abortion public opinion for some time.  And, of course, I’m teaching Criminal Justice policy right now.  But, somehow, it was not until class discussion today that I realized just how fully these two interests of mine now overlap.  We’ve seen very little of it yet (mostly, because physicians are rightly terrified of being arrested for going anywhere near the line in places like Texas), but with abortion illegal again in many states we are soon going to see a lot more abortion policy playing out within the criminal justice system. And just like stories of women suffering dangerous pregnancies forced to leave their state, I do think the coming news stories of prosecuting doctors and those who make medication abortion pills available will be powerful in shaping narratives and the battle for public opinion.

Of course, one of the really interesting thing about the pro-life crowd is that there’s only fringe support for criminally punishing women for having an abortion.  Famously, in 2016 Donald Trump who just knew he was supposed to be pro-life, said, of course women should be prosecuted.  He was quickly educated on this and walked it back.  But if abortion really is murder, of course women should be punished (abortion isn’t really murder). 

For years, there’s really been no reason for political surveys to ask questions about punishing women and doctors for breaking abortion laws.  And, of course, now there is!  And the 2022 American National Election Study (which I’m analyzing away for a conference paper next month) is on the case.  Here’s a couple of key charts (first time ever making charts in SPSS actually).

Notably, prosecuting women is really unpopular.  And actually prosecuting doctors is not all that popular either (only 27% favor in any way). 

What really sticks out is just how damn much uncertainty there is.  I’m not all that surprised as this has been one of my talking points on abortion for years.  But still, it’s one thing to say “¯\_(ツ)_/¯” when the questions is “generally legal or not” but I really feel like people should at least have some opinion on whether we should people in prison for this.  Definitely more to come on this topic, but preliminary analyses show that the “neither support or oppose” are much more likely to be “pro-life” and in favor of overturning Roe.  The reality is that there’s a lack of courage of convictions, if you will, on a lot of the pro-life side in this post-Roe world (damn, I really need to dig into this more).  

Anyway, it will be truly interesting to see how this develops as the criminalization of abortion and inevitable prosecutions proceed in red states. 

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