Against Criminally Charging Women Who Seek Abortions

Avoiding Unintended Injustice

Dana Hall McCain

I remember very clearly the first pro-life event I attended at age 15. A friend’s family invited me to go with them to a march and rally in our state capital of Montgomery, Alabama. The passion on display that winter day moved me as I walked among the mass of people carrying signs and crying out for the preborn. Until then, I had been principally pro-life but didn’t feel any personal responsibility around the issue. But somewhere amid that crowd, in air so brisk I could see my breath in front of me, I realized God was prompting me to defend the preborn. 

The message from speakers that day was simple: Save the babies. Overturn Roe v. Wade

As pro-lifers, we were united in both our cause and our game plan.

Now we live in a post-Roe world where many states restrict or ban abortion in ways that save countless innocent lives. But alongside this victory, a disagreement brews on the edges of the pro-life movement about how to apply criminal justice to the fight for life. Pro-life advocates have always sought to leverage the criminal justice system to protect the preborn by prosecuting physicians who perform illegal abortions. But a new wave of activists insists that we must also criminally charge women who seek abortions.

This sector of the pro-life world describes their movement as one to provide equal protection under the law to the preborn. Sounds great, doesn’t it? But many who spend their lives working at various levels of the U.S. criminal justice system caution that while the law provides justice in many cases, it has its limitations. The more complex the facts around a crime, the greater the chance of unintentionally compounding or creating one injustice while addressing another.

Demographic realities

To understand the problems connected to this proposition, we must recognize the realities of who will likely be seeking illegal abortions in a post-Roe United States. Now that abortion is banned or heavily restricted in some states and fully legal in others, women with even moderate resources will not risk prosecution to have an abortion. In states where abortion is illegal, most women will leave and travel to states where it’s not, have the procedure with zero risk of prosecution, and return home. 

In fact, abortion activists—including the Biden administration—are so dedicated to keeping abortion common that they are placing abortion providers on state borders for easier access and funding organizations to help women travel to abortion-friendly states.

Given the abortion lobby’s zeal for creating access to abortion, what kind of woman will still consider an illegal procedure in a pro-life state? A very poor one, generally, with no resources for travel, no understanding of how to access the free abortion travel funding, and who feels desperate enough to accept the risk of an illegal abortion that may be dangerous and might also send her to jail.

In my years serving abortion-vulnerable women, I observed that as a woman’s level of agency decreases, the likelihood that others are heavily influencing the decision regarding her pregnancy increases. The less power she has—because she’s young, poor, or her partner or parent is coercive—the more likely it is that someone else in her life is calling the shots and insisting that she terminate her pregnancy. And if we make a Venn diagram of low-resource women who will attempt to get an abortion in a state where it’s illegal and low-agency women who aren’t the primary decision-makers, we get a lot of overlap.

Within that overlap is a field ripe for unintended injustice.

Unintended injustice

Those who want to criminalize women insist that we can write statutes that consider those mitigating factors. They say that just as current homicide statutes allow for degrees of crime and charge accessories to the act, criminal abortion statutes could, too. But we also know that the criminal justice system works very differently for those who can afford an adequate legal defense than for those who must depend on an overworked, underpaid public defender.

Which representation do we believe the woman who couldn’t afford a road trip to the state line will receive? How difficult will it be for her to prove, with meager legal resources, that she was coerced or pressured by others to abort when so much of that evidence is “he-said, she-said” in nature?

I think the equal justice crowd—whose burden for the preborn I appreciate and admire in many ways—imagines passing laws that convict and lock up the 30-year-old professional on social media “shouting her abortion.” And to be clear, that woman’s wanton disregard for the preborn infuriates me, as well. But these laws will rarely touch her, if ever. She will continue to live in or travel to an abortion-friendly state. She will keep aborting at will. She will keep shouting about it. 

These laws will almost exclusively catch the poor and disenfranchised in their net and few others. Is that justice? Is that equal?

A pragmatic argument

Finally, I hesitate to make a pragmatic argument on a moral issue. Still, when lives hang in the balance, I think wisdom demands that we consider all the potential consequences of the idea on the table. By jailing women in red states (the only states where legislatures might pass such laws), those purple states where voters are pretty evenly divided on the abortion question will be watching. Passing these “equal justice” laws may jail a few women in Alabama or Tennessee. However, the optics of it all will raise millions for the abortion lobby to spend in purple states where abortion policy is still very much a jump ball. We will lose crucial legislative battles in those states to ban or restrict abortion more fully. 

And when we lose those battles in purple states, more children will die.

I think the wiser course is to keep our focus on making abortion illegal in every state and focusing resources on women in need who may run toward abortion out of fear. Both of these goals are better accomplished if we can convince the millions of Americans in the middle of this debate that both lives have value—mother and child—and that we, as pro-life Christians, are dedicated to seeing each of them thrive as God intended. By doing these things, we can continue to advance a culture of life.

Dana Hall McCain writes a regular column about faith, culture, and politics for Alabama Media Group.

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24