Opinion | Turning Pregnant Women and Doctors Into Criminals

To the Editor:

In “Punishing Women Who Have Abortions” (Opinion, Sunday Review, May 15), Jane Coaston mentions the possibility being discussed in some anti-abortion circles of charging those who have abortions with homicide. There is another way some in the anti-abortion camp speak of punishing women who seek abortions, in this case very ill women — letting them die.

This is not a majority position in the anti-abortion movement, but it is not a new idea. In 1984, Paul Weyrich, an influential conservative activist, stated, in explaining his opposition to exceptions to abortion bans in cases of threats to a woman’s life: “I believe that if you have to choose between new life and existing life, you should choose new life. The person who has had an opportunity to live at least has been given that gift by God and should make way for new life on earth.”

In the likely event that the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade and about half the states ban abortion, it is in the realm of possibility that extremist politicians in some of these states will be successful in blocking any exceptions whatsoever. Doctors in those states will be placed in a horrible position, facing years of jail time if they abort the fetus, and women will die needlessly.

Carole Joffe
San Francisco
The writer is a professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at the University of California, San Francisco.

To the Editor:

An important problem in criminalizing abortion is frequently overlooked: policing it.

New York County abortion trial transcripts in the John Jay College of Criminal Justice archives (1883-1927) show that because illegal abortions invariably took place in private locations — usually the home of the doctor or midwife who performed the abortion — the authorities had to rely on unsavory detection methods.

These included threatening the hospitalized victims of botched abortions with arrest unless they named and testified against their abortion providers; making deals for leniency with pregnant women arrested for unrelated crimes if they agreed to help entrap a suspected abortion provider; and setting up elaborate sting operations with women employed by the police.

Even with the more sophisticated surveillance methods available today, law enforcement personnel will often be obliged to rely on entrapment to prosecute abortion providers in states where abortion is illegal. The surprising number of acquittals in the historic abortion cases I have studied suggest that entrapment can be distasteful to jurors. Entrapment methods may also have a demoralizing, demeaning and potentially corrupting effect on the police.

Elisabeth Gitter
New York
The writer is emerita professor of English and interdisciplinary studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

To the Editor:

I’d like to see an article about “How Will We Punish Men Who Don’t Support Women Who Have the Pregnancies.” We are still focused on the women, but now we have the technologies to identify the fathers and expect them to fully support the children they conceive. Would this change the dynamics of pregnancy, abortions and support? You bet it would.

Janice Woychik
Chapel Hill, N.C.

To the Editor:

Your comprehensive May 22 special section on Haiti, “The Ransom,” was eye-opening. It showed that debt is a tool of the rich comparable to slavery — and has been throughout history.

But the special section, sadly, also shows the limits of talking about reparations as justice. Even if the French government paid Haiti back all that it took, with interest, the resulting payment would scarcely account for the lost opportunities and social dislocations caused by its aggression.

Andrew Oram
Arlington, Mass.

To the Editor:

When I arrived in Haiti for the first time, in 1996, I had already been in a number of poverty-stricken countries in this hemisphere. There were similarities, of course, but the depth and pervasiveness of impoverishment and the unreliability or absence of the most basic physical and governmental infrastructure were on a scale I had not previously encountered.

It was not surprising that Haitians felt that they had little control over their lives — lives spent in surviving day to day.

How did it come to this? Your series “The Ransom” provides well-researched, convincing answers to that question.

George Santayana warned that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” We cannot heed that warning if that past is not known to begin with. Now that the reality of that Haitian history is more widely known, will it continue to be repeated?

John Cosgrove
Lumberton, N.J.
The writer is professor emeritus in the Graduate School of Social Service at Fordham University.

To the Editor:

Current reporting from many Democratic and Republican pundits presumes that Republicans will take over the House and the Senate in the November elections. No doubt they base this prediction on polling and the historical results of midterm elections. Perhaps they are right, but perhaps not.

While such a prediction serves the Republicans well, for the Democrats, it’s toxic. An attitude of “it’s all over but the voting” has the potential to discourage Democrats from bothering to vote, turning that presumption into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Mary-Lou Weisman
Westport, Conn.