Now that Utah has passed and signed into law a bill that outlaws almost all abortions, the state faces a harsh dilemma. If the abortion restrictions go into effect next month, prosecutors will have the authority under the state's criminal homicide law to charge women who have illegal abortions with first-degree murder, a crime that can be punished by life in prison or death. This dilemma is being called a "loophole" in the law. But if abortion opponents are to be taken at their word, anything less than a murder charge would be inconsistent with justice.
When the new abortion law was debated by the legislature in January, its supporters argued that penalties for illegal abortions would be applied only to those performing the procedure, not to the women themselves. To that effect, the bill provided for a $5,000 fine and up to five years in prison. The 1983 criminal homicide law and its provision for protecting fetuses was never mentioned in the debate.
Yet that law specifically states that the murder charge is applicable to anyone killing a fetus in an illegal abortion. Since the new law would make almost every abortion illegal, it theoretically will make it possible for the state to put a woman to death for obtaining an abortion.
That's not likely to happen, of course. Yet the fact remains, if one accepts the contention that from the "moment of conception" any destruction or interference with the development of an embryo or fetus is tantamount to taking a human life, then the logical charge for such acts is murder.
For most Americans that is an unacceptable link. But it is the only logical position for those who would base public policy on their unshakable faith that a fertilized egg deserves the same legal rights as an adult woman. To stop short of that and insist that they don't want to punish a woman seeking an abortion, but only the person performing it, makes as little sense as prosecuting a contract killer while excusing the person who requested his services.