I’ve argued before that abortion is objectively murder but that the mother who permits her child to be aborted or the father who encourages it are not committing the sin of murder, but only something like unto it.*
Why? Because children while in the womb are not as obviously human as others are, because they don’t interact with our faculties of touch, sight, smell, and sound the same way. Unborn children are largely invisible, though better ultrasounds and better science are changing that. When they do become visible, in the abortionist’s chambers, abortionists keep their bodies out of the public eye (abortionists themselves are much closer to murder, since they do their work among a litter of tiny limbs).
Because our society does not present a clear voice on the evils of abortion. Commanding voices excuse it, obfuscate it, and justify it. With murder, our society helps to clarify our consciences, but with abortion our society clouds it.
And *possibly* because the responsibility for abortions is generally more diffused than the responsibility for murder. Abortions often involve a great deal of family and cultural pressure.
Ramesh Ponnuru advances an argument today in the Corner for (1) the equality of unborn and born human life and (2) for the moral and practical inequality of abortion and murder. He is mainly concerned with abortionists, and he is mainly concerned with how the law should treat murder and abortion, while my arguments above are concerned with women and others, and how the gospel should view them. But even given these differences, I cannot be nearly as exculpatory for abortionists as he is. But he is right about one thing: ending the legal protections that allow abortion to flourish is much more important than the punishment of the guilty.
He has developed this argument at much greater length in this piece in First Things. There he rebuts the abortion-defender scare tactic that most pro-lifers, either in theory or in practice, want to prosecute women for first-degree murder.
*I am talking about the vast majority of abortions where rape and incest are not involved and where the life of the mother is not at stake in any way.