The Chicago Tribune’s Eric Zorn has challenged me to a blog duel regarding his piece, “Women in prison – a ‘partial-birth’ abortion issue for the left?”

Eric is excited to have found a wedge issue that might outdo the pro-life movement’s foremost wedge issue, partial birth abortion, which he admits is “grisly” and “repulse[s] even many who favor abortion rights,” although he supports it.

Eric based his piece on an April 9 New York Times piece entitled “Pro-Life Nation.”

Writer Jack Hitt traveled to El Salvador, where abortion is illegal and aborting mothers are prosecuted, and arranged clandestine meetings with frightened women and the back alley (although noble) hacks how aborted them.

The reason for such a piece is clear: to frighten U.S. women that soon “forensic vagina inspectors,” as they are called in El Salvador, will come pounding on their doors if Roe v. Wade is overturned.

Pounced Eric….

You’d think that anti-abortionists would be celebrating the example of El Salvador – hailing it as a beacon of moral enlightenment and hopefully proclaiming the day when, say, South Dakota (where lawmakers voted last month to ban all abortions, even in cases of rape or incest) imposes extended prison terms on the women at whom they now yell “baby killer!” outside of abortion clinics.

But no. In fact, if you bring up the idea of the law actually treating abortion like murder, most anti-abortion activists stammer and circumlocute, terrified of the question.

I may be terrified, but only about that word, “circumlocute.” I had to look that one up.

Before answering, I must correct Eric that the South Dakota law solely criminalizes abortionists, not women. Not that Eric would attempt to create false hysteria.

Recapping, Eric’s two proposed wedge issues are:

1) If and when Roe v. Wade is overturned, won’t aborting mothers in the U.S. become hunted criminals?

2) If pro-lifers think abortion is murder, don’t they want aborting mothers to become hunted criminals?

The way to answer this is to work backward. What do state abortion laws say that were nixed when Roe v. Wade was decided and will be restored if and when Roe v. Wade is nixed?

I asked Clarke Forsythe, lead attorney at Americans United for Life and an expert on the history of abortion law. He responded:

The rule in virtually all the states was that doctors were prosecuted as the perpetrators of the crime. I don’t know of any prosecution of aborting women in the 20th century. The only way in which women could have been potentially prosecuted would have been for soliciting an abortion, meaning going to an abortionist or a doctor and saying, “Will you do one?” But men and women were treated equally under those rules, and I don’t even know of a solicitation prosecution against women.

Why would pro-lifers not want to see women prosecuted in the future? Clarke, again:

We are interested in reducing abortions, not maximizing prosecutions. Doctors are the ones who perform the abortion, and they are the ones who are the principles in the crime. In addition, to make the law effective, women’s testimony is necessary to effectively prosecute the abortionist, and if you treat the woman as a principle or accomplice, you can’t use her testimony.

Women have been treated as the second victim since the second half of the 19th century. There’s no reason to question that today.

I also asked Clarke what would happen in Illinois if Roe v. Wade were overturned.

Clarke said the pre-Roe abortion law in Illinois has been repealed. Abortion would be legal in Illinois the day after that, at least up to viability if not throughout pregnancy. And like all others, Illinois abortion law targeted the abortion performer, including nondoctors.

Back to you, Eric.

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