Monday, June 04, 2012

Criminal Culpability

He nailed it.   Again.

On Friday, Hardball's Chris Matthews boldly went (as he has previously) where no man or woman does (transcript, here).     He interviewed Representative Cliff Stearns, Republican of Florida, and Democrat Donna Matthews, Democrat of Maryland.    They discussed HR 3541, the  noxious PreNatal Non-Discrimination Act  (PRENDA) of 2012 (text of bill here), which provided for a fine and/or imprisonment for anyone who

performs an abortion knowing that such abortion is sought based on the sex, gender, color or race of the child, or the race of a parent of that child; uses force or the threat of force to intentionally injure or intimidate any person for the purpose of coercing a sex-selection or race-selection abortion; solicits or accepts funds for the performance of a sex-selection abortion or a race-selection abortion;or transports a woman into the United States or across a State line for the purpose of obtaining a a sex-selectionabortionor race-selection abortion: or attempts to do so.

PRENDA received the votes of a majority of Representatives but went down to defeat because passage required a two-thirds majority according to the procedural rules under which it was brought up.   Matthews established that, contrary to Stearns' assertion, the measure created a solution in search of a problem.   He then asked

My problem is this. You don`t want to punish the woman. You want to punish the doctor.
But in this case, a woman could -- if she did have this intention because of her background or values or whatever they are -- and I`m certainly not for them -- if there was such a case, she would simply go from doctor to doctor who wouldn`t ask her the question and she`d proceed with the abortion.

So what do you accomplish with this law? It couldn`t be enforced. 

After the conversation veered off into a brief discussion of sex-selection and Asian culture, Stearns conceded that he would support a constitutional amendment to ban abortion, throwing into question his motive as an advocate for a bill which would have banned the rare practice of abortions chosen as sex-selection.    Matthews then zeroed in:

MATTHEWS: Well, if it`s morally wrong -- why don`t you punish the woman?

STEARNS: We can punish the doctors.

MATTHEWS: Why not the women?

STEARNS: The way the bill is set up is the doctor has no right to question the motivation of the girl.


EDWARDS: Because that`s not what this is about, that`s why. So you punish the doctors, you ask the doctors to be mind readers, to sit and figure out when a woman comes to the office --


MATTHEWS: What should be the punishment, sir? I had this with people who say they are pro-life. I think we`re all pro-life.


MATTHEWS: What should be the punishment for a woman who chooses to have an abortion?

STEARNS: Well, I`m not talking about abortion.

MATTHEWS: Answer that question before we go on.

STEARNS: No, no, no, Chris.

MATTHEWS: You want to outlaw it, call it murder, use terms like that. What should be a punishment for a woman who chooses -- goes to a doctor, they don`t go door to door, she goes to the doctor and asks for this procedure, what should be the punishment for that?

STEARNS: If we`re talking about abortion, we have the Hyde rule which says you can have an abortion for incest, the life of the mother.


STEARNS: And things like that and rape. So we already have that in place. But the question is --

MATTHEWS: So, what should be the punishment for a woman who wants an abortion because she doesn`t want to deliver the child, period? What should be the punishment?

STEARNS: Let me ask you --

MATTHEWS: So, you don`t want to answer this, do you?

STEARNS: I want to ask you a question is --

MATTHEWS: No, I just ask the questions.


MATTHEWS: You want to outlaw abortion and you don`t want to do it because you know deep down you know the average voter, even in your district, which maybe conservative doesn`t believe the woman is guilty of a murder, they really don`t think it should be a murder charge, they don`t think it should be fineable, because deep down people are troubled by this issue. It`s a difficult moral dilemma and that`s why we let the person make the decision, it`s so difficult.

That`s why we don`t make all these laws that you want to pass. Why don`t you let the women answer it?

STEARNS: It`s your show. Let me answer the question.

MATTHEWS: You won`t answer it.

STEARNS: I`ll answer the question the way I want. It might be your show and you can do all the talking but I can answer the question the way I want.

The question is: should there be a law preventing a woman making an abortion based upon sex selection to eliminate female embryos. And that I agree is wrong and I think you agree and Donna also agrees.

MATTHEWS: What should be the punishment for the woman doing that?

STEARNS: It should be against the law. Just like it`s against the law in all of Europe --

MATTHEWS: What should be the punishment?

STEARNS: I think the punishment should certainly be very serious.

MATTHEWS: What should it be for the woman? What should it be for the woman?

STEARNS: It should be more than a civil case. It should be something very serious --

MATTHEWS: So, should it be a criminal matter for the woman as well as the doctor?

STEARNS: I think so. You are killing an embryo and sometimes four or five months into gestation

Game, set, match- though Stearns should be applauded for courageously (albeit foolishly) admitting what no man or woman dares- belief that a woman who seeks an illegal abortion should be prosecuted.  Chris Matthews appears to be the only individual in the media- mainstream or alternative- who will even raise this issue and getting a pro-life congressman to state publicly that he agrees should be considered a coup.     If Matthews had pursued the issue further, probing what Stearns meant by a "very serious" punishment, it would have been even more enlightening.

I have argued that the prospective mother invariably is precluded from prosecution in "pro-life" legislation either because the proponents want to pander to women or are actually unsure that abortion is killing.     However, Matthews, who says he doesn't "believe in punishing people for having abortions," plausibly contended "I think sometimes you guys on the far right think women are incapable of a major decision like this, so you punish the doctor who you presume is a male."

Perhaps he noticed that the bill referred, in stunningly passive language (emphasis mine):   "a woman upon whom a sex-selection or race-selection abortion is performed...."   The woman- along with the prospective father- could have sued practically anyone if passage had been obtained.  If aware the illegal abortion has been performed, "a physician, physician's assistant, nurse, counselor, or other medical or mental health professional" (custodian was overlooked) could not only have been sued by the woman, but also by the prospective father. The health professionals also would have been prosecuted as criminal offenders and subject to a fine and/or imprisonment for failing to report to law enforcement even a rumor of such an abortion taking place, a heck of a way to conduct a criminal justice system.     But held blameless, the women are viewed as "targeted victims of sex-selection abortion," euphemism for "object."

There are a National Association of Black Journalists Hall of Fame, as well as Halls of Fame for journalists hailing from specific states such as Kentucky, North Carolina, Indiana, and Michigan.     There seems to be, however, no Hall of Fame for journalists from Pennsylvania, Matthews' home state.     If there were, his inclusion would be arguable.     But on this issue, it would be a slam-dunk.

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