Abortion: Murder or Tragedy? Are Those the Only Options?

William Saletan (Slate) has an interesting and thought-provoking article on the murder of abortion provider George Tiller; worth reading, it seems to me, whether one is pro-life or pro-choice. I should say, though, that the argument in the closing paragraph is too glib:

The reason … pro-life groups have held their fire [in arguing for violent defense of fetuses], both rhetorically and literally, is that they don’t really equate fetuses with old or disabled people. They oppose abortion, as most of us do. But they don’t treat abortionists the way they’d treat mass murderers of the old or disabled. And this self-restraint can’t simply be chalked up to nonviolence or respect for the law. Look up the bills these organizations have written, pushed, or passed to restrict abortions. I challenge you to find a single bill that treats a woman who procures an abortion as a murderer. They don’t even propose that she go to jail….

If you don’t accept what [Tiller’s murderer] did, then maybe it’s time to ask yourself what you really believe. Is abortion murder? Or is it something less, a tragedy that would be better avoided? Most of us think it’s the latter.

It seems to me that there’s a third option that the piece deliberately omits — that abortions, whether all abortions, late-term abortions, or some other subset of abortions — are not quite murder but should still be forcibly prevented. I take it that is the view of many generally pro-choice people about late-term abortions. There is very broad support for criminalizing such abortions but not, I think, for treating them as murder. I think that the article is right in saying that even most pro-life people don’t really view abortion as morally tantamount to murder; but that doesn’t mean that it has to be just a “tragedy.”

One can debate the logical basis for this distinction, just as one can debate the logical basis for any lines one draws in the abortion field. Having three options (murder / crime short of murder / not a crime) rather than two (murder / not a crime) requires some slightly different justification, but not, I think, of a character that’s radically different than the justification required for the two-option solutions.