"How much time should she do?"
That question was posed by Newsweek columnist Anna Quindlen back in 2007. "She" is a woman who aborts a pregnancy; the "time" is the number of years she should spend behind bars for it.
Quindlen's question suggested that women were regularly imprisoned for having abortions prior to Roe v. Wade--and if we elect Republicans, thousands of women will again be headed for the jailhouse.
It's the myth that just won't go away. On Tuesday, California Senator Barbara Boxer used it to attack challenger Carly Fiorina's anti-abortion stance, saying it would "mean women in jail. That is so out of touch with Californians."
Sounds scary. Boxer echoed a group called the Winning Message Action Fund, which released a video in 2008 titled "How Much Time?" In between images of crying and distraught women getting their mug shots, the narrator intones: "John McCain and Sarah Palin want to overturn Roe v. Wade, which protects a woman's right to choose. If that happens, 21 states will immediately move to make abortion a crime. And women will be treated like criminals."
It's true that at least 21 states want to make abortion a crime. But the next statement is a deliberate lie. Women in this country have never been treated like criminals for having an abortion; only the person who performs it has.
Women have never gone to jail for performing self-abortions, either. Villanova Law professor Joseph Dellapenna looked into the matter for his book, Dispelling Myths of Abortion History, and concluded that no American woman had ever stood trial for inducing her own abortion. The last known prosecution happened in England in 1599.
If pro-choice activists have faith in the movement, they need to do better than trotting out a scenario that never happened in this country and claiming it's a historical reality on the verge of re-emerging. If they truly have the moral high ground, they have nothing to lose from being honest.