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Consequences and Punishment

Jill fisks an editorial in the Agusta Chronicle that attempts to rebut Barack Obama's suggestion that abortion opponents treat pregnancy as a punishment. The editorial loudly insists that they do not see things that way. Then they in effect make a 180 and push the "pregnancy is punishment" line again:

But part of loving and caring for your children is to teach them that there are consequences for their actions. To whisk a child off to an abortionist to help her avoid the consequences of her actions is in no way compassionate or caring.

This is a common refain in the context of abortion -- actions have consequences, and it's wrong to evade them. But this isn't a princple we follow most other places in life. If I stand up too fast and bump my head on a cabinet, nobody would deny me a dose of Tylenol because I need to learn that not watching where I'm going has consequences. If I make a wrong turn and stop to ask for directions, nobody would refuse to help me because that would just help me avoid the consequences of not being able to read a map. And people would certainly not deny me the Tylenol or directions if my problem was not of my own making -- if someone else hit me in the head, or I was given bad directions by someone else. Throughout our lives, we are engaged in trying to mitigate or evade the bad consequences of things we do, inlcuding both things we shouldn't have done in the first place and things that were the best option at the time.

The only context in which we think it's important for bad consequences to follow from a certain action is if we hope that those consequences will create a deterrent to doing that action again (or at least subject the person to regret and shame over the action), because we think there's something wrong with that action independent of its tendency to lead to the consequences in question*. That is, cases in which we're using those consequences as a punishment.

*Here I would include, perhaps awkwardly, "tendency to lead to the consequences in question in other situations where mitigation/avoidance of them is not possible" as a thing independently wrong with the action.


Blogger Unknown said...

There's one place where "consequences, not punishment" makes sense, and that's where it means "we aren't going out of our way to devise a punishment, just expecting you to be responsible for the consequences of your own choice, rather than dumping them on someone else."

And this is where the whole thing gets muddled, in sexual/reproductive issues. Making birth control more freely available, and insisting that, say, pharmacies not place arbitrary and capricious obstacles in the way of getting those varieties of birth control that can be applied post-coitally, is letting people be responsible for the consequences of their choices. Preventing the consequence you didn't want from ever happening is taking responsibility. But walking away from your kids after they're born isn't. And so pointing out that people might use "consequences" language in that case, and not mean "punishment," doesn't justify seeing it as other than "punishment" if it comes from people who want to restrict access to birth control, think girls shouldn't be vaccinated against HPV, etc.

11:06 AM  

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