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Life after Roe: A Restorative Justice Proposal

by Christina Yao


One of the most often heard arguments from pro-choice advocates is that they don’t want women who have abortions to end up in jail. The pro-life response is that we don’t want that either. But what do we want?

Despite the (untrue) commonly held belief that pro-life people want to oppress women, you’d be hard pressed to find a pro-life person who wants to fill up jails with post-abortive women. In fact, many in the pro-life movement are post-abortive women, or people inspired by the stories of post-abortive women. Surely these people do not want to be locked away or to see their friends or family treated that way. For many years now the group Silent No More has been hosting an event in front of the Supreme Court, after the March for Life, where women who have had abortions tell their stories. These stories often tell of desperation on the woman’s part, a pressuring boyfriend, or a persuasive clinic. There were many factors driving them to abort, at a time when they were most vulnerable. No woman who has had an abortion should ever be called a “murderer”, for they are also victims themselves.

Seeing the woman as a victim helps answer the question of what should be done if Roe v. Wade were to be overturned and states were to start establishing more abortion restrictions or banning abortion altogether. I propose we use a Restorative Justice model to create a truly pro-life and pro-woman society.

Restorative Justice is healing in a community setting, which involves the victim, offender, and community. The process acknowledges and addresses the harm caused; the needs of the victim, offender, and community; and the obligations of both the offender to the victim and the community to the victim and the offender. Restorative Justice usually includes mediation and conflict resolution, with an opportunity to apologize for the harm done, make reparations, give compensation, and perform acts of community service.

Restorative Justice can have a range of formality and structure. Restorative Justice can either directly respond to the crime or promote positive future behavior by both the offender and the community. If the offender does not want to participate in the Restorative Justice process, the offender can do mandatory community service instead. Restorative Justice can include material, emotional, and spiritual assistance. It looks at crimes comprehensively, and sees that the offenders do not only harm the victims and communities, but also harm themselves. Success in measured when the harm is repaired or further offenses are prevented.

There are different methods to Restorative Justice, and I think the two most applicable to abortion would be “Family or Community Group Conferencing” and “Peacemaking or Sentencing Circles.” Family or Group Conferencing is when the family and friends of the victim or offender are included in deciding what should be done. The goal of this Conferencing is to raise awareness of the consequences of the behavior and present an opportunity to take responsibility for it. This method can be used with both juveniles and adults, and there is a high success rate. Conferencing is quite common in New Zealand, being adapted from traditional Maori practices and is now operated by Social Services. This program has also been modified for Australian use. Now Conferencing is used in European, North American, and South African countries as well.

Family or Community Group Conferencing for abortion would see the woman and the child as the victim and the abortion provider as the offender. The woman would be offered healing with family and friends. In an ideal situation, family and friends would say how they would support the woman if she ever found herself in a crisis pregnancy again. The provider would have the opportunity to see how they hurt the woman and make reparations. Community members would have the opportunity to explain which services would be provided to help the provider and the woman.

Peacemaking or Sentencing Circles includes many members of the community. The victim and their supporters, the offender and their supporters, counsel, prosecutors, judges, and court workers may all take a part in finding the best solution. Two benefits of Circles are that it addresses what causes the criminal behavior and bolsters community among those finding a solution to the behavior. Two criminal justice sanctions are used in Circles: restitution and community service. Restitution is money paid to the victim by the offender. A price cannot be put on human life, but the abortion provider should at least pay for the counseling for the woman, as well as any health complications that can be traced back to the abortion, whether physical or mental. Community service in Circles is when the offender does work to benefit the community they harmed. This can also be used as a means to rehabilitate the offender. In African countries, community service is used to integrate offenders back into the community. This would have to be done in a way that does not cause trauma to post-abortive women, of course. Circles in North America have been adapted from traditional Native American practices.

Peacemaking or Sentencing Circles would be a great alternative to our current criminal justice system in matters of illegal abortion. It would allow a variety of voices -- the woman, the doctor, family and friends who might have supported or opposed the abortion, and the larger community -- to speak to why and abortion happened and what should be done about it. Restitution and community service are also great options compared to time in prison or traditional fines that are paid to the state rather than the victim.

No one knows when or if Roe v. Wade will be overturned. But what we do know is that, no matter what, we need to provide loving and compassionate justice to those hurt by abortion, which is the whole community. We need to send the message loud and clear that we are not looking to imprison people, but rather to show them a better way. We are not here to condemn, but to show the truth about life.


This article originally appeared in Volume 7 Issue 2 of Life Matters Journal.

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Disclaimer: The views presented in the Rehumanize Blog do not necessarily represent the views of all members, contributors, or donors. We exist to present a forum for discussion within the Consistent Life Ethic, to promote discourse and present an opportunity for peer review and dialogue.

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