In my experience, the reason most Americans want abortion, at least in some circumstances, to remain legal is not primarily because they do not respect the life of the unborn or even because they are morally comfortable with abortion, but instead because most Americans are uncomfortable with what it would mean to enforce the criminalization of abortion.
If those wishing to make abortion illegal wish to have success, they need to think about and publicly speak about how we as a society will enforce abortion laws. After all, if the vast majority of people can do something illegal without getting punished for it, then that something can not really said to be illegal.
So, what should the punishments be for women who seek abortions and the doctors who help them? If abortion is the moral and material equivalent to murder, then those who seek and perform abortions should be punished like murderers. In the U.S., murder in the first degree is defined as “the killing of one human being by another human being with malice aforethought.” If a fetus is a human person in the same way that the already born are, and women and doctors are human persons, and clearly abortion is a case of malice aforethought, then abortion would fit the legal as well as moral definition of murder. In the U.S., murder in the first degree is typically punished by life in prison or, in some states and cases, the death penalty.
Certainly, there are some who think that women who seek abortions should receive such sentences, but, in my experience, the vast majority of even the most passionate advocates of the life of the unborn would not support such a punishment. And even less would the “American public in general” support this. In other words, most people, even those who think that abortion is wrong, do not think that it should be punished like murder.
Another option of course would be to treat abortion like a form of manslaughter, punishing it with a lighter sentence, say of 5-10 years?
Maybe those seeking to make abortion illegal will conclude that the woman and doctor should not serve any time in prison. However, at a minimum, a mother who is legally responsible for the death of a child often loses custody of her other children. It would seem that even if a woman convicted of the crime of abortion should not face jail time, she should at least lose custody of her existing children (if she has any) much in the way a woman who abuses her children or neglects them as a result of drug addiction does.
We must also think about how we will apprehend and prosecute the guilty. How will we get a warrant to search for evidence of an abortion? Even after successfully acquiring a warrant to “search” an alleged aborter’s body, can we scientifically distinguish between a miscarriage and an abortion?
The answers to these questions are not just morally important, (in my opinion, and I am willing to be convinced otherwise, if you truly think that abortion is tantamount to the killing of a toddler, then you must think that those who seek abortions should, in an ideal world, be punished as severely as we punish those who murder children), but also they are politically and strategically necessary. If the “pro-life movement” wants to succeed in making abortion illegal, they need to explain not just why abortion is wrong, but also what a society in which abortion is illegal will look like.