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On social media there are a lot of posts fuelled by the recent restrictions on abortion in Alabama and Missouri.

Some of these (the first is from Instagram and the second is from Twitter, although I saw it on Instagram) claim that “the penalty for aborting after rape is more severe than the penalty for rape” - and that therefore it’s a ‘war on women’.

Poorly screenshotted Facebook post, since shared on Instagram with white text on red staying “When the penalty for aborting after rape is more severe than the penalty for rape, that’s when you know it’s a war on women.”

“When the penalty for aborting after rape is more severe than the penalty for rape, that’s when you know it’s a war on women.”

Tweet by @melanatedmomma, screenshotted and shared on Instagram saying “Alabama’s just made abortion’s (sic) a felony. From the moment of conception, you can’t have an abortion. It doesn’t matter if you’re raped. You have to have the baby. If you abort? 99 years in prison. That’s more time than the rapist would get. I’m physically sick. This is disgusting.”

“Alabama’s just made abortion’s (sic) a felony. From the moment of conception, you can’t have an abortion. It doesn’t matter if you’re raped. You have to have the baby. If you abort? 99 years in prison. That’s more time than the rapist would get. I’m physically sick. This is disgusting.”

Obviously the claim that it’s a war on women isn’t clearly enough defined to discuss here, but I am interested to know the following. It’s also not actually giving the state, but I am inferring from the recent legislation that it is referring to the aforementioned states. Therefore, I would like answers to the following:

  • What is the legal punishment for aborting a child in Alabama?
  • What are the penalties for a man raping a woman (or woman if women can legally rape a man) in both Alabama?
  • Is the penalty for rape different if a male rapist impregnates a woman?
  • And therefore, is the penalty for abortion more severe than the penalty for rape (if the two can be directly compared)?
  • My impression is that those are not strictly speaking of legal punishments but rather the penalty is the psychological impact of childbirth coupled with the physical and psychological trauma of rape. In other words, I think it's speaking of the "penalties" for not having an abortion. – PC Luddite May 17 at 21:13
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    As a note, I think that this claim is actually referring to the penalty a doctor is subject to for performing an abortion (99 years imprisonment), not a woman who seeks an abortion. An answer could address this, but the posted claim is (purposefully?) vague, and it suggests the woman suffers this punishment (at least to me). – Tim May 17 at 21:14
  • @PCLuddite that could be it, but see my comment above. If you are correct, those “penalties” for not having an abortion certainly aren’t comparable to the penalties for committing rape, so my 4th bullet would be unanswerable. – Tim May 17 at 21:16
  • yes, the implication seemed to be the punishment for the woman, but I suppose it could equally refer to the doctor. The answer would also most certainly rely on the definition of "severe", which could be easier to define if it's simply a comparison of prison time. – PC Luddite May 17 at 21:20
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    @Tim OK, I see. Not familiar with this social media stuff. Guess pictures work in this case. – Barry Harrison May 18 at 4:08
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Summary: There is no punishment for a woman having an abortion. The maximum punishment for a doctor performing an abortion is the same as the maximum punishment for a rapist.


According to the BBC, a woman in Alabama suffers no legal repercussions for seeking, or having, an abortion:

A woman who has an abortion would not be held criminally liable

however, the punishment for a doctor:

Under the bill, doctors face 10 years in prison for attempting to terminate a pregnancy and 99 years for carrying out the procedure.

CNN clarifies this with the words “up to”:

For example, doctors could face up to 99 years in prison for performing an abortion in the state.

According to RAINN:

Rape in the first degree is a Class A felony, which is punishable by both imprisonment and the imposition of a fine, in the following manner:

  • An offender shall be imprisoned for not more than 99 years or less than 10 years.
    • However, when a firearm or deadly weapon is used or attempted to be used in the commission of the felony, the minimum sentence is 20 years.
    • Additionally, where the felony consists of a “sex offense involving a child,” the minimum sentence is also 20 years.
  • An offender is also subject to a judicially-determined fine, in an amount not exceeding $60,000.

There is no difference to the defined punishment if the woman is impregnated due to rape. Potentially this would be taken into account during sentencing.

From the information given, we can conclude that the punishment for raping a woman is more severe than the punishment for a woman receiving an abortion - 10 - 99 years imprisonment, up to $60,000 fine compared to no punishment.

The potential punishment for a doctor performing an abortion is the same as the potential punishment for a rapist, with the possible difference being that I’ve not seen an article state that the doctor would not face the $60,000 fine. It seems likely that a doctor performing an abortion is a Class A felony too, and subject to the fine as well, but I don’t know that.


As a summary, of the second claim:

Alabama’s just made abortion’s (sic) a felony.

Correct, in most cases.

From the moment of conception, you can’t have an abortion.

Incorrect. You can’t have an abortion from when a heartbeat is detected, normally around 6 weeks. This does mean that lots of women will miss the cutoff before they know they are pregnant, but it’s better to be accurate when we make these claims.

It doesn’t matter if you’re raped.

Correct, rape is not an exception in this law, and neither is incest. The only exception is for the mother’s life being in danger.

You have to have the baby. If you abort? 99 years in prison.

This sounds like it is claiming the woman would go to prison (via the repeated use of “you”). This is incorrect, and dangerously misleading. No woman will receive criminal chargers for seeking or having an abortion. A doctor could receive up to 99 years in prison for performing an abortion.

That’s more time than the rapist would get.

Incorrect, it’s the same. The maximum of 99 years is the same for rapists as it is for doctors who perform abortions. Nobody has been sentenced under the new law as of the time of writing, so we don’t know what sentences will actually be given.

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    Remember, this isn't just about Alabama. A half-dozen other US states have recently implemented very severe abortion laws, or are about to. So the validity of the original post cannot be judged by looking at Alabama alone. – Daniel R Hicks May 18 at 3:23
  • @DanielRHicks true, although these posts appeared recently on social media; within the last 48 hours for me. This may be a delay as the information spread to the U.K. I’ve edited the answer to try and focus on the second image, as it has much more concrete (regretfully incorrect) claims, which focus on Alabama. – Tim May 18 at 3:57
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    "Incorrect. You can’t have an abortion from when a heartbeat is detected, normally around 6 weeks. " Are you sure about this? The text I found says that "In present state law, Section 13A-6-1, Code of Alabama 1975, defines a person for homicide purposes to include an unborn child in utero at any stage of development, regardless of viability." I'm not entirely sure what that means, but I've seen claims that it means that the bill starts at conception. – Arcanist Lupus May 18 at 5:50
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    @ArcanistLupus - That's the law defining homicide, not abortion. The provision was no doubt long ago ruled unconstitutional with regard to abortion, as a result of Roe v Wade. The purpose of the new law is not to outlaw abortion so much as it is to overturn Roe v Wade, and hence provide momentum for overturning numerous Civil Rights rulings since Brown v Board of Education. – Daniel R Hicks May 18 at 11:50
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    @DanielRHicks To be precise, the law's purpose is to overturn Roe vs. Wade, and then outlaw abortion entirely. – Shadur May 18 at 12:00

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