Temper, Temper: Salon’s Abortion Tantrum

Every parent has experienced a child caught in the act, perhaps even with evidence of melted chocolate still on the corner of her lip, who resolutely denied the obvious. “What? Who me? Couldn’t be!”

A good many parents have also encountered the icy indifference of a bolder child, one who does not care if he’s caught. “That’s right. I stole the cookie. It was me. What’s it to you?”

With my own children, I rather hope for the first scenario, for while that child is dishonest, she retains enough moral sense to know she’s done something against the rules—that’s why she lies. The second child, however, worries me, for it is not the facts he denies, but order. The first lives in falsehood; the second in revolt. The first child will (very) likely change her own mind, given enough time, but the second child is throwing a temper tantrum against the truth of being.

Of course, adults throw tantrums, too; and while the feet may not stomp or the face mottle, the revolt is obvious—and chilling.

Writing for Salon, Mary Elizabeth Williams boldly admits that abortion ends a human life—“so what?” Pro-lifers have co-opted the word “life,” she claims, forcing pro-abortion advocates to “scramble around with not nearly as big-ticket words like ‘choice’ and ‘reproductive freedom.’” The answer, she suggests, is to acknowledge that of course a fetus is a human life, it just doesn’t matter: “… throughout my own pregnancies, I never wavered for a moment in the belief that I was carrying a human life inside of me … that doesn’t make me one iota less solidly pro-choice.”

Denying the humanity of the unborn child is bad strategy, and “play[s] into the sneaky dirty tricks of the anti-choice lobby when we on the pro-choice side squirm so uncomfortably at the ways in which they’ve repeatedly appropriated the concept of ‘life.’” The only real answer is to take the term back. Pro-abortion advocates have been “so intimidated by the wingnuts, we get spooked,” “bullied around,” and consequently contorted into absurd denials of the obvious, all the while ceding rhetorical and imaginative ground to pictures of “tiny fingers and tiny toes.”

No more. Those favoring abortion should admit the truth: life begins at conception, there is no moral difference between first and second trimesters, and no difference between the “bunch of cells” aborted and “the baby” lost to miscarriage, for “it’s pretty silly to pretend that what was growing inside … wasn’t the same” because of how mothers “felt about their pregnancies.” You are not “less of a human when you look like a tadpole than when you can suck on your thumb.”

She tells the truth. But, as she puts it, “Here’s the complicated reality in which we live: All life is not equal.” A “fetus can be a human life” and yet the mother “is the boss,” and “her life and what is right for her … automatically trump the rights of the … entity inside of her. Always.” More flippantly, Williams states that if she found out “today I was pregnant, you bet … I’d have an abortion. I’d have the World’s Greatest Abortion.” In fact, she “would put the life of a mother over the life of a fetus every single time—even if I still need to acknowledge my conviction that the fetus is indeed a life. A life worth sacrificing.”

With these words the culture of death reveals itself as a tantrum, a revolt against order. Brazen, like the second child, it sneers, “so what,” some humans are “not equal,” their lives always worth sacrificing. We do this all the time, Williams claims, judging that the lives of foreigners, prisoners, and the ill and dying are all optional, but in those instances we aren’t “bullied around by the vague idea that if … we’re talking about human life, then the jig is up, rights-wise.” We should grow up and treat the human life of the fetus in just the same manner as we (mis)treat the lives of the ignored, marginalized, and oppressed—as unequal.

Of course, her claim follows if—and only if—we grant legitimacy to the culture of death. If, she states, we cheerily deny the dignity of some, then we are free to merrily deny the dignity of others; but we do deny the dignity of some, and so we should feel empowered to deny the dignity of the unborn. There is a chilling logic here, obviously, for there is no reason to value the unborn life if we discard the lives of the born. Death follows its grim story to the bitter end, so long as one begins with death as the premise.

Is it unfair to ask why we cannot use the same logic to devalue anyone we so wish? All too frequently, the lives of women, of slaves, of minorities, of the poor have been thought worth sacrificing for “the boss,” does this thereby justify the inequitable treatment?

The real question is whether we ought to devalue foreign lives, lives imprisoned, lives suffering and nearing their end. If we ought not devalue these lives, then claiming that some lives are always worth sacrificing reveals itself as nothing more than arbitrariness, caprice, violent willfulness, revolt, spite.

But perhaps those enslaved to the culture of death can no longer ask ought-questions in a meaningful way. Certainly Williams does not.

John Paul II puts it thus in Evangelium Vitae:

[A] new cultural climate is developing and taking hold, which gives crimes against life a new and-if possible-even more sinister character, giving rise to further grave concern: broad sectors of public opinion justify certain crimes against life in the name of the rights of individual freedom, and on this basis they claim not only exemption from punishment but even authorization by the State, so that these things can be done with total freedom.… The end result of this is tragic: not only is the fact of the destruction of so many human lives still to be born or in their final stage extremely grave and disturbing, but no less grave and disturbing is the fact that conscience itself, darkened as it were by such widespread conditioning, is finding it increasingly difficult to distinguish between good and evil in what concerns the basic value of human life.

Ms. Williams’ declaration of inequality, and other similar attempts to justify abortion using the “so what?” strategy are honest, at least; but like the second cookie-stealing child, they are revolts against order, tantrums against humanity.

Dangerous ones.


R. J. Snell directs the Center on the University and Intellectual Life at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, New Jersey, and is a senior fellow at the Agora Institute for Civic Virtue and the Common Good. He is the author (with Steve Cone) of Authentic Cosmopolitanism: Love, Sin, and Grace in the Christian University. His latest books are Acedia and Its Discontents: Metaphysical Boredom in an Empire of Desire and The Perspective of Love.

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