Sacrificing the Wrong Lives

February 11, 2013 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


Fetus 1It was an article that took my breath away.  Yes, I’ve read many an article arguing for “a woman’s right to choose.”  Yes, I’ve heard the cries from Planned Parenthood, insisting that a woman’s “reproductive rights” be maintained.  But this article did not invoke any of the more traditional language wielded by abortion proponents, except to criticize it.  Writing for Slate Magazine, Mary Elizabeth Williams opens her article analyzing the state of the abortion debate thusly:

While opponents of abortion eagerly describe themselves as “pro-life,” the rest of us have had to scramble around with not nearly as big-ticket words like “choice” and “reproductive freedom.” The “life” conversation is often too thorny to even broach. Yet I know that throughout my own pregnancies, I never wavered for a moment in the belief that I was carrying a human life inside of me. I believe that’s what a fetus is: a human life. And that doesn’t make me one iota less solidly pro-choice.[1]

Mary Elizabeth Williams is bold enough to write what so many people have suspected for so long:  there is no way around the fact that a fetus is a life.  Abortion, then, by logical default, ends a life.  Williams, in contradistinction to many other abortion advocates, is willing to admit this.  But this does not temper her view on whether or not abortion should be legal and widely available:

Here’s the complicated reality in which we live: All life is not equal. That’s a difficult thing for liberals like me to talk about, lest we wind up looking like death-panel-loving, kill-your-grandma-and-your-precious-baby storm troopers. Yet a fetus can be a human life without having the same rights as the woman in whose body it resides. She’s the boss. Her life and what is right for her circumstances and her health should automatically trump the rights of the non-autonomous entity inside of her. Always.

Williams is willing to cede the argument on whether or not a fetus is a life.  She admits it is.  But that does not matter.  It may be a life, but it is a life that can be extinguished at the will and whim of the woman who carries the fetus.

Such a crassly genocidal view of abortion is new, even for its advocates.  Margaret Sanger, the very founder of Planned Parenthood, would have winced at this kind of notion:

We explained what contraception was; that abortion was the wrong way no matter how early it was performed it was taking life; that contraception was the better way, the safer way – it took a little time, a little trouble, but was well worth while in the long run, because life had not yet begun.[2]

Margaret Sanger, though she certainly paved the way for abortion’s modern-day legality, availability, and promotion, promoted contraception over abortion, at least publicly, because abortion ended life.  Until now, pro-choice advocates have been largely unwilling to engage the question “Is the fetus a life or not?” and instead focus on a woman’s “right to choose” because many abortion advocates would be loath to talk about ending a life.  No longer.  Williams is perfectly willing to speak of a fetus as a life.  And she’s perfectly willing to talk about ending it.  As she concludes in her article, “I 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.”

In the face of words like Williams’, words from the prophet Jeremiah come to mind:

This is what the LORD says:  “A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because her children are no more.” (Jeremiah 31:35)

May we weep with Rachel at the children who are no more.  They were not lives worth sacrificing.  The life worth sacrificing has already been sacrificed.


[1] Mary Elizabeth Williams, “So What if Abortion Ends a Life?Slate Magazine (1.23.13).  NB:  The link posted in the title Williams’ article takes you to  Google’s cached version.  The most inflammatory of Williams’ statements have since been removed.  The current version of the article can be found here.

[2] Margaret Sanger, Margaret Sanger, An Autobiography (New York: W. W. Norton, 1938), 217.

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