Mary Elizabeth Williams recently wrote an article for Salon.com entitled, “So What If Abortion Ends Life?” Her work created quite a stir because she took a position (as a an abortion advocate) acknowledging the point of conception as the beginning of life. Rather than argue that the fetal human is not a living human being, Williams said simply, “All life is not equal” and then made the case that a living fetal human simply does not have “the same rights as the woman in whose body it resides”.
In taking this approach to the subject, Williams clearly acknowledged the power of the pro-life message. In her opening paragraphs, she bemoaned the fact that her pro-abortion associates were losing the rhetorical battle (“Who wants to be on the side of… not-life?”) Williams also lamented the current state of the debate: “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’”. Williams is tired of having to apologize for a view that seems to oppose “life” and is now prepared to simply argue some lives are not as important as others. In doing so, however, she quickly makes an equivocation that demonstrates the weakness of her argument.
Regarding the pregnant woman considering an abortion, Williams wrote, “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” Two things come to mind here. First, Williams equivocates the health of the mother with the circumstances of the mother. As a Christian, I am not opposed to intervening in a pregnancy if the life of the mother is at stake. But Williams wants us to accept a concern for the woman’s circumstances with a concern for the woman’s health. This comparison is unreasonable and Williams seems to know it (as she will demonstrate with her approach to elective abortions later in the article). Secondly, I think it’s interesting that she chose the word “entity” to describe the human being in the womb. I doubt she would ever describe the pregnant mother as an “entity”, why use this word for the fetal human, especially if she’s already conceded the fact that life begins at conception?
More importantly, Williams then attempted to make the case that there are times when some lives are worth sacrificing: “But we make choices about life all the time in our country. We make them about men and women in other nations. We make them about prisoners in our penal system. We make them about patients with terminal illness and accident victims.” Williams would like us to regard innocent fetal humans in the same way we regard enemy combatants, guilty prisoners, or dying humans at the end of life. How can this comparison possibly be legitimate?
In Williams’ closing paragraph, she quotes Emma Maniere who wrote, “Some argue that abortion takes lives, but I know that abortion saves lives too.” I’m not surprised that Williams would try repeatedly to focus our attention on those few abortions that are actually performed to save the life of the mother; this form of intervention is not really all that controversial. But when she continually highlights this small percentage of abortions, she actually exposes the weakness of her argument. The vast majority of abortions performed annually (87-92%) have nothing to do with the health of the mother. Instead, the reasons offered were simply a matter of social, economic or emotional convenience. When Williams admits that life begins at conception, but then says women should “always” be allowed to terminate a living human for any “circumstance” they may be facing, she endorses the following list of reasons:
“I have a right to kill this child because I’m not ready for a baby. The timing is wrong for me.”
“I have a right to kill this child because I can’t afford a baby now.”
“I have a right to kill this child because I already have finished having the children I planned on having. I have other people depending on me; my children are grown.”
“I have a right to kill this child because I don’t want to be a single mother. I am having relationship problems.”
“I have a right to kill this child because I don’t feel mature enough to raise a child. I feel too young.”
“I have a right to kill this child because it would interfere with my education or career plans.”
“I have a right to kill this child because my husband (or partner) wants me to have an abortion.”
“I have a right to kill this child because my parents want me to have an abortion.”
“I have a right to kill this child because I don’t want people to know I had sex or got pregnant.”
I’ve just listed the top reasons women cite when choosing abortion (I’ve simply reworded the list to express Williams’ view that life begins at conception). As a homicide detective I know that there are times when killing is justified (i.e. to protect one’s own life or to protect the life of an innocent). But none of these reasons for abortion fall into either category. When abortion advocates like Williams shy away from the real reason women kill their unborn babies, they expose the weakness of their argument, and when they admit life begins at conception, they only make the case that much more clear.