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Human Exceptionalism

Life and dignity with Wesley J. Smith.

Unborn Are Human Life: “So What?”



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The pro choice side of the abortion debate have always been profoundly dishonest, claiming that the unborn are not really “human.” (Well, they’re not Martians. They’re not chopped liver.) But it was deemed a necessary lie in order to protect the abortion license, and that trumps intellectual integrity every day of the week.

But now that the polls are (temporarily) looking better for the pro choice side, Salon writer Mary Elizabeth Williams is ready to come clean. From, “So What if Abortion Ends a Human Life?”

And in the midst of this unique moment [of positive polling], Planned Parenthood has taken the bold step of reframing the vernacular – moving away from the easy and easily divisive words “life” and “choice.” Instead, as a new promotional film acknowledges, “It’s not a black and white issue.”

It’s a move whose time is long overdue. It’s important, because when we don’t look at the complexities of reproduction, we give far too much semantic power to those who’d try to control it. And we play 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.”

What “sneaky, dirty tricks” are those?  Telling the biological truth, which is ironic since pro lifers are accused of coming to their conclusions because of a religious view of life, when they actually have science on their side, while the pro-choicers were the ones who for decades have denied basic biology.

Williams admits that fetuses are human lives, but says, “So what?” 

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.

Which means through the ninth month, indeed any moment before the umbilical cord is cut, the human life can be made dead if that is what the mother wants. Taking her words at face value, Williams would permit healthy fetuses to be killed who could have been delivered and lived into infancy. Even Roe v. Wade didn’t go that far. 

Here’s an uncomplicated reality: Williams is right that reducing the moral value of some human lives makes it easier to dehumanize others of us, the necessary predicate to culture of death horrors. Thus, we have seen advocacy for the moral propriety of infanticide, for permission to kill and harvest the organs of profoundly disabled people like Terrie Schiavo, and for euthanizing patients with Alzheimer’s disease–attitudes that, at least in part, often arise out of a belief that abortion is our only absolute right. (Even free speech isn’t an absolute right.) 

I am sorry, but Williams’ moral core seems stunted by her zeal for abortion:

And I can say anecdotally that I’m a mom who loved the lives she incubated from the moment she peed on those sticks, and is also now well over 40 and in an experimental drug trial. If by some random fluke I learned today I was pregnant, you bet your ass I’d have an abortion. I’d have the World’s Greatest Abortion…

And 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.

Kill the fetus whenever you want, under any circumstance, for whatever reason, and at any time! And yet pro-choicers bridle when critics of the abortion license claim that legalization has profoundly undermined society’s commitment to the value of human life. With this column, Williams owns it.



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