Jennifer Fulwiler is a writer and speaker who converted to Catholicism after a life of atheism. She’s a contributor to the books The Church and New Media and Atheist to Catholic: 11 Stories of Conversion, and is writing a book based on her personal blog, ConversionDiary.com. She and her husband live in Austin, TX with their five young children, and were featured in the nationally televised reality show Minor Revisions. You can follow her on Twitter at @conversiondiary.
Under what circumstances would you be okay with taking a human life?
It's safe to say that most sane, law-abiding citizens abhor the thought of homicide; however, most of us have a few narrow conditions under which we believe it would be morally acceptable to kill another person. And it always comes down to self-defense. You see this reflected in our laws, which state that murdering someone in the street because he's annoying you is a crime, but murdering someone who has broken into your home and is running at you with a knife is not a crime. You see it in popular opinion as well: Who among us wouldn't agree that a woman attacked in a dark alley has the right to use any means to defend herself, even if it puts her attacker's life at risk?
Certainly, it should be a last resort; all non-lethal methods of protecting yourself should be tried first. But I think most people would agree that if you find yourself terrified and with no other options, sometimes murder is the only way out.
It is telling, then, to consider the new turn the pro-choice movement has taken, in which some abortion advocates are finally admitting that unborn children are human, and yet say that it's okay to take their lives anyway.
Mary Elizabeth Williams has ushered in this new angle to the abortion debate in her explosive article at Salon.com, called So What if Abortion Ends a Life? It's a shock to the conscience to see someone defend the humanity of unborn babies, then coolly state, using her own motherhood as a credential, that she believes these young lives can be taken at will.
Yet Ms. Williams' article made me wonder:
If I had become convinced that babies within the womb were human when I was pro-choice, would I still have believed that abortion was okay?
I eventually realized with a feeling of great heaviness that the answer was yes. Though my own pro-choice views were based on the assumption that life within the womb is not fully human, I would have continued to support the pro-abortion cause, even if I changed my mind about the humanity of unborn life. I would have been right on board with Ms. Williams and any other pro-choice advocates who admit that our youngest children are still our children, yet say that their lives are expendable. In fact, I would have even believed it to be the humane, compassionate position.
That stance may sound insane when you first hear it, but it begins to make more sense when you consider the dark paradigm from which it flows.
Imagine, for a moment, that our country had been fighting a war for 40 years against an enemy who wanted to enslave us. These enemies lived behind great walls, so we rarely saw them face to face, but we knew that if they were allowed to come into our lives, they would take away our autonomy. Many of them kept coming into our territory and stealing people's freedom despite our best efforts to control them, and so we believed we had to kill them as an act of self protection. For years we made the killing easier by dehumanizing them, referring to their ranks with terms that stripped them of their human dignity. But over the decades the photos started to filter out. New surveillance technology allowed us to see their faces, and the enemy's humanity became undeniable.
At that point, maybe some noble folks would step up and say that they could no longer fight this war knowing that there were real lives at stake in the enemy camps. But many of us wouldn't. We'd say that the war still had to be fought and the lives on the other side of the line were still expendable, because of their threat to our freedom. After all, killing is okay when it's done in self-defense.
As crazy as this analogy sounds, I don't think it's too far off from the way that Ms. Williams and other abortion supporters view unexpected new life.
These women are steeped in a worldview in which sex has no inherent connection to the creation of life. They are part of a horrific society-wide experiment in which, for the first time in human history, women are given two entirely different lists of conditions for when it's acceptable to have sex and conditions for when it's acceptable to have a baby. They are told that it's just fine to go ahead and engage in the act that creates babies, even if they're in absolutely no position to have a baby. Under these circumstances, normal, morally upright women who seek to do the right thing and live responsible lives end up engaging in sex under a variety of conditions in which being pregnant, giving birth, and raising a child would be a crisis. And when those two lines pop up on the pregnancy test despite their best efforts to be "safe," as happens more frequently than anyone wants to admit, they feel trapped. They're terrified and often alone, facing consequences that they had never prepared for, because they live in a society whose most sacred ideals rest on pretending that these consequences don't exist.
Under these conditions, babies become the enemy. And there are two ways to justify killing an enemy: To dehumanize him, or to plead self-defense. For decades, the pro-choice movement has gone with the former option; now that modern technology has made that intellectually impossible, they're switching to the latter.
I believe that Ms. Williams' article at Salon is one of the most important pieces to be written on the subject of abortion in years. She is brave enough to say things that are true, but that no one else wants to say. She has blown the lid off the culture of avoidance and word games that plagues secular thought on this issue (rightfully pointing out, for example, the nonsensical disconnect of pro-choice pregnant moms joyfully calling the unborn children they want "babies," and dismissing the ones they don't want as sub-human clumps of tissue). To me, she did not come across as a monster. She came across as someone who does not see women as having any control over when they conceive children, and is rightfully angry about it. She came across as someone who, in accordance with what our culture teaches us, sees suffering and self-sacrifice as the worst evil, even worse than death. She came across as someone who is full of misguided compassion for women whose society has left them without real reproductive choices, who is trying to help them by justifying what she sees as their only path to freedom.
Mary Elizabeth Williams doesn't deserve our scorn. In fact, I think we should thank her for bringing some much-needed honesty to this debate, no matter how painful it is to hear. Most of all, we should offer our prayers and sympathy to her and to anyone else who shares her views. They are not heartless people; they're merely part of a generation of women who have been backed into a corner by their own worldview, feeling like they have so few options that murder is the only way out.