National Review writer's vile pro-life argument is logically consistent

NR scribe Kevin Williamson made an extreme abortion argument. It's also the only logical position for pro-lifers

By Jim Newell

Published September 30, 2014 3:04PM (EDT)

Kevin Williamson      (Fox News)
Kevin Williamson (Fox News)

Over the weekend, a presumably bored National Review writer, Kevin Williamson, became the subject of much derision and shock across the political Internets when he tweeted his argument that "the law should treat abortion like any other homicide." My colleague Elias Isquith highlighted Williamson's clearest descent into pure trolling -- responding to a question about whether women who have abortions should get life without parole with the line, "I have hanging more in mind."

Williamson doesn't deserve the brand-enhancing benefit of shock, though. He's made his positions clear and no further follow-ups remain. The questions, instead, should be for those pro-life people who believe abortion is murder but would consider the idea of charging women who get abortions with murder to be ludicrous. Which we'd guess is a "whole heck of a lot" of pro-life people.

As ugly as it sounds, Williamson's position, as Irin Carmon tweeted, is the logically consistent pro-life position. If you believe abortion is murder, then the law should charge those who get abortions with murder and subject them to life-in-prison or capital punishment, depending on a jurisdiction's homicide sentencing guidelines. Or perhaps, since it's doctors performing the abortions, "merely" charges of conspiracy to murder or whatever. Those who think that abortion is murder but don't feel that the woman who has an abortion should face homicide charges should ask themselves, Why?

Let's take another "hard" pro-life position that is at once extreme and logically consistent: the idea that women shouldn't even be allowed to have abortions in cases of rape, incest, or when the mother's life is in danger. So many politicians label themselves pro-life but allow for these exceptions, and these are the exceptions for which the Hyde Amendment allows federal Medicaid funds to cover abortions.

When a Republican candidate comes along and says that abortion should be illegal even in these cases, though, they're attacked relentlessly for being radical. Indeed, it's a radical and extreme position. But it's also logically consistent with the belief that abortion is murder. Maybe, at least in the case of the mother's life being in danger, you could argue that abortion is logically consistent because the mother's life supersedes that of the fetus'. (Pro-lifers, however, view language about "superseding rights" as squishy amoral babble, and frequently that's true.) But terminating a pregnancy in order to save a woman's life would still be, in the eyes of the consistent pro-lifer, interfering with God's plan.

If you believe that abortion is murder, then that means that you should also (a) think that women who have abortions should be subjected to some sort of murder, conspiracy to murder, or accessory to murder charges and (b) believe that abortion should be illegal in cases of rape, incest, or when the mother's life is in danger. If that sounds extreme, it's because it is extreme, and so maybe believing that abortion is murder is an extreme position.

What's the cop-out of choice here for the squishy pro-lifers? Oh, it's just a figure of speech, we don't mean that women who have abortions should be legally charged with murder. Uh huh. In that case stop calling it murder, then.


Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

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