Kevin Williamson was fired from The Atlantic after it was found that back in 2014 he had tweeted that women should be prosecuted for having abortions – possibly with the death penalty: “I have hanging more in mind” were his exact words.
The tweet had been deleted, but to those concerned, it quickly became apparent that this couldn’t be viewed as an isolated freak incident or drunk-tweet. The broader context shows that Williamson’s tweet was consistent with his views. In a podcast, for instance, that same year, he stated: “I would totally go with treating it like any other crime up to and including hanging.”
The conservative and right-wing backlash against The Atlantic was to be expected. The media represses free speech, some are said. The media is biased against conservatives. Or, as Ross Douthat argues, the media is biased against pro-lifers, and as extreme in their support of abortion as Williamson is extreme in his opposition to it.
And ten years ago, I would have agreed with Douthat. I’ve been pro-life my entire life, and in my teens I bought into the idea that pro-choice activists really were baby-haters, just as feminists really were man-haters. In my twenties I thought that pro-choice activists were simply deluded.
But somewhere along the line, I began to notice two new things.
First of all, that pro-choice activists were not all the simplistic and morally blind people I’d imagined them to be. Most of them do not think abortion is a good thing, or that there should be more abortions. Most would welcome a world with no abortions at all. What they are focusing on is the dire situations women face, situations that women have faced for most of history. And for most of history, women in these dire situations have secretly sought an escape route through abortions – messy, unreliable, sometimes fatal, usually illegal, but still preferred over the other alternatives they faced.
This was not, as I had thought, some new invention of the sexual revolution. Nor was it, as I thought for a while after embracing feminism, something men were “tricking” us into wanting, so that we could be more available for sex, and so that men could be less responsible. Yes, this happens, and it is heinous, and it is patriarchal and abusive – but this is not the sole primordial reason for abortion demand.
I began to realize that pro-choice feminists were focused on eradicating injustice towards women, and to realize that I am with them every step of the way – except for when it comes to the point at which ending a life is seen as the only viable solution. But here’s the kicker. If I really think that abortion is bad, why would I not want the women to be punished? Isn’t Williamson just saying what everyone else was thinking, and afraid to say?
Maybe. Maybe there are some pro-lifers – many pro-lifers – who think you should be jailed, or even hanged, if you have had an abortion.
But it’s not what I think. In ethics, we are accustomed to looking at situations in which recognize both the objective tragedy in taking of life, and the easing of subjective culpability on the part of those making decisions under duress. Look at the way we bend over backwards to excuse killing in self-defense, and to justify the taking of innocent lives as an unfortunate aspect of an otherwise just war. We justify the taking of animal life in hideous and inhumane ways, because, well, how else are poor people to have meat?Or maybe we don’t justify it, but we try to work to make things better without attacking people already in vulnerable situations. That’s why the New Pro Life Movement has taken the controversial position of trying to reduce abortion by focusing, not on abortion supply, but on eliminating the reasons for abortion demand. That’s why we don’t call abortion “murder” or “holocaust.”
The other thing I began to notice was that many of my fellow pro-lifers were real assholes. The kind of people who mock women in dire situations, who deny rape culture, and who – like Williamson – compare women who have abortions to murderers, or to Nazis. The kind of people who work hard to deprive those who disagree with them of their livelihood.
Would You Call This Media Bias?
While I was following the Williamson story, I came across a piece by John Pavlovitz on the hypocrisy of pro-life Christians who attack the Parkland survivors. When I shared the article, I was immediately met with the same accusation of media bias against pro-lifers.
The problem is, it’s not bias when pro-lifers are doing exactly what Pavlovitz accuses them of doing. It’s not bias to tell the truth. If you want credibility, you can’t attack and mock the Parkland activists in one breath, then get angry at journalists who point out your hypocrisy, in the next.
If we want to get rid of “media bias against pro-lifers”, maybe pro-lifers need to stop defending people like Williamson. Stop attacking immigrants, the homeless, and victims of gun violence. Stop opposing Black Lives Matter, but instead stand with them. Stop supporting sexual predators as pro-life heroes.
Just a few days ago, it came out that former pro-life feminist activist Kristen Hatten had gone full-on Alt Right. Some of her friends and associates, specifically Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa of New Wave Feminists, publicly denounced this, but others seemed to think this was an unjust attack. Vocal pro-lifers, including speaker and activist Abby Johnson, seemed to view it as a problem that a white supremacist was being publicly criticized for horrible things she had very publicly said – but not that a white supremacist was being a white supremacist.
If you are pro-life, there is no excuse for you defending white supremacists just because they happen to have the pro-life label.
There are many pro-life activists and writers who already advance a consistent life ethic, and they need to be placed front and center. Those who claim the label while behaving abusively and hypocritically, and those affiliated in any way with Alt Right organizations and hate groups, should not be allowed to participate in pro-life events at all.
Until we do this, people are entirely justified in seeing “pro-life” as a bad word.