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The Reactionary Utopian (classic)
January 23, 2011

Words of Choice   
A classic by Joseph Sobran
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A leading abortion advocate, Kate Michelman, says that if it had been up to Judge Samuel Alito, she might not have been allowed, many years ago, to have the baby she was carrying killed.

As you may know by now, Alito once ruled in favor of a law requiring that a married woman get her husband’s consent before aborting.

For Ms. Michelman, this ruling brings both bad memories and dark forebodings. At the time of her abortion, she recalls, her husband had abandoned her, leaving her with two other children; even so, she says it was a “painful” decision.

It probably was, assuming she had a conscience. That’s what we are told, of course; it’s always a “painful” or “difficult” decision. But somehow nobody ever seems to make the wrong decision. Every woman who gets an abortion is obeying her conscience, not violating it.

We all have to make hard choices at times, because we know we may decide wrongly. But we’re expected to believe that women deciding whether to have their unborn children killed in the womb always decide rightly, no matter what they choose to do.

Notice that I use the old, crude verb kill. It’s a habit I see no reason to shake. When I go to the drugstore or hardware store, I see products boasting that they “kill” germs, “kill” crabgrass, “kill” mosquitoes, “kill” rats, and so forth. Why be squeamish about what abortion does to a child?

But abortion advocates are squeamish about this. They never say that abortion “kills.” They prefer roundabout expressions like terminate a pregnancy, though a live birth also terminates a pregnancy. And they never call the child a “child”; they call it a “fetus,” as if to give the impression that modern medical science has discovered that it’s something other than what we all know it is. Actually, science seems to have found that the fetus is infinitely more complex than the blob of tissue (as in fetal tissue.) it’s more convenient to imagine. We used to say that a pregnant woman was “with child,” or “carrying a child.”

Even opponents of abortion now shrink from using the impolite term baby-killers to describe its proponents. Maybe we could spare their little feelings by saying “fetus-terminators.”

Aristotle wasn’t squeamish. He not only saw nothing wrong with abortion; he also argued that deformed infants should be killed. The ancient Greeks and Romans, like some pagans today, considered infanticide a perfectly acceptable option, though it was the father’s prerogative, not the mother’s. The usual method was exposure; the unwanted child would be left out to starve, dehydrate, freeze, or be eaten by wild animals.

In those days it was up to the father. No doctor’s skills were needed; you just abandoned the baby outdoors somewhere. We have no indication whether it was often, or ever, a difficult or painful decision. Who knows? Times have changed.

Today the law, supposedly more humane, allows unwanted infants to be killed, but usually in the womb, and only by qualified physicians. The big difference is that we keep hearing that the mother makes the choice only after considerable anguish. And choice is the word. The less we talk about what’s actually being chosen, the better. It’s just “choice.” Maybe not as easy as a choice of wallpaper, but choice all the same.

Be that as it may, the doctors don’t seem to suffer any pangs of conscience, or things could get complicated. When you hire a professional killer, you don’t want a Hamlet. A Macbeth is more like it — though even Macbeth has qualms at first. The act requires the steady hand of a helpful, seasoned specialist who has put his tormented soliloquies behind him.

Still, apologists for abortion don’t like to dwell on this. Their theme is that the only violence is committed by the fanatics who don’t want to let us kill our babies. Such people, we are told, want to “impose their views” and will stop at nothing, including bombing the clinics where the “choice” can be safely consummated with minimal disturbance of the mother’s conscience.

And after all, what is conscience? Isn’t it just an emotion — one of those unpleasant emotions we have to conquer by avoiding, for instance, certain rude words?

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Copyright © 2011 by the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation. All rights reserved. This column was published originally by Griffin Internet Syndicate on November 8, 2005.

Joe Sobran was an author and a syndicated columnist. See bio and archives of some of his columns.

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