The Hangman Comes for Pro-Lifers, Like Kevin Williamson

By John Zmirak Published on April 6, 2018

Conservatives in media are outraged. So is the shrinking sect of Americans that still hopes for a real conversation between right and left in the U.S. (Instead of the kind of verbal civil war that historically gives way to real ones, as in Fort Sumter and burning churches in Catalonia.) The Atlantic showed staggering corporate cowardice and caved to leftist intolerance this week. In an effort to broaden its range of opinions, it had hired columnist Kevin Williamson away from National Review. Then it fired him, after his first article.

Hiring Williamson wasn’t quite as big an outreach as it appears: Williamson is a die-hard NeverTrumper. Just like every centrist or conservative at The New York Times. It seems a bridge too far for nearly any elite publication to hire a single commentator who supports the U.S. president, and agrees with the half of the country who voted him in.

But still, Williamson is a genuine conservative. Pro-life, pro gun rights, sane on immigration. And he writes quite well, if sometimes too acerbically. (And who am I to throw stones?) So his presence at The Atlantic would have benefited its readers. You know, by making them think.

Ideas Make Us Feel Unsafe

But a campaign among female employees at The Atlantic got the magazine’s editor to fire Williamson after his first column appeared. The firing cited things he wrote before being hired. In other words, it punished him for prior behavior, which was fully public.

The language of the other employees’ complaints was stuffed like a vegan soy goose with the clichés of fake harassment claims, and campus “safe zones.” These pro-choice women don’t feel safe in a working environment where their colleagues disagree with them on abortion.

Some Thoughts Are Crimes

The English department at LSU, where I got my Ph.D., saw a formal complaint by a feminist against a conservative colleague. Its basis was that his criticisms of feminist theory in themselves constituted harassment. So his ideas were quite literally thought crimes. That action failed. But the lynch mob frenzy aimed at him eventually drove the professor to quit academia altogether. He joined an ashram in India. He’s better off, I’m sure.

I was happy, a couple years later, to help a fellow graduate student turn the tables on the department. She’d been giving a failing grade in a required class by a Marxist feminist male professor. In fact, he gave her final paper not an F but a ZERO, effectively flunking her out of her Ph.D. program. (She would also have lost her teaching job at another school.) Her crime? Citing Thomas Aquinas as a source of literary criticism. I helped her craft a complaint that his incessant anti-Christian remarks in class created a “hostile learning environment.” The university’s lawyer panicked at the use of sexual harassment language. The school reversed the outrageous, unjust grade. I hope it also scared those tenured tyrants into grading a little more fairly. I know that when I walked down the halls of the department after that, faculty turned a whiter shade of pale.

Don’t expect that being hostile to Trump will win you fair treatment from leftists.

Give Up Expecting Fairness or Intellectual Honesty

One of the lessons of the Williamson affair: Don’t expect that being hostile to Trump will win you fair treatment from leftists. They don’t really care about his crudeness. Or his Tweeting. Or his past sordid personal life. When Bill Clinton served up all that and more, they scarfed it down like greasy barbecue. Then licked their fingers. What the left hates about Trump is what he shares with conservatives. Period. So insofar as you really are a conservative, they hate you too. And nothing you say or do will mitigate that one iota. If they think you are harmless or ineffectual, like Jeb Bush or John Kasich, they might pretend to “respect” you, insofar as that helps discredit populists who might actually win. That’s it.

With all of that said, it’s worth taking a quick, critical look at the comment which served as the pretext for The Atlantic firing Williamson. It had to do with abortion. What Williamson said was intemperate, incorrect, and unwise. But it wasn’t outside any sane boundaries of political discussion. In fact, he addressed a crucial question for efforts to protect unborn children. If we give legal rights to children in the womb, what do we do to those who violate them?

America’s left has become its own religion, and abortion is its sacrament. If you don’t think that pro-life doctors should have to perform them on 9-month babies for sex selection or eugenics on Easter Sunday in Catholic hospitals, you’re a dangerous extremist.

Should Women Be Punished?

All pro-lifers agree that those who perform abortions or deal abortion drugs after we ban them should face prison time. You know, the way we’d now punish people who tried to own slaves — though that was once legal too. No, we wouldn’t imprison those who’d done it while it was legal, any more than we punished former slave owners after the 13th Amendment passed.

But what about the women? Williamson took a stand that seems logical on the face of it, from which most pro-lifers shy away for mostly political reasons. He said that they should be punished. In fact (and here’s where he crossed a rhetorical line into No Man’s Land) he quipped about hanging them (though he did signal discomfort toward execution in general.) That appalled people. It appalls me, though I’d have no problem in executing doctors who repeatedly offered abortions after they’re outlawed. 

Why? What’s the Difference?

But virtually all pro-lifers would treat mothers differently. And it’s worth explaining why. In 2014, Jason Jones and I accepted the challenge of Nation writer Katha Pollitt. She posed a series of tough questions for prolifers, assuming no one could answer them. We did. Here are two of her questions, and the answers we offered.

  • “You believe the fertilized egg is a person…. But abortion is not the only threat to this tiny being’s life. What about failure to implant, miscarriage and, of course, in vitro fertilization and stem cell research?”

As persons, unborn children deserve the same protection of laws against negligent or intentional homicide as other children — no more and no less. Privacy concerns were trotted out against laws punishing child abuse in the past. They were no more persuasive then than they are now. Since miscarriages are so much more common than spontaneous infant deaths, it would make little sense to subject them to the same legal scrutiny.

  • If zygotes are people, abortion is infanticide, a very serious crime. … Why should women who hire a fetal hit man get a pass?

For the same reasons that a doctor who attempted to assist with suicide ought to be imprisoned — instead of his unfortunate patient. Destroying one’s child is so self-destructive and unnatural that it ought to be treated more like a suicide than a murder attempt. Attempts to portray abortion as a minor surgical procedure or a lifestyle accessory have foundered on the agony of women who know the truth, from bitter experience. We wish to protect women and their children from the ultimate medical malpractice.

To unpack that a little: Unborn children deserve full legal protection. Doctors or other contractors who violate that deserve stern prosecution. Laws that protect unborn children, when we pass them, should provide for much milder penalties for mothers. Those should not include imprisonment or fines, but ought to entail mandatory counseling by firmly pro-life doctors and social workers.

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How We Treat “Failed” Suicides

For comparison, see what we impose on those who attempted suicide and seem like an ongoing threat to themselves. The goal? First, to help women whose circumstances drove them to violate the moral and civil law, destroying life. Second, to make it clear that our society does not condone the destruction of unborn children.

We do recognize the intimacy of the mother-child relationship, and the special moral circumstances we face when two human beings share one body, as only happens during pregnancy.

But we do recognize the intimacy of the mother-child relationship, and the special moral circumstances we face when two human beings share one body, as only happens during pregnancy. That’s why we don’t treat abortion as simple murder. Indeed, no state in the union at any point in our history treated it that way. Even The Washington Post admits that in the 19th century, when everyone knew full well that abortion is murder, almost no women were punished for having one. That wasn’t moral laxity. It was common sense and compassion. It might have served Kevin Williamson better to have reflected that in his comments on the subject.

We Are All “Human Weeds” Now

Nah. On second thought, it wouldn’t have made the slightest difference. The Atlantic would have found some other pretext for canning him. America’s left has become its own religion, and abortion is its sacrament. If you don’t think that pro-life doctors should have to perform them on 9-month babies for sex selection or eugenics on Easter Sunday in Catholic hospitals, you’re a dangerous extremist.

In fact, you’re not much more human than those helpless unwanted babies, or Down Syndrome kids, or patients with terminal illnesses. You’re one of those “human weeds” whom Margaret Sanger wanted to sterilize. You’re a “deplorable,” and if it’s okay for elites to fantasize about beheading or bombing your president, can you be far behind?

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