“It’s life, Jim, but not as we know it”

40 years after Rowe v. Wade, the abortion debate has grown no less bitter, pitting woman’s rights against the rights of the foetus. A journalist this week in the popular internet journal Salon made a statement which would make even hardened pro-choicers very uncomfortable. Writer Mary Elizabeth Williams has stridently argued that foetuses are indeed “human life”, but that nevertheless a woman’s rights “trump the rights of the non-autonomous entity inside of her. Always.”

Williams begins her article by correcting the pro-choice idea that embryos are ‘non-living’: “When we try to act like a pregnancy doesn’t involve human life, we wind up drawing stupid semantic lines in the sand: first trimester abortion vs. second trimester vs. late term, dancing around the issue trying to decide if there’s a single magic moment when a foetus becomes a person.”

Williams tersely states, “I know that throughout my own pregnancies, I never wavered for a moment in the belief that I was carrying a human life inside of me. I believe that’s what a foetus is: a human life.”

Nevertheless, Williams emphatically claims that a woman’s rights always outweigh the rights of an unborn human: “a foetus can be a human life without having the same rights as the woman in whose body it resides. She’s the boss. Her life and what is right for her circumstances and her health should automatically trump the rights of the non-autonomous entity inside of her. Always.”

The article has caused much controversy in US, with pro-life advocates seizing on Williams comments about the status of foetuses. Bioethics writer Wesley Smith sees Williams’ article as a confirmation that “legalization [of abortion] has profoundly undermined society’s commitment to the value of human life.” 

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