A Pro-Choice Bill of Goods (Part 2)

How Roe v. Wade Bamboozled an Entire Nation

In our previous post in this series, we saw that abortion law does not actually protect a woman’s privacy and self-determination, and indeed it cannot because matters relating to family and personhood are inescapably public. The pretense of neutrality under the guise of the liberty-privacy axis merely created space for the state to impose one position on all of us. Significantly, in the years since Roe vs Wade, both federal and state governments have made it abundantly clear that only women who decide their unborn children are not persons will have their private decisions respected.

Let’s look at some specific examples of this double-standard at work.

The Peterson Murders

If a pregnant woman is assaulted and her baby dies, abortion advocates want the law to recognize only one victim: the mother. They do not want the homicide of the fetus treated as a murder even if the mother chose to consider her unborn child as a valuable human life. This was seen in the events following the brutal murder of Laci Peterson, an American woman murdered by her husband Scott in 2002.

At the time of her murder, Laci was eight months pregnant with a baby boy she had named Conner. Since Conner perished with Laci, Scott was convicted of two murders. Yet Mavra Stark, a strong supporter of abortion and president of the National Organization for Women in New Jersey, objected to the double-murder conviction, saying, “There’s something about this that bothers me a little bit. If it was unborn, then I can’t see charging him with a murder. . . . It sets a kind of precedent.” Other abortion supporters also opposed the idea that Scott had murdered two victims, arguing that Conner could not properly be considered a victim since he had not been born prior to his homicide.

But if the principle of “a woman’s right to her own body” and “a woman’s right to choose” really carries the weight that abortion supporters claim these principles carry, then the difference between a fetal homicide classified as murder and a fetal homicide not classified as murder, must depend on only one thing: the orientation of the mother towards the child. Nevertheless, abortion advocates are only willing to follow these when the woman wishes to abort her pregnancy. In cases like Laci Peterson’s, when the woman has implicitly conferred personhood on her child (for example, by naming the baby and intending to deliver), they assert that the orientation of the mother is insufficient grounds for considering the fetal homicide to be murder.

To be sure, Scott was eventually convicted for second-degree murder because of Conner’s death, in addition to first-degree murder because of his wife’s death. Yet this was in spite of the pro-choice machine, not because of it.

Inconsistencies like these prove that abortion defenders do not really believe their own rhetoric about a woman’s right to choose. Let’s look at yet another example.

The Case of Ariel Castro

Between 2002 and 2004, Ariel Castro kidnapped three women and held them captive for ten years in a private prison and torture chamber he operated out of his house in Cleveland, Ohio. After Castro was brought to justice in May 2013, 977 charges were brought against him. Among the charges were allegations that he had impregnated one of the women, Michelle Knight, multiple times and then forced her to miscarry through beatings and starvation.

No one disputed that Castro was a cold-blooded villain; the question was whether he was a kidnapper, rapist, and murderer, or just a kidnapper and rapist. The former would have resulted in the death penalty; the latter, life imprisonment.

As soon as the court raised the possibility that Castro might be guilty of murder because of the forced miscarriages, the antennae of feminists and abortion supporters shot up. This was not because they had a soft spot for Castro and wanted to spare him the death penalty; rather, it was because Castro could only be considered a murderer if Knight’s unborn children were considered persons—something pro-choice feminists could not countenance. For example, in a headline of an article for The Daily Beast (subsequently removed from their site), Michelle Goldberg announced that “Castro Captive’s Miscarriages Aren’t Murder.” Goldberg’s perspective was echoed by Emily Bazelon, who published an article in Slate arguing that Castro was not a murderer and should therefore be spared the death penalty:

“The Supreme Court has so far ruled out the death penalty for crimes other than murder. If you think that’s the right line to draw—that the state should not take the life of someone who has not killed—then Castro shouldn’t be executed. I have to say I’m having some trouble typing those words. But in this case, I think that’s the right call.”

The problem with this perspective is that Castro was not “someone who has not killed.” He did kill a number of victims. But since those victims were unborn, these commentators could calmly announce that Castro was no killer.

A Pro-Choice Bill of Goods

On one level, it should come as no surprise to find pro-choice pundits making statements such as those quoted above. Obviously, defenders of abortion cannot affirm the personhood of unborn children or else the logic of abortion-rights immediately collapses. What is intriguing, however, is that these cases show that defenders of abortion are willing to allow the principle “a fetus is not a person,” to take precedent over, and even to nullify, the principle of “a woman’s right to choose,” especially in cases where the mother has chosen to consider the baby she is carrying to be a human being. 

But consider what this means. It means that when these same abortion defenders claim that all questions about the personhood of the unborn should be left up to the mother, this is mere posturing. The idea that Roe v. Wade ushered us into an era of increased autonomy for women was merely a “bill of goods,” in the true sense of this figure of speech. 

The phrase “to sell someone a bill of goods,” refers to selling someone a list of goods, an itemized receipt, instead of the actual products the person believes he is paying for. This is an apt metaphor for what happened with Roe, for under the pretense of giving more liberty and privacy to women, this verdict actually introduced a new metaphysics of personhood in which humanity is withheld from the unborn.

Is there a way out of this maze of confusion and inconsistency? I think so, and in the third and final post in this series we will consider a fruitful way forward.

is the author of Gratitude in Life's Trenches: How to Experience the Good Life Even When Everything Is Going Wrong (Ancient Faith 2020) and writes for a variety of publications. He has a Master's in history from King’s College, London, and is currently working on a Master’s in Library Science through the University of Oklahoma. He is editorial assistant for the Fellowship of St. James and a frequent contributor to Salvo and Touchstone magazines. He operates a blog at www.robinmarkphillips.com.

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