Take a quick look at it, and what you will see will either be "well, duh" or just fucking shocking. It's a columnist saying that she knows, and does not care, that a fetus is a human being. She's openly saying that a fetus, humanity and all, is an unequal life. If it's shocking to you, then ironically, I think you are in the same position as this Mary Elizabeth Williams columnist who wrote the thing.
Google Williams, and what you will quickly find is that she is a cancer survivor and minor socialite who somehow landed a sweet writing gig despite being a moron. Her articles range from Charlie Sheen outrage (while giving him more press attention) to articles about school bullying in which she takes positions that no one reading Salon.com could possibly disagree with. The term "milquetoast" basically covers it; she wastes electrons preaching to a very simple-minded choir.
I get the impression immediately that she thinks she's saying something radical here. And she is; other abortion supporters have rarely used such candor. But her bravery shows a tremendous level of political naivete. Most everyone in the modern world not totally beholden to religious ideas - which is most everyone in a secular society with a scientific world view - knows perfectly well that the precise instant of when a fetus becomes a human being is beside the point. It has to be deeply subjective, depending on what belief you need to have to justify your behavior and your empowerment; no one can ask the fetus. The last person to be this honest about abortion was George Carlin, who also burned the concept of the sanctity of life in the process and never pretended to believing in notions like "innocence". As a liberal, Williams is handcuffed to innocence in order to make the appropriate pleas for innocent victim groups. What the fuck was she thinking?
Does she even know how this works?! The arguments are part of the rhetorical arms race of political power, and evidently, Williams doesn't get that. She might be learning how things actually work, right now.
The way the abortion argument, like most other arguments, actually operates is like an evolved, well-trodden battlefield where advancements in combat technology have gone through waves of advancement and stagnation, mutually pushing each other at times into higher planes of development depending on the value of the territory that's being threatened. On this battlefield, the terrain is everything; political ideas each have their own characteristics that demand their own military solutions. Some weapons in the Idea Wars are tried and true, working in most places, which is where shit like freedom and equality comes from. But the basic point is, of course, victory.
Abortion is old enough to have been encapsulated in its own rhetorical systems on both sides designed to neutralize the threat of opposing forces, hollowed ground surrounded by interested martial parties, where the doctrine of the other side is well known. There is air and land combat, each representing a plane of thought on the issue. First things first, the air war has to play out so that we can figure out who owns the airspace and who therefore can control the high ground of the battlefield, stopping the ground forces in their tracks. So the MiG aircraft of the political right, featuring the fetus' right to live as a potent weapon, opens fire on the left's Dassault jets with their varied and powerful weapons, most of them developed in the sixties: the woman's right to privacy, the equality of women point, etcetera.
You can hear the orders being shouted: "Ah, shit, here comes the left with their fetuses can't feel pain until the second trimester thing again. Obfuscate with freedom of religion! Reinforce at the flank!"
If the air war isn't definitively won, then the combat on the ground comes into its own. This is where people make decisions on the emotional, intuitive level. Here, the Leopard tanks of the left load their opening salvos with pictures of women with duct tape on their mouths and references to male dominance and patriarchy, while the right fuels up the rockets with pictures of cute babies, with the really BIG rockets showing the cute babies being cut to pieces during a D&E. The jet jockeys loathe the ground-pounders for their crude, ungentlemanly tactics, but at any given time, they could be shot down and have to use those tactics themselves. No mercy, motherfuckers!!!
I guess this battlefield is filled to overflowing with true believers. No one ever dies on this field, they just have to engage and retreat in accordance with how many people they can get on their side. But both sides also keep chasing the dragon of actually defeating an enemy, shutting them down completely by making some irrefutable point, which is absurd. The same shit happens with gun rights, gay rights, right to work, right to live, right to die, right to masturbate in a crowded movie theater, everyone trying to pull some more power out of the conflict for the side they identify with. And the dumb ones think they're heroes. We know this.
Which is what makes Williams' outburst a surprise. One would think that someone who can land a job writing in a politically partisan publication, and hold it for years, would understand the basics of the tactics at play. The "personhood" element of the abortion debate is tremendously important; the pro-abortion side has used this weapon, in not a person form, to counter the fetus' right to live weapon for decades, and it has worked as a philosophical CYA against the obvious charge of murder. Short-circuiting it is retarded, like sabotaging your own defenses, for no reason.
The Shell Game
Which makes me wonder about a lot of people who fill the web and the airwaves "illuminating" on topics like this; how many of these people really believe their own bullshit? Denial is powerful; self-righteousness even more so. But in Williams' case, there's an element where she broke her own fourth wall, cracked the massive shell of built-up personal excuses, self-guided bullshit all, that allows most people to live their lives justifying who they are in a sympathetic, narrative fashion. Or, if you take the argument on its face, she really never had one and was in touch with her own inner Nietzsche to such a degree that she never needed one. I wonder the same thing about economists who say that people make unequal incomes despite their equality because they have different preferences for the kind of work they do, and it has no effect on their status as a valued person in the eyes of others. Give me a fucking break; the handful of people who genuinely don't care about money are massively outnumbered by people who want more but lack the importance - the power - to have it. It's a competition, a power game, and some people lose. That's fine to me, inevitable, but I don't buy the egalitarian bullshit to begin with. Economists often do, and most people have a need to feel righteous, which requires some ideological consistency. I have no idea how they do it.
Williams' outburst of honesty will either be defended as an emotional break of some kind, or it won't be defended at all because, like I said, Williams is such an intellectual lightweight that no one is going to give a sparkling shit about her opinion anyway. The only ones picking it up are right-wing bloggers and columnists; the left is well-advised to pretend it never happened, and it will disappear from the radar screens shortly enough. But I like the honesty of it, that she just went right ahead and basically said that empowering women is more important than the welfare of children, old news to those who recognized feminism's effect on the institutions of marriage and family. But on the left, they need to maintain that hypothetical distance between their own actions and the consequences for others, especially "innocent" others, in order to keep up appearances and keep it from being too obviously about power. I'd imagine that Williams has gotten a few emails from leftists saying, "hey, dumbass, shut the fuck up."