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Saying it out loud

Elites finally admit abortion is murder—and they do not care

Bill Maher attends the Vanity Fair Oscar Party in Beverly Hills, Calif., on March 27, 2022. Associated Press/Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision

Saying it out loud
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Abortion is murder, and Bill Maher is OK with that. The comedian told us in so many words during a recent episode of Real Time. It’s not the first time he’s come out with something in this vein, but it’s becoming the most widely viewed. As he discusses the current debate over Arizona’s abortion law with two British journalists, one of them says she finds it “strange” that abortion has become a major election issue, when there are so many more pressing things for Americans to focus on. “Not if you believe it’s murder,” Maher says.

Maher is unimpressed with Donald Trump’s latest political tap-dance around the controversy, trying to take credit for the reversal of Roe vs. Wade while simultaneously making centrish noises. Trump wants to be seen as pro-life, but not too pro-life. TIME magazine has called the move “as insincere as it is smart.” Granted, there’s room for disagreement even among true pro-lifers around federal bans—Maher goes after a straw man when he jokes that leaving abortion to the states means “saying abortion is okay in some states.” (Murder in general is handled state by state, after all.) But he correctly notes the illogic of drawing a line at some arbitrarily chosen stage of gestation, like 15 weeks.

When it comes down to it, it’s the “absolutist” position (i.e., the truly pro-life position) that gets Maher’s “respect.” Maher and the absolutist understand each other, he thinks, because both of them understand exactly what abortion is. “They think it’s murder. And … it kind of is.” The difference between them, as he succinctly follows up, is that “I’m just OK with that.” There are 8 billion people in the world, after all. “We won’t miss you.”

It’s fascinating to watch the studio reactions to this shocking admission: brief, stunned silence, followed by nervous laughter. Piers Morgan asks if this declaration isn’t “quite harsh.” Well, Maher asks, isn’t Morgan pro-choice? Morgan says yes. “Then that’s your position too.”

In the full episode (available on Max) Morgan goes on to say that, like Maher, he also respects the “absolutists,” but he doesn’t respect Trump, who clearly has no core convictions of his own. Though, like TIME, Morgan judges Trump’s hedge to be a relatively savvy calculation. Trump has a large base with nowhere else to go. He’s assuming that they will be locked in no matter what, and to a great extent, he may be correct. At the same time, voters in the mushy middle who aren’t passionately pro-abortion or pro-life might see him as a less “extreme” candidate than Biden. Or so his advisors seem to have told him. Whether this gamble will pay off remains to be seen.

There’s no need for a prolonged missiological strategy session on How to Reach Bill Maher.

Meanwhile, Maher’s reaction is instructive for conservative Christians. He represents a category of people who can go neglected in earnest discussions around cultural engagement, rhetoric, and so forth. Most of the time, such debates focus on framing the Christian message so as to “make good men wish it were true,” to quote Pascal. As fruitful as that exercise can be, it’s worth remembering another, equally important goal for our rhetoric: to make bad men see clearly who the truth-tellers are.

There’s no need for a prolonged missiological strategy session on How to Reach Bill Maher. Nobody needs to waste any time assuring him that they’re Not Like Those Christians, not like the silly fundamentalists he spent his time mocking in Religulous. If you tried, he would just mock you too. In fact, he might mock you even more savagely.

Another “bad man” in this vein is the British journalist Matthew Parris, who’s always been as callous on the issue of euthanasia as Maher is on abortion. Parris recently wrote a new article (perversely timed to coincide with Easter) in which he glibly says outright that people in expensively declining health should be encouraged to exit the stage. British people of faith warn that relaxed euthanasia law could encourage the vulnerable to feel like a burden. Well, Parris says, so they are, and we shouldn’t be squeamish about saying so. After all, there are 8 billion people in the world. It’s getting crowded. Nobody will miss them. Bill Maher tells us so.

Like Maher, Parris saves time for everyone. Along the way, we can hope such voices will do a service for those who linger in that mushy middle space, attempting to rationalize away unspeakable horrors with euphemisms, excuses, and bogus bioethics. When it comes to abortion in America, we’d like to think everyone would clearly grasp the stakes, but the sad reality is that many of our fellow citizens remain profoundly ambivalent. 

Some issues are complicated. Others are not. Sometimes, it takes a bad man to say it out loud.

Bethel McGrew

Bethel McGrew is a math Ph.D. and widely published freelance writer. Her work has appeared in First Things, National Review, The Spectator, and many other national and international outlets. Her Substack, Further Up, is one of the top paid newsletters in “Faith & Spirituality” on the platform. She has also contributed to two essay anthologies on Jordan Peterson. When not writing social criticism, she enjoys writing about literature, film, music, and history.


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