Susan Smith, confessed murderess of her own children, tells us a great deal about what is going on in a society where too many children growing up in broken homes are exposed to violence and even murder.
What kind of mother would kill her own children? According to the press, the case of Susan Smith is horrible but “not unusual.” Obviously, such murders are statistically very unusual, and they are usually committed by women who are mentally defective and morally degraded. Nonetheless, the press continues to describe Mrs. Smith as “one of us,” a woman subject to a temptation we all face.
Because Smith laid down the red herring of a black abductor in order to mislead the police, a ruse that was exposed m a few days but which gave the press the opportunity to concentrate on the issue of racism, the Smith murders have been compared with the O.J. Simpson trial, but the really relevant parallel is Paul J. Hill, the Florida pro-life activist who shot and killed an abortionist and his bodyguard and wounded the bodyguard’s wife. Forbidden to pursue a defense of justifiable homicide, Hill has been convicted of murder and sentenced to death.
Both the Smith and Hill cases have aroused public anger, but the obvious connection has escaped the pundits’ attention. Hill dramatized through illegal violence his outrage at a greater violence: the routinization of baby-killing, instituted by doctors who violate the Hippocratic oath, in the name of “women’s right to choose.” In the name of science, we now have fetal tissue research and more recently an establishment-certified push for human embryo research. Dr. Frankenstein no longer hides in the basement—he is government-funded.
But the Smith case is even more revealing of the truth we don’t want to face, that it is women, not doctors, who are ultimately responsible for millions of abortions. This logic suggests that perhaps Hill should have adjusted his aim. Smith’s snuffing of her children’s lives should be viewed as a double retroactive abortion, though it was technically a double murder. She merely offed those kids in the wrong trimester—a distinction of degree, but not of kind. They were in the way. Raising children is hard. She felt bad. She may even have suffered premenstrual tension, which I am sure will be taken into consideration. We will hear about her feelings, and her feelings about her feelings as well.
I am waiting for the call from Gloria Steinem, from Anna Quindlen, from Ellen Goodman, and from Senator Kennedy, for justice for Susan Smith. Surely they have the courage of their convictions. Susan Smith, more than “Jane Roe,” embodies not what we want to be, but what we are: a nation where the crematoria burn brightly, where there is justice based on constitutional principles, where pregnancy and even childbirth can be adjusted to “choice.” After all, this is a democracy. We don’t live in the Middle Ages, thank goodness. We don’t believe in Joan of Arc, but we have our heroines. Somewhere—in Boston or New York or Los Angeles, but not in Union, South Carolina—there should be a statue of our anti-saint, Susan Smith.
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