I was compelled to read this first for the unbelievably crass title and then the condescending sophistry which followed it. Johnston's argument is that Shakespeare was somehow anti-abortion, or that we can take away an anti-abortion message from his plays, because of the clear joie de vivre set forth in many of his plays. My first issue is that, if the Catholic anti-abortion activists want a famous literary mouthpiece, Shakespeare is not a good choice. There has been some fringe speculation that he was a closet Catholic, based on the appearance of ghosts and the supernatural (elements rejected by sixteenth-century Protestantism) in plays such as "Hamlet," but this is more wishful thinking than solid scholarship; we might as well say he was a secret devotee of the Olympic pantheon because of his numerous explicit references to it in A Midsummer Nights' Dream, The Tempest, and Troilus and Cressida.
We have no way to know what he practiced privately, but we do know that Shakespeare, like Johnston, was a man in a man's world. Queen Elizabeth herself notwithstanding, women of sixteenth-century Europe were caught up in a desperate fight for survival and had no legal protection. It is little wonder that so many of them, like Isabella, chose to take the veil rather than "embrace life" and face a process of child conception and birth which would leave many of them dead, from infection and blood loss, and also frequently resulted in the death of the infant. Abortions were accepted as a necessity, and though they were seldom spoken of, they carried little true stigma; women understood one another's struggles and the fact that sometimes, one simply could not carry a child to term; that economic conditions would guarantee the child a miserable life and early death. Abortion-- or even exposure-- was a sad, disturbing, but necessary process to prevent undue suffering. Mothers are conspicuously absent in Shakespeare's work, and this may have been more due to the facts of his world than to any thematic decision. And one hopes that Johnston's students do not recognize so closely the culture of Romeo and Juliet's Verona, with its young women bought and sold and raped with impunity.
Finally, there is Johnston's choice to summon the specter of Lady Macbeth, "a mother who would pluck the sucking baby from her breast and smash its brains out against the wall if her ambition required it." He is so pleased with this analogy to the ladder-climbing, baby-killing, ambitious young women who populate abortion clinics that he repeats it two pages later: "the image of Lady Macbeth and the infant she would tear from her breast and kill for her own self-fulfillment." And, of course, there is the later breakdown which leaves Lady Macbeth frantically scrubbing at her hands, trying to remove the stain of guilt.
This is indeed a popular narrative-- the woman who denies her feminine duty to bear a child and sacrifice her life to it, only to be consumed by guilt-- but it is not accurate in any way. Firstly, abortion is not infanticide; the acts are qualitatively different, and the moral differences are for individuals to sort out. I know from my work with pro-abortion activists that their opposition is overwhelmingly male, and also that most women who get abortions today are like their sisters of yesteryear: victims of rape, of incest, of poor education and limited class mobility, women for whom a child would be a near-impossible burden, who know they cannot give the fetus in their womb a good or happy life. And the prevention of suffering is a great good in itself.