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Sunday, December 9, 2012

Philosophy in the Abortion Issue, Part III

Now we’ve seen what goes into an argument, and how to possibly respond to an argument. We’ve also seen some arguments that commit logical fallacies, which is simply an error in reasoning. Now we’ll look at some arguments that are simply bad arguments, from both sides of the abortion fence.

Bad Pro-Life Arguments

If Mary were pro-choice, there would be no Christmas.

A perfect one with which to begin, considering the upcoming Christmas holiday. This argument is just bad theology, aside from being completely unconvincing if you’re talking to an atheist. God would not have entrusted his son, Jesus, with a woman who might have aborted him. God didn’t force Mary to carry Jesus. She indicated to God that she was willing to carry his child.

Additionally, like the argument that we’ve aborted Beethovens and the next cure for cancer (which I mentioned in part one of this series), the pro-choice side can just respond with “if Hitler was aborted, there would be no Holocaust.”

Your mother was pro-life.

This argument is usually spoken to a pro-choice person, indicating that their mother was pro-life because that person wasn’t aborted. But how do you know that? Pro-choice people have children, too. You might say, “your mother chose life,” which is closer to accurate but still not so. Pro-choice people also go through times in their lives where they are fully prepared to have a child so abortion doesn’t even enter into the equation. This is just a silly thing to say.

Many women regret their abortion.

This is true, of course (and shoved under the rug by pro-choice advocates). However, just because someone runs the risk of regretting an action doesn’t make the action in choice immoral. You may regret having that extra piece of cheesecake last night, but that doesn’t make the act of eating cheesecake immoral. Besides, it’s also true that many women don’t regret their abortion. So while a woman who regrets their abortion (or perhaps is suffering psychologically for it) needs the proper care and empathy, this, in itself, is not an argument against abortion.

Bad pro-choice arguments.

Don’t like abortion? Don’t have one.

This is one I hear all the time, but it’s just a ridiculous and inane argument. It can be used for anything else. Don’t like slavery? Don’t own a slave. Don’t like murder? Don’t kill anyone. Don’t like rape? Don’t rape anybody. This objection does not make an immoral act moral. Like slavery, murder, and rape, abortion is so wrong that no one ought to be doing it. You can’t justify abortions by appealing to a woman’s “choice” or privacy, any more than you can excuse child abuse by appealing to a parent’s “choice” or privacy.

If abortion is made illegal again, women will resort to back alley abortions and coat hangers.

This is simply false. First, even if it’s true, then it is a tragedy. One woman dying is too many. But why should the law be faulted for making it more dangerous to kill an innocent human being? Bank robbers run the risk of being shot and killed by police. Should we legalize bank robbery to make robbing banks safer for bank robbers? Pro-choice philosopher Mary Anne Warren affirms this: “The fact that restricting access to abortion has tragic side effects does not, in itself, show that the restrictions are unjustified, since murder is wrong regardless of the consequences of prohibiting it.” [1]

Second, even before Roe v. Wade, women simply weren’t having “back alley” abortions and using coat hangers. Doctor Mary Calderone wrote, thirteen years before the Roe v. Wade decision, that “the conference estimated that 90 per cent of all illegal abortions are done by physicians. Call them what you will, abortionists or anything else, they are still physicians, trained as such; and many of them are in good standing in their communities.” [2]

Third, as Bernard Nathanson wrote in his book, Aborting America:

“The practice of abortion was revolutionized at virtually the same moment that the laws were revolutionized, through the widespread introduction of suction curettage in 1970. (Even before this, antibiotics and other advances had already dramatically lowered the abortion death rate.)...Though is it preferable that this be done by a licensed physician, one can expect that if abortion is ever driven underground again, even non-physicians will be able to perform this procedure with remarkable safety. No woman need die if she chooses to abort during the first twelve weeks of pregnancy...As for the self-induced abortion, by thrusting a coathanger or other dangerous object into the womb, this will also be a thing of the past. Compounds known as prostaglandins can now be used to bring on contractions and expel [the human embryo/fetus], and would readily be available for do-it-yourself abortions in vaginal suppository form.” [3]

This is simply an emotional argument that has no basis in fact.

Making abortions illegal won’t stop them.

Perhaps not. But this is a lousy reason for keeping abortion legal. The same argument can apply to anything: making rape, theft, and murder illegal hasn’t stopped them. A civilized society makes the killing of innocent human beings illegal, so although murder doesn’t stop people from murdering, it is still illegal to do so. Even though abortions won’t stop women from aborting, we are not justified in keeping it legal.

These are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to bad arguments in the abortion issue (and for more bad arguments, refer back to part one of this series). If we avoid these and other bad arguments, rather than clinging to them as if they’re meaningful, then our discussions on the topic of abortion will be much more fruitful. The best pro-life arguments focus on the nature of the unborn human being. The best pro-choice arguments focus on bodily rights. Let’s try to add some depth to our discussions rather than using the same tired (and bad) arguments we hear all the time.

The preceding article also appeared on the Secular Pro-Life blog.
[1] Mary Anne Warren, “On the Moral and Legal Status of Abortion,” in Joel Feinberg, et al, The Problem of Abortion, (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1984), p. 103.
[2] Mary S. Calderone, M.D., “Illegal Abortion as a Public Health Problem,” American Journal of Public Health, July 1960.
[3] Bernard N. Nathanson, M.D., Aborting America, New York, Doubleday, 1979, p. 194.

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