May 03, 2006

Bad Arguments Against Abortion

In a previous post I critiqued various bad (though common) arguments for abortion. But to be fair, it should be admitted that there are numerous equally bad arguments against abortion that are regularly employed by pro-life advocates.

I do not relish the task of offering criticism to my allies in this cause, especially those who are on the front-lines doing thankless and heartbreaking work (I was very moved by some of what I saw as I searched for relevant graphics). I hope that what follows will be taken as constructive criticism by anyone guilty of these defenses.

"Abortion stops a beating heart"

While this is indeed true in the case of most abortions (heartbeat begins between the 5th and 6th week), it gives credence to the idea that personhood is simply an earned label that depends on the possession of some predefined attributes or level of development. And if heartbeat is the magic attribute, then we can have no grudge against things like embryonic stem cell research and the "morning after" pill.

Additionally, where heartbeat may seem relevant to some, brain activity may be the measure for another, and self-awareness may be the criteria for still others. Singling out heartbeat begs the question, "Why that attribute?" and opens the door for petty negotiations over the definition of "life."

The pro-life perspective is that life is not defined according to its appearance and performance, but, rather, is intrinsic to the new and distinct human being that comes into existence at conception.

"Abortion hurts women"

While it may be tactically effective to point out the personal, subjective drawbacks of having an abortion, the resulting emotional or physical impact on the mother is not the fundamental concern of the pro-life position. If this were not true, then we would have little to say to the woman considering a second abortion who has no (stated) ill effects from her first procedure. And it would be a downright embarrassment to our cause if some positive health benefit could somehow be linked to aborted pregnancies.

The objection to abortion relates to the effect that it has on the unborn child — it's lethal — and would stand regardless of how the mother is impacted by it (threat to her own life aside). Given the assumption of what we believe abortion represents, pandering to the concerns of the mother here is a bit like asking an armed robber not to pull a heist because it might keep him up at nights.

While it is certainly true that women tend to suffer long-term emotional damage from having had an abortion, this fact should not stand as a defense unto itself. It should be connected with the reason that this is so: that they intuitively know that they have murdered another human being — their own child, no less.

"I regret my abortion"

Planned Parenthood would prefer it otherwise, but it is important to note that many women later regret their "choice" due to bothered consciences, later education of all the options, or a transformed worldview. However, this does not constitute a principled argument against abortion. Simply because some women regret their abortions, it does not follow that all carefully considered abortions will be regretted. And what can be said against those women who stridently proclaim their pride and peace over their own abortions? While it may be the case that they are deluding themselves, psychologizing them will get us nowhere.

Again, the pro-life defense does not hinge on the effects of, or a woman's feelings toward, the procedure; it is the nature of the procedure itself that is at issue.

"Women deserve better than abortion"

And children deserve better than death! The problem is that this diverts attention away from the issue and back onto the needs of the woman, just as some of the above defenses do.

This statement seems to imply that there are other options besides abortion (which is certainly true), and that abortion is simply a second-rate choice that is unworthy of the woman. But if it indeed remains a valid choice, then who is to say that it is the wrong choice for any given woman? We may just as well claim that Baskin Robbins customers deserve better than vanilla ice cream.

We don't need to sell adoption or keeping the child as better choices; we need to make abortion an unthinkable choice.

"If Mary was pro-choice there would be no Christmas"

While this is striving to express the truth that the fetus is ontologically the same being as the adult it will become, framing the argument like this has problems on so many levels I don't know where to begin. Here are a few of its shortcomings:
  • It begs for a response like, "If Hitler were aborted there would be no Holocaust."
  • You cannot assume that your audience is Christian and would therefore care about Christmas, at least not as it is celebrated by Christians.
  • If our concern is merely for the potential good that can come of having any particular child, then one might question the morality of limiting the size of your own family. If you've stopped at two kids, just think what the 3rd might have become!
  • It may have been a bad thing to have lost Jesus (or force a do-over on God), but the objection to abortion does not depend on the realized potential of the child being aborted. Abortion would still have been wrong even if the child grows up to be an unremarkable person.
  • This is just bad theology. Do you suppose God would have picked a "pro-choice" vessel, much less allow her to ignore what the angel had told her she was carrying and run off to the nearest pagan herbalist for an abortifacient?

On a positive note

But it's not all bad news for pro-life defenders. I did happen to run across a few relevant and well packaged arguments against abortion, aside from the more academic defenses.

A few suggestions

While banners and picket signs do not offer much real estate for carefully reasoned arguments, I think there is room enough for improvement. Here are some slogans that occur to me, which more closely reflect the heart of the pro-life position.
  • A "person" is not a label
  • Life begins at conception, not consensus
  • Why just the unborn? Why not "unwanted" toddlers too?
  • It's not an appendix; it's a child
  • Embryo, infant, toddler, teen: Just stages in the life of a being
  • "Life" is not assigned when the mother's inclined
  • A human doesn't become "me" by stage and degree
  • I'm pro-choice too, as long as murder isn't one of 'em
  • "Person" at birth? Just another way to say, "Out of sight, out of mind"
  • You're just a lump of tissue too
  • If personhood depends on mental capacity, then I should have more rights than you.
  • If persons are just what we agree on, then we vote "conception"
  • You say "birth," he says "self-awareness," she says "3rd trimester": so when does the "person" fairy come anyway?



At 5/03/2006 10:59 PM, Blogger SUZANNE said...

I have a slogan too: equality begins at conception.

I see what you're saying, but I think there are really two debates here: whether abortion is bad, and whether fetal rights are obligatory. I think pro-lifers should become more and more fetal rights advocates and SAY SO.

At 5/03/2006 11:15 PM, Blogger ephphatha said...

I've heard a version of the "If Mary were pro-choice" argument even from people who ought to know better. I don't remember who it was, but I think it was either Frank Beckwith or Scott Klusendorf. Of course I could be wrong. They listed some famous people (I think Winston Churhill was one of them).

At 5/04/2006 10:34 AM, Blogger Paul said...

Suzanne, I'm not sure I follow your distinction. If fetal rights are obligatory, then abortion is ipso facto "bad."

Sam, I may have heard the same thing you did (our consumption on this topic probably has much overlap). I used this particular instance of the idea because 1) I found a graphic for it and 2) It suffers from the largest number of problems.

At 5/04/2006 8:11 PM, Blogger Psiomniac said...

Hello all,
Now I have responded to some of the points raised on the homosexuality thread I feel refreshed and ready for the abortion debate.
By the way, I am one of those UK interlopers so I can say that my theory is that our appearance is due to the interconnectedness on the web rather than anything big happening here socially. I have been debating some of these issues on the green room messageboard. As a result of related web searches I happened on Sam who seemed to me to be a far more formidable disputant with respect to aplogetics than is common over here. Also I am impressed by your level of philosophical literacy on these blogs. You might be able to enlighten me as to whether this is typical of the American population. The media suggests not.
I hope nobody feels I am intruding.

I have to admit, I liked the slogans. I think that if you believe that life is a gift from God, that individual lives are a result of God's will (for example you might believe in a mechanism such as ensoulment, but not necessarily) then since, from the moment of conception, there is a unique and distinct individual life with a teleology that, unimpeded, will result in an old age pension, the moral position that abortion is wrong is bullet proof. It strikes me, though, that all the rhetoric and clever cartoons and slogans are preaching to the converted in the sense that they assume a shared frame of reference. Perhaps it can be argued that being a Christian necessarily entails subscribing to the above and so you want to persuade 'pro choice' Christians. For me, the question is more utiliatrian. What if I had been aborted? Then I wouldn't be typing this or thinking, or feeling and I never would have done. If that had decreased the suffering of those alive at the time, then since I would never have known I wouldn't begrudge them. I think the real tragedy, is that when it comes to abortion, people do not really do a cost benefit analysis that makes sense in their own terms. I would resist abortion as an option unless I felt that suffering would be massively increased otherwise, in a way that would offset the wrongness of ending of a life, albeit at a very ealy stage. I see that there is a logical continuum between abortion and infanticide. I regard both as wrong. I think there is a practical difference in the effect that actions have on those that commit them though. These effects are influenced by perceptions, and, like it or not, babies are perceived as different to embryos. All the arguments over personhood ignore this fact in my view. Of course, from my philosophical standpoint, the attributes of personhood that give life moral value lie on a continuum. But it is right to point out that if this were the only determinant, then those with severe mental impairment might be vulnerable to euthanasia. The thing is, it isnt the only determinant from my perspective because there is a social dimension. I am not in favour of abortion. I can see that it might represent the lesser of evils however,in a very much narrower set of circumstances than it is currently practised.

At 5/05/2006 3:59 AM, Anonymous CB said...


You hint at an issue that I observe frequently in discussions regarding abortion, which is the possible alleviation of suffering that either the unborn person or his/her parents (among others, I suppose) might endure. I find this point of view somewhat irrelevant to the pertinent question (i.e. when does life begin). If we haven't answered satisfactorily the question of when a life begins, then the issue of possible suffering can lead to vastly different conclusions. For example, if life does begin at conception, abortion prioritizes pre-existing life over new life (i.e., the possibility of the 'suffering' or inconvenience of the parents-to-be outweighs the potential suffering of the child to be aborted). Many might answer this charge with an argument in favor of abortion on the basis that the unborn at certain ages do not feel pain. This, of course, should not be a qualifier given that one could easily conceive of a mature adult not feeling pain, yet killing him or her would certainly not be defensible on that basis.

When you say that abortion may be the lesser of evils, you seem to imply that abortion may be the best choice when facing the possibility of the suffering of others given certain circumstances. What particular circumstances did you have in mind? I think one major problem is that if we were to actually do the right thing when it comes to abortion, we as a society would have to follow up by supporting that life if in fact it was born into situations of need or suffering. However, the potential quality of life, which is certainly alterable by those of us who have been born, is not a legitimate qualifier for abortion.

At 5/05/2006 1:31 PM, Blogger Psiomniac said...

I would disagree here. It is only irrelevant to the pertinent question if you believe in the absolute sanctity of life, then it follows logically that if you can establish that life begins at conception then abortion is wrong. But I agree that human life begins at conception. That is what the continuum of personhood argument is all about. I accept that according to your world view a human life is a sacred gift from god and therefore abortion is simply wrong in those terms. I do not believe that. So I think that there are attributes that people have which give their lives value, such as having the capacity for consciousness. These things we aquire gradually as we develop.

At 11/05/2015 1:51 AM, Blogger Allen Marco said...

I came to know many facts on abortion


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