Pro-life Arguments That Need to Die.

Not all arguments against abortion are created equal. Some arguments leave you in awe of their remarkable forcefulness, cogency, and self-evident truth. Others just make you cringe when you come across them. Below, in no particular order, I’ve cataloged a few that I could do with never seeing again.

 You had a choice… when you had sex.

This is my all-time least favorite. It fails on quite a number of levels. Off the top of my head…

  1. It implies that abortion is permissible if the pregnancy resulted from rape.
  2. Often, the “choice” made to have sex involves the usage one or more methods of contraception. Here, the woman has already made a choice not to have a baby. She only resorts to abortion because her original “choice” was frustrated by contraceptive failure.
  3. Under the logic of the slogan, it would not be wrong to make treatment for venereal diseases illegal, because the woman already had a “choice.”
  4. It’s a needless distraction from the central issue of life. Even if all pregnancies occurred spontaneously, without any maternal choice, abortion would still be wrong.
  5. It has the effect of making pregnancy seem like a ‘punishment,’ for women who do not make the “choice” to have sex wisely.
  6.  It ignores that abortion is often chosen for reasons that could not have possibly have been anticipated at the time of conception (e.g. a diagnosis of Down syndrome).

Look at this “hypothetical” scenario, and decide if the mother should have an abortion… you would have killed Beethoven/Obama/[whoever]!

This rhetorical trick does make a good point – that there are undoubtedly great men and women that the world has never known due to abortion – but ultimately raises too many questions to be useful. What if Hitler/Bin Laden/[whoever] had been aborted? What about the vast number of aborted fetuses who would have spent their lives trapped in the poverty they were born into? What about the great men and women who never existed because their would-be parents decided not to have sex on the night when they would have been conceived?

 Margaret Sanger was a huge racist, and eugenics fanatic.

Yeah, she was. So were a lot of people who lived during the same era. Eugenics and virulent racism were pretty trendy back then. But that doesn’t really have much to do with Planned Parenthood as it exists today. This is like pointing out that George Washington owned slaves, and using that to discredit present day United States of America.

Abortion stops a beating heart/the fetus can feel pain/does this picture look like a ‘blob of tissue’ to you?

If the specific context of these arguments is the morality of late-term abortion, they’re excellent arguments. More often though, they’re used outside of that specific context, and directed toward abortion in general.  The vast majority of abortions are done early in the pregnancy, many prior to heartbeat, prior to pain capacity, and prior to a human-like appearance. Someone from the other side can easily say to any of these arguments “yes, and that’s why we need to make it quicker and easier to get abortions very early on in the pregnancy.”

Abortion increases the risk of breast cancer/abortion has awful psychological effects on the mother

These arguments usually lead down rabbit trails about the accuracy and reliability of the abortion-cancer and abortion-depression claims. And even if the claims are accepted at face value, one can still easily be pro-choice. After all, tobacco and alcohol have terrible medical effects, but even conservatives generally agree that use of those substances is ultimately a personal choice.

Any other bad arguments?


6 responses to “Pro-life Arguments That Need to Die.

  1. Wow prolifist… are you me? Do I “sleepblog” at night? This is excellent, and every pro-lifer needs to hear (read) this. I am especially glad that you addressed the “you had a choice when you had sex” argument ESPECIALLY replies 4 and 5.

  2. Add to this the argument that the “Bible says so.” As a devout, literal Christian, this makes me cringe every time. In fact, I bet I can come up with a few more after some thought.

  3. I think all of these things have their place…

    The one about the appearance of the fetus especially bothers me because at the beginning, when the child is a single cell, and later when she looks like a blob of cells, she is already a person deserving of fair treatment. I’ve lost children who probably never looked like we would expect a human being to look, but they were exactly what they should have been at that age and they were human beings.

    The first argument does point out what pro-choice ought to mean… it’s my opinion that those who support abortion only in cases of rape are the ones that are really pro-choice, and the others are just pro-baby-free-sex. There’s something there in that it’s not about the choice of whether to be pregnant–those who want to absolutely avoid getting pregnant can do so by not having sex (leaving aside the issue of rape). The point of this argument is that abortion is more about sex whenever and wherever people want it without getting pregnant than it is just about not being pregnant, because pregnancy is impossible without sex. It’s not so much about convincing someone not to have an abortion–has no place in that sort of a discussion–but it’s useful in a more philosophical argument about why abortion should or should not be legal, and what kind of freedom abortion is really about. I’m pro-sex, and I’m pro-babies, and sex does make babies. If you don’t want babies, you can get that by not having sex. It also points out that for the vast majority of women, there is a choice they have in getting pregnant even if abortion were illegal; people won’t just end up pregnant by accident because they took antibiotics or missed a day of their birth control. There’s another step in there. I think there can be a place in a more philosophical argument to point out that the majority of pregnancies are the result of consensual sex and that this means if women are denied access to abortion, they’re not necessarily denied a choice in whether they become pregnant.

    I’m not sure there are bad pro-life arguments, though most of them are sometimes inappropriate.

    • “it’s useful in a more philosophical argument about why abortion should or should not be legal”

      I disagree. As I say in the post, by the logic of the slogan, it wouldn’t be wrong to make medical treatment for venereal diseases illegal. Good luck defending that position in a philosophical debate. You’ll get nowhere by telling victims of AIDS that they had a choice in contracting their illness, and thus have no right to complain about the consequences.

      Bottom line, the many inherent flaws in the argument outweigh the value of the points it tries to make. And there are a whole range of better arguments available.

  4. I think you may have some valid points, YCW, that really it is all about the ability to have sex without any consequences. While that may be true, I think it is a moot point to the abortion question for the following reason. Consider the following (extremely) hypothetical discussion:

    PL: You had your choice… when you chose to have sex.

    PC: Okay… that is a valid point. You have convinced me that those who engage in the conjugal act [like any PCer would talk like that, haha, I crack myself up!] are not morally justified in obtaining an abortion. Thus, can we agree that while abortion is not morally permissible when pregnancy is a result of consensual sex, can we at least stand together and fight for teh woman who is pregnant as a result of rape to obtain an abortion?

    Clearly we cannot say yes in this case. But why? Because abortion kills a living human being, which is REALLY our main problem with abortion. Let it be known that if women became pregnant randomly and we had no idea what caused it, abortion in that case would be just as disordered as when done in this world. So I think trying to have your main argument rest on teh sexual act really misses our main problem with abortion which is that it is the destruction of an innocent human life.

  5. Bobby, I completely agree that the only argument for why abortion is wrong and should be illegal rests on the humanity, value, and rights of the fetal human being. I would think that the best one could hope for arguing about the choice occurring at the time of sex would be not that they’d admit abortion is immoral after an act of consensual sex–I rather doubt they’d believe that–but that the right they are trying to uphold is not a right not to be pregnant, but a right to have sex. Because they’re not going to be okay with giving up sex in order not to get pregnant; this shows that not getting pregnant is less important to them than not having sex. And it’s easier to show that someone does not have a right to have sex with no consequences than that a person does not have a right to be unpregnant. Indeed, in a perfect world, there would be no “accidental pregnancy” and no rape. A person ought to have the right to avoid pregnancy (by not having sex) and our conscience tells us this. That’s why it’s so hard for many to see that women who become pregnant due to rape do not have a right to abortion–our conscience and natural law tell us that she has been wronged and we want to fix the situation. Unfortunately the situation cannot be fixed. She cannot be unraped, and killing her baby only creates another trauma for her and punishes an innocent party. I don’t see any problem saying that a woman should have a choice in whether she becomes pregnant, that the right not to have sex is a human right. But if a person’s kidneys are damaged in a violent crime, he does not have the right to the kidneys of an innocent person, however unfair the crime was and however that person had a right to not have harm come to his kidneys. Kind of a stupid analogy, but that’s what I’ve got at the moment.

    On the other hand, most people intuitively recognize that sex has consequences. If someone has sex with a person who is not a virgin, that person may contract a venereal disease. He should be able to receive treatment for it, but he didn’t have a right to have sex and not contract a venereal disease. It happened because of what that person did. Does a person having sex have a right not to become pregnant? Not really–pregnancy is the natural outgrowth of sex, and someone who has sex may get pregnant. It’s a natural event–we don’t have a right not to grow old, not to die, or not to become ill. We don’t have a right not to crack our skulls open when we jump off a bridge. We don’t have a right to avoid positive things either–there is no right to not fall in love, no right to avoid bonding to a sexual partner, no right to not laugh at a joke which makes you laugh. There is no right to not get healthier with exercise and no right to not ache the next day. Pregnancy happens as a result of sex, and there is neither a right to get pregnant during sex nor a right not to get pregnant during sex. I would argue that while one may assert a right to be treated for venereal diseases, there is not a corresponding right to be “treated” to get rid of pregnancy. Everyone mentally healthy who contracts a venereal disease has the same goal–to get rid of it. On the other hand, many–possibly most–people who become pregnant want to allow the pregnancy to continue. Pregnancy continues our species. Venereal disease does not. I have never heard of venereal disease being a cause for great joy. Many, many people would gladly give up their “right” to have sex without getting pregnant.

    There are some kinds of rights–like free speech, freedom to worship, freedom to marry (though there are constraints on who), and one might argue freedom to have sex–that some people choose to exercise and some do not. In these cases, there are actually two freedoms–the freedom to speak and the freedom to remain silent; the freedom to worship and the freedom not to; the freedom to marry and the freedom to remain single; the freedom to have sex and the freedom to remain celibate. Some of these require a consenting partner, but all are decisions an individual makes for themselves. I can choose to speak or be silent, and I want both of those choices upheld. I am grateful I was able to marry my husband, and I am grateful that my friend who has chosen not to marry cannot be forced to do so. But while some claim there is a right not to become pregnant when having sex, there is no right to become pregnant. Even normal, fertile couples might take up to six months to get pregnant–were they missing out on their rights the first 5 months, let alone all those days pregnancy was just plain impossible? Clearly there is no right to become pregnant or not become pregnant when one has sex, because no matter what actions one takes to influence things either way, there’s not a guarantee. So at most there is a right to try to get pregnant or not to get pregnant. We have a right to pursuit of happiness, not a right to be happy; we have a right to vote, not a right to the president we want. If our actions don’t control the outcomes, how can we have a right to a certain outcome? Likewise women who miscarry don’t have a right not to; why should there be a right to have a doctor cause you to miscarry. Also, why do men not have these “rights”?

    It seems to me that if there is no right to have sex without getting pregnant, there is no right to become unpregnant. The argument does not cover rape, which is a weakness of the argument, but that doesn’t mean it has no merit.

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