The Illogic of Pro-Abortion Rhetoric

Women are not helped by being lured into having their babies killed, but by real assistance and appreciation.

President Obama issued the following statement last week on the 41st anniversary of Roe v. Wade:

 Today, as we reflect on the 41st anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, we recommit ourselves to the decision’s guiding principle: that every woman should be able to make her own choices about her body and her health.  We reaffirm our steadfast commitment to protecting a woman’s access to safe, affordable health care and her constitutional right to privacy, including the right to reproductive freedom.  And we resolve to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies, support maternal and child health, and continue to build safe and healthy communities for all our children.  Because this is a country where everyone deserves the same freedom and opportunities to fulfill their dreams.

This statement illustrates well the fallacies in the way the left generally approaches the abortion issue. It’s clear the statement was meant to assert support for Roe v Wade and to provide, or to appear to provide, some reason for that support. But instead the statement avoids even mentioning what is controversial about Roe—abortion—and “reaffirms” support for things no one really opposes. Further, it implies that to oppose abortion—the killing of unborn human beings—is the same as to oppose women’s autonomy and health, and even the health of children. These are perfect examples of the logical fallacies called argumentum ad populum (appealing to emotions as a substitute for argument) and the straw man fallacy (attributing to one’s opponent’s a position he or she does not hold).

The first sentence asserts that every woman should be able to make her own choices about her body and her health.” But no one denies that! The problem is that abortion involves a choice not only about a woman’s body and her health. It involves also another body, another human being, who is living and growing in the womb. The choice of abortion is a choice to kill or discard this developing human being.

The statement also affirms a commitment to a woman’s “constitutional right to privacy” and “reproductive freedom.” But all depends on how one interprets “privacy” and “reproductive freedom.” Opponents of abortion support a right to privacy if that is reasonably interpreted, that is, if it does not include the alleged right to kill, or have killed, other human beings. Moreover, pro-lifers are in favor of the right to choose whether to reproduce or not—but not the right to kill a human being after reproduction has already occurred. The statement then refers to “maternal and child health,” and “healthy communities for all our children.” This is Orwellian doublespeak, for abortion does not help but gravely harms both women and children.

The last sentence reads: “Because this is a country where everyone deserves the same freedom and opportunities to fulfill their dreams.” Here an argument is hinted at that is often advanced by the left these days. It was spelled out more in President Obama’s statement on Roe v Wade’s anniversary last year. He then said: “We need to continue our efforts to ensure that our daughters have the same rights, freedoms, and opportunities as our sons to fulfill their dreams.” In other words, access to abortion (the argument goes) is needed for women’s equality—without access to abortion women will be impeded from “fulfilling their dreams”.

What is behind this argument? It begins with the tacit recognition of some important facts: men and women are significantly different with respect to pregnancy. Women carry and give birth to children; men do not. For that reason, men are physically more able to walk away from a pregnancy than women are. But from these facts the argument concludes that these differences between men and women are injustices or handicaps, and that access to abortion is needed to remove them. Abortion is needed, so the argument goes, to level the playing field for men and women—so that everyone will have, in the president’s words, “the same freedom and opportunities to fulfill their dreams.”

However, this argument is profoundly mistaken on many levels. First, even if the fundamental differences between men and women were an injustice or handicap, it is no solution to this situation to encourage women to kill, or have killed, their unborn children. Killing one group of persons to alleviate the difficulties experienced by another is not a just solution.

Moreover, men have just as much moral responsibility for children they help procreate as do women. Because of the differences between men and women, men’s responsibilities will have a somewhat different shape than women’s. But the presence of different types of responsibilities by different groups is not itself an injustice, nor a reason for enlisting the government to eradicate those differences. Various groups acquire different responsibilities: justice is not served by attempting to remove the fundamental differences between those groups in order to remove any differences in responsibilities.

Some young men become fathers and thereby acquire moral responsibilities different from those of others. They may need to find a full-time job, or work many over-time hours, in order to help support their children. It would be nonsense to say that young men who are fathers are suffering an injustice that should at all costs be corrected so that they can have as much “freedom to follow their dreams” as their male friends who are not fathers. Likewise, it makes no sense to encourage our daughters to kill their children so they can just as easily flee their responsibilities as our sons.

Further, the argument treats a woman’s capacity to conceive and gestate children as a disability that must be rectified to make women more equal to men—in effect, to make them more like men, or rather, more like irresponsible men. But in fact the woman’s capacity to conceive within her body and nurture a child during gestation is an awe-inspiring ability that should be treasured; it is not fundamentally an obstacle to “real” fulfillment or accomplishment. Women in difficult or crisis pregnancies deserve our support and assistance, but this should not involve devaluing their unique capacity to transmit and nurture new human life. What is distinctive of women is not solely located in this capacity, but it is one important, wonderful, and unique trait. To disvalue this ability is to disvalue women rather than defend their equality.

The fact is that both men and women have moral responsibilities to the children they help procreate, and fulfilling those responsibilities, by either men or women, does not detract from their fulfillment. On the contrary, the fulfillment of one’s responsibilities is one of the chief ways in which a person realizes his own true worth. The equalization argument for abortion is no tribute to the dignity of women. Just the opposite: it is an insult to their personal dignity.

What the statement defends, though without so much as using any word directly to refer to it, is abortion. And without question abortion is the killing of a small human being, not different in kind from you or me. Women are not be helped by being lured into having their babies killed, but by real assistance and appreciation.

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About Patrick Lee 0 Articles
Patrick Lee holds the John N. and Jamie D. McAleer Chair of Bioethics, and is the Director of the Center for Bioethics, at Franciscan University of Steubenville. He is known nationally as a speaker and author on contemporary ethics, especially on such hot-button bioethical issues as abortion, euthanasia, sexual morality, and same-sex unions. He has lectured or debated at various campuses, including Princeton University, Boston University, and University of Notre Dame. He has written three books—Body-Self Dualism in Contemporary Ethics and Politics, with Robert P. George (2008), Abortion and Unborn Human Life (2010), Conjugal Union: What Marriage Is and Why It Matters, with Robert P. George (2014— and numerous scholarly and popular articles.