Saturday, July 18, 2015

How Not to Argue Pro-Choice: Eleven Completely Misguided Arguments [Clinton Wilcox]

I was recently introduced to an article written by one Seth Millstein, called How to Argue Pro-Choice: 11 Arguments Against Abortion Access, Debunked [sic]. Let's ignore the misplaced comma for a moment. Actually, let's comment on it. That comma doesn't belong there. I was once like Millstein, haphazardly placing commas with abandon, putting commas where they don't belong. My college English professor called me "comma happy" because of it and soon broke me of the habit. But I digress.

Let's start with the fact that when Millstein wants to indicate someone says something embarrassing, he points to an unrelated case of Piers Morgan not being politically correct when talking to a transgender person. It's not hard to find a video of Piers Morgan trying to come off as educated when he's clearly not. Here's a video of Michael Brown educating Piers Morgan on what the Bible actually says about same-sex marriage. But as I said, this is irrelevant anyway.

So let's take a look at these alleged common arguments and their responses by Millstein.

Argument #1 -- A fetus is a human being, and human beings have a right to life, so abortion is murder.

Millstein says something puzzling. "I'm not going to convince you that a fetus isn't a life..." No, of course you're not. Science has convinced me that it is a life. It develops itself from within, grows through cellular reproduction, and is capable of moving under its own power. You may not think it's valuable life, but the question of whether or not it's a life has been settled. That's not pro-life propaganda, that's every embryology textbook since at least the early 20th century.

Let's look at his sub-points:

1a) A fetus can't survive on its own. It is fully dependent on its mother's body, unlike born human beings.

Granted. But how does this show that the unborn doesn't have a right to live? A born infant doesn't need her mother's body to survive, but she still can't survive on her own. She relies on her parents to feed her, change her diapers, take her to the doctor for check-ups, etc. Plus, when someone is more dependent that gives us more of an obligation to help them, not less. David Lee, past director of Justice of All, uses this analogy: Suppose you are the last one out of a public pool, or so you think. You're drying off when you hear a splash at the deep end of a pool. A child has fallen in, drowning. Assuming that you can swim, do you now have an obligation to save that child's life, or are you morally permitted to walk away, since that child is now dependent only on you for survival?

1b) Even if a fetus was alive, the "right to life" doesn't imply a right to use somebody else's body. People have the right to refuse to donate their organs, for example, even if doing so would save somebody else's life.

Again, granted that no one is forced to donate organs. But this argument relies on a confusion of what rights entail and what harms are done in these acts. The act of abortion directly kills an innocent human being. The abortionist is directly responsible for that child's death and is violating her right to life by taking it. If I refuse to donate an organ, even if there is a moral obligation there, I am not violating anyone's rights by refusing to donate, nor am I directly responsible for that person's death; whatever illness they are suffering is. So for the state to force me to donate organs would clearly be wrong since they are violating my right to bodily integrity by doing so.

1c) The "right to life" also doesn't imply a right to live by threatening somebody else's life. Bearing children is always a threat to the life of the mother (see below).

That's true, but the vast majority of pregnancies are not life threatening. Even according to our own laws, you are not justified in taking somebody's life unless they are directly threatening yours. Taking someone's life in self-defense is only justified to prevent imminent and otherwise unavoidable danger of death or grave bodily harm. This means that a woman is only justified in killing her unborn child if the pregnancy becomes life-threatening and the child is not old enough to survive outside the womb. Abortions are not justified in the off-chance that a pregnancy may become life-threatening. After all, children have been known to grow up and kill their parents, yet I doubt anyone would justify infanticide on the grounds that the child may one day grow up to be dangerous.

1d) A "right to life" is, at the end of the day, a right to not have somebody else's will imposed upon your body. Do women not have this right as well?

This is actually a very shallow understanding of the right to life. The right to life is actually, properly understood, a right not to have your own life taken unjustly. Anyone who lives in a civilized society has someone else's will imposed upon them all the time. All laws are imposing someone's will upon you, and in many cases, rightly so. But each law must be investigated on a case-by-case basis as to its rightness or wrongness. And of course women have this right, as well.

Argument #2 -- If a woman is willing to have sex, she’s knowingly taking the risk of getting pregnant, and should be responsible for her actions.

Here, Millstein gives the most anti-intellectual of all possible responses: "that's just your opinion." I'm resisting the urge to respond with snark here. It may be my opinion, but my opinion, I believe, is correct. I could just dismiss this entire article as "just Millstein's opinion," and be done with it. But that obviously won't get us anywhere. If this is the best Millstein can do, we can safely go about our pro-life work.

Millstein asserts that it's more responsible to have an abortion if the mother knows she won't be able to provide for her child, but let's think about that for a moment. Millstein is essentially saying if a mother can't provide for her child, the merciful thing to do is to kill the child. One would wonder if Millstein supports infanticide, or toddlercide, if the mother decides she just can't support her child any longer. Millstein, of course, would respond with "but the child is already born, so she can give the child to someone else to support." And of course, that argument, when applied consistently, would make abortion immoral because she can gift the child to a loving family through adoption. Of course, adoption is a very difficult decision, so I don't raise the alternative lightly. But to say that killing the child, instead of adopting her out, is the "responsible choice" is a very confused understanding of responsibility.

Of course, now Millstein makes an emotional appeal that we're trying to dictate what a woman's role and purpose is, and that we're now not arguing for the life of the child. I don't understand why Millstein doesn't think we can do both. But at any rate, since the child's life is of no concern to Millstein, we are also not trying to dictate what a woman's role and purpose is. Nature has done that, and there's a very compelling argument from Natural Law regarding what our roles and purpose are. But let's set those aside for a moment. No one is saying she must raise the child, when adoption is a very viable option, and certainly better than having the child killed.

Millstein then goes into a "common response" regarding contraception. The reality of the situation is that by having sex, the man and woman both engage in an act that is intrinsically ordered toward procreation. By willingly engaging in sex, the man and the woman create a child and place that child in a state of dependency upon the woman. So yes, absolutely this grounds an obligation to care for the child, not to kill the child. The use of contraception, while helpful to avoid pregnancy (and setting aside any question as to its morality or immorality for the moment), is only removing an obstacle to pregnancy. It is not changing the nature of the act, itself. So using contraception does not change the man and woman's responsibility to the child.

Argument #3 -- But I'm okay with abortions in the case of rape.

I believe that children conceived in rape are equally valuable to children conceived through consensual intercourse. But then again, I also oppose abortion in the case of rape. I believe that rape is a terrible tragedy, and that rapists should be punished to the fullest extent of the law. In fact, I believe that rapists are not punished severely enough, and they're certainly not punished often enough. But why should the child pay with his life for the crimes of his father?

That being said, there are pro-life advocates who believe abortions in the case of rape should be legal. However, it's a straw man argument to say it's because they think the child is less valuable (and some pro-life advocates even utilize this straw man against them). They believe it's immoral, but that it should be legal specifically because of bodily autonomy and the fact that they didn't consent to sex. This is a far cry from saying they believe the child's life is less valuable.

Argument #4 -- If it's legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.

Here, Millstein points to the only person on earth to talk about "legitimate rape" (Todd Akin), and tries to pawn it off as a common argument. This is disingenuous on the part of Millstein.

Argument #5 -- Adoption is a viable alternative to abortion.

Here Millstein finally gets around to talking about adoption.

Millstein argues that women wanting to get an abortion to avoid raising a child isn't always the case, and that may be true. But it does make for the vast majority of reasons why women want an abortion.

Next he argues that hospital bills are very expensive, which again is true. However, the reason adoption costs so much money is because the woman's hospital fees are paid by the adoptive parents. So cost is not a factor that weighs into a woman's decision whether or not to adopt out her child.

While it's true that pregnancies carry with them some risk, I was reading over the link that Millstein gave regarding pregnancy being the "sixth most common cause of death for women between the ages of 20 and 34". However, according to page eight in the linked article, the sixth leading cause of death in women was "unintentional injuries." Unintentional injuries are accidents, such as car accidents, drug overdose, etc. I have no idea where, in this entire article, Millstein gets the idea that pregnancy-related issues are the sixth leading cause of death in women.

Millstein goes on to argue that there are other costs associated with pregnancy, such as teenage girls being shunned and shamed. This does happen, of course, but how does this justify killing her child? It certainly doesn't, any more than it would justify killing her child if she gives birth and the shunning and shaming doesn't stop. And of course, there is the risk of violent retribution from abusive boyfriends and parents, but I think a better solution is to get her help, not to kill her child. After all, again, if this was a toddler and not an unborn child we were talking about, this certainly wouldn't excuse the mother killing her child.

Argument #6 -- When abortion is legal, women just use it as a form of birth control.

Millstein wants evidence, but I think that every abortion is evidence of this claim. This is not an argument I use, but since every abortion is done because the woman doesn't want to give birth (for whatever reason), then really, every abortion is an act of birth control. Contraceptives are different. Contraceptives literally prevent conception, which is why they are different from abortions.

Millstein argues that since contraceptives are cheaper, easier, less painful, etc., then getting an abortion, it's odd to suggest that abortion would be their preferred method. But this argues no such thing. This doesn't argue that abortion is their preferred method, only that abortion is a method of birth control, which it clearly is.

While it's true that women will seek abortions regardless of whether or not it's legal, we have to remember that all crimes are done despite its illegality. Rapes, murders, and thefts are still committed even though they are illegal. So the fact that women will do them anyway is irrelevant to the question of whether or not it should be legal.

Millstein also argues that when contraceptives are widely accessible, abortion rates go down. However, the link he provided certainly doesn't prove this. The only line I could find that even addresses this question is the following: "[Abortion rates have] slowly dropped over the last several years because poor women have not had access to Family Planning Facilities for education and prevention of pregnancy through effective birth control measures." However, the site provides absolutely no evidence for this claim. In fact, it is more likely that abortion rates have dropped due to education of what abortion does to unborn children, and the pro-life laws that have been put in place, such as mandatory waiting periods, needing to notify parents, etc. Michael New has done research in this area and has argued that it is actually these pro-life laws that have resulted in decreased abortion, not increased access to contraceptives. [1]

Argument #7 -- Abortions are dangerous.

This is an argument I definitely don't use. Abortions may be dangerous. It doesn't follow that abortions should be outlawed, unless you think driving should also be outlawed. So I'm not going to spend too much time here. I just want to respond to a few of Millstein's claims here.

It may be true that the risk of dying in childbirth is 13 times higher than dying in abortion (though Millstein doesn't support that point), what he neglects to mention is that the number of women who die in childbirth is 18.5 in 100,000. That amounts to about 0.0002% of women who die in childbirth. That's a very small percentage of women, certainly not nearly big enough to justify abortion in any other situation than the pregnancy becoming life-threatening. So claiming that childbirth is 13 times more dangerous than abortion is another disingenuous move on the part of Millstein.

I don't know the situation in Romania. My guess is Millstein hasn't done the requisite study on the country to know if he's giving us accurate information (this is based on the other shoddy research he's done so far). However, legalizing abortion is not what makes it safer: advancements in medical technology does. At least in the United States, roughly 90% of illegal abortions prior to 1973 were done by doctors in good standing in their community. There is no reason to believe that it will become dangerous again once driven underground in the United States. See my article here for the source to the 90% claim, as well as more on the question of the safety of illegal abortions in the U.S.

Millstein again mentions the health problems this has on the children. But I must, again, return to the fact that Millstein's answer for possible health problems is to kill the child. I think a better solution is to foster a nation that cares about children, fostering the idea that children are valuable and that anyone who conceives a child needs to take responsibility for them. Unfortunately, the sexual revolution has caused us to separate sex from its procreative function, so people no longer think we have that responsibility. However, while Romania may have had an orphan crisis, the United States never did, and there is no reason to suspect that we will if abortion is once again driven underground. Of course, this is all predicated on the fact that Millstein picks and chooses his evidence, focusing on a country like Romania, but ignoring a country like Ireland, one of the most pro-life countries and also one of the safest places in the world to be a pregnant woman.

Argument #8 -- What if Winston Churchill or Martin Luther King had been aborted?

This is not an argument I defend, and it is much more common than it should be. It's a bad argument, so I'm not going to defend it. Not only because a pro-choice person can respond as Millstein did, that the unborn child might turn out to be another Hitler or Pol Pot instead, but also because it gives the false idea that a person is only valuable insofar as what they can do for society, which is false. Human beings are intrinsically valuable, valuable in and of themselves.

Argument #9 -- Many women who get abortions regret their decisions later on.

This is another true argument but, like the argument from abortion's danger, is irrelevant to the morality or immorality of abortion. You may regret having that piece of cheesecake last night. It doesn't follow it was immoral to have it. Plus, to counter it, all a pro-choice person has to do is find women who believe their abortion was the best thing that ever happened to them.

Argument #10 -- Taxpayers shouldn't be forced to pay for things they find morally disagreeable.

This is not an argument against abortion. As such, I won't respond to Millstein's argument here.

Argument #11 -- What if your mother had aborted you?

This is definitely a bad argument. Whether or not the pro-choice person you are talking to was glad his/her mother didn't abort them is irrelevant to the point of whether or not they should have had the right to.

So there you have it, Millstein's "11" arguments against abortion choice. It's actually 10 common arguments, one that Millstein is trying to pawn off as common to make pro-life people look bad, and one that has nothing to do with being against abortion access, so it's more like nine common arguments, one ultra-rare one, and one irrelevant one. Of those nine, two of them are really bad, and two of them, while common, are irrelevant to the core issue of whether or not abortion is moral or should be legal. So we're left with five good arguments against abortion access, and Millstein's responses to them are completely lacking in intellectual depth or logical thought. I think it's safe to say that the pro-life argument is sound.

[1] See Michael New, "Analyzing the Effect of Anti-Abortion U.S. State Legislation in the Post-Casey Era," State Politics and Policy Quarterly, 11(1): 28-47, as well as this paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research.


  1. You should use the parental obligation point against the "forcing people to donate an organ" argument.

    It's true that we don't force people to donate an organ, but if i cause you to need an organ (the need was the reasonable foreseeable consequence of my action) and you die because of that need then i'm guilty of homicide.

    So, if a mother refuses to care for an unborn child whom she created through consensual sex and that child dies because her needs were thereby unmet, that mother is guilty of homicide.

  2. @Drew Hymer

    As I think Scott Klusendorf once said, at some point, you have to bring in metaphysics to determine what makes people valuable and where morality comes from.
    Because your argument has some holes. First, your argument immediately raises the question "What if the sex wasn't concensual". And that's important, because liberals and expecially feminists have a definition of rape that you could drive a truck through. Also, you talk about if someone could ever be forced to use their organs for someone else. Let's imagine a scenario. You rob a store and kill the clerk in the process and shoot me in both kidneys. I thus need a kidney to live. You still can't be compelled to give me your kidney. Okay, let's say you are given the death penalty for murdering the clerk. You still have the right not to be an organ donor. Let's say you're executed -- you still have the right to determine what you want done with your body. So, you as a dead, convicted murderer has control over your organs a pregnant woman does. But this is fair. A mother has certain obligations to her child, which God and virtually every culture accepted until America did about 40 years ago when women's rights arrived on the scene. We have to tackle the roots of abortion and why people suddenly found it acceptable.

    1. The rape objection is not a hole in Drew's argument. It merely shows that responsibility is a sufficient condition, not a necessary one, to ground the woman's responsibility to care for the unborn child. There could be other reasons that it would be immoral for a woman in the case of rape to abort, since the responsibility objection doesn't work. Steve Wagner, in fact, wrote a paper in response to right to refuse arguments in the case of rape that is worth checking out.

  3. What happened to the argument that abortion is against God's ordinances and back it up with scripture. The only cogent response from the pro-abortion camp would have to be "I don't believe in your God" (in one form or another).
    Easily answered with an effective Christian apologetic argument(s) for the existence of the God of the Bible, or simply "God's existence is not dependent on your belief system or your world view".

    1. Hi, Doug:

      You've basically nailed down the problem. I'm perfectly comfortable discussing what God has to say about abortion, but if I'm interacting with a non-Christian, arguments from God are not convincing. Now, of course, I could try and have a discussion on God with that person, but the problem is that he may not be convinced by the arguments for God, and walk away still pro-choice. At least if I give that person non-religious reasons for the pro-life position, then their refusal to believe in God is not an excuse for continuing to be pro-choice.

    2. Problem with Doug's argument is, Americans live under a secular justice system, so using religious arguments to change secular abortion laws only works if everyone voting shares the same religious views as you.

      At any rate, you can debate all you want, but for the pro-life camp to gain anymore real traction, they'll have to change the culture. That means having to go through the media in such a way that the idea that "abortion is monstrous" undergo popcultural osmosis.

    3. Thoralmir, our laws are actually based on a Christian moral ethic. In our Declaration of Independence, we read "we consider these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." In a message to the Officers of the First Brigade of the Third Division of the Militia of Massachusetts, John Adams said the following: "Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."

      So our laws are not secular laws. Plus, as we would not have to change our definition of life if some religions (say, satanism) believed life doesn't start until two years old, we do not have to change our definition if some people disagree. It is scientifically correct to say that human life begins at fertilization. If you disagree, you are mistaken, and we have no obligation to accept that if people disagree.

    4. Instead of the term ''human life'' I would just go with scientifically it's correct to say a human begins to exist at fertilization. With the term ''human life,'' pro choicers can bring in all kinds of silly things.

      The fields of biology, phylogeny, organism life, genetics-DNA, human embryology etc have all been in consensus for well over 40 years on the unborn. It's 2016 and to still see pro choicers compare construction like that of a house or a boat to human development in a desperate attempt to deny the scientific consensus is very ridiculous.

      Once they admit that, the philosophical arguments can begin. Like should the concept of a person be based on what a entity is? Or should it be based on mental characteristics like theory of mind, rationality, etc and that you have to have them at this moment?


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