Monday, January 30, 2017

More of the Same Fallacies From an Abortion-Choice Advocate [Clinton Wilcox]

I was pointed to an article by Alan Levinowitz called "Why Do Pro-Life Advocates Only Seem to Care About Unborn Lives?" Of course, the real reason is because abortion-choice advocates are too lazy to do any real research into what people in the pro-life movement actually do. But that would make for a very short article.

Levinowitz starts off by saying he uses abortion as a case study in his comparative ethics course. Considering how rife with fallacy his article is, it actually does give me concern for his students. He is apparently drawing his students away from the pro-life argument not based on logic or reason (which is essential for coming to conclusions on ethical questions) but based on emotion and logical fallacies. There is a silver lining here -- Levinowitz does recognize that abortion-choice advocates can't take the "moral superiority" of their position as granted and should seek out challenging dialogue partners to discuss it further. So if Levinowitz happens across this article, please get in touch with me. I'd love to discuss this further with you. We could even set up a debate on this issue, if you'd be game for it.

Unfortunately, Levinowitz starts out with a major scientific snafu. The unborn organism is not a "fertilized egg" -- this is an unfortunate dehumanizing term for a human zygote, but as embryologist Keith L. Moore informs us, "Human development begins at fertilization, the process the during which a male gamete or sperm unites with a female gamete or oocyte (ovum) to form a single cell called a zygote. This highly specialized, totipotent cell marked the beginning of each of us as a unique individual." [1] The term "fertilized egg" is a misnomer. Once the egg is fertilized, a new embryo at the single-cell zygote stage comes into existence.

Levinowitz then goes on to say he has certain questions which make it difficult to engage in dialogue with pro-life people, but of course all of these questions are beside the point of the pro-life argument. The pro-life argument is a simple one:

P1: It is wrong to intentionally kill an innocent human being.
P2: Abortion intentionally kills an innocent human being.
Therefore,
C: Abortion is immoral.

I teach to my beginning logic students that in order to refute an argument, you must either show it to be invalid (i.e. the conclusion does not follow logically from its premises) or it is unsound (i.e. it is invalid and/or one or both of the premises are false). So as we're going through this article, ask yourself: "How does this refute the pro-life argument Clinton has outlined above?" The reality is they don't. Now, I do intend to offer responses to Levinowitz' questions, as well. I don't want it to appear that there are no answers to them. But keep asking yourself how his questions refute the pro-life argument above. They won't, and so he hasn't even done any damage to the argument. If an abortion-choice advocate can't refute the argument above, then intellectual honesty demands they accept our argument as true, whether or not they "feel" like it is true.

Q1: Why do no signs at the March for Life mention maternity or paternity leave? Why aren't expansive parental leave policies on every pro-life website and mentioned by every pro-life politician?

Again, the pro-life argument is regarding the right to life of unborn children. Maternal and paternal leave are important questions of policy, but there is no reason to try and fight all of society's problems in order to fight to end abortion. Levinowitz might as well condemn the American Cancer Society for not trying to end AIDS, Alzheimer's disease, and Parkinson's disease. The reality is we can't fight to end all of society's ills because if we try to end all problems, we won't end any of them. A better question is, why don't you work to stop people from killing their children then we can start to talk about maternal and paternal leave. But right now parents having their children killed is a much larger problem. This is just a fallacious ad hominem dismissal of our argument.

That being said, many pro-life advocates do support paternity and maternity leave. I can't speak for all politicians who consider themselves pro-life, but I'm generally pretty skeptical about politicians. Any given politician could simply be pro-life to try and win support from conservatives. I'm pretty confident that our current VP is pro-life, and I'm also very confident that Rick Santorum is pro-life, who took Barbara Boxer to the woodshed over her view that partial-birth abortion (known colloquially by the more sterile name D&X, Dilation and Excavation) is morally permissible.

Q2: Why didn't any of the speakers at the March mention contraception? Why don't pro-life people (including politicians) care about sex education?

There is a legitimate debate over the moral permissibility of contraception. But whether or not pro-life people support contraception is irrelevant to the truth of our argument, so this boils down to another fallacious ad hominem dismissal.

The reality is that not all of the speakers believe contraception to be morally permissible, myself included (note: there is likely a difference of opinion among those in LTI on the question of contraception -- this opinion is my own and should not be seen as representative of the other speakers and writers in LTI). However, I do believe that contraception should remain legal, for those who do not have a moral problem with it. It is better to prevent a child from coming into existence than it is to take a child out of existence once they are here. But there is absolutely no reason why any speaker at the March should mention contraception. In most places in the United States, condoms are as available as candy. Of course, that doesn't mean that we will want to provide contraception for anyone. People need to be responsible for their sexual choices, which includes abstaining if they can't afford contraception. This is just a lazy attempt to avoid the pro-life argument.

Q3: Why is adoption only mentioned in passing, if it is mentioned at all?

This seems to be a question pro-life people can't win on. Of course, pro-life people argue that if a woman is considering abortion, she should consider adoption instead, which is the morally right thing to do. But whenever pro-life people mention adoption, abortion-choice people dismiss that as callous to women because it's such a difficult decision. Now Levinowitz seems upset that we don't mention it enough. Again, this is a fallacious ad hominem dismissal of the pro-life argument. Our argument is that abortion is wrong because it intentionally takes the life of an innocent human child. This would be true whether or not we believed in adoption.

Q4: Why do we focus so much on the Christian God if we welcome everyone? How do we expect to win over people like Levinowitz if prayerful protest is more important than funding health care services?

I agree that there's more the pro-life movement can do to welcome those who are not Christians. But the pro-life movement has gone a long way in becoming more inclusive. In fact, Kelsey Hazzard, president of Secular Pro-Life, spoke at the March, as well. She is an atheist (and she is also a friend). There are many other non-religious pro-life organizations, such as the Pro-Life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians and Pro-Life Humanists. So in this case, we're dealing with a new fallacy, the hasty generalization. He's making a generalization based on his observations of speakers at the march, but ignoring the very real counterexamples from people representing organizations who were also there at the march.

Pro-life people are much more interested than abortion-choice people in health care services. However, non-socialists, like myself, do not believe in stealing money from taxpayers to give to people who have no legitimate claim on it. This is why we don't believe in funding health care services -- each individual person should be free to do with their money as they please, which includes choosing where to give their money for charitable giving. Many pro-life people do, in fact, give donations for health care services. There are at least three times as many pregnancy care centers than there are Planned Parenthoods in the United States, and unlike Planned Parenthood, these organizations do not get billions of dollars in government grants. They subsist on generous donations from financial supporters. They give prenatal services, and help pregnant women and parents of born children in need by offering parenting classes and free items like car seats and diapers. They do all of these services for free. You don't get that at Planned Parenthood.

So we don't believe in stealing money to use it for health care, but we do believe in using our money to do real good and choosing where our money would offer the most benefit. I expect to win over people like Levinowitz because I expect them to be reasonable. His entire argument is based on irrationally dismissing the pro-life argument, so I'm not impressed by his questions. They argue beside the point, and they don't even really reflect the reality of the pro-life movement.

So Levinowitz (who also quotes the misguided words of Sister Joan Chittister) believes that unless we're willing to steal money from the taxpayers for health care, we're not "really" pro-life. This is just absurd, and it shows that Levinowitz is not really as willing to understand pro-life people as he claims to be. Again, the real question is why do you believe children outside the womb should be fed and clothed, but we should kill children inside the womb just because they're unwanted? You don't get to claim the moral high-road here.

Levinowitz ends by quoting Matthew 6:5, taking it out of context (which leads me to question whether he's actually read the Gospel of Matthew, since he's just using it to make a political point). Unfortunately he seems blissfully ignorant of such other verses as Proverbs 6: 16-17 ("There are six things which the Lord hates, yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood..."), Jeremiah 19: 3-5 ("'Hear the word of the Lord, O kings of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem: thus says the Lord of hosts, the God is Israel, "Behold I am about the bring a calamity upon this place, at which the ears of everyone that hears of it will tingle. Because they have forsaken Me and have made this an alien place and have burned sacrifices in it to other gods, that neither they nor their forefathers nor the kings of Judah had ever known, and because they have filled this place with the blood of the innocent and have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, a thing which I never commanded or spoke of, nor did it ever enter my mind..."'"), or Psalm 127: 3 ("Truly children are a gift from the Lord; the fruit of the womb is a reward").

Those on the left love to use the Bible out of context to support their views, but always try to downplay it when it can be used against them (e.g. arguing that abortion is not a "religious issue" if someone shows from Scripture why abortion is wrong).

Levinowitz' challenge, of course, is easily met. And my invitation to discuss this further with him is an honest and serious one. Unfortunately, as there really is no good justification for abortion, abortion-choice people will continue arguing beside the point to distract away from the simple logic of the pro-life position.

[1] Keith L. Moore, The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology, 7th ed., Philadelphia, PA: Saunders 2003, p. 16.

4 comments:

  1. That was a really solid article, good job.

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    1. Thanks! It just kind of gets old hearing the same tired non-arguments over and over again. Someone shared it with me a couple of days ago, and I actually thought it was an old argument because all of Slate's pro-abortion articles are essentially the same. But then I checked the date, and noticed that it was about the recent March for Life in D.C. (which I attended), and I realized it was a recent article.

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    2. I do think that, to some extent, if formulated correctly, those would be criticisms of the prolife movement. But how you get from that to trying to defend the permissibility of abortion, I'm don't know.

      I was reading through "Aborting America" and was surprised that Nathanson chided prolifers, who were probably more predominately Catholic back them, for opposing contraceptives. I had forgotten that when he wrote that book, and for some years after, he was still an atheist. Myself, I lean toward that it is impermissible, but am not sure.

      Concerning adoption, I agree that there are some who view either answer as rude, controlling, etc. so that there is no way to win. Yet, myself, I worry that some view it as a panacea to abortion. In doing so, I fear, it will undercut the reality of parental obligations: if I can give up my child after birth for any reason (with the assumption that this is always permissible), then why do I have any positive obligations of support to him before? Of course, even then one would have the negative obligation to refrain from intentionally killing. Among many pro-choicers (that I've talked to anyway), parental obligations supervene merely from consent, or are easily reneged, which is troublesome.


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  2. "Q3: Why is adoption only mentioned in passing, if it is mentioned at all?"

    He understands that we oppose abortion for pregnant women, and for pregnant women the only legal alternatives to abortion are orphanages (sometimes accessed via safe-haven laws) and raising the child. So he knows that even if we didn't mention abortion, we would automatically be in the position of advocating it as one possibility without needing to mention it – unless we insisted on orphanages over adoption, which would be absurd, or explicitly insisted that the woman raise the child, which I have never heard a single pro-lifer do.

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