*The following is a duplication of a discussion I had after receiving a question through personal email/message. I thought it might be worth sharing and mildly edited it for posting. The dialogues are reflective of actual conversations that I have had and relate my personal experience talking to people about this issue over the years.*
Question: In terms of arguments appealing to pity, ad hominem and so forth. Which would you say is the most popular you have heard, and how do you normally respond?
Answer: Hey _______, I would say that you hear them all about as often as you talk to someone about important moral issues. What I mean by that is that most people don't have a clearly thought out position on moral issues, especially abortion. Every once in a while I talk to someone with a sophisticated defense of the pro-choice position, but that isn't the norm. Most people that I talk to generally have a point of view on which they haven't reflected too deeply. When that point of view is challenged, they can be initially more interested in beating back the challenge than examining the basis of their beliefs. When it comes to beating back a challenge, it seems that any stick will do.
They may start with presupposing the truth of their position:
Objector: Abortion must remain legal to protect privacy rights.
Me: But would you think that your neighbor must be free to abuse his 2 year old daughter in the privacy of his home? If not, then why not?
Obj: Of course not! My neighbor's child is a living human being that should be protected from abuse.
Me: So if the unborn are human in the same way, then privacy is not a justification for their abuse either. You assumed that they were not in your appeal to privacy, but that is exactly what you have the burden to demonstrate through argument.
Then they may move to ad hominem:
Obj: Well you shouldn't be allowed to talk about this anyway. You are a man and can't ever get pregnant. (or as I heard at one university, my arguments are white and Western.)
Me: I would like to respectfully point out that I argued through the science of embryology that the unborn are an independent human organism from fertilization and argued from philosophy that all humans share a common substantial nature that carries with it intrinsic value. Neither of those points is impacted by my gender, race, or geographical location. Arguments are right or wrong, valid or invalid, supported by evidence or refutable, but they are not male or female, caucasian or other, or subject to defeat by the compass rose. They have no gender or race. When you appeal to those things you are attacking me, not the arguments I offered in support of my beliefs and that is universally understood to be a fallacy, a mistake in reasoning. We have enjoyed a respectful conversation to this point, so please let's continue to try and focus on the issues and not me.
Then often I get the appeal to misery/begging the question combo:
Obj: Well if we make abortion illegal then women will die in dangerous back alley abortions again. It must remain safe and legal.
Resp: First of all, for whom is the abortion safe? Every successful abortion necessarily destroys a nascent human life. When we ignore their lives in this discussion we make the same mistake you made with the privacy issue. If women were determined through desperation to take action that resulted in the deaths of two year-old children it would be considered terribly wrong to protect those women as they did so. Even if we recognized they were legitimately troubled and driven through understandable stress, we couldn't make it safer to kill two year-olds and call ourselves a moral society. The burden is still on you to demonstrate that the unborn are different from you, me, or two year-olds in some morally relevant way. If they are valuable human life, you are arguing that we ought to protect a few from the tragic consequences of their wrong actions at the expense of more than a million other human lives a year in the United States alone.
Now, let's look at the evidence of the numbers of women that died every year from unsafe abortion prior to 1973. Any single death is inarguably a tragedy, but you will find that the numbers were wildly exaggerated to create a powerful argument from misery and by-pass ever having to consider, as a culture, the truth of what was being asked for in a right to abort our unborn children. (See here and here and here)
The best defenses are a strong familiarity with the arguments and the ability to patiently narrate the conversation. Point out the mistakes our objectors are making in an effort to clear their thinking; not to merely prove that you are right. They will marshall their every resource to beat back a challenge, and the overwhelming majority of those resources may be nonsense. Help them to see that. Our goal is to unsettle them in their views, not necessarily to win the moment. My experience is that if you are willing to help clear out the weeds and weather the initial storm most people can be reasonable and respectful in this discussion.
Take a hostile person and move them to the modest position of seeing our arguments as more reasonable than they previously thought. Take a neutral person and move them toward a position that recognizes the equal value of all human life including the lives of the unborn. Take a person who shares your beliefs but lacks any accompanying action and inspire them to do something. Take the advocate beaten down by years of abuse and perceived lack of impact and reenergize them and equip them to carry on.