For the Narcissist Lover in You…

6 Things Pro-Choice People Should Probably Stop Saying

I’ve avoided discussing the A-word ever since I started this blog.  Not because I don’t care about it or because it is a bombastic topic, but because the arguments on both sides often seem so very– please forgive me for saying this– weak.  With a few exceptions, people who are strongly pro-choice or pro-life do not have opinions about it: they have emotions.  They do not offer reasons, they blare slogans.

The thing is, abortion is a very serious issue that deserves very serious debate.  That’s why those that care the most about it need to stop saying so many really inane things.

Now granted, I admittedly fall on the “maybe we should not kill things we don’t know for sure aren’t baby humans, eh?” side of the issue, thus I tend to pay the most attention to the rather weak arguments offered by pro-choice people.  I am interested in hearing a thoughtful and reasonable response from the other side.  But in the interests of pushing forward the debate in general, allow me to submit the following Six Things Pro-Choice People Should Porbably Stop Saying:

6) Get Your Laws Off My Body!

I should quickly point out that I am not trying to win an argument here.  I am trying to appeal to my pro-choice friends, offering an explanation about why some of the most pervasive pro-choice arguments fall so horribly flat.  If you are interested in actually changing minds, I suspect this will be very helpful to you in tailoring a new argument.

If, on the other hand, you think people who oppose abortion are evil, mean, anti-woman demon-spawn, this article will do you no good.  I hear Doonesbury is really good today!  Why don’t you go check it out?  Er, they still print Doonesbury, right?

Still here?  Woot.

You’ll notice, throughout the following, that I won’t be referring to any Bible verses (surely that would go on a list of things Pro-Life people should stop doing, since Bible verses only carry weight if one believes the Bible to begin with, or agrees with a particular interpretation).  In fact, I won’t be offering any specifically theological or moral arguments, but will instead appeal to basic critical thinking and logic, since these are languages that we can all more-or-less agree on.

I call it the Reverse Babel Effect.  Get it?  Damn, I used a Bible reference!!

A great starting point for logical problems is the “Get your laws off my body” pro-choice argument.  Basically, the claim is that since pregnancy occurs within a woman’s body, no law can be considered to have jurisdiction over it.

The problem here is that pregnancy, unlike any other thing that may happen with or inside a woman’s body, uniquely involves another human’s body.

As a pro-choice person, you may not agree that the thing bulging in a woman’s belly is a person, but it behooves you to accept that pro-life people very much do.  Try this thought experiment: imagine that someone claims it’s A-OK to kill a certain group of people because– relax!— they’re on the killer’s property, and that property is his to do with as he pleases.  How would you feel?  Horrified?  Incensed?  Militantly indignant?

“Keep your laws offa my trigger finger.”

When a pro-choice person insist that abortion is fine because it occurs in a woman’s body and is therefore her domain, you look just like the person in the above thought experiment.  You may be convinced that the pro-life person is wrong, but arguing from this perspective only makes you look like the most horrifyingly callous person imaginable.  If your interest is to actually engage in the debate and change minds, this will not be a helpful tactic.

5) If You Don’t Believe in Abortion, Don’t Have One.

Again, appealing to simple logic, apply this argument to any other moral debate:

“If you don’t believe in capital punishment, don’t let your jury vote for one!”

“If you don’t like cigarettes, don’t smoke one!”

“If you hate genocide, don’t wage one!”

“If you think murder is wrong, don’t commit one!”

That last example may seem purely bombastic, but remember, pro-life people believe that abortion is murder.  Understanding that, even if you disagree, will go a long way toward explaining why slogans like this seem so inane and even vicious.

Because in reality there are endless moral convictions that require more from us than simple inaction.  For example, no one calls it a virtue to simply resist the urge to, say, enslave children.  We consider it a duty, in the name of basic human rights, to overcome child slavery wherever and however we encounter it.  If you encountered such a thing, you could not feel content simply knowing that you, personally, did not enslave children.  You would feel compelled to prevent it wherever it occurred.

That is why, despite the popular pro-choice slogan, pro-life advocates cannot be content simply not to have abortions.  Their conviction– that abortion is murder– compels them to do more.  You may disagree with the basis of their conviction, but you simply cannot blame them for acting on that conviction.  How could you respect anyone who did not act if they believed innocent lives were at stake?

“For you, I’ll abandon my deepest convictions.  If, you know, it’ll make you respect me.”

4) You’re Not Pro-Life!  You’re Just Pro-Birth.

There is a quote that’s been going around for awhile now, attributed to Joan Chittister, Benedictine nun.  It goes as follows:

“I do not believe that just because you’re opposed to abortion, that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed. And why would I think that you don’t? Because you don’t want any tax money to go there. That’s not pro-life. That’s pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is.”

This is surely a popular quote among pro-choice advocates because it comes from a Catholic source (Catholics historically being the most vocally opposed to abortion).  This quote only makes sense, however, if you view abortion as a merely politically controversial issue that conservative people make a big stink about.  How dare you (it seems to say) object to abortion when you are so woefully Republican about the really important social issues?

The face of modern feminism

Again, realize that to most people who oppose abortion, the crux of their conviction is based in the belief that abortion is the killing of a human being.  Looked at from that viewpoint, Sister Chittister’s quote sounds more like this:

“I do not believe that just because you’re opposed to stabbing people to death in alleys, that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a person not stabbed to death but not a person fed, not a person educated, not a person housed. And why would I think that you don’t? Because you don’t want any tax money to go there. That’s not pro-life. That’s pro-people-not-being-stabbed-to-death. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is.”

In short, I suspect most of us would agree that murder is not the moral equivalent of being a cartoon Republican.

Saying that one cannot oppose abortion if they oppose unlimited welfare is similar to saying that one cannot oppose child slavery if they are unwilling to adopt ten thousand freed child slaves.  Better the children should just be killed than be freed to a world where their liberator doesn’t care for them in every way, right?

Does that seriously make sense?  If it doesn’t make sense in another morally demanding situation, then it doesn’t make sense when applied to abortion.

3) If the Fetus Can’t Survive on it’s Own, it isn’t a Baby.

Babies can’t survive on their own for quite a while after they’re born, either.  Sure, they can breath and sleep and technically not immediately and totally die outright once they pop out of their mother’s wombs, but no baby is going to survive long without someone to feed it, clothe it, and generally keep it alive until it gets old enough to start sneaking Pop-Tarts out of the cupboard when Mom isn’t looking.

“Screw this.  I’m hitch-hiking to Vegas.”

“But,” you might be saying, “we’re talking about embryos that rely completely on the mother’s womb to keep them alive.  They are functionally a part of the mother’s body, and therefore not a separate human life.”

To which the pro-lifer would say: “I don’t think you understand what the word ‘pregnancy’ means.”

Mammals bear live young.  By necessity, therefore, for at least some of their development, the babies live inside the bodies of their mothers.  The question everyone– both for and against abortion– must ask is: when does the child stop being part of the mother’s body and entirely its own, unique self?

We’ll come back to this shortly because it’s super important.

2) Abortion Isn’t Your Business Because You’re a MAN.

This one is so patently ridiculous, from a logical perspective, that it disappoints me even to have to address it.  Do people really think this is a valid argument?  Amazingly, incredibly, some seem to.  So okay.  Just to get it out of the way:

“Wife-beating isn’t your business because you aren’t a husband!”

“Spanking children isn’t your business because you aren’t a parent!”

“Genocide in Rwanda isn’t your business because you aren’t from Rwanda!”

Is it necessary to debunk this any further?  If an issue is one of human rights– and like it or not, to pro-life people, abortion certainly is– then one does not need to have a racial, gender, familial or cultural connections to the issue to justify having valid opinions about it.  This “argument” is intellectually lazy and woefully classless.

Because men have penises.  And no uteruses.  And are stinky-butts loser-heads.

1) No One Knows When Life Really Begins.

I told you we’d get back to this one.

President Barack Obama, back when he was just Senator Obama and running for the Presidency, was famously asked when life begins– at conception or sometime after.  His answer was politically perfect: “that’s above my pay grade”.

Pro-choice advocates are famously cagy about when human life begins.  This ambiguousness– the uncertainty of when a mass of tissue in a woman’s uterus becomes a live human being– is central to their philosophy.  Whenever it happens, it is undeniable (they proclaim) that there is a point at which the embryo is not a human being at all, but is still simply a part of the woman’s body and therefore hers to do with as she wishes.

But… when?

The president himself, famously pro-choice, called such a question above his pay-grade.  He doesn’t know the answer.  Doctors debate the topic, with wildly disparate answers.  The spokesman for the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, Sean Tipton, is careful to be vague about answering when “personhood” occurs:  “A fertilized egg has to continue to grow, attach itself to a woman’s uterine wall and gestate for nine months before it is born, and there are many potential missteps along the way.”

In other words, according to the doctors at the ASRM, personhood happens somewhere between conception and birth.

Dr. House says you still aren’t a person and he’ll abort you if he damn well feels like it.

So again: when?

Regardless of which side of this issue you fall on, this is obviously a hugely, monumentally important question, isn’t it?  Because, by definition, this question dictates the difference between a simple removal of tissue mass and the ending of a human life.  Seems like a pretty big question– the biggest question of all, in fact.

And yet, no one is really sure of the answer?

For my reasonable, thoughtful pro-choice friends, let me offer another thought experiment.  Say you take your young children to an archery range (and say, for the sake of the experiment, that you are way into archery).  It’s a small range, it’s dark, and only the targets are lit.  You are not an excellent shot.

Now, just as you are drawing back the string and notching your arrow, imagine that your children have gone missing.

You know they are nearby.  They’ve probably wandered off into the shadows, doing whatever toddlers do.  But where are they?  Are they behind you?  Or did they wander into the line of fire?  You can’t really be sure.

Maybe you’ll let fly with your arrow and it will accidentally strike one of your own children.

But maybe not.  Probably not, in fact.

But then again…

Do you loose the arrow?  Is it good enough not to know for sure if your child is wandering in the line of fire?  Do you feel all right shooting deadly weapons if there is any chance at all, no matter how slim, that it might hit your child?

Sincerely, I do not begin to understand how, considering what is at stake, any of us ever take the risk that an aborted fetus might actually have been a living human being.  Truly, in the face of the uncertainty about when personhood truly begins, how does one justify not erring on the side of caution?

Perhaps there is a very good answer to this.  I am very willing– eager, even– to hear it.

But for all my reasonable, thoughtful pro-choice friends, it would very much behoove you to realize that, under the best of circumstances, what you look like to people like us… is someone willing to allow arrows to be fired into a dark range that might contain a living child.

But regardless of what we think: how do you know you aren’t?

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14 responses

  1. zixi1

    Since life ends with a heartbeat–or rather, the lack of one–it seems to make sense that life begins with the presence of a heartbeat. As a militant pro-lifer–one who was unable to have children and unable to adopt due to the shortage of babies, this is a discussion close to my heart. If I let myself, I would write too much, say too much, and end up accomplishing nothing except to upset myself and everyone who read my post. Therefore, I will stop here before my heart gets the best of my reason.

    September 3, 2012 at 9:03 pm

    • I can only imagine the depth of your convictions on this topic, Zixi. I truly hope you feel I represented a reasonable and compelling voice on the issue. I feel strongly about it myself. It is hard not to, considering the ramifications.

      September 3, 2012 at 11:32 pm

      • zixi1

        Yes, indeed. I liked your blog very much–as always. It’s difficult to write on a highly emotional issue without coming through as argumentative. Somehow, you always manage to walk just the right line. I, on the other hand, usually manage to antagonize the people I would like to convert. Obviously, my forte is not diplomacy. Thanks for this article. I hope to see some other comments on it.

        September 4, 2012 at 7:04 pm

  2. Clint W.

    George, George, George. Why do I have to always agree with you so? Up until the last moment, that is. We seem to follow quite similar paths for most of the way, then diverge at the last moment to be facing different directions. I guess that you occasionally need a fall guy to comment on your posts (though I steadfastly don’t consider myself liberal), so here goes.
    I agree with every point above (excluding the arrow analogy- as people are not shooting arrows in the hopes of not hitting their child, but in the belief that there is no child in the room to begin with). These slogans are all easy to throw out, pithy, emotionally-laden rhetoric that miss the point. They are indeed fallacious arguments. As you state, what it comes down to, in essence, is when can we agree that life begins. That is what pro-choicers don’t get: pro-life is not about taking rights away, but rather protecting life- as they see it. If one understands the core of that view, so much of the rest makes sense without demonizing pro-lifers. If anything, it’s exceedingly humanitarian and empathetic.
    I get that. I don’t demonize. I understand and respect that view. I also understand how one can be unyielding on the issue if that is where one is coming from. How can you be? But where I diverge is the concept of when life begins. I do not agree that it’s from the instant of conception. But, I don’t know when it is. No one does. As you stated. No one ever will. Why? Because it is a human made definition. It is ultimately arbitrary at what moment we define life. It is on of those epic, enduring, troubling “gray areas”. I know pro-lifers likely scream at that, but I ask this: Is a sperm cell a child? Is an egg? So the second that these two physically join in the uterine space there is instantly a child? Really? Two human cells only containing DNA and plasma like liquids? A child and equal to murder? If you accept that the instantaneous moment that these two coils of DNA in a bag meet is a child from nothingness, then that is a supernatural viewpoint, which is fine, but it’s not a logical viewpoint, and not one to base legislation upon, particularly of this magnitude.
    Anyways, you know that I can (and want to) go on ad naseum, but as you are alluding to, all these bumper sticker-like slogans do is take away from the real issue: When, as a society, can we agree, even if arbitrarily, life begins. All the rest follows.

    September 5, 2012 at 9:16 pm

    • We do agree on this for the most part, Clint. Really, this whole debate does indeed (as you point out) come down to the arbitraryness of when life begins. You say you disagree with my arrow analogy, but the analogy hinges entirely on that one thing– the fact that we don’t know when life begins. If one does not know, how can one justify taking the risk that they may be ending a life? Perhaps, for the sake of argument, life does not begin at conception. Abortions occur, of course, much, much later than conception, i.e. smack dab in the middle of that period when no one knows if the thing in the uterus is human or not. If one cannot know, how is destroying it justified?

      That is the heart of my arrow analogy. You point out that the arrow analogy doesn’t work because the arrow shooters do not believe the aborted tissue is human life (there is no child loose in the shooting range). But as we’ve both agreed, no one, in fact, knows that, since no one knows when life begins. So again, how is it justified?

      Let me try another analogy: let’s say you are as certain that there are no bullets in a gun as you are when life begins, i.e. not certain at all. Would it be fine to point the gun at your family and pull the trigger? How is this justified?

      There MUST be an answer to this that I am missing.

      September 5, 2012 at 9:53 pm

  3. Clint W.

    No one knows when, exactly, agreed. But certainly we all have a mind, on a personal level, of when about that is. I don’t think the overwhelming majority of women receiving abortions would think that it’s a child (“maybe in the room”), or they would not be doing it. I understand your argument: That though they may not think the child is “in the room”, they may be wrong, and hence, unjustified. But, like most tricky and controversial things, it’s about finding a socially agreed upon balance, even if temporary and arbitrary. In this case the balance is between the social aim of protecting the rights of one individual (child) versus the rights of another individual (mother). I’m sure a pro-life stance would instantly harden at this and proffer that the mother has no rights, but surely an individual has certain rights in regard to their own body before we have an agreed upon life form. Why, following the same “shooting an arrow” analogy, should we not extend this to contraception in general? It is preventing life, after all, and in fact is seen by the Catholic church as tantamount to the same as taking it. I don’t agree with this view, but it’s at least consistent. Isn’t wearing a condom shooting arrows at the child that would have been born? Or, why don’t you follow the Old Testament directives for not “spilling your seed upon the ground”, equivalent to millions of murders, as it were. Clearly, the definition has, and will, change over time as to when, and even what, exactly, is life. The legal, and still majority, opinion, is that it is not at conception. Nor before. Nor even soon thereafter. When? I don’t know. But I do know that if I was a female, under no circumstances would I tolerate the conservative stance, that essentially, the skys part ways and angels sing the second that DNA bag 1 meets DNA bag 2. It is a convenient viewpoint, but theological, not biological. And as for me, I say keep theology in the church.

    September 5, 2012 at 11:27 pm

    • I don’t suppose you will be surprised that I disagree. Indeed, it seems like a culturally frightening idea to come to an agreed upon consensus about something that science can’t determine when the thing in the balance is a potential human life.

      I’ve never fully understood the argument that abortion is acceptable because it occurs within the body of the mother (As discussed in the above article, of course). But the even more curious thing is the idea that pregnancy somehow just *happens* to women, therefore they should be able to “do something about it”. Pregnancy is not a mystery (insert Todd Akin joke here). Thus it has always seemed, quite frankly, lazy and callus that someone would wait until a potential human life was in the balance to decide to exercise choice in the matter.

      Am I making sense? To put it succinctly, everyone knows unprotected sex potentially makes babies. Condoms aren’t all that expensive (sorry, I’m not going to discuss the idea that sperm or egg alone equals human life). So why should it suddenly become a suddenly urgent right to terminate a pregnancy when, only a few weeks or months before, no one cared enough to prevent in the first place?

      Obviously, we will always probably disagree on this. I simply believe it is incumbent on us to err on the side of caution with so much uncertainty in play and the stakes so high, especially since preventing the problem in the first place is so very easy.

      September 5, 2012 at 11:58 pm

      • Clint W.

        “…Science can’t determine when the thing in the balance is a potential human life. ”

        George, science never will, because science cannot. This is a misunderstanding or misuse of science. We can know every minute detail of the biological process, in micro and macro scale, ad infinitum, but it is encumbent upon us to decide when “life” exists. It is a human created distinction. To many people’s of the world, humanness has not started until actual birth, while for others, not until the child has been given a name after several weeks. I don’t agree with this, but the point being that “life” is on a continuum and is simply a reflection of how we choose to define it in a particular culture at a particular time.
        As for the prevention before cure argument, I agree that it is callous and lazy, and irresponsible. But this is not an argument for legality, but for morality. There is a difference, as I have learned at times to my chagrin.

        September 6, 2012 at 1:33 am

  4. I think you’ve hit on something there, and I think I understand your point: biology is measurable by science, while life, in the human/personhood sense, is not.

    I suspect one of the major divides between people of different ideologies– and not just on this point– is in their ideas of the nature of truth. On one side, there are those that believe truth exists outside of human experience and opinion. It is concrete and unchanging. On the other side, there are people who believe truth is what we make it, or, if it is in some sense absolute, we can never know it, therefore it is moot (thus, postmodernism). This, I am sure, very much colors one’s opinion about subjects like this.

    Great discussion here, either way! Much appreciated.

    September 6, 2012 at 1:50 am

  5. Clint W.

    “Biology is measurable by science, while life, in the human/personhood sense, is not.”
    -Precisely. It is, necessarily, humans that must define humanness. And, being a human definiton, it will morph and adapt over time and space.

    “I suspect one of the major divides between people of different ideologies– and not just on this point– is in their ideas of the nature of truth. ”
    -Totally agree, but with a caveat: you must clearly define what you mean by truth, and in particular, are you referring to objective, “knowable” truth, such as that provided by scientific inquiry or are you referring to (perhaps) subjective, philosophical truths? There are those that would claim that in either case, there are no absolutes, and all is relative, while others would claim such only for the philosophical spheres. I am in the latter camp, and would use philosophical, in this sense, very loosely to envelop most all human created “truths” and definitions. In the end, it is all arbitrary and ever-evolving. I won’t argue that this is comforting, or popular, or even utilitarian, but it’s simply where my experience and knowledge leads me. But that is for another topic 🙂

    September 6, 2012 at 2:18 am

    • Jon

      I would also, have to argue here that it may be a bit blindsided to think that “science will never have an answer”. The moment you stop looking, and think “we know all we can ever know”, you have immediately stagnated your ability to progress in further knowledge.

      They did this many times in the past, and people still perpetuate the ideas today. The flat-earth society is example of this. They fought against the very idea of man going into space, and was the major starter of all these crazy notions today that we “never went to the moon”… all because it messed up their world view, and misinterpretation of a metaphor in the Bible… and how dare you question my understanding of the Bible?

      Just saying, that while we may not know when life begins today, doesn’t mean we wont know it tomorrow. But it is very clear that the 10 week abortions are not just “shady” but wrong. I know this is extreme, and certainly isnt the “industry standard” but there was actually a case where a child was either at 9 or 10 weeks when an accident happened, and he was “born”. Now obviously, he could not have any hope of survival without immediate medical attention, but he was able to not only be treated, but allowed to finish growing (outside the mother), and was released from the hospital once healthy and able to live on his own (ie away from the hospital and in his home).

      Clearly, “life” begins before 10 weeks… which is still within the “late” abortions…

      September 9, 2012 at 11:16 pm

  6. Clint W.

    Thanks for the thoughtful, respectful and well-considered dialogue.

    September 6, 2012 at 4:00 pm

  7. Jon

    First off great article (as always), and I will admit, I seem to be in the crowd that while I do not agree with abortion, and that we do not know when life begins, I feel that the government shouldnt be meddling into subjective moralities. The point when I have to pay for your morality, this infringes on my beliefs and thus is a violation of my rights in itself (regardless of what the issue is… free condoms for all… which would not be free but paid for with taxes… means that someone who believes in the Biblical passage of “spilling seed on the ground” and “no frivolous sex” is funding your “immorality”… this too is just as wrong, and applies to everything not just sex).

    I digress, what I was actually wanting to point out is the page where I think the other side goes too far in the other way. Check this out:

    http://www.buzzfeed.com/mjs538/pro-choice-oklahoma-senator-adds-amendment-to-pro

    That is totally the direction Clint W. was alluding to with sperm and egg being life… This is definitely things that the “other” side sees and it certainly does not help your case to be pro-life. They feel like now the government is stepping into “their” bedroom and watching to make sure that they do everything “according to the law”.

    September 9, 2012 at 11:06 pm

  8. Shawna

    Fabulous post. It seems to me that the issue of when a fetus becomes a human is dependent on the idea of when a soul inhabits that mass of tissue. Which requires belief in human souls. Which some people don’t believe in. So, then, how is any human life to have value if a soul never inhabits a body, if that clump of tissue never becomes a human? The issue of when exactly a person becomes a person really is the crux of it, I think, but it’s a discussion most pro-choicers don’t seem to want to have.

    December 17, 2012 at 8:39 am

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