Abortion is a political issue that has motivated voters for fifty years, since Roe Vs Wade was established. Every election features politicians who pepper pro-life or pro-choice language into their campaign to draw voters to the booth. For the pro-choice person, abortion is a critical human right akin to women’s right to vote. They consider young women who announce that they are pregnant and are quickly abandoned by their significant other. Abortion is seen as a safeguard; it allows women to determine the direction of their own lives, whether they want to pursue a career, go to college, live without children, or just wait until they are ready to have children. To remove that right, in their view, removes their self-determination and the pursuit of happiness. On the other hand, for the pro-lifer, the central issue is the right of the unborn. For the pro-lifer, the fetus is human and deserves the same rights as every other human. Since Roe Vs Wade was overturned on June 24th, 2022, pro-choice rhetoric has seized the airways: every outlet is reciting these lines of argumentation. But the pro-choice rhetoric, in its current form, has been very unproductive.
Pro-Choice Rhetoric Doesn’t Seek to Understand
I have written a lot about the importance of understanding people with opposite points of view. I want to understand why people believe what they believe and what motivates them. If I give an argument, I want to understand their points and counterpoints rather than just seeking to refute what they are saying. This has been a topic of discussion on this blog about topics such as atheism and various doctrinal disagreements. If you want to convince someone to adopt your point of view, you need to first understand their point of view. You cannot force your point of view; you have to begin with understanding.
Before you can say, “I disagree”, you must be able to say, “I understand”.
The pro-choice rhetoric has failed to seek understanding. Since Roe Vs Wade was overturned, I have not encountered a summary of the pro-life position that I or any pro-life person would accept. Instead, the rhetoric has attempted to force its point of view without addressing pro-life concerns. Politicians will say, “This isn’t about babies; it is about power.” That’s not an attempt to engage with me. It doesn’t address what I think and it simply is not speaking to me.
Similarly, media outlets seem to be unified in refusing to refer to the pro-life position as “pro-life”. Instead, they are “anti-abortion”. There is nothing inherently false about that label. But it is a strategic label intended to prevent people from associating the pro-life position with the life of the unborn. They are attempting to create an association with the pro-life position with an opposition to human rights. It’s not pro-life; it’s anti-abortion, anti-reproductive rights, anti-autonomy, anti-women, anti, anti, anti. Here is something important: do not tell people what they think. Ask people what they think.
Pro-Choice Rhetoric Regurgitates Common Arguments
You may have noticed the same pro-choice arguments circulating the internet. People are not engaging in critical thinking. They are not forming their own opinion or intellectual thoughts. They are repeating what they heard on the internet. They were already pro-choice, and then they heard these one-liners, thought they sounded good, and just shared them as if they represented an original thought. That may also be why there is little no engagement with what the other side thinks: they are not articulating their own thoughts. They are regurgitating someone else’s thoughts, so engagement is not something they are prepared for. That is not a demerit against pro-choice people; I am not saying that to be pro-choice is to be anti-intellectual. This is a problem that people across every spectrum have. People are just bad at articulating their own opinion. They hear something that sounds good and just repeat it. You’ve probably heard something like this:
- The overturning of Roe Vs Wade only affects poor women.
- It is slippery slope; next they will come for gay marriage.
- This will not reduce abortions; it will only reduce safe abortions.
- Anyone who is pro-life is morally constrained to adopt as many children as possible.
- Women with an ectopic pregnancy will be forced to give birth.
- Religious doctrine should not drive a secular country.
The problem with every single one of these arguments is that they assume their conclusion. They assume that the fetus is not human worthy of inherent human rights. But if the fetus is a human being worthy of inherent human rights, none of these arguments have anywhere to start. If abortion takes a human life, then the fact that people do not have access to abortion will have a lot of implications, but those are positive implications. Preventing people from getting an abortion would be a moral good. If the government declares that theft is legal because they want to regulate it and ensure that neither the thief nor the victim is harmed, a moral crime has still been committed.
There are a lot of things the government has no business interfering in. Marriage, sexuality, drugs, and pretty much any case in which a human being is not being harmed in some way. On the other hand, there are area areas in which the government does not provide enough support. This includes social safety nets for people living in poverty, women and men who are having a child and need time off work, women during pregnancy, and especially basic healthcare. Of course, there are times when the government should interfere.
If my freedom interferes with someone else’s freedom, or causes another human being harm, the government has a duty to interfere. Abortion falls into this category.
Pro-Choice Rhetoric Misunderstands Biblical Ethics
With the resurgence of the abortion debate, many pro-choicers have attempted to anticipate arguments that they expect pro-lifers to make. However, this attempt harks us back to my initial problem with the way they frame their arguments: pro-choice rhetoric just is not listening to what pro-lifers are saying. The pro-life case is not inherently religious. Consider groups such as Secular Pro-life. This is significant because it underlines the concept that one does not have to be religious to be pro-life; the pro-life case can be made persuasively without appealing to religion.
Nonetheless, some will argue that the Bible is silent about abortion. The author systematically addresses the common arguments that are used as a reference to abortion. Many of the attempts to refer directly to abortion in the biblical data are not convincing: they may be correct, but there is room for interpretation and not a strong argument. However, the author’s argument makes the same critical mistake as the other arguments that I listed in the previous section. The author assumes their conclusion. If the fetus is human, then it does not matter if the Bible specifically mentions the slaying of the unborn. Passages that specifically prohibit murder are pro-life references.
Biblical ethics and Christian principles are formed by verses such as, “You shall not murder.” This establishes the sanctity of human life. The sanctity of human life extends to the unborn.
Pro-Choice Rhetoric Uses Exceptions that Prove the Rule
A rule is a general statement that applies to a category. An exception is an example of something that falls into that category but the rule cannot be applied to it. In this case, the rule is, hypothetically, “Abortion is illegal” and the exception is “Except in the case of ectopic pregnancies”. Typically, if there are exceptions to which the rule cannot be applied, the rule is weakened. Ironically, though, if there are clear reasons for the exception that are not contrived, the exception strengthens or proves the rule. In the case of ectopic pregnancies, the principle that we are preserving is the sanctity of life. Since an ectopic pregnancy would take the life of the mother, the sanctity of life would be violated.
Ectopic pregnancies account for about 1 in 15,000 pregnancies [Ron, I. Z., Y. (2019). EP28.19: Ovarian ectopic pregnancy after tubal ectopic pregnancy. Ultrasound in Obstetrics & Gynecology, 54(S1), 415-415]. This is the exception that proves the rule because even in the case of the exception, the principle (the sanctity of life) is upheld.
Where the Conversation Needs to Happen
Pro-choice concerns should be understood and emphasized with. One of the central problems with the abortion debate is that pro-lifers and pro-choicers have their own arguments and concerns and they do not listen to each other; they just talk past each other. For the pro-choice advocate, the argument is related to what I discussed at the beginning of this post: human autonomy, self-determination and basic human rights.
For the pro-life advocate, the central issue is this: if the fetus is human, then it is endowed with basic human rights, and to kill it would be homicide. If the fetus were not human, then I would be completely pro-choice because there is no argument. Consequently, the abortion debate is not something that can be resolved with one-liners.
Abortion policy is a question of embryology: philosophy and science. It cannot be resolved with one-liners.
Yet embryology of the last one-hundred years has been decisive, and it is not even controversial anymore. That is why pro-choice advocates do not focus on this: it is a losing issue. In 1933, the then-President of Planned Parenthood wrote, referring to the fact that a zygote is the beginning of a human life:
This all seems so simple and evidence that it is difficult to picture a time when it wasn’t part of the common knowledge.Dr. Alan Guttmacher
The humanity of the zygote is well-established in the literature. LiveAction compiled a large list of citations attesting to this fact. The language in the literature typically assumes that the fetus is human without arguing for it; these are not pro-life advocates arguing that the fetus is human. They are experts in the field applying the basic facts of embryology. This is part of the conversation that is scarcely acknowledged, but it needs to be.
This fact leads to another question: what are the implications? Does it matter that the fetus is human? Your answer to this question determines your stance on abortion. But I think that the humanity of the fetus is vital. If you cannot uphold the basic right to life, then you cannot uphold the basic right to choice.