The Bad Logic of “Pro-Life” Arguments

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As we’ve mentioned before, anti-abortion activists, who often refer to themselves as “pro-life”, do not generally play on the level. To be more frank, they tell lies. Many, many lies. Including, of course, the Big Lie that pro-choice individuals are “pro-abortion” — that they consider abortion a good thing and have no interest in trying to prevent it. And we can’t ask the question too many times: if you really and truly believe that you are on the side of moral rectitude, why do you feel the need to lie so brazenly and consistently? But dishonesty isn’t their only problem; they also make arguments that are based on faulty logic.

One pompous right-wing cult figure we’ve examined before has a little video about abortion in which he proclaims that the only important question is whether it is “moral or immoral”.  (As we’ve already stated, the most important question about abortion is how to prevent it — and outlawing it is definitely not the way.)  This is an attempt to turn a complex issue into a black-and-white judgment — and then ignore the black. Even if we determine that abortion is either “moral or immoral”, that does not resolve whether it is more or less moral or immoral than the alternative(s).

Furthermore, he makes this question contingent on another question: does a fetus “have value”? This is a big neon red herring; we often feel compelled to divest ourselves of things that have value of some kind or other — sometimes very great value. But by his reasoning, if a fetus has value, that makes it a person. Furthermore, he draws the conclusion that the only difference between an aborted fetus and a delivered baby is that the latter was allowed to live. If this were true, you could remove an embryo shortly after fertilization and its chances would be just as good as those of a fully developed and delivered baby.

It may not be often that you find so many grotesquely contorted propositions in one little clump, but many other “pro-lifers” give him a run for his money with arguments that are illogical, ignorant, and sometimes downright silly. Here are some of their most common talking points.

1. “Life begins at conception.”

Even if everyone could agree on the validity of this presumptuous premise, it wouldn’t mean much. Because contrary to popular belief, there is no instantaneous moment of conception. Rather, conception, like gestation, is a process , a continuum, rather than a singular observable event like birth — which is far more definitive and determinate. Not to mention much briefer. If you are determined to single out a point at which life begins, then declaring that it begins at conception doesn’t relieve you of the burden of selecting one point on that continuum which you believe to be the defining magical moment. Such a point must necessarily be arbitrary and debatable. And if the primacy of every point on the continuum is debatable, it’s not hard to conclude that the primacy of the continuum itself must be debatable.

2. “But the Bible speaks out against abortion.”

This is actually a twofer: it’s both a bad argument and a false claim. It’s a bad argument because in a secular republic like the United States, religious beliefs are not supposed to be the basis of law. It’s a false claim because the Bible does no such thing. It does not use the word abortion or any equivalent thereof; and the only reference it makes to an abortive procedure is the time God instructs somebody to induce one. (Numbers 5:11-31) There are also several other passages in the Bible indicating that God does not consider a fetus sacred. Furthermore, there are references in the Bible to the premise, central to many religious and spiritual traditions, that life begins with the first breath. (The words spirit and respiration even have the same root.)

Incidentally, one other passage that is often quoted to support the fetus-as-person argument is Jeremiah 1:5:

I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s body. Before you were born, I chose you.

But this really says nothing about life beginning at conception. It is merely (like similar passages) a fanciful way of saying that someone is destined for a certain fate. It just as easily might say, “Before your parents even met, I chose you.”

3. “But killing is immoral.”

True, according to universal moral values. Or more accurately, unnecessary killing is immoral. Nearly everyone, however, would excuse killing in self-defense. And even the most strident “pro-lifers” often support capital punishment and aggressive warfare that slaughters thousands, if not millions of civilians of all ages. (Not to mention that many of them have no problem with gunning down doctors in cold blood.) In fact, they also often claim to be fans of a Judeo-Christian deity who, according to that very Bible they thump, condoned wholesale slaughter of innocent men, women and children, as well as — note carefully — ripping fetuses from wombs. Even if we consider abortion to be killing, it still isn’t wrong if it’s necessary — and it often is a necessary procedure, at least if we want to save the life of the pregnant female.

But we digress. The real problem with this objection is that it commits a logical fallacy called begging the question –a term people very often misuse. It means basically assuming a conclusion to be true without verification. People who say abortion is wrong because killing is wrong are in effect saying: “Abortion is wrong if it is killing; therefore it must be killing.”

4. “But a fetus is alive.”

Of course it is. So is an appendix. Is it murder to perform an appendectomy?

5. “But a fetus has unique DNA.”

So does an appendix.

6. “But a fetus has unique NEW DNA.”

You can create a new strand of DNA in a lab. Is a petri dish full of cells a person with full legal rights? This is one of the most interesting and most bizarre contradictions among those who claim to be “pro-life” for religious reasons. Religion is based on the presumption that the essence of our existence is non-physical; and yet religious anti-abortionists are perfectly willing to define personhood in terms of a cluster of biological elements.

7. “But a fetus will grow into a baby if you leave it alone.”

Probably, although that’s certainly not guaranteed. Many fetuses abort spontaneously, often even before the female realizes she is pregnant. (As someone once observed, it appears that God is the most prolific abortionist of all.) But more to the point, do you really want to classify things according to what they’re likely to become as opposed to what they currently are? By that line of reasoning, an acorn is the same as an oak tree, and if you destroy one, you’re qualified to call yourself a lumberjack. Calling a fetus a “pre-born baby” is like calling yourself a “pre-dead corpse”. Indeed, to carry the reasoning to its conclusion, we would have say that all of us are just piles of dust — and so is a fetus. And if we’re all just piles of dust, what does it matter what anyone does?

8. “But an abortion stops a beating heart.”

This is generally false. What “pro-life” activists describe as a heartbeat in the early stages of pregnancy is actually nothing more than slight fetal tissue movement — which occurs long before a heart has developed. That movement can exist even if you have those cells in a dish in a laboratory. “Fetal heartbeat” bills are misguided and ignorant attempts to cloud and emotionalize the issue.

9. “But a fetus feels pain.”

Also inaccurate. Until at least the 26th week or so, there is not even a real nervous system. And even that is not all that would be required for an experience tantamount to pain.

10. “But a fetus is sometimes viable before term.”

Sometimes the “pro-lifers” express this by saying that “the only difference between a fetus and a premature baby is a matter of location”. Cute, huh? But not true at all. The difference is that the latter has experienced birth, has taken the first breath and begun the development of consciousness. And that makes all the difference in the world.

Viability is verified only after the fact. If a premature baby has survived the process of birth, then it was a viable fetus. If it doesn’t, then it wasn’t.  (And note that 70 percent of premature babies are born at between 34 and 36 weeks, which is very close to full term.)

The fact that a few babies have survived a premature birth at an earlier stage of gestation than some fetuses have been aborted simply underscores the point that apparently needs to be made over and over again: every case is a unique story. And contrary to what the “pro-lifers” would have you believe, nobody is eager to abort a late-term fetus (and the whole concept of “partial-birth abortion” is not even a medical reality).

Two things everyone can agree on: an abortion is an undesirable event, and the longer it is delayed the more undesirable it becomes. So ideally, women (and girls) would be more reluctant to have one the longer fetal development progresses. And guess what? That’s exactly the case. About 90 percent of abortions occur in the first trimester.  Late-term abortions are quite rare ; only about one percent occur after week 21. And in those cases, it’s usually because the health or life of the female is in danger and/or because there are serious complications with the fetus.

Oh yes, and there is sometimes another reason: some women delay the procedure because they couldn’t get it done earlier — often because of legal restrictions. Which is to say that “pro-lifers”, by trying to regulate other people’s reproductive lives, are actually making it more likely that someone will get a late term abortion — i.e., at a time when it is more undesirable.

11. “But abortion is a violent, bloody act.”

Many surgical procedures would be considered violent and bloody if performed under unfavorable conditions. Indeed, many commonly practiced surgeries are far more grisly than most abortions — which in fact are usually rather quick and noninvasive.

12. “But it’s a traumatic experience for the mother.”

First of all, the use of the word mother is very disingenuous. You don’t become a mother until you give birth, any more than you become a baby until you have a birth.  The common use of “mother” to designate an abortion patient is a powerful framing device that very much slants the field of public perception in favor of the anti-abortion mob. (For that matter, pretty much all of the commonly used vocabulary used in discussing abortion games the system either inadvertently or by design.)

That said, yes. Of course abortion is traumatic. Has anyone ever claimed otherwise? Especially anybody who’s had one? Contrary to what “pro-life” fanatics often seem to believe, no woman looks forward to an abortion or regards it as a frolic in the woods.

The thing is, an unwanted pregnancy is itself traumatic, and many of them are far more so than others. And for many women and girls, the consequences of not having an abortion would be more traumatic than the experience of having one.  Despite the decades-long efforts of “pro-life” activists to establish that abortion leaves a wake of lifelong regret and anguish, the evidence does not support such a conclusion. On the contrary, research indicates that years after the fact, very few women express regrets about the decision; nearly all consider it the right thing to have done under the circumstances.

13. “But look at this rape victim who bore her baby and accepted it.”

Good for her. Really and sincerely. One absolutely must applaud anyone who can exhibit that kind of courage and resilience. But that doesn’t mean we should expect the same of everyone. And it definitely doesn’t mean we should demand the same of everyone. Once again: every abortion, and every unwanted pregnancy, is a unique story. And sometimes the stories do not have such pretty endings.

14. “But women should just choose adoption instead.”

This might be, and is, an acceptable solution for some women. But it by no means solves all of the problems for every woman facing a traumatic pregnancy. It can’t be emphasized enough: every abortion, and every unwanted pregnancy, is a unique story.

15. “But the time for choice is before pregnancy, not after.”

It’s always easier to be smug from a safe distance. But it doesn’t change a thing. Of course it’s better to prevent unwanted pregnancy than terminate it. And pro-choice activists have been trying very hard to make that point, largely to deaf ears. But once an unwanted pregnancy occurs, all the philosophizing, lecturing and shaming in the world will not undo it.

16. “But it’s a slippery slope.”

The slippery slope fallacy has been invoked quite frequently by opponents of one thing or another in an effort to emotionalize an issue by saying that action A will lead to action Z — the latter being an extreme hypothetical of some type. But these slippery slope warnings ignore that there are many intermediate steps between A and Z; and in most such scenarios, those intervening steps are insurmountable blocks to the absurd Z situation ever coming to pass. Such is the case when, for example, anti-abortionists warn that acceptance of aborting fetuses will lead to a total disregard for human life, with rampant euthanasia, killing people to harvest their organs, increased crime, and so on. There is no evidence that any of this is true.

This is not to say, however, that there is never a valid case for denouncing something resembling an actual slippery slope. Indeed, there are specifically scenarios approximating slippery slopes with regard to abortion. But they aren’t on the side of liberalizing it; on the contrary, they’re on the side of restricting it.  Give the “pro-lifers” an inch and they’ll take a light year. And they will pass laws and restrictions purely on the basis of ideology without regard to science or fact, or the actual consequences of their measures.

Don’t believe it? Look at what happened in Ohio. Legislators proposed and seriously considered a bill that would make abortion subject to the death penalty.  (These are “pro-lifers”, remember?) Not only that, it would require doctors to perform a feat that is medically impossible.  The (Republican, of course) legislator who introduced it admitted that he hadn’t even bothered with looking into whether what he was proposing was medically feasible. Why should he? He has God on his side, remember?

This is where things stand in Twenty-First Century America, not only in regard to abortion but in regard to many things. Arrogant politicians, even though they’re often in the minority, pass drastic and draconian laws for everyone to live by. Their laws are based on ideology and emotion rather than fact — indeed, they often scoff at the idea that they should be troubled to research the facts at all. Instead, they get their talking points from propagandists who deliberately spread disinformation. And rely very heavily on illogical arguments.

8 comments

  1. Thanks, P.O.P.!  Good coverage and points.   Would like to have read where the ‘mullahs’ guide some (or most) of the insanity.

    2nd para of 12. seems to need different sentence structure/punctuation at it’s start.

    -(ever the kuh-nit picker)

    Get Outlook for Android

  2. I appreciate all the evidence that upholds the fact that when abortions are not limited the rate of abortions actually goes down. However, the religious right does not care about facts, they are dedicated to denouncing a practice that actually ends the process of conception before it becomes a living human, and it is anyone’s guess (as I think the POP said), when exactly a fertilized egg truly becomes a human being.

    The right to lifers are also out to obtain political power via candidates who promise to end abortion practices, and they feel their best chance is in maintaining that every part of the life process is sacred and which is no one’s right to end. However, if that were true it would also be a sin if a man’s sperm and a woman’s egg were prevented from joining by using condemns or other forms of birth control. So, if a good-looking man and a good-looking woman passed on the street and did not immediately throw off all their clothes and engage in intercourse, that too might be a sin under the definitions of the extreme right.

    Personally, I view the practice of using condemns as a natural non-lethal form of controlling the size of the family one wants. And I would guess that many religious people feel the same. Merely preventing something that might occur from happening, is not a view held by many, including Catholics who frequently use the Pill etc.

    None the less the far right is betting it all on a black and white moral issue that contains many unverified claims—so why not let them be satisfied by rejecting various forms of birth control, including the pill, so they won’t need to face the possibility of aborting a child. However, many women I know admit that terminating a child would be a heart-breaking choice. But they are pro-choice anyway because they don’t want the government telling them what to do with their own bodies! And is it really true that if the day after pill prevents a primitive bunch of amorphous cells from evolving further, which has no nervous system, no muscular or bone development, no senses, and thus does not even feel hunger or pain (or even fear death) then my opinion is that, any God will forgive any woman for acting out of desperation when keeping their child includes strained family relationships, lack of a job, non-availability of birth control, and not being able to provide everything their child need.

    Yet, in many cases, parents have agreed to help their daughters care for their babies and sometimes even the state of being impregnated involves men accepting responsibility for making their girlfriends pregnant and contributing to the costs of raising their children.

    I don’t believe many women want to abort children late in pregnancies, and the current regulations apply until becoming at least 12 weeks pregnant with a bean sized embryo that an ultra-sound can reveal. After that, the number of abortions falls rapidly, and no child is ever aborted if it has developed during a full 9-month period in its mother’s womb. Thankfully though, there are exceptions made at later stages once Doctors are aware that a delivery involves great risk to a mother, or when a child is discovered as suffering from an extreme deformity that will not let it live outside the womb.

    Most upsetting is the way many self-righteous religious activists fail to treat pregnant women with dignity, when they look down on them, or scare them into taking actions that would only make it harder for a scared young girl to take care of a child. I actually know someone who was viciously spat upon by self-righteous “Christians” who just knew it was their right to make her feel much worse than she did already–despite the fact that their victims were already emotionally suffering long before doing what they felt they needed to do.

    Anyone who reveres life would have a more compassionate attitude without seeking to insult or force “sinners” into bearing the child! of a rapist for 9 months, or intimidate those who have inadequate financial security to raise children. Even if abortions are perceived as a sin, truly compassionate spiritual people everywhere would not treat pregnant women cruelly. When Jesus encountered a group of (truly “religious” jerks) who were beginning to stone to death a woman who had been unfaithful to her husband, he must have remained silent for a minute, before putting them in their place, simply by saying—”Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” The women’s self-ordained executioners then left, after Jesus revealed their hypocrisy and they presumably felt ashamed of themselves (as they should have)!

  3. “life process is sacred and which is no one’s right to end. However,”

    Better wording might go like this–(the life process is sacred and is no one’s right to end).”

  4. Merely preventing something that might occur from happening, is not a view held by many, including Catholics who frequently use the Pill etc. should have been said like this–(The choice of merely preventing something that might occur from happening is not perceived as a sin by many)

  5. “…into bearing the child! of a rapist for 9 months, or intimidate those who have inadequate financial security to raise children…” Would be better put this way,”–(…into bearing the child of a rapist for 9 months, or intimidate those who don’t have adequate financial security to raise children…)

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