A couple of weeks ago, on the bigthink.com website, blogger Adam Lee published the blog equivalent of an open letter to the pro-life movement challenging pro-lifers to answer 11 different questions that, by the looks of things, he seems to thing pose some serious challenge to the validity of the pro-life ethic.
I chuckled when I read through the list, as it’s little more than a shopping list of tired old pro-choice chestnuts that are actually largely just logical fallacies in drag.
But in the spirit of Christmas giving, I’ve decided to reply to his questions anyway…
1. Biological evidence suggests that a large number, if not a majority, of fertilized eggs are spontaneously aborted at a very early stage of pregnancy (by some estimates, as many as 50%). Do you consider this an ongoing humanitarian crisis that urgently needs medical research?
I am tempted to dismiss this one outright by simply asking Adam Lee whether he believes that the fact that 100% of human beings die is a massive humanitarian crisis that urgently needs research so that no more human beings will die, ever, but that would be a bit cheeky, so I’ll spend a bit more time on this one.
Firstly, the biological evidence on this matter is far from certain – there are actually good reasons to doubt whether the majority of these ‘embryos’ lost to natural wastage are actually even embryos at all.
Let me quote from an earlier blog post where I addressed this very issue:
The key point here is that it is almost certain that it is many of these types of entities which are lost in very early spontaneous abortions, as opposed to healthy human beings (the pro-life position is NOT that every meeting of a sperm and an egg is necessarily a conception of a new human being, by the way).
More importantly, from an ethical perspective, is that Adam is comparing an act of homicide with natural death.
Spontaneous abortion is a case of natural death (i.e. caused by mother nature), abortion, on the other hand, is an act of homicide (the deliberate killing of an innocent human being).
And here’s the important bit – while it is ethically wrong to deliberately kill an innocent human being, it is NOT ethically wrong to allow mother nature to run her course and allow a human being to die naturally (assuming that we are talking about a spontaneous abortion that has occurred after the meeting of a sperm and an egg that has actually resulted in the conception of a human being, and not something else).
Think of it like this – anti-whaling groups are NOT being inconsistent if they try and blockade whaling ships in order to prevent them from harpooning whales, but at the same time do nothing to save whales dying of natural causes elsewhere in the ocean.
There are two different ethical questions/acts involved here, and it is an absolute logical fallacy to suggest that one needs to oppose both, or work to resolve both in order to be ethically consistent.
Like I said earlier, this is about as logical as suggesting that anti-whaling campaigners who protest Japanese whaling, but refuse to try and prevent whales from dying natural deaths are somehow being ethically inconsistent or hypocritical.
I wonder if Adam is just as consistent in his reasoning when it comes to someone like Oskar Schindler, who, according to this logic, was quite clearly a moral hypocrite for saving all those Jewish lives from the murderous Nazis while never doing anything to try and prevent all the cancers that killed Jews during WW2. Surely if he really truly cared about Jews he would have also done something to stop cancer, which also kills Jews, right?
Or, if we take the African continent as another example, and applied the logical fallacy Adam Lee is falling into with this question, we’d have to say that anyone who worked in that region to bring about positive change, but who didn’t try to overcome EVERY single problem hurting the African people (from HIV, to poverty, to disease, to starvation, to corruption, to war, to lack of proper healthcare, to child soldiers, to economic strife, to education, etc.) would quite clearly be an inconsistent hypocrite who didn’t really practice what they preach.
2. If you could write the law however you saw fit, how would you enforce a ban on abortion? For example, in El Salvador, when women come to hospitals seeking treatment for a miscarriage, they can be detained until a forensic vagina investigator can arrive and perform an exam to see if they had an illegal abortion. Would you have something like this? If not, what enforcement mechanism would you have?
Ah yes, the logical fallacy of ‘false dichotomy’. What Adam Lee seems to be trying to imply with this question is that it’s either ‘illegal abortion with vaginal exams’, or ‘legal abortion and no vaginal exams’.
Only problem is that this is a false dichotomy which frames this issue as if vaginal exams for miscarriage are some sort of necessary requirement in a legal framework which outlaws abortion.
I’m sure I don’t need to labour the point that no such thing would be necessary, and neither was it something that happened prior to legalization of abortion in most countries, so I’m not sure why he’s even raising this as an issue.
3. Why do you think it is that so many proposed abortion bans have no exception for the woman’s life or health? (For example, anti-abortion laws with no health exceptions exist in Chile, Honduras, Suriname and El Salvador. Even in the U.S., similar bans have been passed by Republican legislatures in Indiana and South Dakota.) Do you think there should be such an exception?
Probably because direct abortion is not therapeutic, and it is not actually needed to save the life of a mother.
Do I have any problem with the lack of such clauses? No (assuming we’re actually talking about direct abortions – more on this below).
Let me put it another way, does Adam Lee think that anti-infanticide laws should include an exception to allow for the killing of infants to save the life of a mother (maybe organ harvesting, or rare blood type donations, etc)? If not, why not?
What Adam Lee probably doesn’t understand is that the principle of Double Effect actually allows for life-saving treatments to be administered to pregnant women, even if such treatments are likely to cause the premature death of the unborn child.
Such treatments are NOT direct abortions, and therefore they would still be permissible even when abortion is outlawed – any country that doesn’t allow such treatments has not constructed its laws in this area properly (according to sound ethical principles), and therefore the fault is NOT with the pro-life ethic, but with the way that specific legislation has been drafted.
4. Would you permit exceptions to an abortion ban in the case of rape? If so, how would this work? For a pregnant woman to get an abortion, would she have to accuse a specific person of the crime, and would he have to be tracked down, arrested, charged, put on trial and convicted, all before the point of fetal viability?
No, anti-abortion laws should not permit abortion in the case of rape.
Once again, let me put this another way, should anti-infanticide laws include an exception that allows rape conceived infants to be killed (after birth obviously)?
Let’s say that a sexually active married woman was raped in her home one night, and it wasn’t until after the child was born that she discovered that the child was NOT her husband’s, meaning that it could only be the child of her attacker, should she be allowed to end the life of that infant?
Or what about a rape victim who initially says yes to keeping her baby, but she is still in a traumatized state of mind, and immediately after the child is born she claims that if the child is allowed to keep on living it will psychologically destroy her – should she be allowed to have that infant killed?
Rape-conceived human beings are no different to you and I, so why should they be granted any less rights than you or I are just because of the manner of their conception?
5. What do you think the penalty should be for doctors who perform abortion?
Barring some sort of exceptional circumstances, I would suggest that doctors who perform abortions should receive the same prison sentence that any other person guilty of committing an act of homicide would receive.
6. What do you think the penalty should be for women who seek out an abortion?
This would depend entirely on the circumstances – just like it does in any other criminal case – but, as a general rule, the women who seek out abortions should definitely not be treated as harshly by the law as the actual abortionist who commits the act of homicide and kills the unborn child.
7. If your answers to the last two questions are different, why are they different?
Is this even a necessary question to ask? I would have thought that it would be quite obvious why there are differences between the actions of the abortionist and those of the pregnant woman.
Firstly, a pregnant woman is only an accessory, while the abortionist is the one who actually carries out the homicide.
Secondly, and more importantly, the pregnant woman is extremely vulnerable, is almost certainly not in full possession of all the facts, and is extremely desperate to find a way out of the crisis pregnancy that she now finds herself involved in.
The abortionist exploits a pregnant woman’s vulnerable state, and kills her child for their own financial gain, and therefore they are treated more harshly by the law because their culpability is obviously far greater.
Such an approach to prosecuting criminal offending is not at all novel either.
There are many, many instances where different punitive measures are taken against the different people who engage in a crime, and these same factors of their level of involvement, their psychological and emotional state leading up to, and at the time of the crime, etc, are all taken into account when determining their personal culpability for what has transpired.
8. Since IVF clinics also create and discard fertilized embryos, would you also be in favor of outlawing IVF?
And not just because of the destruction of human embryos that takes place, but also because of the other ethical problems and social harms that are associated with IVF.
But I’m really not sure how this could be surprising, or is Adam Lee expecting a pro-lifer to say to him ‘I am totally opposed to the destruction of innocent human beings prior to birth, unless destroying those human lives is part of a process that can produce a good outcome (in the approximately 20% – 25% of cases where it works)?
9. Since abortion has been legal in the United States for decades and doesn’t seem to be on the verge of being outlawed, do you think it would be a good idea, as a fallback, to make effective contraception more widely available so that there are fewer unwanted pregnancies and less need for abortion? If not, why not?
Once again, let me quote from a previous blog post where I addressed this very issue…
It seems to me that this is one of the key flaws in this arguments, because what [he] is trying to suggest is that if you simply find a way to stop pregnancies, then there will be less abortions.
However I would suggest that in actual fact, the important point here is the issue of these pregnancies being “wanted”, or not – that’s not a matter of whether someone gets pregnant or not, but whether they have a respect for human life that is absolute, and that they adhere to, even when a pregnancy is not planned, or it requires sacrifice on the part of the mother (as they all do).
The key point is that increased contraception doesn’t lead to an increase in respect for human life, and human rights in the womb, and therefore, at best, it is little more than a band aid over a gaping wound (by the way, the wound here is NOT the existence of the babies, but our cultural beliefs and treatment of those babies – get it?)
There are also some serious factual flaws in [the] argument.
For example, an Alan Guttmacher Institute survey, of more than 10,000 women who had procured abortions in 2000 and 2001 in the USA, found that only 12 percent of these women stated that problems obtaining contraception was the reason for their pregnancies.
This result was backed up by a second Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study of teenage mothers in the USA which similarly found that only 13 percent of the teens reported having had trouble getting contraception.
Or there is the important research that was recently pointed out by Ross Douthat in his New York Times column (emphasis added):
“Another Guttmacher Institute study suggests that liberal states don’t necessarily do better than conservative ones at preventing teenagers from getting pregnant in the first place. Instead, the lower teenage birth rates in many blue states are mostly just a consequence of (again) their higher abortion rates. Liberal California, for instance, has a higher teen pregnancy rate than socially conservative Alabama; the Californian teenage birth rate is only lower because the Californian abortion rate is more than twice as high“
Once again, I think it’s fair to say that the supposed bullet-proof solution to the problem of abortion (more contraception) isn’t actually as foolproof as some pro-choicer’s would to think, or claim that it is.
Then there is also the fact that chemical contraceptives are one of the known risk factors for increasing the chance of ectopic pregnancy (where the embryo implants and grows outside the womb, a situation which can kill both mother and unborn child if left untreated).
Most importantly of all, this reasoning doesn’t seem to have considered the fact that the Pill doesn’t actually save the life of any unborn children.
Instead what the Pill would do (assuming that it worked perfectly and prevented all possible conceptions, which NEVER happens in the real world, by the way) is PREVENT new human life from coming into existence, but that is NOT the same thing as saving a human life – to save a human life, that life actually first has to exist (which wouldn’t happen if the Pill worked seamlessly every time).
This is why it is completely flawed to imply that pro-lifers are somehow failing to attempt to save lives (therefore being inconsistent) if they refuse to endorse the Pill.
Just stop and think about the totally ludicrous nature of what her position actually entails for a moment – what is being suggested here is that if pro-lifers refuse to endorse an action that could prevent a natural death by preventing that person from ever existing in the first place, then they are somehow being inconsistent.
But why should this reasoning apply only to unborn human beings and not ALL human beings?
After all, the pro-life movement isn’t just concerned with unborn human life, but with a respect for the dignity of all human beings from conception to natural death.
But then, according to this reasoning, in order to be consistent about saving human lives, wouldn’t pro-lifers actually have to support the sterilization of ALL humans, as this would be the only way to stop any more human beings from being conceived and then going on to die natural deaths at some point in their existence, either before or after birth?
10. If you would, address this purely hypothetical situation: There’s a five-alarm fire at a fertility clinic, and you’re the first firefighter to enter the building. On one side of the building, there’s a petri dish with half a dozen frozen embryos. On the other side, there’s a cowering five-year-old girl. You only have time to save one. Which would you choose and why?
This thought experiment is a total red herring.
It doesn’t matter which human being(s) you saved, the outcome would only be different by degree, in that you would end up saving either one, or many human beings, or in one scenario the human being(s) saved would be different in age than they would in the other.
Let me put it another way – if you were in a house that was burning down, and there is an elderly woman in one room, and an infant in the other, and you only have time to save one person from the fire, which one would you save and why?
Ultimately, no matter who you choose to save you have still saved at least one human life.
Adam Lee seems to think that this thought experiment is somehow intended to expose some flaw in the pro-life reasoning, but it simply does not – it literally is a red herring that provides little more than an interesting discussion starter about motivations for the rescuer’s actions.
Let me give you another thought experiment: There’s a five-alarm fire at a hospital, and you’re the first firefighter to enter the building. On one side of the building, there’s a bed with an anesthetized child on it, and this child will not awaken before the fire claims her life. On the other side, there’s a cowering five-year-old girl. You only have time to save one. Which would you choose and why?
The reason I have presented this altered version of the thought experiment is to point out that someone could choose to save the cowering five year old girl for reasons that have nothing at all to do with whether they believe she is a human being or not (or, alternately, whether or not the embryos are human beings entitled to the right to life or not).
It would be quite ethically logical for a pro-lifer to weigh the situation in the fertility clinic and decide that, because they can’t save both the embryos and the cowering five-year-old, they would choose to save the cowering five-year-old girl, due to the fact that, unlike the embryos, she will suffer a painful death if she is not plucked from harms way, whereas the embryos, even though they will tragically be lost, will not suffer in such a death.
This would be similar to choosing a cowering five-year-old over an an anesthetized child who will never awaken before the fire claims her life.
In such a scenario the pro-lifer is not choosing one over the other because they consider one to be human, and the other not, or they consider one to have rights and the other not, instead they are making their decision based on other considerations.
Either way, they have NOT violated the pro-life ethic, or the truths that it proclaims about the beginning of every human life with their actions. There simply is no ethical contradiction here.
11. Bonus question for evangelical Christians: Until the late 1970s, many prominent evangelicalswere pro-choice. Clearly, opinions on this matter have changed very dramatically in a relatively short amount of time. What do you think accounts for this?
What’s your point?
This is yet another red herring (plus there’s the whiff of the logical fallacy of ‘appeal to authority’ in this one too).
In previous eras many prominent Christians also supported slavery. Why do you think that was? Clearly, opinions on this matter have changed very dramatically over time. What do you think accounts for this?
Perhaps these Christian leaders came to realize that they were actually supporting a grave evil, and a serious violation of human rights by supporting abortion, and so they rightly adjusted their position on the issue, just as their forebears did regarding slavery.
So there you go – 11 pro-choice chestnuts, 11 pro-life answers which show why these questions pose absolutely no challenge at all to the logic of the pro-life ethic.