Seven Deadly Fallacies in Pro-Abortion Arguments

We are rational animals, let us reiterate.  This is not a matter for debate.  In fact, it explains why people have developed a long list of invectives for those whose thoughts and actions deviate noticeably from a rational standard:  “airhead,” “blockhead,” “knucklehead,” “lunkhead,” “dimwit,” “moron,” “idiot,” “lamebrain,” “dumbbell,” “dolt,” “not the sharpest knife in the drawer,” and so on ad infinitum.

Nonetheless, when arguments in favour of abortion are put forth by seemingly responsible people, repeatedly, passionately, and under sophisticated auspices, their degree of irrationality can easily be eclipsed and thereby ignored.  We are also human beings who are highly distractible and therefore easily taken in.

Logic is the rational tool that exposes the rationality or the irrationality of an argumentation.  The proceeding enumerates and elaborates seven popular irrational argumentations (or logical fallacies) that are associated with popular and effective abortion strategies.

Fallacy #1 – Mistaking the Qualified for the Absolute:

While it is true that water boils at 100 degrees centigrade, this is never an absolute statement.  Water boils at this temperature at sea level, but at different temperatures according to altitude.  “Exercise is good,” is an unqualified statement.  If one is recovering from triple bypass surgery, certain forms of exercise are not good.

Similarly, “choice,” the most effective ploy in the pro-abortionists arsenal, is a notion that needs qualification, but is taken as absolute.  Even pro-choicers are not pro-choice about domestic violence, slavery, racism, or driving under the influence.  Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) are a case in point.  They do not advise, “Don’t drink,” but “Don’t drink and drive”.

President Barack Obama, who is emphatically pro-choice on abortion, made sure he qualified his enthusiasm for choice on his campaign trail.  He fervently urged people to vote for him, thus qualifying their choice.

In an issue of Glamour magazine, Faye Wattleton, former president of Planned Parenthood, stated, “The right to abortion  . . . shouldn’t be a political football that candidates can kick around at will.”  But choice, she seems to forget, is an act of the will.  If women can choose abortion, why should politicians (as well as the populace) refrain from making it an election issue?  Ms. Wattleton is perfectly willing to qualify choice when it comes to politics, but not when it comes to abortion.  In the final analysis, what does being “pro-choice” really mean?

Fallacy #2 – Double Standard

Howard Fast (d. 2003), prolific author of some 42 novels, has argued that pro-lifers are insincere because their concern for life does not continue beyond birth:  “I have never heard a right-to-life voice raised in protest against 60,000 innocents murdered by the death squads of El Salvador.”  Responding to this charge, William F. Buckley, Jr. had this to say:  “The lifers are, by Mr. Fast and others who think as he does, encumbered by the responsibility for everything that happens to the fetus after it materializes into a human being in the eyes of the law.  And if you aren’t around to see to it that at age 14 the kid is receiving the right education, ingesting the right food, leading a happy, prosperous life, why, you had no business bringing him into this world.  You are a hypocrite to the extent that you support life for everyone who suffers in life.  It is only left for Mr. Fast to close the logic of his own argument, which would involve him in a syllogistic attempt along the lines of:  Everyone suffers.  No one not living suffers.  Therefore, no one should live.”  Pro-lifers are responsible for everything.  Pro-choicers are responsible for nothing.

Another aspect of the double standard is to acknowledge a right to life for most people who have passed the infancy stage and withhold that right not only from the unborn, but from infants up to some arbitrarily established age.  For philosopher Mary Ann Warren, the age is 9 months after birth;  for Peter Singer, it is 28 days post partum.  Michael Tooley and others offer different cut-off ages.

The reasoning behind this double standard is that the unborn and neonates are alleged to be merely potential human beings or beings that lack a sufficient degree of consciousness to be identified as human persons.  Such reasoning, however, is without merit.  The unborn and neonates are not “potential” human beings, but human beings with a great deal of potential (a feature that characterizes all human beings).  In addition, “consciousness,” does not characterize the essence of the human being.  This erroneous notion goes back to Descartes Cogito (“I think therefore I am.”).

Fallacy #3 – Hasty Generalization

It is commonly asserted that abortion is a complex issue that women never treat lightly.  In fact, it alleged that they “agonize” over their decision to abort.  “It’s never simple,” says novelist John Irving.  Syndicated columnist George Will is correct when he points out that most Americans “are uneasy about the promiscuous creation and destruction of life, often for frivolous reasons of negligence and convenience.”

The fact is well documented that many women who had undergone abortion have admitted that in their cases they never gave abortion a second thought.  These women testified that since abortion is their “right,” their decision was made simple by that very fact.  In the words of author Suzanne Gordon:  “I am a very liberated woman.  My decision to have an abortion was made without the slightest trace of emotional conflict.  I had no qualms that what I was about to do would make me feel any less a woman.”

It is illogical to assume that because some women “agonize” over their decision to abort, that all women do.  Many women who have had abortions without giving the matter proper thought have come to regret their decision and are now active members of groups such as WE (Women Exploited), WEBA (Women Exploited by Abortion), Victims of Choice, Silent No More, etc.

Fallacy #4 – Begging the Question

In the fallacy of begging the question, the conclusion that one is allegedly seeking is already assumed and not proven.  It is a form of circular thinking.  Consider the following example:  “I know that God exists because it says so in the Bible.  Furthermore, I know that the Bible is trustworthy because it is inspired by God.”  Here, the assumption that God exists is used to prove itself.

Although women have a legal right (in the United States, for example) to have an abortion, this does not mean that their legal right implies a moral right.  Historically, laws in many instances that were seen to be immoral were changed (the Dred Scott decision, for example).  To regard abortion as “responsible” also begs the question.  All too commonly it is assumed, but not demonstrated, that a woman has a moral right to an abortion and that when she exercises this “right” she behaves “responsibly”.  But in committing this fallacy, one avoids the discussion of whether, indeed, abortion is a moral right and an instance of responsible behaviour, while simply assuming that it is.

Fallacy #5 – Hypothesis Contrary to Fact

This fallacy claims what would have happened if something else did not happen in its place.  To prove what would have happened, hypothetically, although impossible, is not, however without its own seductive appeal.  A baseball fan, disconsolate after his team lost, will say, “The manager brought in pitcher B who promptly gave up two runs and blew the game.  Had he brought in pitcher A, we would have won.”  A person is never in a position to know what might have happened if a different set of factors were brought into play.

Gloria Steinem famously proclaimed that “If men could get pregnant, then abortion would be a sacrament.”  Apart from being an instance of hyperbole, the statement is completely unverifiable.  The statement is also unintelligible because, if men were women, they would no longer be men.  Apparently, Ms. Steinem is arguing that the male disposition is such that he would not only welcome abortion, but would glorify it.  Nonetheless, she is hypothesizing about a situation that is both contradictory and impossible.

At the same time, Ginette Paris, a psychologist and therapist, has produced The Sacrament of Abortion in which she argues that from a purely pagan perspective women  themselves should regard abortion as a sacrament.

The argument is commonly raised that if a pro-life person were in the same situation as an aborting woman, she, too, would choose abortion.  This hypothetical fallacy has the additional vice of denying pro-life women their freedom to choose differently.

Fallacy #6 – Stereotypic Thinking

Stereotypic thinking occurs when a particular group of people is typed or classified in such as way that it represents an injustice to many of the individuals who comprise that group.  Stereotypic thinking usually coincides with prejudice.

People who stand up for life and oppose abortion are routinely classified as “right wing,” “judgmental,” “religious fanatics,” being “anti-choice,” “lacking in compassion,” “fetus freaks,” “fascistic,” “totalitarian,” “misogynistic,” and so on.

Comedian George Carlin once closed a television program by remarking that pro-life women are all so unattractive that no one would want to get them pregnant in the first place.  Stereotypic thinking can be cruel as well as unjust. T. S. Eliot’s, character J. Alfred Prufrock comes to mind who was the victim of “The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase” and is left “formulated, sprawling on a pin.”  Stereotypic thinking can be an instance of psychic violence.  About the only thing one can say about all pro-life people is that they are pro-life.

Fallacy #7 – Accident

The fallacy of accident confuses some accidental feature with that which is essential.  People have been known to bet on a horse because they liked its name or the colors of the jockey’s attire.  These are hardly logical reasons for waging a bet since they are wholly unrelated to the factors that will determine the outcome of the race.

The fallacy of accident abounds in pro-abortion rhetoric.  The unborn are judged inferior to the born because of such accidental features as:  1) place of resident;  2) stage of development;  3) whether or not they happen to be wanted by their mother.

At the same time, defenders of the unborn are discredited because they are: 1) men;  2) Christian (especially Catholic);  3) not poor.

This fallacy is a form of ignoring the issue in which the essential elements are set aside, and the argument focuses exclusively on peripheral aspects that are not germane to the issue at hand.

Conclusion

“I had a lover’s quarrel with the world” is the epitaph that Robert Frost chose for his gravestone.  G. K. Chesterton advised that “one should never let a quarrel get in the way of a good argument.”  Quarrelling has its roots in the ego.  The ego, which has such a powerful avidity for itself, is nothing more than a fountainhead of pride which, to cite Chesterton once more, is “the falsification of fact by the introduction of self.”  Defending the lives of others, while exposing oneself to contempt, vituperation, slander, and illogic seems to be rather selfless.  Right-to-life people have never tired of constructing clear-headed logical arguments in defense of life.  In this regard, they are apostles of good will.  But it does seem that it is their critics who show signs of ill will.

The ego is hardly communal.  It is in love with the self and the self alone. From its narrow perspective the right to an unencumbered life for the self trumps the right to life for the unborn.  Bearing and rearing a child is thus seen as an intolerable inconvenience and the supreme encumbrance.

There is little logical debate going on between pro-life and “pro-choice” sides.  When argument is met by quarrelling, there can be no logical resolution of the conflict.  The difference between pro- and anti-abortion proponents runs far below the surface of a logical debate both for the individuals involved as well as for all others who make up the human family.  The abortion stakes are high and its implications are far-reaching.  Egocentrism is the great enemy of civilization.

What kind of society do we want?  Do we want one that consists of quarrelling individuals who bear ill will toward their adversaries?  Or do we want a civilization of civil people who understand and practice their communal obligations to others and value their individuality precisely in terms of that service to others?

Socrates stood courageously against the Sophists.  He wanted to engage in a productive dialogue.  As a realist philosopher, he understood that there is a common measure or source of meaning (logos) across which (dia-) we can all speak.  But they could not meet on that common ground, the very ground that makes dialogue possible.  The Sophists were content merely to seem to be wise.  Socrates wanted wisdom and would not retreat from that ideal.  Yet he found himself in the predicament of a good physician being prosecuted by a pleasing cook before a jury of ignorant children.

There is no wisdom in abortion or in its defense.  Because the Sophists and pro-abortionists both reject wisdom, they also reject that which provides substance for logical argumentation.  This is a crucial rejection, especially on a subject as fraught with moral import as abortion.  In the absence of wisdom, there can be no fruitful discussion.  Choice without wisdom has no touchstone to give it justification.  A skilled surgeon in the possession of the most highly refined surgical instruments and an expertly trained staff cannot perform surgery without a patient.  Logic needs something to sink its teeth in.  Logic itself will not unearth truth, but it cannot operate in its absence.  It has been said that there can be no real dialogue unless three are present:  two who are engaged in dialogue and the silence that encompasses them both to quiet their egos and point to a wisdom beyond themselves.  Pure choice is a metaphysical orphan, deprived of underlying wisdom, bereft of logical defense.


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About the Author

Dr. Donald DeMarco is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, St. Jerome’s University, Waterloo, Ontario; a Visiting Scholar, Holy Apostles College and Seminary; a Distinguished Visiting Teacher, St. Hyacinth College, Granby, Massachusetts; Faculty Member at: Catholic Bible College of Canada; St. Joseph’s College, Edmonton; Mater Ecclesiae, Rhode Island; Domus Mariae, Rhode Island; John Paul II Institute, Melbourne, Australia; and a Lecturer for the Sisters of Mary Immaculate, Cambridge, Ontario. He is the author of 21 books, including, How to be Virtuous in a Not-So-Virtuous World with Fr. Bill McCarthy, MSA (Los Angeles, CA: Queenship, 2007); several hundred articles in scholarly journals and in anthologies, and articles and essays appearing in other journals and magazines and in newspapers; and innumerable book reviews in a variety of publications. His education includes: B.S. Stonehill College, North Easton, MA 1959 (General Science); A.B. Stonehill College, 1961 (Philosophy); Gregorian University, Rome, Italy, 1961-2 (Theology); M.A. St. John's University, Jamaica, NY, 1965 (Philosophy); and Ph.D. At. John's Univ., 1969 (Philosophy). His Master's dissertation was "The Basic Concept in Hegel's Dialectical Method" and his Doctor’s dissertation was "The Nature of the Relationship between the Mathematical and the Beautiful in Music". He is married to Mary Arendt DeMarco and they have five children.

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5 Comments

  1. Hello Dr.,

    You write, ‘We are rational animals, let us reiterate. This is not a matter for debate.’ However, it is a matter that is debated. Just ask Dr. Singer. It is right to debate with those that disagree with us.

    If rationality is the sole source of human dignity, then the enemies of life have already won. As you observe, we are not always rational. At the end of life, when senile, when brain damaged, when asleep, before we have brain waves, are we rational? I don’t think so. Thus the destroyers of vulnerable human life say that lives in such a condition are not as worthy of preservation as those which are fully rational. Surely you would not agree with that judgment. But if rationality cannot be the basis of human dignity at all times, then we must find another basis to justify the legal protection of human life which is not yet, can never be, or is no longer rational.

    One such possible basis is the incarnation of Christ. God became man, thereby conferring dignity on man forever. Christ did not come as a dolphin or chimp; thus even if such creatures were to display rationality of some kind, it would not behoove us to treat those animals, however perfect, with the same dignity as human beings, however imperfect.

    What does it really mean to be rational? Aren’t all creatures rational to some degree? Do we value rationality more than Man?

    If we base the dignity of man on his creation in the image of God, and, if we narrow the meaning of that image to refer to man’s rationality, then why are irrational or sub-rational or non-rational human beings possessed of inherent dignity? Do we need additional theological reflection on what it means to be created in the image of God beyond the insight that human beings, in their perfect state, are the most rational beings made of flesh that God made?

  2. Yan,

    I think if we are to engage in discussion with people who do not share our beliefs, at least for the sake of public policy making, we need to have some common ground. Logic and rationality is a great starting point. I think the key to some of your questions are in the third paragraph of “Fallacy No. 2.” Without wanting to commit a logical fallacy myself, I would dare say, all true Catholic Christians believe the source of Human dignity is God. The ability to reason and think rationally, but not to rationalize, is a feature and outward sign of this gift. The fact that someone can reject God and still have access to this gift is testament to its magnitude. So the point of understanding this article is not to fall into Gnosticism, it is to enable you to engage in dialogue with a person who has different beliefs than you. Thank you for allowing us to engage in dialogue. Your friend, Ian

    Happy Easter,
    The Lord has truly risen, Alleluia.

  3. Ian, thanks for your comments. I agree God is the source of dignity for man. He is the source of dignity for all creatures. But we believe Man is special.

    If I say ‘ice cream is the best dessert, because it has sugar,’ you would rightly respond, ‘but cupcakes have sugar; why aren’t they also the best?’ Let’s say I respond, ‘ice cream is the best because it has the most sugar’ [assume this were really true.] You respond: ‘well, sometimes ice cream has no sugar at all. Sugar doesn’t have to be added to make it ice cream. You can make ice cream with milk and other things, it doesn’t have to have sugar. Granted it doesn’t taste as good as ice cream with sugar, but it is still ice cream, isn’t it? Is it still the best if it doesn’t have sugar at all?’

    The issue is the same with Man and rationality. If we say Man has special dignity because of his rationality, one could respond, ‘but other creatures exhibit some degree of intelligence.’ And if we defend against that observation by saying, ‘but Man is the most rational,’ one could respond, ‘well then, what about those human beings that aren’t rational? What about very stupid humans? Brain damaged, senile, unconscious humans? Do they still have special dignity?’

    If the answer to that last question is ‘Yes,’ as I believe it is, then, we have to ask, ‘what in addition to rationality makes Man a special creature? Why did Christ become one of us, and die for us, even the ones that are not rational?’

    I agree, we should dialogue with a person that has different beliefs than I do. That’s why I took issue with the statement that the belief that we are rational beings, insofar that it justifies Man to special dignity, is indeed a matter of debate, and we should be involved in that debate. We can’t choose to debate only the things we want to debate, and refuse to debate other things. The issue of our rationality is one of the most compelling issues today in terms of whether or not humans are special.

    Another idea perhaps is that the human race is the only race capable of full rationality, and that therefore, all its members, even the nonrational ones, are special by virtue of their membership in it. Dr. Singer calls that view pejoratively ‘specie-ism,’ but, in light of what Man is capable of, isn’t specie-ism warranted?

    Regards,
    Yan

  4. Numbers 31:7-18 NLT
    “Moses, Eleazar the priest, and all the leaders of the people went to meet them outside the camp. But Moses was furious with all the military commanders who had returned from the battle. “Why have you let all the women live?” he demanded. “These are the very ones who followed Balaam’s advice and caused the people of Israel to rebel against the LORD at Mount Peor. They are the ones who caused the plague to strike the LORD’s people. Now kill all the boys and all the women who have slept with a man. Only the young girls who are virgins may live; you may keep them for yourselves.”
    Religion can not be used to argue that abortion is morally wrong, man has done many things that are morally wrong in the name of G-d, but those actions not condemned.
    Most americans who are personally objected to abortion due to religous or moral beliefs, also believe it is not right to impose their values by civil law on everyone. You do not have to like abortion to respect the right of choice. Just as it is your Choice to believe in G-d and anothers to believe in the Hindu G-d Vishnu.
    While you said many pro-choicers arent pro-choice about abuse and other such crimes, these are things that have nothing to do with religion.

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