If you’ve seen or been a part of any abortion debate, especially an abortion debate on social media, it probably didn’t bring out the best in anyone, and it probably wasn’t done well, meaning, the debate wasn’t so much a debate but a string of ad hominem attacks, red herrings, straw men, and other common and unfortunate mistakes you see in, well, in just about any online argument.
A secular pro-choicer will shrug off any attempts from a religious pro-lifer to show a biblical or philosophical condemnation of abortion, or they’ll trot out the usual scenarios of rape, incest, a threat to the mother’s life, etc. Or perhaps they’ll mention the old “IVF clinic that’s caught fire” scenario.
And in response, emotions can run higher and higher until it’s a veritable screaming match and more about insulting the other person than guiding them to the truth.
I know I’ve seen a lot of these in the comments sections of various posts, and in the past, it certainly would have turned me off to ever jumping into them myself. I didn’t want to be mobbed and attacked. I didn’t have great arguments that I was confident in. And perhaps backed into a corner, I might let my emotions get the best of me and say things that really didn’t help the cause.
But the pro-life position is actually the most logical and reasonable position, as well as the most merciful. And in this blog post and accompanying podcast episode, I’d like to go through some of those now.
And while easily enough to refute, most pro-choice arguments put forth are the same old tropes, making it simpler for you to understand the rebuttals, feel confident in them, and be effective in using them.
But before we start, two notes I want to make:
- Listen to this podcast episode of The Catholic Mama where my husband Pat joins me to discuss many of these arguments. Also this bonus episode might be of interest – on his show, The Pat Flynn Show, a bioethicist joins in to discuss the pro-life position.
- Any moral argument, whether about God or abortion or what have you, has one goal that should trump all: It isn’t as much about winning the argument as it is about saving a soul. In many of the cases, the person you’re going up against may be too close-minded and angry to see the validity of your argument in that moment, but you don’t know how that will affect them in the long run. As well, there are people sitting on the sidelines. Those may be the ones you’re really helping, and you may never know it or they may message you or pull you aside afterwards to tell you the impact you had. Keep those people in mind as you debate.
So I actually wound up getting in an abortion debate on an Instagram thread recently. It served as a pretty good case study that I want to base this post around.
Why? Because the arguments that the pro-choice person made are some of the most common ones and the ones you are most likely to encounter yourselves. So I’m going to share the screenshots below and we’ll go through them in more detail, point by point (Instagram, unfortunately, doesn’t allow for very long comments so it’ll be good to expand here…also, forgive some of my typos :)).
Okay, and now let’s dissect this further and so arm you with the pro-life arguments you need to know.
A Woman’s Right to Choose
Pro-Choice Argument: You can’t tell a woman what she can or can’t do with her body.
Pro-Life Rebuttal: We are told all the time what we can and can’t do in the forms of laws, all with the directive of keeping each other and society as a whole safe – whether that’s keeping each of us from becoming a victim or from perpetuating harm. There are laws, for example, that prohibit drinking and driving. For the safety of the person who wants to imbibe and for those they may potentially harm, the law tells us we cannot drink and drive. And that law only exists to keep people from potentially getting hurt or killed. In abortion, someone, a defenseless victim, is always getting killed.
Note: It is reasonable and responsible for society to enact laws that limit choices. Remember, no person has an unlimited right to choose whatever they want in society, except for maybe what they believe. Where to draw the line? Well, typically when one person’s choices wind up harming–or potentially killing–another. This, again, is why drinking is allowed, but drunk-driving is not. It doesn’t matter whether its your body, or not; you’re right to use your body how you choose does not supercede the safety of others. The right to swing your fist ends precisely at the boundary of another person’s face.
A Woman’s Right to Property
Pro-Choice Argument: The fetus is trespassing on the woman’s body and poses a threat to her health. Therefore, it is a woman’s choice whether or not she wants this trespasser in her body, using her organs without her consent.
Pro-Life Rebuttal: (1) Laws exist to prescribe the amount of force one is allowed to use when someone is trespassing on, say, your land. You are not permitted, indeed it is a crime, to shoot to kill someone who wanders onto your property and is unarmed and defenseless. I think we can certainly say a fetus is unarmed and defenseless.
(2) Both this argument and the previous one are predicated on the concept that the woman has a right to choose because her life is valuable. What makes her life valuable but not another’s? In order to try and argue that a woman has a right to make the decision to kill an innocent and defenseless human, you have to argue that this woman has value. So why does she have value but not the one she will kill?
(3) Finally, trespassing is disanalogous in this regard since trespassing implies that a person is not where they should be. But if the fetus is supposed to be anywhere, it is certainly within his or her mother’s womb. That is the normal, healthy, and proper place for a fetus to be and develop.
Which brings us to the next argument…
The Fetus Cannot Survive On Its Own
Pro-Choice Argument: The fetus cannot survive on its own before 22 weeks and therefore since it is not viable, can morally be terminated.
Pro-Life Rebuttal: Two good arguments to counter this one is: SLED and “Trot Out a Toddler.” Let’s look at these both. But first let’s note that the science is very clear on the fact that life starts at conception. It is empirically verified and logical.
For anyone who otherwise tries to refute that fact, they are forced to set the beginning of life at some arbitrary value, and that’s where the argument lies. If you side with science, there is no argument. It’s simply biological fact that life starts at the moment of conception. Even just a cursory inspection of any basic, embryology textbook will confirm this.
Human development begins after the union of male and female gametes or germ cells during a process known as fertilization (conception).
“Fertilization is a sequence of events that begins with the contact of a sperm (spermatozoon) with a secondary oocyte (ovum) and ends with the fusion of their pronuclei (the haploid nuclei of the sperm and ovum) and the mingling of their chromosomes to form a new cell. This fertilized ovum, known as a zygote, is a large diploid cell that is the beginning, or primordium, of a human being.”
[Moore, Keith L. Essentials of Human Embryology. Toronto: B.C. Decker Inc, 1988, p.2]
Indeed, the “10 Second Apologetic” is great for this:
- If it’s growing, it’s alive.
- If it’s got human parents, it’s human.
- And as a human, shouldn’t it be valued like you and me?
Okay, back to SLED.
SLED is an acronym for Size, Level of Dependency, Environment, and Development.
Size – At what size do you assign value? Does a person have to be two feet tall? Or do they not get any value until they’re at least five feet tall?
Level of Dependency – Newborns are completely dependent and cannot survive on their own. Heck, some people might argue the same about teenagers or the elderly who require extensive assistance to perform mundane tasks. At what level of independence does value get assigned to a person and you can’t kill them anymore?
Environment– You put a person on the moon, and they can’t survive without lots of equipment, planning, and care. Can we kill them?
Development – Do people with an iQ over a certain number get to be valued and worthy of life or can we kill someone who has a lower iQ? A two year old doesn’t have the fine motor skills in order to operate a vehicle or text their friends, are they deemed less valuable and can we kill them until they reach a certain level of development?
As you can see, if a person denies human life begins at conception, then a lot of problems arise as to when they are considered human, valuable, and illegal to kill. Agree with scientific fact that life begins at conception, and you see that the human fetus is indeed a human and has a right to be given a chance at life, like any other human.
How does “Trot Out a Toddler” work? Replace a fetus with a two year old in the scenario. A woman suddenly doesn’t want to care for her toddler anymore. She can’t handle it financially or emotionally or due to circumstances outside her control. Or maybe she just realized she doesn’t want the kid anymore. Is she morally justified in killing the two year old? Why or why not? Hop back into the SLED formula from here.
The Baby Is a Parasite/Just Another Organ
Pro-Choice Argument: I think that subheading pretty much sums up this really stupid line of offense. So let’s just get to the rebuttal.
Pro-Life Rebuttal: On the parasite claim – Scientifically speaking, a parasite is of a different species as its host. Remember that 10 second apologetic? If it has human parents, it’s human? So no, it actually and quite simply cannot be a parasite. In fact, science has shown that the relationship between a fetus and its mother is a symbiotic one, imparting real, measurable, and lasting benefits to the mother as well as to the baby.
On the organ claim – Organs are parts of a whole. They can never and will never be a whole, meaning they will never develop enough to exist on its own, become sentient, reproduce other separate and distinct organs, etc. Think of a kidney. It will never grow up, learn to read, fall in love, get a job, marry, have little kidneys of its own.
In contrast, a fetus is a whole. It is composed of many parts, which work together to create and support an organism that will develop to a point of independence, be sentient, and reproduce. Oh yeah, and it’s got its own DNA. So it may develop inside the uterus organ but it is a wholly separate being from the mother.
What about Rape, Incest, or Saving the Mother’s Life?
These are very hard cases…and they are the exceptions, and exceptions should not inform the rule.
In the case of rape and incest – This is horrific, but there are two victims here, not just one. The fetus is the second. Condemning the fetus to die doesn’t serve justice. Justice is served by punishing the perpetrator of the crime. Not an innocent victim made without knowledge or will from the crime.
In the case of saving the mother’s life – This scenario only occurs in 1% of all pregnancies. Difficult choices may need to be made, but the moral truth underlying them is clear: You should not actively and directly kill the baby to save the mother.
Think of two people drowning at sea, and you can only save one. In choosing to save one person, the other will die. It’s a tough and tragic choice. That is trying to save the mother’s life without actively trying to kill the fetus.
Now imagine, as you go to save the one person you chose to save, you shoot the other person in the head and kill them. That is abortion.
The Fire in the IVF Clinic
Pro-Choice Argument: An IVF clinic catches fire. A five year old is trapped inside. You can either save a thousand embryos or the child. Which do you save?
Pro-Life Rebuttal: Besides the fact that this is an entirely unlikely scenario and actually one that has no direct correlation to the abortion debate, let’s look at it.
This again, is a tough choice. Is it better to save one child from a painful death or is it better to save many embryos, although they may never successfully implant and they would die painlessly?
Whatever the choice, there is a fundamental moral truth that we can’t ignore: We shouldn’t actively kill anyone simply because they are unwanted.
And besides, this IVF clinic as compared to abortion? It doesn’t fit. Abortion would be purposefully setting the clinic on fire in the first place. The goal of abortion is simply, plainly, medically, and scientifically to kill a human.
Keeping Abortion Safe by Making It Legal
One line of argument that wasn’t included in this case study is the idea that if we rescinded the lawfulness of abortion, we would be condemning women to unsafe, back alley abortions. But we do not make immoral things legal just to make them safer.
For example: To make it safer for those involved, we do not legalize the harvesting of children’s organs on the streets simply because it’s going to happen anyway and we might as well make it marginally safer for them. That simply doesn’t hold.
If the act in question is an immoral one, then we do not accept it and legalize it to make it safer for those who perpetuate the immoral act.
There are other arguments that you may run up against in the abortion debate, but these are the most common ones.
So I hope this was helpful, and please do share it with anyone who you think would benefit. And again, I invite you to listen to this podcast episode and this one to further your understanding of these pro-life arguments. As you can see, we didn’t use the Bible at all. These are purely scientific and philosophical arguments. If you’re debating a religious pro-choicer, then the Bible can come in handy. We’ll get into those religious arguments against abortion in another post soon.
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