Bodily Rights Arguments Necessitate Extremism

Bodily rights arguments for abortion are always extremist arguments, at least in the way people present them. No bodily rights argument that I have ever seen (or even heard of any pro-choice advocate making) leaves room for abortion exceptions.

Not all pro-choice people are extremists.

A 2013 Gallup poll found that 80% of Americans believe abortion should be illegal in the third trimester. A 2012 Lozier Institute poll found that 77% of their respondents believed sex-selective abortions should be against the law. Most people, even pro-choice people, believe there are circumstances when abortion should not be legal.

But almost all pro-choice people use extremist arguments.

What is an extremist argument?

By “extremist arguments,” I don’t mean “arguments that extremists often use;” I mean arguments that necessarily lead to an extremist position. I am not saying that having an extremist position means you must take extremist or violent action. I am just saying if you make an argument that logically requires an extremist position and you don’t take that extremist position, you’re being inconsistent.

For instance, suppose someone said, “Having dark skin makes you a non-person, but I really like lots of people with dark skin and I think people ought to be nice to them.” They’re advocating for being nice, but “having dark skin makes you a non-person” is an extremist argument. The logical conclusion of that argument is that anyone who has dark skin should not be legally protected, that it is morally justified to enslave or kill such people. It doesn’t matter how kind, compassionate, or well-meaning the person is who says it; the argument is extremist.

People are welcome to try to justify abortion with extremist arguments, but they should expect to be gently challenged to hold a consistent view. If you’re making an extremist argument, you should be consistent and hold the extremist view that comes with it.

Planned Parenthood’s Absurd Position on HIV Disclosure

This morning I saw an article on DailyWire and I couldn’t decide if I was surprised or not. Kimberly Ellis points out that in Matt Lauer’s recent interview with Charlie Sheen, they were operating under a clear assumption that it is morally obligatory to disclose your HIV status to a sexual partner. Then Ellis points out that Planned Parenthood disagrees with Lauer and Sheen in their booklet for teens with HIV, Healthy, Happy and Hot.

Should I be surprised? On one hand, finding out that Planned Parenthood thinks HIV people have a moral right to not tell their sexual partners of their condition ought to be shocking. It’s a horrible, evil, destructive view. But on the other hand it shouldn’t be surprising because it coheres with what I already know about Planned Parenthood: they think the rights of some people to live (like the unborn) are less important than the rights of other people to have sex.

Two months ago I wrote an article about my conversation at the University of Michigan with a student I called Brent. Brent was honest enough to admit that he was pro-choice because he believed that the right to have sex was absolute, and without the right to kill unborn children, women wouldn’t be able to exercise that right.

Brent and Planned Parenthood (and many other pro-choice people) are making the same mistake: believing that the right to have sex is absolute. They are wrong. Your right to have sex is less important than another person’s right to live. Your right to live is more important than another person’s right to have sex.*

Four Practical Dialogue Tips from My Conversation with Brent

I noticed John Paul, one of our volunteers, looked nervous in his conversation with a student in front of our poll table. I walked up and started listening so he could get help if he needed it. John Paul quickly asked me for my take, and I started asking questions to try to figure out what the other student’s view was. “Brent” had signed “Yes” to the question “Should 20-Week Abortions Remain Legal?” I asked:

Tim: Why do you think 20-week abortions should be legal?

Brent: It’s a woman’s right to live her life the way she wants to.

Tim: Do you think there should be any restrictions on abortion at all? What do you think of, say, a 35-week abortion?

Brent: Oh I’m definitely opposed to 35-week abortions.

Tim: You are? Aren’t you restricting women’s rights to live their lives the way they want to?

Practical Dialogue Tip #1: Turn the Tables on Pro-Choice Rhetoric


A great deal of pro-choice rhetoric uses the kind of language that does not very naturally allow room for any restrictions on abortion. For example, any bodily rights rhetoric is going to suffer from this problem. For instance, you can’t say “my body, my choice” to only justify early abortions, because late-term fetuses are still located in her body. In order to justify early abortion without justifying late abortion, you need to argue that the late-term fetus is more valuable than the early-term fetus.

When I notice these kinds of rhetorical mistakes, I will frequently “turn the tables” on them in a gracious way. This is often an extremely weird experience for the pro-choice person because they’re used to the rhetorical power of “my body, my choice” working in their favor, and all of a sudden they find themselves having to argue against it. This tactic would work very well in debates, but that isn’t how I use it. Rather than merely trying to score rhetorical points, I’m hoping to accomplish two things:

  1. I want to help the pro-choice person learn to think more clearly about their rhetoric. It often is not nearly as powerful as they feel like it is, and making them answer the same rhetoric can help them to understand this.
  2. I want to force them to clarify their position. Dialogues only improve when arguments become more clear, and encountering this kind of inconsistency in their position forces people to either shift to an argument with more substance or clarify why they think their rhetoric doesn’t work against their own view.

Brent: No, because before 20 weeks, the fetus isn’t viable.

Tim: You’re right about that. I’m trying to understand your view so help me out here. Why do you think viability is important?

Why Even Thomson’s Violinist Condemns Planned Parenthood’s Selling Baby Parts

The silence from pro-choice people in response to the recent Planned Parenthood videos is deafening. In this post I explain why they should be furious with the Planned Parenthood too.


My dad Rich is currently receiving treatment for a type of cancer called Mantle Cell Lymphoma, so he needed to put together an advance directive for his health care. Much of the language for his particular advance directive comes from the language National Right to Life includes in their recommended “Will to Live” forms. He named my mom Lisa as his “Health Care Agent,” the person responsible for making decisions in the event that he is incapacitated in some way. If my mom also became incapacitated, that significant responsibility would then fall to Josh, and then to me. Naturally, we carefully read his advance directive and had conversations with him so we could better understand his wishes. (If you believe in God, please keep him in your prayers.)


My parents, Rich and Lisa Brahm

The reason I mention this is that there was a requirement in the advance directive that stood out. In order for it to be legally valid, he had to sign it in the presence of two witnesses, and there are very specific guidelines for who those witnesses can be. In addition to needing to be of sound mind and at least 18 years old, a witness,

– Cannot be a person who was selected to be your health care agent or back-up health care agent;

– Cannot be a person who will knowingly inherit anything from you or otherwise knowingly gain a financial benefit from your death; or

– Cannot be a person who is directly involved in your health care.

This is a great rule, because it helps to protect the patient from others making decisions about his health care out of their own self-interest. Even though my dad named his wife as his health care agent and she could financially gain from his demise, he is not allowed to name her without the approval of two objective witnesses that do not gain.

While there is no way to perfectly protect the patient, I really appreciate this rule because it implicitly acknowledges the dangerous conflict of interest that can exist between a patient and his family. I want that danger to be acknowledged because I want my dad to be treated as an end, not merely as a means to an end. I want all human beings to be treated as ends, not as means to ends. [Tweet that]

That doesn’t mean humans can’t ever be useful to each other. It’s okay to ask your friend to be useful by helping you move; it’s not okay to treat him disrespectfully when he helps you. Treating humans as ends means treating them like they’re valuable in and of themselves, not based on what you can get out of them.

There is a very stark contrast between how careful we are to make sure a cancer patient is treated as an end and how Planned Parenthood treats the unborn.

There are two ways to justify the practice of abortion. The pro-choice person must either 1) Deny the personhood of the unborn, or 2) Argue that abortion is justified killing of human persons on the grounds of bodily autonomy, that a woman’s right to her body trumps the right to live of a human person inside her body. I have come to believe that one of the most common causes of confusion for pro-life advocates is a lack of understanding of bodily rights arguments, which are incredibly common and are the basis of much pro-choice rhetoric (for instance, “my body, my choice”).

I think the only way to defend Planned Parenthood’s selling of fetal organs is to deny that an unborn human in the second trimester is a moral subject, a person, someone who deserves to be treated as an end. In other words, they have to take the first of the two paths I described above; they cannot defend Planned Parenthood via the second path. But many pro-choice people are only comfortable with second trimester abortions because of bodily rights arguments (after all, the later in pregnancy it gets, the harder it gets to deny the personhood of the unborn). It seems like those pro-choice people ought to be coming out in droves condemning Planned Parenthood for selling baby parts, and it’s very puzzling to me that they aren’t.

Autumn in the Sovereign Zone: Why “It’s My Body, I Can Do What I Want” Won’t Do


This post was first published at I wrote it while on staff with Justice For All, and it wouldn’t have been possible without JFA’s excellent staff and generous supporters.

Autumn in the Sovereign Zone[1]

Anyone who has ever heard a conversation about abortion has heard pro-choice statements like:

  • “My body, my choice.”
  • “You can’t tell another person what she can’t do with her own body.”
  • “The fetus is part of her body.”
  • “The fetus is inside her body.”

When a pro-life advocate hears statements like these, a common impulse is to respond by saying, “But it’s not her body; it’s another body!” or “If the fetus is part of her body, does she have two heads and twenty toes?” or, perhaps, “But the unborn is a human being, here’s some evidence for that…”

Not so fast.  The pro-choice statements above are ambiguous.  If the pro-choice advocate is confused about whether the unborn is a separate organism from the mother, then graciously giving him an impromptu biology lesson might be helpful.  In many cases, though, the pro-choice advocate is intending to communicate that the woman can do what she wants even if the fetus is a human being.  Many pro-choice advocates don’t know how to articulate this argument in a way that helps pro-life advocates understand.  The pro-life advocate hears, “The fetus is not human,” but the pro-choice advocate means, “It doesn’t matter if the fetus is human.”