Editor’s Note (1/26/21): A pro-life philosophy professor, who wishes to remain anonymous at this time, has provided an addendum to our argument against abortion as self-defense which presents the pro-choice argument in a logically valid form (stating the premises and the resulting conclusion). This should help clarify both a) what it is that the self-defense argument is claiming, and b) which problems specific premises in that argument have.
There is a new pro-choice argument that has begun to gain popularity. Many pro-life advocates have not heard of it yet, but to change minds on abortion, you need to know how to both identify and graciously refute it.
Estimated reading time: 26 minutes.
When I teach pro-life apologetics, I usually explain that there are two primary disagreements between the pro-life side and the pro-choice side and a bunch of distracting arguments that have grown from misunderstanding the issue at hand.
Most pro-life people are familiar with the first primary disagreement. These are pro-choice arguments that deny the humanity of the unborn child. These arguments about personhood definitions largely dominate the philosophical literature on abortion. People argue about what constitutes a person and then explain how the human embryo does or does not qualify. Notice that this is a philosophical question, not a scientific one. Science tells us what is killed during abortion: an embryo or fetus that is living, whole, and human. And philosophy tells us whether or not that human embryo’s life is valuable.
The second disagreement in the abortion debate is centered around bodily rights, in other words, the slogan that we have all heard before: “My body, my choice.” This argument is different from the first disagreement because it isn’t about whether or not abortion is killing a person. Instead, it argues whether the killing can be justified by the woman’s right to her own bodily autonomy.
A pro-choice person could agree with the pro-life community on the first personhood point, but still justify their position by arguing from bodily autonomy. However, it is more likely than the average pro-choice person will disagree with me on both points.
This new argument that I am going to refute today I am calling the “Abortion is Self-Defense Argument” and it doesn’t address either of these first two controversies. In fact, it can be used by someone who agrees with the pro-life position on both points, and that is one of the reasons I believe it seems so convincing on its face.