These articles tend to be more substantive than our other pieces. Some pro-life arguments are more persuasive to pro-choice people than other arguments. We aim to teach arguments that are both persuasive and philosophically sound.
My wife and I love the Marvel movies. They’re always charming and fun, even if they aren’t profound. But the latest one, Avengers: Infinity War, was an exception. Don’t get me wrong, it was charming and fun. But it was also profound. It was possibly the most effective anti-utilitarian movie I have ever seen.
Spoiler warning: Plot summary ahead.
Avengers: Infinity War revolves around the character of Thanos and his personal quest to reduce the population of the universe by 50%. His adopted daughter Gamora describes this as a goal he has had for as long as she can remember. The film even shows a flashback scene where Thanos meets Gamora as a little girl and takes her in. His army invaded her city and divided the survivors randomly into two groups. While Thanos bonds with a young Gamora, his soldiers opened fire on one of the groups. The reason he pursues the incredibly powerful infinity stones is that if he gets all six of them, he can wipe out half of the universe with just a snap of his fingers.
Why would someone want to murder billions? Thanos explains his motives very clearly: There are too many people. The universe has limited resources. If we don’t kill some, it will be worse for all.
If pro-life advocates want to help pro-choice people change their minds about abortion, then they must understand arguments about bodily autonomy and how to respond to them in a persuasive way. In his recent video, How To Destroy The “Best” Reproductive Rights Argument, Matt Walsh draws attention to these types of arguments, explains that they are critical to the modern pro-choice position, and then lists his five problems with how bodily autonomy arguments attempt to justify abortion.
At Equal Rights Institute our staff has collectively had thousands and thousands of conversations with lay pro-choice people on college campuses in the United States, and these experiences have helped us understand what typical pro-choice people actually mean by when they make easily misunderstood statements. While Walsh is right to respond to bodily rights arguments directly and he makes some good responses, he also gives responses that are based on the same understandable mistakes that most pro-life people make.
Pro-choice arguments from bodily autonomy are extremely confusing for many pro-life advocates because there is a profound cultural gap between pro-life and pro-choice people. We don’t just disagree about premises in our arguments; our whole mindset on the issue is radically different. Pro-life people are naturally inclined to focus the conversation on the baby while pro-choice people focus their attention to the woman. Sometimes this causes pro-life people to misunderstand pro-choice arguments and assume that everything comes down to the personhood of the unborn. Walsh correctly explains that this is a problem because that is not the only piece of the debate. He wants pro-life advocates to understand that there is another way to defend the pro-choice position in the abortion debate, and he wants us to understand how to refute it. He explains that personhood, while critical to understanding the immorality of abortion, is not what is driving many abortion conversations when we talk with pro-choice people. When pro-choice people bring up bodily autonomy, they are not attempting to refute the pro-life personhood argument.
Walsh goes on to describe an argument that personhood begins when the mother decides. In other words, the argument claims that because a woman has bodily autonomy she should be allowed to decide if and when her unborn child should be considered a valuable person. He goes on to explain the metaphysical absurdity of an argument like this because it claims that the mother has some “supernatural ability to grant and resend humanity to or from her child.” This argument is so bizarre and fringe that it does not play a role in ordinary bodily rights conversations. The vast majority of pro-choice people do not actual use arguments like this one. While our staff has seen this type of reasoning on very rare occasions, it is confusing and unhelpful to pro-life people to tell them that it is a major part of the bodily rights debate. I fear it will cause them to expect to find it and wrongfully interpret other, more reasonable pro-choice statements as being indicative of the weird, fringe argument.
Pro-lifers, this is a strawman. Click here to understand why.
In his first of five points, Walsh responds to the pro-choice slogan “My Body, My Choice” by saying, “It’s not your body, your body is not the body at issue here. The issue is the child’s body, not yours.” This incredibly common pro-life response to bodily rights arguments is based on a critical misunderstanding of what most pro-choice people mean when they use that slogan. They are not saying that the child’s body is the same as the woman’s body, nor are they saying that the human fetus is somehow biologically part of the woman’s body. They are saying that the human fetus’ body affects and is inside what is indisputably the woman’s body. By “my body,” they are referring to cells with the mother’s DNA, not cells with the human fetus’ DNA. This misunderstanding often causes well meaning pro-life people to unintentionally strawman pro-choice people. Read this article for a more thorough explanation of this common problem.
I don’t mean just a world where abortion has become illegal or unthinkable. I want you to imagine a world where abortion doesn’t exist at all, because it’s not possible. In this alternate universe of Fantasia, the uterus is different than in our world. Women have “super uteruses” that can withstand a great deal of external interference while protecting the baby inside. This means miscarriages almost never happen and women can drink and smoke during pregnancy without harming the baby. However, doctors in Fantasia are limited in what they can do during a pregnancy. They cannot perform an amniocentesis, fetal surgery, or use ultrasounds to see into the uterus because of the reinforced structure. Abortions are not able to be performed because the procedure is literally impossible to carry out without also killing the pregnant woman. Hence, in this world, if a woman becomes pregnant, she only has two options: parent the child or place the child with an adoptive family.
John Oliver is a tremendously talented comedian. Unfortunately he’s also an abortion extremist and he has no intellectual honesty. Recently on his HBO show Last Week Tonight, Oliver set his sights on Crisis Pregnancy Centers. He painted a very bleak, and very inaccurate, picture of CPCs. He suggested that they’re full of nasty, dishonest people that just want to control women. Here is a breakdown of his biggest lies, spin, and deception.
#1: Oliver flagrantly, and knowingly, takes Abby Johnson out of context
This segment features two quotations from pro-life advocate Abby Johnson, speaking at a 2012 conference for Heartbeat International (it’s also worth noting that Oliver exclusively refers to her as a pro-life activist and never mentions the fact that she is also a former director of a Planned Parenthood). I interviewed Abby after Oliver’s hit piece came out, and she explained that Oliver’s producer reached out to her via email while they were writing their segment. He told her they were writing a piece on Crisis Pregnancy Centers and that he had some quotations from her that they wanted to use but that he wanted to talk to her first. Abby said he was extremely friendly on the phone and that he came off like he was listening to what she was saying. He asked her to give him context for the quotations they were using, which is particularly damning because they still used both quotations completely out of context.
Oliver sets up the first quotation by saying:
Way too often, women are being actively misled while trying to access healthcare. And CPCs seem happy to have women confuse them for abortion clinics. Just listen to Abby Johnson, an anti-abortion activist addressing a conference for one of the largest CPC organizations.
Then he gives the Abby Johnson quotation:
We want to appear neutral on the outside, The best call, the best client you ever get is one that thinks they’re walking into an abortion clinic. Okay? Those are the best clients that could ever walk in your door or call your center–the ones that think you provide abortions.
But Abby wasn’t talking about actively misleading clinics. Abby told Oliver’s producer that she has never encouraged a center to lie about what they do. Pro-life advocates think that lives are on the line so of course we’ll do everything we can while remaining moral to try to get the abortion-minded woman into the center. She has options other than abortion and we have good reason to believe abortion facilities won’t fairly present those options to her. Let’s focus on Planned Parenthood for a moment because they are the largest provider of abortions and we have the most data about them.
Imagine you were talking to someone about child abuse, and they said, “You know, I understand that you’re personally against it, but I think we should trust parents to make the right decisions for their families.” Would you feel like their comment about trust was a meaningful contribution to the discussion or a bizarre red herring?
When abortion-choice advocates speak about abortion they often say we need to trust women to make their own decisions. They say that abortion is an especially personal choice that we should trust women to make for themselves because they are the experts of their own lives.
This rhetoric is an unfair representation of the pro-life position because it implies that pro-life people do not trust women. It insinuates that people oppose legal abortion because they think women are inadequate and unable to make choices about their lives. This is a common and false accusation of pro-life people.
Pro-life people are not opposed to abortion because they distrust women. Implying that misogyny is influencing their position on abortion is a misleading sidestep of the real issue. Pro-life people think that a woman should be able to make her own decisions about which doctor she wants, what clothing she wears, her career, her education and many other choices which men have as well. There are some choices, however, which are dangerous or violent in some way. These choices deserve careful examination by the public to determine if they should be against the law. Examples of these choices would be drinking and driving, vandalism, or assault. The choice to kill people should clearly be against the law. Pro-lifers argue that human embryos are people, so you can’t kill them.