Pro-Choice Is Pro-Violence

Pro-choice is pro-violence.

If you’re pro-life, this probably feels obvious to you. You might be surprised I even bothered to type it out.

If you’re pro-choice, though, this is likely an explosive, even offensive, statement to you. But this statement happens to be accurate, and it doesn’t depend on a single pro-life premise in order to be true. Said another way, I don’t need to convince you of the pro-life position in order to demonstrate that you’re committed to the public support of violence against other humans.

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

This is a hefty charge to level at millions of people, so I’m going to substantiate the two parts of my claim: abortion is violent, and violence can happen even to non-persons. After that, I want to explain why the pro-life movement should utilize this slogan and the ideas behind it as part of its messaging.

Violence Doesn’t Depend on Personhood

Most meaningful pro-life statements depend on the premise that unborn humans are full rights-bearing persons. That’s fine as far as it goes; personhood is one of the most important premises of the pro-life position, and we need to be prepared to defend it with good arguments at any moment. But whereas “this unjustly kills a person” requires showing that the fetus is a person, “this is an act of violence” doesn’t require explaining the moral status of the fetus.

Assuming (as most people do) that (at least most) animals are not persons, it’s clear that someone can do an act of violence against a non-person. If someone kicks a squirrel or hits a bird with a rock, we don’t have to ask what kind of capacities the animal had in order to immediately understand that it was subjected to violence. This even holds true for insects—I don’t have to make a substantial argument to show that it’s violent to fry ants with a magnifying glass. Perhaps that violence is morally neutral or uninteresting because of the ant victim’s non-person status, but it’s violence nonetheless.

Violence is not primarily about the moral status of the object, nor about its capacity for conscious experience of the harm, but simply about the fact of experiencing (primarily physical) harm. Pro-choice is pro-violence because, even if you think unborn humans are less valuable than dogs, it’s clear that they are able to be victims of violent acts.

Now, for a point I shouldn’t have to make but unfortunately do: babies before birth are biologically human, from conception forward, and this is not meaningfully debated. Some people continue to use what I’ll term “the worst pro-choice argument”: they deny not only fetal personhood, but fetal humanity. Yes, let me repeat: there are actually some pro-choice people who think that their position is justified by denying that unborn humans are, in fact, human. Obviously, this would also evade my charge that pro-choice people support violence against other humans.

There’s no real debate about whether the unborn are a biologically distinct member of the species Homo sapiens. As we explain elsewhere, there are three things needed to know whether something is biologically alive: growth through cellular reproduction, metabolization of food into energy, and reaction to stimuli. The embryo does all three of those things from conception. The embryo also has unique DNA and is a whole organism on a self-directed path to maturity, not a part of an organism like a skin or sperm cell. In short, the embryo is a living human being capable of being a victim of violence.

Abortion Is an Act of Violence

The last section showed that unborn humans can be objects of violence; in order to complete the argument that pro-choice is pro-violence, I need to show that abortion is violent.

Don’t worry; I’m going to pull the punch here and not literally show you the violence of abortion. But here is the absolute fact: abortions, at various stages of pregnancy, suffocate, dismember, exsanguinate (to drain of blood), or—in the very “best” case scenario—”euthanize” the fetus by stabbing it. You tell me: is suffocating a living being an act of violence? Stabbing it? Draining its blood? Dismembering it?

And we’re not even going to pretend for a second that because medical tools and medical degrees are involved these aren’t acts of violence. The last century is full of crimes against humanity perpetrated by doctors—acts of violence against innocent people, almost always with a veneer of medical justification. (Nazi medical experimentation is only the most well-known example; Americans have plenty of homegrown “medical” evil, from involuntarily sterilizing people with intellectual disabilities to experimenting on African-Americans by denying them treatment for decades.)

Similarly, even though I deny that there’s ever an abortion that is just “unplugging,” I’m not going to attempt to show that every single method of lethally ending a pregnancy is violent. I would probably say that abortion-by-hysterectomy (removing the uterus, in this case with a living fetus inside) is still violent, but because it doesn’t act directly on the body of the fetus, it’s at least open to debate. However, I have yet to encounter a pro-choice person who is defending the legal right of women only to have a hysterectomy to end a pregnancy. The pro-choice position is never, in practice, one that limits itself to “nonviolent” abortions (if such a thing exists). Instead, the general pro-choice stance has been that women should be able to violently abort a fetus without government interference as to timing or method.

If, as I’ve shown, unborn humans can be victims of violence regardless of their status as persons, and abortion is a violent act, then to be pro-choice is to support the legalization of acts of violence against human beings, often without meaningful limitations.[Tweet this!] In other words, to be pro-choice is to be pro-violence.

Why Pro-Lifers Should Adopt “Pro-Choice Is Pro-Violence” as a Slogan

Before I make my case that pro-life people should start using it immediately, I want to point out the limitations of “pro-choice is pro-violence” as a slogan. Even though I believe that it is rhetorically powerful, it is not a panacea for the pro-life cause, and it is certainly not a substitute for a robust pro-life argument.

First, it is both a strength and a limitation that the slogan makes no argument for the personhood of unborn humans. While it may be possible to convince people that abortion is wrong or make them uncomfortable supporting it without them conceding personhood, it’s difficult to defend the full scope of the rights of the unborn when many people deny that they’re persons with rights. To name just a couple examples, laws on fetal homicide or the acceptable range of medical decisions during pregnancy both need strengthened in order to protect the rights of all humans, but neither is strengthened fully even by banning all abortions.

Second, the fact that abortion is an act of violence against another human being does not prove that it’s wrong. Pro-life and pro-choice people alike believe in exceptions to the general principle barring violence against others, whether in cases of self-defense, the death penalty, police disabling active shooters, etc. A pro-choice advocate can argue consistently that abortion is an exception to the general rule because some aspect of bodily autonomy justifies it or because we don’t have the same duty to avoid violence against non-persons. (There are problems with both approaches, but they’re at least viable arguments.)

But part of what makes this slogan work is that most people will supply the suppressed premise—”unless I can prove otherwise, it’s wrong to do violence to another human”—on their own. Most people don’t need to be told that violence is prima facie wrong. In fact, most people won’t need to think about it long enough to formulate a premise, because they know it intuitively with all the force of a moral truth.

And this introduces significant cognitive dissonance for the pro-choice person. People are reflexively uncomfortable with the idea of supporting violence, even if they believe it’s justified. The comfortable pro-choice position exists because people allow themselves to believe that the unborn human is a non-person, or that abortion isn’t violent, or that the fetus isn’t really a victim of violence. For the pro-life movement to be successful, we need to drive the comfortable pro-choice position out of existence. If you want to argue “my body, my choice” while having to defend the fact that your choice is violent to the core, be my guest; your position is consistent, and it will be consistently unattractive to all but the most committed extremists.

Furthermore, this slogan is designed to force this line of thinking while avoiding as many philosophical problems as possible. I deliberately chose to categorize unborn humans as capable of being victims of violence rather than capable of being harmed because many philosophers deny that a fetus can be harmed—yes, even by being killed—until it has the neural framework to support psychological continuity with itself. “Pro-choice is pro-violence” also evades both personhood and bodily autonomy: within the limited claim it makes, I could concede the pro-choice position for sake of argument and the slogan still holds.

The bottom line is this: every pro-choice person should have to reckon with the fact that their position requires supporting legalized violence. The slogan “pro-choice is pro-violence” is able to accomplish this in a soundbite, and it has this further benefit compared to most slogans: it happens to be true.

If pro-life advocates, leaders, and politicians want to take the initiative in the abortion debate, especially in advance of the 2024 elections, I think they should aggressively utilize this slogan and the line of thinking behind it. Pro-choice lobbyists are fighting aggressively to humiliate the pro-life position and expand and enshrine abortion in law. We need to put them on the back foot, which can only be accomplished by counterpunching, by forcing all would-be pro-choice advocates to attempt to justify widespread violence against humans as a necessary part of their position.

The only nonviolent position on abortion is the pro-life position. Pro-choice is pro-violence.

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  • Tweet: The general pro-choice stance has been that women should be able to violently abort a fetus without government interference as to timing or method.
  • Tweet: To be pro-choice is to support the legalization of acts of violence against human beings, often without meaningful limitations.
  • Tweet: For the pro-life movement to be successful, we need to drive the comfortable pro-choice position out of existence.
  • Tweet: Every pro-choice person should have to reckon with the fact that their position requires supporting legalized violence.

The post Pro-Choice is Pro-Violence originally appeared at the Equal Rights Institute blog. Subscribe to our email list with the form below and get a FREE gift. Click here to learn more about our pro-life apologetics course, “Equipped for Life: A Fresh Approach to Conversations About Abortion.” 

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Director of Content & Research

Andrew Kaake (pronounced like “cake”) is the Director of Content & Research at Equal Rights Institute. He holds a bachelor’s degree in classics and political science, cum laude, from Amherst College, where he wrote a thesis on the topic of C.S. Lewis and natural law philosophy. He completed his master’s degree in bioethics at Trinity International University, studying the philosophical underpinnings of controversies about life, death, and technology and trying to create ways to communicate that information to others. During his studies at Trinity, he worked as a research assistant for The Center for Bioethics & Human Dignity.

Andrew wants the pro-life movement to help foster a culture that seeks truth and embraces logical consistency. “What I believe about humanity and personhood clearly impacts what I think about abortion, but it also holds implications for how I should (and, more importantly, shouldn’t) dialogue with other people who disagree with me.”

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