Quick Response #23: If Pro-Lifers Were REALLY Pro-Life…

As a pro-life advocate, have you ever experienced this situation: you’re having a dialogue about abortion, and the person you’re talking to begins lecturing you about how you’re not REALLY pro-life and all the things and causes you’d support if you were? In this Quick Response video, Emily Albrecht explains why that’s a red herring and how to respond to it, as well as explaining a bit about the “consistent life ethic”/”seamless garment” position.

Script Text:

I think sometimes people think an argument is better or more effective if it makes the other person angry. If the other person gets frustrated, they see it as a sign that they just can’t handle the FACTS and LOGIC of their argument.

But you know what? Sometimes arguments are frustrating BECAUSE they’re dumb. I get frustrated when pro-choice people start a response to me like this: “Well, if you were REALLY pro-life, then you would…”

It’s not frustrating because it’s a good argument. It’s frustrating because it’s a bad argument that’s also trying to gaslight me. In this video, I’ll show you how to respond to being told what you’d do if you were “really” pro-life.

(intro sequence)

The basic idea of this pro-choice response is that TRUE pro-life principles have to lead to certain positions about other issues, and because pro-lifers often don’t hold those positions, they’re not really pro-life.

There are many issues with this argument. First, maybe, JUST MAYBE, the pro-choice person isn’t the best arbiter of the principles of the pro-life position. Part of why we think the Equal Rights Argument is more effective than other pro-life arguments is because it doesn’t tell the other person what they believe. People don’t like it when others tell them what they’re thinking, especially because they’re often wrong! So it’s not very convincing for a pro-choice person to tell me what I have to belive because I’m pro-life unless they’ve actually spent time understanding my view. I probably have a better understanding of the principles which lead me to be pro-life than they do.

Second, appealing to pro-life inconsistency is a red herring. It’s a distraction tactic because inconsistency doesn’t actually change whether the pro-life position is right. Let’s take the common idea that pro-life people all need to be vegans “if we really cared about life.” The idea is false, but if it were true, and I was pro-life but not a vegan, that doesn’t disprove the pro-life position—it just means I should change my mind on veganism.

One of the frustrating things about the appeal to inconsistency is it’s usually done by pro-choice people who aren’t vegans. That is to say, they don’t REALLY think you should be vegan, they just want you to stop being pro-life. If you became a pro-life vegan, they wouldn’t be satisfied that you’ve satisfied their arbitrary consistency requirement.

Third, this response makes logical jumps and tries to treat all evils as the same. If I oppose abortion because it’s an act of lethal violence against an innocent human person, it doesn’t follow that I should oppose the death penalty, which is lethal violence against a GUILTY human person. I might oppose the death penalty, maybe for a broader reason than some of the reasons I’m pro-life, but it’s not necessary for the pro-life position. Attempting to shoehorn views on the death penalty, veganism, war, immigration, gay marriage, or any other social cause into the pro-life position fails because it IS possible to hold a totally consistent pro-life position without endorsing a position on any of those other things.

But even if some of those things were implied by the pro-life position, the idea that opposing factory farming is on the same level as opposing killing hundreds of thousands of human beings a year is kind of gross. Not all evils matter equally, and that means that we can legitimately prioritize dealing with the greater evils. That’s not to say we should never do or say anything about anything but abortion—fetus tunnel vision isn’t good either—but it does make sense for me to view abortion as more pressing.

So, the charge that I’d act and think differently if I was REALLY pro-life fails because it doesn’t take time to understand my position, because appealing to supposed inconsistency on other issues doesn’t disprove the pro-life argument, and because it makes connections between issues that aren’t necessarily there and treats all issues the same.

One quick note as I close: there are pro-life people who believe that views on these other issues do flow out of their pro-life position. You’ll sometimes hear them described in terms of a “seamless garment” view or a “consistent life ethic.” Sometimes, their arguments suffer from some of the flaws outlined in this video, but there are many others who have different principles that animate their pro-life view, and so those other positions REALLY DO follow from their principles.

Equal Rights Institute believes that pro-life people should work together to end abortion, regardless of their disagreements on anything (or EVERYTHING) else. We work together with multiple individuals and organizations who hold this view. There are two important conditions that must be in place in order to work together. First, the “consistent life ethic” person needs to acknowledge that you have a legitimate pro-life position, even if they want to change your mind about some details; you can be open to their other concerns, and definitely recognize common ground on issues outside of abortion where appropriate. Second, because the point of the pro-life movement is to end abortion specifically, recognizing other issues is legitimate but those other issues can’t be allowed distract from the main goal we ALL have of ending abortion.

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