Quick Response #7: Banning Abortion Forces Women to Stay Pregnant

Emily Albrecht responds to the pro-choice charge that banning abortion forces women to stay pregnant. Are pro-lifers guilty of using force?

Watch all the videos in ERI’s Quick Response series here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLsN8Ay8poS-It-dWSmblq1ZufOH-MVj1L

Script Text

One common feature of pro-choice rhetoric is that pro-life people are guilty of using force. This can happen on a personal basis, like when clinic escorts falsely accuse peaceful sidewalk counselors of blocking or physically stopping people from entering the clinic by being on the sidewalk. It can also be used of the movement as a whole, that pro-life people are FORCING women to stay pregnant.

(intro sequence)

I may as well say this right away: NO, pro-lifers are NOT forcing women to stay pregnant. It’s a false claim that gets justified in a sort of understandable way. I want to start with how I would typically respond to someone who makes this claim, then look at what’s going on behind the scenes with this charge.

I would say something like, “No, we’re not forcing women to stay pregnant. We are saying that she shouldn’t get an abortion, that she doesn’t have a right to do that. But I don’t think that taking away one option is the same as forcing someone to choose the other option, especially if the first thing isn’t a true option. I think we agree that killing people, generally speaking, shouldn’t be an option. So, if, as I’m claiming, abortion kills a person, then abortion shouldn’t be a legitimate option. I’m not forcing the woman to do anything by arguing that we should take away an illegitimate option.”

You may have an idea of some of the things we think are going on in the claim that pro-lifers force women to stay pregnant based on that response: First, pro-choice people are playing fast and loose with the idea of force, and second, it’s not at all clear that taking away one of two options is the same as making you choose one option.

For the use of force generally, it’s kind of unbelievable that pro-choice people are able to get away with saying pro-life people are the ones using force. Abortion is the option that uses force; it uses force to kill and expel a human being from the womb. Compared with the ACTUAL use of LETHAL FORCE, it seems incredible that making someone unable to have an abortion is the forceful action. Even if there was some force involved, like the “force of law,” there are legitimate uses of force. The bad guy in a movie who’s trying to go after the President doesn’t get to complain that the Secret Service used force against him—they were stopping him from killing the President!

But, again, it’s not clear that the pro-life position, which is that the so-called “option” to have an abortion should be removed, is FORCING the woman to do anything, even if the only remaining option is to stay pregnant. Consider this thought experiment: a man tells you, at gunpoint, that you have to get ice cream from the soft-serve machine. He doesn’t care whether you get chocolate or vanilla, but you have to get one. I come along right then and take off the handle for the chocolate ice cream side. You shout at me, “How dare you! You’re forcing me to get vanilla ice cream!” Doesn’t that seem ridiculous? I haven’t made you choose vanilla, even though I took away your only other ice cream option; the guy with a GUN is forcing you to choose vanilla!

Let me take that thought experiment one step further: it’s the same situation, except I know that if you pull the handle to get chocolate ice cream, it would poison one of your relatives who you’ve never met. Not only is it ridiculous to say I’m making you choose vanilla, I’m actually saving the life of one of your relatives. THIS is the case most analogous to banning abortion.

We don’t think it’s true, at a philosophical level, that taking away an option is the same as forcing someone to choose the other option. Pro-lifers are also promoting the least forceful option, because abortion INHERENTLY USES LETHAL FORCE. Therefore, it’s inaccurate to say that pro-life people are forcing women to stay pregnant.

Note in your conversations, though, that this accusation isn’t usually going to be said neutrally. If someone claims that you’re forcing women to stay pregnant, there will almost always be a lot of emotion involved. Avoid being combative and start by defusing the situation and finding common ground before explaining why this accusation is clearly false.

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