Editor’s Note 9/8/21: More of these memes are circulating since the Texas heartbeat law went into effect on Sept. 1. We have updated the article with a few new photos and two new categories of pro-choice memes in order to bring it up to date with current events.
Your social media has probably been flooded in the past few weeks with memes and people talking about the recent state bills restricting or banning abortion. Usually I discourage pro-life advocates from spending a great deal of time talking about abortion online because I think that pro-life conversations are incredibly more productive in person. However, the amount of misinformation on social media about these bills and pro-life efforts is currently so widespread that I think it has tipped the scales far enough that pro-lifers have a greater than usual responsibility to publicly refute arguments.
Estimated reading time: 35 minutes.
Josh Brahm and I had previously hosted a webinar where we reacted to some of the most popular pro-choice memes, but there was just too much to cover in 60 minutes before we jumped into a Q&A session. Since there is some overlap in the images circulating, I have sorted the messages into 14 main categories and provided a few sample memes from each. To make your life as a pro-life advocate easier, I have provided example responses in blue font showing how I would reply if my friend posted a meme from that category.
I recommend you use my example responses as a template to work from rather than copying the response word for word. (If you do copy and paste them, you may need to use “shift+enter” to create the paragraph breaks where I have them in my examples.) You should also say something like “Hey, first name of person” before you comment because it is polite and it softens the response in a more personal way. People are people, even if they are behind a screen. In my opinion, “they say, you say” soundbite-style apologetics are usually not very persuasive, hence why we don’t teach pro-life advocates to dialogue like this way. However, when you are scrolling through social media, responding to every pro-choice meme from scratch can be utterly exhausting. Moreover, these responses are not written with the purpose of persuading the original poster; rather, they’re designed to respond to the online snark with a winning pro-life argument for the sake of other readers, so that the pro-choice position is not the only one being seen.
Click on any of the hyperlinks below to skip to that section:
- Hypocrisy Memes
- Distracting From the Issue
- You’re a Man/This is None of Your Business
- Biology 101
- Ways to Reduce Abortion Rates
- Prosecuting Women for Illegal Abortions
- The Case of Rape
- Common Ground: Memes That Misunderstand Pro-lifers
- Handmaid’s Tale Imagery
- Back Alley Abortion Arguments
- Bodily Rights Arguments
- Savita Halappanavar’s Death in Ireland
- Abortion Is Healthcare
- Libertarian Argument for Abortion
1: Hypocrisy Memes
These memes seek to point out the apparent hypocrisy of the pro-life movement. They can focus on anything from accusing pro-life people of only caring about children until birth to policing the term “pro-life” to stretch beyond the abortion debate to another issue, saying that if you were really pro-life then you would agree with them about X issue.
Editor’s Note 12/16/20: Read our article “Are Pro-Life People Fake Christians?” for a forceful response to the Dave Barnhart meme.
I want to share a thought from the pro-life perspective because I think it is important for people to consider the argument from all angles. If the pro-life philosophical arguments are true, then abortion takes the life of an innocent person. Since we are convinced of those arguments, we think that the life of the unborn child should be protected, regardless of their predicted outcome in life, just the same as we think the homeless, impoverished, or any other group of marginalized people have value and should be protected. The reason we focus on abortion is because we see it as legal killing, and, if our arguments are true, then it would be the most egregious, widespread act of violence in the history of the human race. We see it as that, and that’s why it’s our priority.
On another note, I want to push back on the charge that the pro-life position is primarily one of convenience because I don’t think it is true, especially since it is not socially popular to be pro-life. The pro-life movement has invested so much to care for pregnant mothers with counseling, free medical care, providing resources for the first few years after birth, and setting up networks that will connect them to other existing resources that will assist them, if needed, in the longer term. So, we do actually care for the child who is born beyond when it is “convenient” to do so, if it ever was. If I thought pro-life people didn’t do so, I’d be mad as well! There is also the unsettling idea that is present in the subtexts of posts like this: that if you’re not fighting for every cause then your work isn’t worth doing. I don’t see this accusation as legitimate, because if we do not have different organizations that specialize in different focus areas and everyone tries to do everything at once, we would never get anything done! The Red Cross shouldn’t focus staff time and resources to breast cancer research, and the Breast Cancer Research Foundation shouldn’t focus staff time and resources on help for people devastated by hurricanes and earthquakes.
Again, it all comes back to the basis of the pro-life view, which is that abortion is the killing of innocent people with the same worth as you and I. I think that it is important for people to interact with the philosophical claims on both sides of this issue, so I would love to talk more about that. Let me know if you’d like to continue this conversation. I’d love to keep talking so feel free to message me.
2: Distracting From the Issue
These memes usually contain red herrings of some sort to distract from the meat of the debate: whether or not abortion takes the life of a valuable human person. Sometimes they try to shape abortion as a preference claim—“If you don’t like abortion, don’t have one!”—or they want to pretend like people are pro-life only because of religious doctrines and that religious views shouldn’t shape public policy.
I’d like to share how I think about choices and would like to hear if you disagree with the way I structure this important distinction. There are some choices we can make that are wrong, but shouldn’t be against the law. They are personal bad choices, but not the kind of action that requires others to step in. An example of this kind of choice is something like infidelity in an exclusive relationship. If a husband cheats on his wife, then you and I would probably agree that he is doing something wrong, but at the same time having an affair isn’t the type of thing that should get you arrested and thrown in jail. But there’s a different kind of “wrong action category” that you and I probably agree where the law should definitely step in. Choices in this category are usually severe, put others in significant danger, or involve violence against others like domestic abuse, rape, or drunk driving. We pass laws against these choices to protect vulnerable people and discourage people from making those bad choices. Pro-life people believe that abortion is an act of lethal violence against an innocent person and so we place it in the second category. For this reason and this reason only do we think it should be against the law. I think we have very good reasoning to defend that claim and I would be happy to share more about that with you; if you’re interested, message me!
It’s also worth noting even through these bad choices like drunk driving are against the law, people still choose them anyway, but that doesn’t make them bad laws. It doesn’t mean those laws should be overturned and often we need to do more to protect people beyond just the law itself; for example, we need better education and promotion of positive alternative choices.
3: You’re a Man/This is None of Your Business
If you’ve been paying very close attention to the way the wind is blowing in the abortion-choice movement, you may have noticed that there has been a recent shift in how activists are making this argument. Rather than asserting “men shouldn’t take a stance on abortion, its a women’s issue” they have changed their messaging to both include trans men, who have female reproductive systems, and exclude pro-life women, because they have somehow finally realized that millions of us exist and many of us are leading the pro-life movement. Funny how that works.
More and more you will be seeing a messaging change from something like, “No uterus, no opinion” to “Not your uterus, not your opinion” so that both pro-life trans men and pro-life women may also be coerced into silence with pro-life men. (Maybe abortion-choice advocates don’t want us to feel left out!)You can easily modify the soundbite to refute this broader assertion (beyond the classic “you’re a man, sit down” approach) by phrasing it in terms of “even though I am not the parent of that child and not directly involved in the situation, I have a responsibility to step in because…” This will make more sense once you read the response below.
Our response to this argument was developed by our previous Director of Training and co-founder, Timothy Brahm. In this section, I am summarizing and drawing directly from his method which can be found in more detail in his original blog post, Responding to the Astute Observation that I am a Man. In that piece he says:
One of our priorities at ERI is trying to understand pro-choice culture. They think differently than we do and we need to understand those differences or we’ll just assume that whatever makes sense to us will make sense to them. That is every bit as foolish as assuming that everyone has the same love languages that you do and then treating your loved ones accordingly.
I don’t think it’s logical to believe men shouldn’t have an opinion about abortion. But I’ve spent enough time talking to pro-choice people that I really do get why they feel this way. Acknowledging the fact that men can’t fully understand the difficulty of an unplanned pregnancy shows respect to her as a person without agreeing with her argument.
Agreeing that men can’t fully understand pregnancy clarifies the actual disagreement. Confusing as it may be to pro-lifers, many pro-choice people believe that if you can’t have first-hand knowledge of a person’s experience, then you can’t make moral judgments against what she does. I do need to explain why I disagree with that conclusion, but if I don’t first clearly acknowledge that I can’t completely understand what a pregnant woman is going through, the pro-choice person will assume that I think I can.
In other words, this is the argument she is making:
P1: If someone cannot fully understand what another person is going through, then he can’t make a moral judgment against what she does.
P2: Men cannot fully understand what pregnant women are going through.
C: Therefore, men can’t make a moral judgment against abortion.
I disagree with P1, not P2 (hence the “fishing story” in the example below). But if I don’t acknowledge that P2 is true, she is likely to think that I disagree with P2, and that is why I don’t agree with her conclusion.
I want her to hear my argument, and she is much more likely to do that if she knows that I understand my own limitations. It may seem obvious to you that you know your limitations, but take my word for it, it is not obvious to many pro-choice people. It’s an excellent use of ten seconds of my time to show her the respect of clarifying why I disagree.
For pro-life men:
You’re absolutely right. I am a man, and I will never get pregnant. I can do my best to sympathize with women who experience unplanned pregnancies, but I will never really know what they’re going through. Let me explain my perspective on this issue with a parallel example:
Imagine I go fishing at the lake. I’m having a great time fishing, and then I see a woman about twenty yards away. I notice that she is pushing her car into the lake. I can see that in the back seat of the car there’s a newborn buckled into a car seat.
Now, I’m a man. I’ve never been pregnant. I’ve never been a mother. I will never know what she is going through. We could even say she has postpartum depression, something I as a man could never experience. But even though I can’t understand what she’s going through, shouldn’t I try to do something to save that kid? Don’t I have some sort of responsibility to step in?
My view is that a human embryo right at fertilization is just as valuable a human person as you and me. It might sound strange to you, but I have good philosophical reasons to believe that is true. That might sound crazy and we probably disagree about that, but just go with me for a minute. If I’m right about that view, then it seems like I should try to help those embryos, just like I should try to save the toddler from drowning, even though in both cases I can’t truly understand what the woman is going through. This is why I think it is so important to figure out if the embryo is a valuable human person, like we are. Like I said, we probably disagree about the value of the life of the unborn. If we disagree about that, then no wonder we disagree about abortion! But I hope this example helps you to see why pro-life advocates want to be involved with the issue. We think that we are responsible for stepping in when another person’s life is in danger, even if we are not directly involved in the situation. What do you think?
Pro-life woman version:
You’re right. I am a woman who does not know the individual and difficult circumstances of every other woman considering abortion or the pain of their particular unplanned pregnancies. Even if I go through something similar, I do not know the individual stories on a personal level. Let me explain my perspective on this issue with a parallel example:
Imagine I am fishing at the lake. I’m having a great time fishing, and then I see another woman about twenty yards away. I notice that she is pushing her car into the lake. I can see that in the back seat of the car there’s a toddler buckled into a car seat.
Now, I am not this woman. I haven’t been pregnant yet. I don’t know if her boyfriend is cheating on her or if she’s experiencing immense turmoil, postpartum depression, or is economically struggling. But even though I can’t understand what she’s going through, shouldn’t I try to do something to save that kid? Don’t I have some sort of responsibility to step in?
My view is that a human embryo right at fertilization is just as valuable a human person as you and me. It might sound strange to you, but I have good philosophical reasons to believe that is true. That might sound crazy and we probably disagree about that, but just go with me for a minute. If I’m right that view, then it seems like I should try to help those embryos, just like I should try to save the toddler from drowning, even though in both cases I don’t completely understand what that woman is going through. This is why I think it is so important to figure out if the embryo is a valuable human person, like we are. Like I said, we probably disagree about the value of the life of the unborn. If we disagree about that, then no wonder we disagree about abortion! But I hope this example helps you to see why pro-life advocates want to be involved with the issue. We think that we are responsible for stepping in when another person’s life is in danger, even if we are not directly involved in the situation. What do you think?
4: Biology 101
Memes suggesting that pro-life people believe that gametes are people or other ridiculous accusations are often the most annoying, but we should do so are graciously as possible. I have seen many pro-life people respond by insulting the intelligence or education level of the person posting the meme. Rather than responding to their ignorance with arrogance, you should take it as an opportunity to share the biological facts which ground the pro-life position.
I thought I’d help clarify the scientific distinction between human sperm and human embryos and how that affects the pro-life position because I think it can be really helpful to have more accuracy in the abortion discussion! Biology tells us that the human embryo is a whole, living human organism with his/her own DNA, whereas the sperm cell is not a whole organism; rather, gametes are part of a human organism, like skin cells. Sperm cells are not morally equivalent to embryos, then, because they are not whole organisms. So, the pro-life movement is not equating the death of sperm cells to the death of embryos, as it would be the same as equating the death of skin cells to the death of a toddler.
The human embryo, from fertilization, is on a self-projected path towards adulthood. She will continue to grow and mature through her natural biological life cycle unless she is killed by something before then. This is an undisputed biological distinction, by both pro-life and pro-choice experts. Here is a link to some helpful sources: https://blog.equalrightsinstitute.com/sources. The real debate about the life of human embryos when it comes to the abortion issue is over philosophical claims—in other words, whether or not this biological human life is valuable and has the same level of dignity as you and I do. That is where the disagreement lies, and I would be more than happy to talk with you about it. If you’re interested message me!
5: Ways to Reduce Abortion Rates
These memes usually contain a great deal of text and point to efforts to reduce the demand for abortion, rather than making abortion illegal. Sometimes the meme also includes snark along the lines of “If this was really about ending abortion, then pro-lifers would be doing all these things, but they are not. This isn’t about abortion; it is about punishing women.”
I want to explain why the main focus of the pro-life movement is ending abortion by targeting it directly. It all comes down to the central claim of the pro-life movement: abortion is the killing of innocent people with the same value as you or I. If this is true, then it makes a lot of sense that we would prioritize ending the killing, not simply seek to reduce it. If the pro-life position is true, that would make abortion the most egregious, widespread act of violence in human history. While many pro-lifers do support many of these efforts in tandem with making abortion illegal, we want laws in our country that will protect innocent human life. Many, including myself, want to see a world in which we support pregnant mothers and in which abortion never feels like a necessity, but if abortion really is the killing of innocents, we must prioritize the protection of these vulnerable people. This is not an attempt to punish women, but an effort to protect lives.
We probably disagree on the central claim I am making about abortion, which is okay, and I’d love to talk about that more if you want to as well. Feel free to message me!
6: Prosecuting Women for Illegal Abortions
All but one of the states which have passed restrictions on early abortions specifically included a provision in the bill that women would not be held liable in any way for receiving an abortion. For every state but Georgia, the claim that women will be prosecuted is clearly false, and it’s easy to prove it: just quote the text of the law. We included links to the laws of each state and other relevant sources in our fact sheet here.
Georgia is the only state whose law doesn’t specify that women won’t be prosecuted. That doesn’t mean that women will be prosecuted; in fact, case law in the state indicates pretty heavily that women won’t be charged with criminal abortion. This makes it very likely that women would not be charged for abortion in any state. However, because Georgia’s law also classifies fetal humans with heartbeats as “natural persons,” it’s possible that women could be charged under the homicide/manslaughter laws. No one really knows whether such a charge would hold up in court until it happens; our best guess, without having asked a lawyer to review the wording of these various laws, is that women could be held liable for involuntary manslaughter, but not murder or voluntary manslaughter. If someone is talking about the Georgia law specifically, you’re going to have a harder time because there is the possibility of prosecution, but (contrary to The Handmaid’s Tale meme below) the law does not say that women can be charged (and certainly not for a miscarriage).
I want to push back against the meme you shared, because I think it comes from a misunderstanding of the law that was passed and spreading misinformation about something so serious is not good. I am going to assume in good faith that you’re not purposefully doing so, because many people on both sides of this issue haven’t looked at what the law actually says.
It’s true that Alabama’s law bans abortion at all points, with exceptions only for “life of the mother” situations and cases of lethal fetal anomalies. Abortion is considered a Class A felony, the most serious kind, carrying a sentence from 10 years to life in prison; attempted abortion is a Class C felony, garnering 1 to 10 years in prison.
This meme, and every “news” article with the same kind of title, is overtly lying. It is saying that pregnant rape survivors would be jailed for seeking or getting an abortion. This is plainly false. Here’s the relevant quote from the Alabama law: “No woman on whom an abortion is performed or attempted to be performed shall be criminally or civilly liable.” It can’t really get more straightforward than that.
The second thing this meme does is mislead the reader by playing fast and loose with the definition of rape. The rape charge has two degrees in Alabama. Second-degree rape, which is analogous to “statutory rape” in many other states, is a Class B felony. First-degree rape, which covers forced sex or sex without the actual (not merely legal) possibility of consent, is a Class A felony, the same as abortion, and carries the same penalty. When people make this claim, they’re choosing to compare only second-degree rape with abortion and pretend that they’re talking about what most people think of when they hear the word “rape,” which actually gets the harshest penalty possible in the state.
To recap: no survivor of rape will be prosecuted for getting an abortion (even if the prescribing/performing practitioner would), and the rapist would be liable to just as harsh a penalty as the abortion practitioner.”
7: The Case of Rape
Helping pro-life advocates respond better to the case of rape has been a focus of ERI since its inception. I embedded a video below on this subject where I talk through the conflicting feelings that I have regarding this case, and, based on the comments we got, many other pro-life advocates feel the same way. I highly recommend you watch that video and read this article from Josh on Responding to the Question of Rape with Wisdom and Compassion to prepare for dialogues about this difficult case of pregnancy. I am providing two responses for this category. The first is a more general response and the second is specific to a popular compilation of horrible quotes from politicians.
I want to share why I think abortion is wrong, even in the case of rape, but first I think it is important to acknowledge how difficult the topic this is. No child should be subjected to that sort of horrific violence or become pregnant at such a young age. I think most people who think abortion is wrong but have exceptions for difficult cases like this one have that exception out of compassion for the survivor. They want her to recover from the rape without the additional emotional and physical pain from the pregnancy. They want the survivor to be able to take back some of the agency that the rapist took from her and they believe the option for abortion will help relieve some of the pain for some women. I certainly sympathize with this position. However, I must oppose abortion, even in difficult cases, because even if the abortion would relieve the survivor of additional pain or suffering I do not believe that justifies the act of abortion. My view is that abortion is an act of lethal violence against an innocent human person. Now, I may be wrong in my view and we can talk about that, but do you see how I must be consistent in my position? Whenever I look at the difficult circumstances surrounding an abortion decision, I am doing the same moral calculation that I would if someone were suggesting we take the life of any other human person that I believe has the same dignity as you or I. And other than an act of self-defense, I do not believe violence against people can be justified.
Can I ask you if you are opposed to most abortions being legal, but have an exception in cases like this or do you support all/most abortions? I would like to talk more; feel free to message me.
Unfortunately, sometimes there are people in the public eye who take an anti-abortion stance and also say very careless, inaccurate, or awful things. A very popular example of this is the complication of quotes about rape from Republican politicians. My best advice is whenever you see something like this being shared you should first fact check the quote(s). Snopes has an article on the quotes below and their sources seem to check out. Second, you shouldn’t defend something that someone said if you disagree with them about that statement, even if they agree with you on abortion.
I want to share why I think abortion is wrong, even in the case of rape, but I first want to express how difficult this topic is, and how upsetting and troublesome many comments made about rape are. No person should be subjected to such a horrible act of violence, and it is so frustrating to see callous comments about rape when the legal system has often failed to secure justice for women after this horrible experience. I think there is an idea that pro-life people want women to suffer punishment for having casual sex and that an unplanned pregnancy is the perfect justice—or even worse, that pro-life people think that when a woman has been raped it was somehow her fault—but this is not true. I do not want anyone to suffer further after such a horrible act of violence has taken place, nor do I think that carrying an unwanted pregnancy is “what women deserve for spreading their legs.” If I did not think that abortion is an act of lethal violence against an innocent person with the same value as you or I, I would very much sympathize with the exception for abortion after rape. In fact, I would be in support of abortion in any case for any reason. However, I must oppose abortion, even in this difficult case, because even if the abortion would relieve the survivor of additional pain and suffering I do not believe that justifies what I believe is killing an innocent person. We probably disagree about the morality of abortion, but I hope you can see why I must be consistent. Whenever I look at the difficult circumstances surrounding an abortion decision, I am doing the same moral calculation that I would if someone were suggesting we take the life of any other human person, and I believe the human embryo is a person with the same dignity as you or I. And other than an act of self-defense, I do not believe violence against people can be justified.
Can I ask you if you are opposed to most abortions being legal but have an exception in cases like this, or do you support all/most abortions? I would like to talk more; feel free to message me.
8: Common Ground: Memes That Misunderstand Pro-lifers
There have been some memes circulating that are great examples for demonstrating just how little the two sides of the debate understand each other. If you see someone share a meme saying that if we outlaw or restrict abortion then we will need more resources, more responsibility placed on fathers, or other common ground points that you agree with, graciously point that out. It is a great opportunity to help people better understand the pro-life position.
I think I can see why you may think that, but my experience interacting with pro-life men is that this is actually not true. Pro-life advocates want to see child support enforced better by the state. We support non-violent solutions that help to even out the responsibility between both parents of the child, and financial responsibility is the most tangible solution to implement. We don’t think that men should be able to just walk away and leave the single mother to struggle by herself, so we would like to see non-violent solutions enforced or put into action to prevent that, like strong child support laws.
9: Handmaid’s Tale Imagery
Mature Content Warning: Description of The Handmaid’s Tale below includes the topic of rape, in a non-graphic way.
I have plans to come out with a more comprehensive resource on The Handmaid’s Tale for pro-life advocates soon, but I am going to summarize the main points you need to know here so that you may better understand why abortion-choice advocates have been dressing in handmaid costumes from the show (the red robes with white bonnets) at their protests
The Handmaid’s Tale is not a show about abortion. It is a show about patriarchal control and distorted religious extremism. The story is centered around people living in a futuristic nation called Gilead founded by religious extremists after a war breaks out in America. Gilead is a true patriarchy, where women are second-class citizens. They are forbidden from reading and writing, brainwashed and married off at a very young age, and completely subject to their husbands, including having to endure physical domestic abuse.
There is a severe fertility crisis in this near-future story which is the primary motivation for the formation of Gilead. Women who have given birth to healthy children or are otherwise known to have functioning fertility have been marked as “handmaids” and are passed around to the important families for rape ceremonies. Rape of the handmaids committed by the powerful men in Gilead is not only legal, but mandated and regulated. They are completely disrespected and dehumanized by everyone in this society. These women are regarded as only serving the purpose of gestating a healthy, newborn baby. The show explicitly demonstrates how everyone is totally and completely focused on producing new children, by any evil means necessary.
Here is my honest attempt at putting the message behind these costumes and pro-choice memes into words: “Legal restrictions on abortion are a means of patriarchal control. By passing these laws, the government is trying to force women to become like the handmaids. We should not be forced to gestate children against our will. We will not be treated like second-class citizens. Laws like this give the patriarchy power and leads to further tolerance of violence against women.”
The “Handmaid’s Tale” costumes in this picture seem to imply that pro-life laws will lead us closer to a society like the one in the show and as a pro-life advocate I don’t think that is true, nor do I want that to happen (obviously)!
I think it is important to clarify what pro-life advocates want to see happen and why, and also what we don’t want to see happen if abortion restrictions are put into law. First, we want an end to abortion because we think that abortion takes an innocent human life that is just as valuable as you and I. You probably disagree with me about that, and that’s okay, I would love to discuss it with you later in more detail. We also want more education about what abortion is and better dialogue on this issue between people who disagree about its morality. We want better support for pregnant women and mothers in the workplace and during their education. We want fathers to be held accountable for child support.
But here are some things pro-life advocates don’t want: women being forced into pregnancy, pregnant women being controlled by the government or mistreated, or women being investigated/prosecuted for miscarriages. All of this to say, “Handmaid’s Tale” imagery seems to come from a place of fear about what will happen if abortion becomes illegal and I think that fear is coming from a misunderstanding of what pro-life people actually believe. What do you think?
10: Back Alley Abortion
Most of the response I have written below comes from a video we published back in July 2018, Back Alley Abortion Arguments in 5 Minutes. Watch that video below for more background information.
I agree that even if abortion is illegal, some women will seek out abortions anyway or self-induce abortions and that both of these options will be significantly more dangerous to the woman’s safety than legal abortion. I certainly believe both of those points are true and I really do not want to see women hurt or die from abortion.
Allow me to ask you this clarification question: do you think that there should be any restrictions on abortion at all? The reason I ask this is because this argument does not allow for any restrictions on abortion. If you’re arguing that we can’t make abortion illegal because women will get them anyway, then we can’t make ANY abortion illegal. What if a woman is not allowed to legally have an abortion in the third trimester, but she is so desperate that she would be willing to self-induce in a very dangerous way?
If you do believe that there should be restrictions, I strongly encourage you to reconsider this argument.
If you’ll bear with me, I have one more clarification question that I hope will help the conversation: do you believe, like I do, that abortion is an unjust act of violence against an innocent human person? If you don’t, that’s fine and I’d love to discuss that with you. But this is my view, and so that really affects the way I think about these questions. If my view is right, then we shouldn’t allow the law to be held hostage by citizens threatening to hurt themselves. So we need to discuss whether or not abortion is an unjust act of violence against an innocent person or you should give me another example of a time when we should legally tolerate violence to make it safer for the perpetrator.
11: Bodily Rights Arguments
For a comprehensive resource for understanding and responding to bodily rights arguments, visit our page here. You’ll notice that the response below also asks about abortion restrictions in the same way our back alley abortion response does. This is because both bodily rights arguments and back alley abortion arguments necessitate an extreme position on abortion. The arguments do not allow for any restrictions on abortion at all and most abortion-choice supporters think that there should be some restrictions on abortion such as outlawing abortion in the third trimester, sex-selective abortion, or abortion as a form of birth control.
It is also important to note that the sound-bite I wrote below is specifically modified for responding on social media. I would not recommend pro-life advocates take this approach when they have the chance in longer dialogues, because the method we teach in our online training course is significantly more persuasive. This is merely written for the purpose of minimal clarity for those scrolling.
I would like to share why some people like myself think that abortion should be illegal, even though pregnancy is such an intimate, private circumstance that greatly affects a woman’s body. In our view, abortion is an act of lethal violence against an innocent person, and that killing is not justified by one’s right to exercise their own bodily autonomy. I think that bodily rights arguments deserve a more thorough response than I can give here, so message me if you’re interested in a longer discussion, I would be more than happy to talk to you about it. For now, I want to share a video that I have found articulates my view very well and I hope you’ll watch it. In it, the speaker draws out important philosophical distinctions that are sometimes lost when someone brings up bodily autonomy. He talks about how abortion is more than just refusing to let the fetus use your body, that the procedure kills the unborn through an act of suffocation, dismemberment, or lethal injection. I would love to hear what you think! https://youtu.be/YmBrUcpOxDw
12: Savita Halappanavar’s Death in Ireland
According to the BMJ, a peer-reviewed medical journal, Savita Halappanavar died from sepsis after experiencing a prolonged miscarriage. She was diagnosed with spontaneous rupture of membranes (SROM) within 15 hours of hospital admission, and told 8 hours later that it was very unlikely that her child would survive. A full two days later, a doctor on record noted that the patient and her husband were upset when told that miscarriage was inevitable. The doctor further noted that the patient requested an abortion at this point to avoid further prolonging the process, but she was refused on the grounds that the fetus still had a heartbeat and her life was not considered to be at risk. 6 hours later, her condition rapidly deteriorated; she completed the miscarriage process an hour after that, was transferred to the ICU, and died despite medical interventions.
Savita’s story has been used by pro-choice advocates as a reason why abortion must be broadly legal and why a “life of the mother” exception is insufficient. They argue that she would have lived if she was granted an abortion when she requested it.
However, this argument overlooks the medical and legal errors made by her medical team. Even though she was started on antibiotics 22 hours after SROM, the physicians overlooked the possibility of a sepsis diagnosis, even though it was a clear possibility during a prolonged miscarriage. If the doctors had accurately diagnosed sepsis, Savita would very clearly have been able to request an abortion because her life was at stake. Even without the sepsis diagnosis, though, the attending team was likely incorrect in their assertion that abortion in this case was ruled out by Irish law. At minimum, they should have referred the question to a staff ethicist or legal counsel.
The fact that physicians mishandled Savita’s treatment led to her death. In responding to this meme, it’s important to let the pro-choice person know that you don’t want to see women die. This seems really obvious to you, but it may not be to them. But it’s also important to let them know that the meme doesn’t prove what they think it proves.
Every single state law in America contains a “life of the mother” or “medical emergency” exception. These should be taken to cover cases like Savita’s. Even more clearly, though, four states (Iowa, Georgia, Alabama, and Louisiana) include provisions for abortion in cases of “futile pregnancy” or lethal fetal anomaly. Alabama, which bans all abortions, would still have granted one to Savita.
I wanted to let you know that pro-life people don’t want to see women die. I think it is a tragedy that Savita died. I’ve read about her story, and it looks like the physicians treating her made mistakes which led to her death. It is so tragic when someone dies and it could have been prevented. The doctors missed the diagnosis of sepsis, which they could have treated earlier with better results. They were also incorrect to deny her an abortion; Ireland, like all of the U.S. states, has a “life of the mother” exception. It’s unclear whether aborting the child to shorten the miscarriage would have saved her life, given the missed diagnosis, but it was legally on the table and the doctors were wrong to say it wasn’t.
It wasn’t Ireland’s abortion laws that led to Savita’s death; it was physician incompetence. Even in Alabama, the state with the most stringent abortion law, Savita would have been granted an abortion. Pro-life people believe that all humans, including fetal humans, are equal in worth and dignity, we want to pursue laws that protect women without killing other humans. You may disagree about whether all humans are people, but I hope you can see why I think the way I do about abortion.
13. Abortion Is Healthcare
The idea that abortion is healthcare, and therefore opposing it is opposing science, commonly appears on tweets and signs. We’ve written about that in more detail in this post, so you should read that before responding on social media. Basically, there’s a disagreement or a misunderstanding about what makes something “healthcare.” Just because something happens in a medical office or is done by a licensed doctor doesn’t make that procedure healthcare. Instead, healthcare must be directed toward maintaining or restoring physical or mental health.
I want to push back against the idea of healthcare in your post. It seems like you’re implying that abortion is healthcare, so it shouldn’t be regulated or banned. Webster’s Dictionary defines healthcare as “efforts made to maintain or restore physical, mental, or emotional well-being especially by trained and licensed professionals.” Abortion isn’t preventing anything; whether or not you think the embryo is a valuable person with rights, it already exists, so abortion can’t prevent pregnancy.
It also doesn’t restore anything. In order to say abortion is restoring something, you would have to say that, by being pregnant, a woman’s body is sick or malfunctioning in some way. That actually ends up being really sexist: it says that women’s reproductive systems, when functioning normally, are actually bad and unhealthy, and that males are normal.
The only other definition I can think of for healthcare is “something done by a licensed medical professional.” Abortion would be healthcare under that definition, but it’s way too broad, because things we agree are bad, like female genital mutilation, would also be considered healthcare, and that can’t be the case. I don’t think abortion can be considered healthcare, and I think we should be able to talk about it as an ethical issue, not just a medical one.
14. Libertarian Argument for Abortion
It’s not uncommon to see arguments for abortion based on personal liberty (like bodily rights arguments), but one meme from the protests against the Texas heartbeat law managed to put it into picture form: a “Don’t Tread on Me” flag in the shape of the female reproductive system. What makes this different than bodily rights arguments is the fact that, especially by using that flag, it invokes a whole political philosophy about what kinds of rights people have and what their duties to each other are.
The “Don’t Tread on Me” flag gained popularity during the ascendancy of the Tea Party Republicans last decade, and has since remained a symbol of libertarianism. Libertarianism believes that government control should be avoided whenever possible, and that individuals should largely be left alone to make their own choices. Richard Posner, a famous judge, summarized it this way: “Your rights end where his nose begins.” The idea is that people should be free to do whatever they want, unless their actions would harm someone else’s person or property or limit their liberty.
But that’s exactly what is at issue in the abortion debate! Pro-life people maintain that abortion is the ultimate harm to a person’s life and liberty, and therefore even a minimalist government ought to make it illegal. Pro-choice people might believe that no person is harmed because the fetus doesn’t have rights, but that’s the thing we’re arguing about, and appealing to personal freedom doesn’t solve or change that argument.
It looks to me like you’re claiming that abortion should be a free choice because it doesn’t hurt anyone and it would be wrong to restrict the liberty of women. If I thought no one was harmed in abortion, I would probably agree with you. But even personal freedom has some limits. For example, I have the right to swing my arms, but that doesn’t mean I have the write to swing my arm into your nose; I don’t have liberty to do something that would harm someone else, no matter what my rights would otherwise be.
That’s the thing about abortion: I think that it harms a human person by killing them, and therefore it’s not a proper exercise of individual freedom to get an abortion. Where I think we disagree is whether or not the fetus is a person with rights, and I’d be happy to talk about that more with you.
Special thanks to my friend Nicole Hocott for her help during the writing process for this blog post and my colleague Andrew Kaake for providing research on the recent state bills and assistance during the writing and editing process.
Question: Have you seen a pro-choice meme you’d like help responding to? Post it in the comments below!
Please tweet this article!
- Tweet: Refuting Pro-choice Memes: Responding to Snark with a Winning Argument
- Tweet: The pro-life position is not one of convenience.
- Tweet: It is illogical to think that men shouldn’t have an opinion about abortion.
- Tweet: A human embryo right at fertilization is just as valuable a human person as you and me.
- Tweet: If the pro-life position is true, that would make abortion the most egregious, widespread act of violence in human history.
- Tweet: Even if the abortion would relieve the survivor of additional suffering, we do not believe that justifies killing an innocent person.
- Tweet: Fear of the aftermath of making abortion illegal comes from a misunderstanding of what pro-lifers believe.
The post “Refuting Pro-Choice Memes” 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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