“Don’t like abortion? Don’t have one!” We’ve probably all heard this evergreen slogan before from a pro-choice advocate. There are even shirts and bumper stickers for it. Just like “no uterus, no opinion,” it’s short, it’s snappy, and it can catch new or young pro-life people off-guard in how to respond. It’s a popular comeback I’ve personally heard many times when discussing abortion in-person or online. And it frustrates me to no end because it’s a terrible pro-choice argument. There are many far better pro-choice arguments that can be made, yet this is an easy go-to for many pro-choice advocates. It also frustrates me because by using it, the pro-choice person has revealed they not only have a fundamental misunderstanding of the pro-life viewpoint, but also that they are probably not interested in serious discussion—they are just seeking to shut down the conversation by pulling out this slogan.
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But to be as charitable as possible to the argument, let me explain what I think is the reasoning for pro-choice people who believe it has any weight (because it clearly has weight to them, even if it doesn’t to a pro-life person). If we can understand why someone uses this phrase and thinks it is a good pro-choice argument, it can help us carry on a productive conversation with them and help them to think about abortion differently. Minimally, we can help them understand how pro-life people actually view abortion and why we do not find that slogan convincing.
First, there are a few variations of the slogan, but they all essentially make the same point. They may start with, “Don’t agree with abortion?” instead of “Don’t like abortion?” They may also offer several examples of issues they feel are morally equivalent to abortion, which they believe benefits the conversation because they are helping you understanding how they view abortion.
If I were to flesh out the slogan in a manner that I think honestly encapsulates all the ideas wrapped up in it, I would say a person using “Don’t like abortion? Don’t have one!” really means something like:
Abortion is an issue of personal preference. I know a lot of people do not like the thought of abortion. If abortion bothers you, you can ignore abortion and not have an abortion, and thereby avoid something you do not like. We are all free to engage in what we enjoy and avoid what we do not enjoy. Don’t like Game of Thrones or the Star Wars sequels? Don’t watch them. So you can choose to avoid getting an abortion if you do not like it. Still, since it is a matter of personal preference, you really shouldn’t tell other people that it is wrong to get one, because their personal preferences and opinions may differ from yours. It’s kind of rude to assume your view is better than someone else’s, and it’s offensive and scary for you to try to force them to live by your personal preference. You should just let people act on their own choices, and you can act on yours, and everyone can coexist in peace with one another.
The Argument’s Fatal Flaw
This argument completely misunderstands the pro-life viewpoint by framing the issue of abortion as one of preference and putting abortion on the same moral playing field as say, preferring to donate blood or not, or choosing to visit Wendy’s over McDonald’s, or not eating fast food at all. It takes abortion out of the arena of serious moral and ethical consideration and places it squarely in the arena of private, personal opinion.
This misunderstanding also makes further discussion of abortion very difficult, because all you can do according to this argument is push back against an opinion or preference—and why should anyone listen to your opinion over someone else’s or especially their own?
However, the pro-life person does not merely dislike abortion. We are not against abortion because it makes us feel bad or icky or because we don’t prefer that choice. I am not against abortion in the same way I am against vanilla ice cream (I think it is the worst excuse for an ice cream flavor ever and would prefer literally any other flavor, up to and including black licorice ice cream). There are no moral considerations that go into choosing a favorite ice cream flavor or avoiding the flavor we do not like. The pro-life viewpoint is that abortion is a grave moral wrong. The most basic formulation of the pro-life argument goes like this:
Premise 1: It is morally wrong to intentionally kill innocent persons.
Premise 2: All human organisms are persons.
Premise 3: Abortion intentionally kills innocent persons.
Conclusion: Abortion is morally wrong.
Notice that nowhere within this argument against abortion are preferences mentioned or even implied. These premises are based on philosophy and moral reasoning and state an objective moral wrong. “Don’t like abortion? Don’t have one!” addresses none of these premises.
To frame the pro-life viewpoint as preference makes a very weak strawman which is super easy to attack, but it completely misses the real pro-life argument. And if the pro-choice person has any hope of actually convincing a pro-life person to become pro-choice, completely misconstruing our viewpoint (whether intentionally or not) is certainly not going to help them achieve their goal.
How Should Pro-Lifers Respond?
So how should a pro-life person respond when this slogan gets thrown at them? A few different responses could be used based on what has been covered earlier in the conversation and what you know so far about the other person’s beliefs or reasoning. However, I think a good general response is to ask a clarifying question to try to understand why the pro-choice person believes this to be a compelling counter to the pro-life viewpoint. Something like, “Could you tell me in your own words what you think pro-life people believe about abortion?” or “Could you explain why you think pro-life people do not like abortion?” Not only will their answers help reveal what their misconceptions are and help you understand where they are coming from, but it will also provide you with an opportunity to correct their misconceptions and explain what the pro-life viewpoint actually entails.
This argument is very weak. It’s just a bad argument, but if our goal as pro-lifers is to help change people’s hearts and minds, we should take the opportunity to correct someone’s false ideas about our beliefs with an appropriate amount of patience and grace.
Once they’ve given their answer, take that into consideration when you respond to correct their misconceptions. While we want them to understand what the pro-life viewpoint actually entails, we also do not want the person to feel ignored because we didn’t address anything they brought up. Consider briefly addressing their primary concerns or ideas about what being pro-life means, then offer a correction.
For example, let’s suppose someone responded to my question of “Can you explain why you think pro-life people do not like abortions?” with “Pro-lifers want to control women’s bodies and think women should be punished for having sex by being stuck with a child they don’t want. Women should have the freedom to choose to not have a child just because they had sex. Men get to have sex without worrying about pregnancy. Abortion helps even the playing field for women and gives women the full bodily autonomy that men get to enjoy by default. Abortion is important for women to have true freedom and equality with men, and pro-lifers want to take that away, which shows being pro-life is really all about controling and shaming women.”
If I do not address anything they said when I respond, I may only reinforce their idea of my wanting to control and shame women or not caring about women’s rights or bodily autonomy. Instead of jumping straight to correcting them, I would strive to find as much common ground as possible and address their concerns first. I might respond by saying something like,
You know what? I completely agree with you that men and women should be equal and have equal rights. The potential for becoming pregnant certainly does constitute a greater biological risk or burden for women versus sexually active men. I don’t want to punish women for having sex, either.
But hear me out for just a second, because it seems there may be a misunderstanding of what the pro-life viewpoint is. Pro-lifers do not just ‘not like’ abortion. Pro-lifers like me think that intentionally killing innocent persons is wrong, and since abortion intentionally kills an innocent person, abortion is objectively, morally wrong. You may not agree that intentionally killing innocent persons is always wrong or that abortion kills an innocent person, and if so, I’d love to talk with you more about that.
But asking me to not get an abortion because I don’t like them would be like me asking you not to abuse a child if you don’t like child abuse. I am sure you don’t merely ‘not like’ child abuse—you probably rightly believe that child abuse is an objectively bad thing. Even if you disagree with me about abortion, can you at least understand why I can’t just be satisfied by personally refraining from getting an abortion?
Hopefully a fruitful and focused discussion can progress from there. While we never want to strawman pro-choice people’s arguments, we also don’t want them to do that to us. It is perfectly acceptable to clarify what you believe when discussing abortion with a pro-choice person and ask them to address what you actually believe, not what they think you believe or have invented for you.
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The post Responding to “Don’t Like Abortion? Don’t Have One!” 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.”