That truth should be silent I had almost forgot.
Antony and Cleopatra,  Act 1, Scene 2

Unsilent Truth
May 28, 2019

Bad arguments


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LATELY, I HAVE BEEN READING some Facebook posts by people who want abortion to be kept legal. They are exercised, of course, by the laws that have been passed in Alabama and Missouri, prohibiting a woman's getting an abortion except when her life is in danger.

I will not be arguing against abortion in this column, but I will be talking about some of the claims I have found in those posts that purport to be arguments. They take what seems to me to be such a peculiar turn that I could hardly blame anyone reading them for thinking they were offered in bad faith.

I will not be giving citations because I am not engaging any particular person. And in any case, the "arguments" I am going to examine occur with some frequency, and the reader has probably encountered them (perhaps even used them) himself.

The Catholic Church says it cares about babies, but it protects clerical child molesters. To be sure, the Church is full of hypocrites. And that's not the worst of it.

It's full of thieves, adulterers, rapists, cheats, embezzlers, traitors, and even murderers. It's full of women who deceitfully get a man to raise another man's children, and men who pimp out underage girls. And among its criminals are to be found plenty of priests and not a few bishops.

As St. Augustine said, when you ordain a son of a bitch, you get an ordained son of a bitch. (I paraphrase.)

There is so much evil in the Church that I wonder how, century after century, she dares to produce saints. She should just stick to the business of taking in the worst scoundrels she can find, and forget about the sanctity that somehow escapes her evil postures.

To be serious, though, it is worth remarking that the Catholic Church is the ultimate source of the teachings that inform us that child molestation is wrong. I don't think you find anyone in the ancient world saying it. We may fault the Church that her officials and members do not practice what they preach, and at the same time heave a sigh of relief that they do not preach what they practice.

In any case, one does not hear that, say, embezzlement should be permitted to us all because the Church protected Paul Marcinkus from prosecution. Or that any other behaviors should be permitted because clergy have gotten away with an unrelated crime.

Men are forcing women to have babies. One hears this assertion so often that I marvel that I cannot find a single anti-abortion protester who has ever said, "I think women should be forced to have babies." You'd think you'd come across it, even if just by chance.

What they say is, "Women should not be allowed to kill their babies." Surely any person with a first-grade education can see the difference. Indeed, I'm not sure any women have ever been literally forced to have babies other than the Sabine women and the white girls who were kidnapped by American Indians.

However, there is a strategy in the claim in boldface, above. When the abortion-rights advocate says it, he knows perfectly well that no one will reply, "Yes. And they should."

It may be replied with some justice that when the anti-abortion advocate says, "Women should not be allowed to kill their babies," hardly anyone will reply, "Yes, they should." But in fact, any number will make that reply, although they usually recast it by replacing "babies" with "zygotes" or "embryos." Or maybe even "kill" with ... well, I don't know. But the abortion lobby and industry have shown themselves adept at public relations, and I'm sure they can come up with an appropriate euphemism.

I have to say at this point that in discussions of abortion, I have encountered immense difficulty in getting anyone to answer my question about whether the baby is human, and if not human, just what it is. Or, if human, at what point in its development it is entitled to the usual protections against life-taking. Anti-abortion advocates are willing to discuss the terms of the pro-abortion side (choice, women's rights, and so on), but the pro-abortion advocates seem to be unwilling to discuss the terms of the anti-abortion side.

Again, one may be forgiven for suspecting bad faith here.

Unwanted children are put in foster homes and abused. Although one must think that there are foster homes in which children are not abused, surely the pro-abortion-rights advocates are right that it happens, and perhaps happens often.

I am not certain, however, just how that fact should function as an argument for allowing women to kill a baby before it is born. There is something odd about trying to prevent child abuse by pre-emptively killing a child who might be abused.

Some children will be born with such serious birth defects or genetic defects that it would be better if they were not born at all. I am always suspicious of arguments on any subject that use the word "better." Ayn Rand was certainly right when she demanded an answer to the question, Better for whom? and by what standard?

Those who argue for the legality of abortion seldom attempt to address either of those questions, even on their own terms. It would seem that what goes unspoken is "better for the woman who doesn't want to take the risks of child-bearing" or even "better for the woman who doesn't want to be bothered with the inconvenience of children."

To the first unspoken answer, one may say that if abortion does indeed kill a living person, the risks must surely be dreadful and of high probability to justify the abortion. Normally, we want to discourage killing another person for light reasons, as those who argue for the right of self-defense by use of firearms understand quite well. To the second, there is probably no good answer except to plead with the woman to reconsider. (It is worth noting, here, that pleading with a woman to reconsider is thought by many advocates of abortion rights to be a form of force, and not an exercise of free speech at all.)

But perhaps the person who makes this argument is thinking of the child and is relying on the average person's sense that death is sometimes preferable to a life of pain or privation. Whether that sense is correct or not, surely it is not up to one person to make that decision for another. And while it is true that such unfortunate babies did not ask to be born, neither do they ask to be killed.

Perhaps the best way to resolve this matter is to ask for a show of hands by those of you who were born with birth defects or with diseases that gave you poor odds of survival, Would you prefer never to have been born? Would you prefer to have been dismembered in the womb?

I don't see many hands going up.

Better arguments. There are almost surely better arguments for the legality of abortion than the ones I have listed, and they should be offered dispassionately and by persons who permit themselves to be questioned about their arguments. (One thinks of Peter Kreeft's treatment, The Unaborted Socrates.)

But if there are such arguments, it would be a relief to hear them instead of these that dodge what must be considered the central questions: whether the being in the womb is a human person, and if not, at what point does it become one entitled to the usual protections against an attack on its life? Ω

May 28, 2019

To the editor ...

A friend of mine once had two bumper stickers on his car. One read "Abortion stops a beating heart" and the other read "Free abortions for black women." He was accused of advocating genocide. How can it be genocide if it's not murder?

Modine Herbey
May 28, 2019

Published in 2019 by WTM Enterprises.

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