Framing the Debate: Pro-Lifers Aren’t Hypocrites for Opposing the Lockdown

The internet is a wonderful place, where bad ideas are given fertile ground to take root in before good ideas can overtake them.

Somehow, the debates surrounding the Covid-19 issue have intruded upon the abortion issue. Lately, pro-choice activists have resorted to a new series of accusations. Taking into account the ongoing protests against state mandated lockdowns to prevent the spread of Covid-19, some abortion-choice advocates have resorted to claiming that pro-lifers who oppose the lockdown measures are inconsistent at best, and hypocrites at worst, for opposing measures put into place to save lives. Why, we are told, pro-lifers care so much about prenatal life, but could care less if Grandma dies from the Covid-19 outbreak, so long as they get to enjoy their freedoms.

This sort of objection isn’t new. Over the past several years a variety of similar objections have been making the rounds on social media. Jill Filipovic, writing at The Guardian in 2019, argues(or at least, tries to argue) that the inconsistent behavior of pro-life advocates regarding life outside the womb is proof that we never cared about protecting life to begin with; it was always about controlling the bodies and sexuality of women.

Frankly, this idea is about as lazy as it is stupid.

For one, it is utterly meaningless. Suppose pro-lifers, every single one of us, had a callous disregard for people at risk of contracting and dying from Covid-19. Would that, in any way, prove that the unborn are not human beings worthy of protection, or establish that elective abortion is justifiable? No. Let’s review the basic pro-life argument:

  1. It’s wrong to intentionally kill an innocent human being
  2. Elective abortion intentionally kills an innocent human being
  3. Therefore, elective abortion is wrong

Any criticism that fails to address or refute the argument pro-life advocates are making is just a waste of time. Even if every single pro-lifer has callous disregard for the born(which is very unlikely) it would not tell us anything of value about the act of abortion itself. It would simply mean that many pro-lifers haven’t entirely thought through what protecting human life from unjust harm fully entails. That’s a common mistake that anyone could easily make, regardless of their stance on abortion.

The objection is a lazy ad hominem. Suppose I accidentally back into my neighbor’s car later today while heading to the liquor store to get another six pack of beer. He sues me, and in his testimony says the following: “Your honor, you really should make Mr. Apodaca pay the damages. For one, he’s always drinking and stinks of cigar smoke. His wife is ugly and also smells funny, his kids are always making a ruckus late at night, he drives like a looser, and his dog is always doing his business in my yard.” Even if all of these claims were true, it would not make any difference to the overall case. It would not establish, in any way, shape or form, that I had indeed carelessly damaged my neighbor’s car. It’s simply irrelevant(and a waste of time), even if I happen to be a lousy human being.

The same is true of the abortion debate. Even if pro-lifers as a whole are lousy people who don’t care if Grandma dies from Covid-19, it makes no difference in regards to the unborn. Put simply, if you want to defeat the pro-life or “anti-choice” movement, then refute our basic argument. If you can’t, then quit wasting our time.

In addition to being a lazy ad hominem, the accusation is also a Red Herring. This is easy to see. Suppose pro-lifers did come to support extending the lockdown protocols indefinitely. Suppose the movement as a whole did realize it was mistaken on the issue of lockdowns, and began supporting strict social distancing measures. Would our critics then join us in opposing abortion? Nope. They’ll just trot out a new excuse for why they won’t oppose abortion. So why even bother with bringing it up? If there is an argument to be made for elective abortion, then make the argument. Don’t hide behind lazy smokescreens and soundbites.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, these critics are not off the hook themselves. They are simply assuming the unborn are not members of the human family. A conversation about the topic might look like this:

PL: So, why do you support the lockdown measures?
PC: Well, to save lives, of course!
PL: Ah, so where does that leave us in regard to the unborn and abortion?
PC: Are you kidding? There’s a world of difference between a fetus that isn’t human, and the people who can get the Coronavirus!
PL: Oh, so then that is what the issue is about. The issue is not about what sort of human beings we are, but is about whether or not the unborn are human. That is the question we must resolve.

Pro-choice activists who run around calling pro-lifers hypocrites over our stance on the lockdowns(or any other social policy unrelated to abortion, for that matter) don’t deserve to be let off easy. While I might have to explain why I support reopening the economy, even if Grandma may accidentally get sick with Covid-19, it is the abortion supporters who must explain clearly and honestly, why they push for measures intended to save lives but still push for the right to intentionally kill innocent human beings before birth. The two forms of inconsistency are not equal.

Lastly, the effectiveness of the lockdown procedures in saving lives is not as apparent as one might be led to believe. While undoubtedly many of the proponents of strict shutdowns have the best possible intentions, good intentions alone are not enough to justify sweeping social changes. Especially if those changes may cause great damage. As Thomas Sowell documents in his books Intellectuals and Society and Visions of the Anointed, some of the worst mistakes in human history had very good intentions behind them. Good intentions alone are not enough to justify policies of significant social change. They have to be framed and driven by sound thinking on other matters, such as economic concerns, social concerns, and even the possible cost to other human beings due to unintended consequences.

With regards to the lockdowns, as Scott Klusendorf points out in his piece on the topic, while the lockdowns may have saved lives that would have otherwise been lost due to the disease, the social implications may prove far deadlier. The increases in mental illness and suicide, domestic abuse, marital strain, joblessness and a shattered economy, and the subsequent increases in crime due to the increase in social strain must all be taken into account by proponents of lockdown procedures before they congratulate themselves for taking the moral high ground. To do any less is simply smug arrogance, if not utter foolishness.

No, pro-life advocates who oppose the lockdowns are not hypocrites. They are simply thinking through all aspects of the issue before hastening to a decision on the matter; a virtue that used to be called “wisdom”.