We are living through a zombie apocalypse of sorts, rhetorically speaking. Old arguments that should have died long ago in light of solid responses keep finding new life in the “blogosphere” and on social media, especially with abortion finding its way back into the public dialogue due to recent events in Ireland and the United States.
Common among these arguments is the claim that pro-life legislation will lead to scores of dead women. From “back alley butcher” statements to feminists protesters waving coat hangers at rallies, to claims that thousands of women will die if abortion is made illegal, the argument is, like a horror movie zombie, still coming around. Even some college professors(Who really ought to know better) have repeated these sound bites.
Ironically absent these cries of supposed fear is any real rebuttal to the pro-life argument:
Premise 1: It is wrong to intentionally kill an innocent human being.
Premise 2: Abortion intentionally kills an innocent human being.
Conclusion: Therefore, abortion is wrong.
As philosopher Chris Kaczor points out, questions about women’s health and abortion are indeed important, but they still fail to settle the question of the moral admissibility of the act of abortion itself. Do we have any obligations to protect innocent human beings before birth in society and our law? Or can we dispose of them whenever their existence becomes a burden upon us? Philosopher Mary Anne Warren, herself an advocate of abortion, is in agreement; highlighting that murder is wrong regardless of the social consequences of prohibiting it.
This raises a question: Should the law protect the innocent from being intentionally harmed, even though some may be unintentionally killed as a result? Consider that some have been killed accidentally by unsuspecting family members when entering their own residence late at night, being mistaken for a burglar. This is undoubtedly a major tragedy, especially for the family. But does it logically follow that the moral position a society should take is to legalize armed burglary so that no one accidentally dies in this manner?
For another example, should armed robbery(stealing items off a person directly) be made legal so that no one gets accidentally shot by an overly nervous, trigger happy pedestrian walking through a high crime part of town? This is also a tragedy, but it is going to be really hard to argue that this is grounds for abolishing laws against robbery.
Aside from the logical mistakes, there is an honesty question that needs to be asked of our critics: If pro-lifers were to propose a law that restricted abortion but also made sure that no woman had to seek out a “back alley butcher”, would our critics then join us in opposing abortion? Some may say yes, but many will still retort that “Abortion is a fundamental right.” Ah, but that is the question at hand. Abortion is only a fundamental right if it is a moral act, and it is only a moral act if the unborn are not human. That needs to be argued for, and not simply asserted. This goes for everyone, on Twitter and in the academy.
One last point on the topic, those who raise the concern of women dying from illegal abortions do have some explaining to do. By what basis do we know that “[abolishing abortion] will be a death sentence for thousands of women”, as the Women’s March responded to the nomination of a pro-life Supreme Court Justice recently? Very often there is little to no support provided for the claim. As the late Dr. Bernard Nathanson(a former abortionist) points out, there is very little support to back up the claim:
“How many deaths were we talking about when abortion was illegal? In N.A.R.A.L., we generally emphasized the drama of the individual case, not the mass statistics, but when we spoke of the latter it was always “5,000 to 10,000 deaths a year.” I confess that I knew the figures were totally false, and I suppose the others did too if they stopped to think of it. But in the “morality” of our revolution, it was a useful figure, widely accepted, so why go out of our way to correct it with honest statistics? The overriding concern was to get the laws eliminated, and anything within reason that had to be done was permissible.” (Bernard N. Nathanson, M.D., Aborting America (New York: Pinnacle Books, 1979), 193)
While more can be said about the actual data on the number of deaths from illegal abortions in the pre-Roe years( Abort73 has a good list of sources, which can be found at http://www.abort73.com/end_abortion/what_about_illegal_abortions/. Also see Erika Bachiochi’s The Cost of Choice: Women Evaluate the Impact of Abortion)
The purpose of the objection itself needs to be questioned. Are those who raise it doing so out of an emphasis on truth, or as a means of fear-mongering in an already tense political climate? With women dying even during the era of legal abortion in the United States at the hands of men like Kermit Gosnell, it should be obvious that those who truly care for the needs of American women would be willing to consider all the implications of legal abortion today, not just the immediate emotions that all too often drive cultural debates.
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