They attack the person rather than refute the argument.
During an HBO special, comedian Rosanne Barr told the audience, “You know who else I can’t stand is them people that are anti-abortion…. I hate them. They’re ugly, old, geeky, hideous men. They just don’t want nobody to have an abortion, cause they want you to keep spitting out kids so they can molest them.”
Do you see what is happening here? Instead of defending her view with facts and arguments she attacked the character of pro-lifers. We call this the ad hominem fallacy, which appeals to one’s prejudices rather than to reason, as attacking one’s opponent rather than debating the issue.
It is fallacious reasoning, because even if the personal attack is true it does nothing to refute the pro-lifer’s argument that the unborn are members of the human community. Suppose that we grant that pro-life advocates are hideous, old men who molest children, as Rosanne Barr contends is true. How does this in any way refute the pro-life claim that abortion takes the life of a defenseless child? Clearly, it does not. The attack is therefore irrelevant to the argument for life.
There are those who insist that because pro-life advocates oppose the willful destruction of an innocent human being, they must therefore assume responsibility for all of society’s ills. In other words, you are not truly pro-life unless you treat the deforestation of the Amazon with the same moral intensity that you do the unjust killing of a human fetus. This is careless thinking and highly unfair to those who take abortion seriously.
Imagine the gall of saying to the American Cancer Society, “You have no right to focus on curing cancer unless you also work to cure AIDS, heart disease, and diabetes.” Contrary to what some think, the abortion debate is not about poverty, capital punishment, the redistribution of wealth, or protection of the environment. It’s about one issue: What is the unborn? The answer to that question trumps all other considerations.
This unfair chastisement of pro-lifers is not an outrage but a distraction. How does my alleged unwillingness to adopt a child justify an abortionist killing one?
Attacking Pro-lifers for Their Speech
On July 11, 2000, a knife-wielding man attacked Vancouver (BC) abortionist Garson Romalis in a downtown clinic. Abortion advocacy groups seized on this brush with death to score cheap political points against their opponents, notably Canadian Alliance Party leader Stockwell Day, who opposes abortion.
Day was quick to condemn the attack against Romalis as “outrageous and untenable,” but that did not satisfy the local abortion advocates. Marilyn Wilson, president of the Canadian Abortion Rights Action League, said that Day had “indirectly sanctioned” the violence against Romalis with his extremist rhetoric.
Why was Mr. Day responsible for the attack? It’s really quite simple. He disagrees with Ms. Wilson on abortion and has said publicly that elective abortion is the unjust killing of an innocent human being. “Day is going to try and deny that he would support any violence,” she said in a press release, “but his rhetoric does incite other people who share his beliefs against abortion to violence.” She then called Day a “fanatic” for “the amount of anti-choice, extremist rhetoric that’s out there.”
Bear in mind that to Ms. Wilson, “fanatic” and “extremist” mean anyone who deviates in the slightest from her own position, which is that abortion should be legal for any reason whatsoever during all nine months of pregnancy. According to her, if you say that elective abortion takes the life of a defenseless child, as Day believes it does, then your irresponsible rhetoric will cost an abortionist his life.
Marilyn Wilson’s statements are intellectually dishonest for four reasons.
First, let’s assume that pro-life rhetoric does in fact lead to acts of violence against abortionists (though there is no good reason to suppose that this is so). Would this in any way refute the pro-life argument that elective abortion unjustly takes the life of an innocent human being?
Second, it is blatantly unfair of Ms. Wilson to demonize pro-life advocates for espousing their sincerely held beliefs. Would an animal rights activist be responsible for the firebombing of a clothing store by a deranged environmentalist? More to the point, is Ms. Wilson responsible if, upon reading her press release, a pro-abortion activist shoots Stockwell Day for the purpose of saving the community from such an awful extremist?
Third, it does not follow that because a lone extremist stabs an abortionist, the pro-life cause itself is unjust. Dr. Martin Luther King, for example, used strong language to condemn the evil of racism during the 1960s. In response to his peaceful but confrontational tactics, racists unjustly blamed him for the violent unrest that sometimes followed his public demonstrations. Are we to believe that a handful of rioters made Dr. King’s crusade for civil rights entirely unjust?
Fourth, if it is extreme to call elective abortion killing, then abortion advocates bear partial responsibility for the stabbing of Dr. Romalis. The fact is that pro-lifers aren’t the only ones who call abortion killing. Abortion-choice advocates do, too.
Late term abortionist, Warren Hern, presented a paper at the annual meeting of Planned Parenthood Physicians in San Diego in 1978. He wrote, “We have reached a point in this particular technology [D&E abortion] where there is no possibility of denial of an act of destruction by the operator. It is before one’s eyes. The sensations of dismemberment flow through the forceps like an electric current.”
“Abortion kills the life of a baby after it has begun. It is dangerous to your life and health.” This is what Planned Parenthood stated in a brochure in 1963.
A Crass Form of Reverse Sexism
Finally, some pro-life advocates are attacked for their gender. Men are told, “You can’t get pregnant, so leave the abortion issue to women.” Besides its obvious sexism, the statement is seriously flawed for at least three reasons.
First, arguments do not have genders, people do. Since many pro-life women use the same arguments offered by pro-life men, it behooves the abortion advocate to answer these arguments without fallaciously attacking a person’s gender.
Second, to be consistent with their own reasoning, abortion advocates would have to concede that Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court case legalizing abortion, was bad law. After all, nine men decided it. In truth Planned Parenthood and the ACLU have no problem with men speaking on their behalf. Comparing their sexist remarks with their behavior, we can restate their argument as follows: “No man can speak on abortion unless he agrees with us.” Once again, this is a classic case of intolerance.
Third, since lesbians and post-menopausal women cannot naturally get pregnant, must they be silent on the issue of abortion? Female sportscasters have never experienced a groin injury. Does this mean that they have no right to broadcast football games on national television?
Personal attacks, even if true, will not make the pro-choice case, nor will they refute the pro-life advocacy for the unborn.