In the world of social media, it’s almost a self-evident truth that bad arguments will get a wider audience than good ones.
A popular thought experiment making the rounds is no exception. In an opinion article for The Tennesean, Guest Columnist Ren Brabenec poses this question to pro-lifers:
If the thought of state-mandated vasectomy makes men like us squirm in our seats, why would we consent to state-mandated births or state-controlled uteruses?
Brabenec then goes on to offer a thought experiment. If we pro-lifers are opposed to abortion because we see it as murder, then we should be doing more to address the underlying causes of abortion. Writes Brabenec
I’m doing my best to see things from your side. If abortion is murder, if a fetus is human life, we must address the underlying problem that leads to abortion, ie., unwanted pregnancies.
Brabenec’s solution? State mandated vasectomies for men.
Brabenec goes on to list a whole host of benefits he sees from requiring sexually mature males to get vasectomized. After all, if we want to see a drop in unplanned pregnancies and abortion, why wouldn’t we want to address the underlying cause? The economy will get better. Crime will drop. And women won’t die from back alley abortion procedures.
Brabenec then finishes his piece with a question:
But I ask you, do you want to live in a country where the State has that much power to control men’s bodies? Do you want your sons to live under such a system? No?
If the thought of state-mandated vasectomy makes men like us squirm in our seats, why would we consent to state mandated births or state-controlled uteruses?
As stated above, Brabenec claims he is doing his best to see things from the pro-life point of view. He portrays the pro-life position as inherently hypocritical. After all, if pro-lifers are willing to make demands of women’s bodies, then shouldn’t we also make equal demands of the bodies of men?
Let’s suppose Brabenec is right: If we really want to end abortion, we should be just as willing to make demands on men as we do women, and pro-life advocates who refuse to require men to get vasectomies are being hypocritical.
Maybe Brabenec is correct, pro-life men(myself included) are being hypocritical for not supporting government mandated vasectomies. What would this prove, other than that pro-lifers are less than perfect human beings?
Nothing that refutes the pro-life position.
A closer examination of his argument reveals Brabenec isn’t putting much effort into understanding the pro-life position as he claims. He needs to try harder.
Brabenec’s analogy fails for a few simple reasons. First, and most obviously, unlike Brabenec’s scenario, the pro-life position does not require women to undergo a surgical procedure in order to prevent unplanned pregnancies leading to abortion. Instead, pro-life advocates are trying to pass laws prohibiting a particular elective surgical procedure. Brabenec, and those who make similar silly assertions, miss this point entirely. They would be right to claim hypocrisy if pro-lifers were trying to mandate female sterilization procedures in order to prevent unplanned pregnancies and abortions. Given pro-lifers are not doing this, it’s hard to see how Brabenec can honestly find an adequate comparison. His thought experiment is just an exercise in intellectual laziness. Provided, the pro-life position does entail requiring women to carry pregnancies to term and refrain from getting abortions, but if abortion intentionally kills an innocent human being, then it seems perfectly reasonable to say a person must refrain from killing someone to avoid having to give birth to them. Given many abortions stem from pregnancies resulting from consensual sex, something a woman willingly engaged in, claiming that one is now essentially being forced to give birth against their will highlights the narcissistic thinking underlying much pro-choice rhetoric.
Brabenec is missing the point when it comes to opposition to abortion. Let’s review the pro-life argument:
Pro-lifers don’t appeal to religious texts to back up our claim abortion is the intentional killing of an innocent human being. The science of embryology settled this question ages ago. We also know there is no essential difference between the adults we are today and the unborn children we once were, which would have justified ending our lives then, but not now. How does my alleged unwillingness to support the state forcing men to get vasectomies mean the unborn are not full members of the human family, or that we may intentionally kill them? It doesn’t.
Brabenec never explains in his piece where the essential pro-life argument goes wrong. Instead, he ignores it entirely for the sake of a snarky mic drop. If he wants to show how the pro-life position is flawed, then he needs to address our essential argument. Instead, he turns the issue into one of character, and claims pro-life men(like me) are not being empathetic to women.
Lastly, the remark about state-mandated pregnancy needs to be addressed. It’s dishonest to claim pro-lifers are in favor of state-mandated pregnancies. No pro-life advocate wants any woman to become pregnant against their will. There’s a reason pro-lifers will often also advocate sexual responsibility, such as not sleeping with someone until you’re committed to that person for life through marriage. Rather, we are saying you shouldn’t end your pregnancy by intentionally killing your own son or daughter. There’s a big difference between requiring someone to become pregnant, and requiring someone to avoid killing someone to end their pregnancy.
No one is advocating for “state-mandated” uteruses either. What we’re saying is no one should be killed just because they happen to be inside a uterus. Under a pro-life law, no one is mandated to become pregnant; they are prohibited from killing another human being. On another matter, it’s worth mentioning everyone is in favor of at least some restrictions on the bodily actions of other human beings. Few people will complain about laws prohibiting urinating or defecating in public, even though these do place limits on what other people can do with their bodies. The reason is we all know that not all choices people make regarding their bodies are necessarily good ones. This is especially true when it comes to matters involving life and death. Even pro-choice advocates tend to be reluctant to defend abortions for frivolous reasons, which implies that they agree there is something wrong with at least some abortions.
It’s not wrong for the state to require certain behaviors of it’s citizenry, especially behaviors which fulfill the most basic obligations we have as human beings. Everyone expects parents to meet the most basic needs of their children, and at the very least, to not kill their children to free themselves of the burden. A parent who refuses to meet the most basic needs of their children is not a moral hero, they’re a moral monster. No one would take seriously a person who complaining they are a “State-mandated parent” for being required to provide food and clothing for their child after birth. If anything, everyone should condemn such a self-centered remark, because we expect better of adults. Similarly, it’s not an outrageous concept to expect a parent to meet the most basic needs of their children before birth, needs the parent is more than capable of fulfilling. Or, even more basically, for a parent to refrain from having their child killed. This is basic moral decency, not outrageous tyranny. If parents have obligations to their own children outside the womb, it seems clear the birth canal doesn’t establish or negate said obligations.
Pro-life men are not hypocrites for refusing to obtain vasectomies. Critics who suggest otherwise are not honestly seeking truth; they’re seeking excuses to avoid having to deal with the reality they might be defending a practice which kills innocent human beings.