Privacy, impossibility, and you can’t make me

I envision the battle over abortion this way: The pro-life movement has one offensive weapon but it’s as powerful as an atomic bomb so can’t be defended against. The pro-choice opposition has an array of weapons but they are faulty and unreliable and like cap pistols in comparison, plus the pro-lifers have defensive armaments that successfully deflect or destroy them. The P-Cs currently have the advantage though because of the combined force of their weapons of mass deception, their aggressive tactical maneuvering, and their capture of a key stronghold. But they have not been able to defend against the P-Ls one indestructible weapon, which, unlike the P-Cs weapons of choice, is a weapon of truth.

As I’ve been examining the arguments for abortion rights answered in philosopher Francis J. Beckwith’s book (1), I’ve been struck by the sheer number of varied but weak weapons abortion-rights supporters wield in their fight to keep abortion legal. And how none of them have been able to successfully counteract the one formidable pro-life weapon, which is the claim that the unborn are fully human from conception and are therefore entitled to a right to life. Instead, they simply assume it has been dealt with and defeated, though nothing could be further from the truth.

So here are a few more arguments from Chapter 5 that fail to hit the mark.

Argument from the Impossibility of Legally Stopping Abortion
This one suggests that, as Beckwith describes it, “because there is widespread disagreement on the abortion issue, enforcement of any laws prohibiting abortion would be difficult.” But this seems unlikely when you recognize that most Americans are law-abiding citizens and studies show that women are greatly influenced in their beliefs about the morality of abortion by its legal status. In fact, according to one author Beckwith cites, “One of the most significant conclusions of these studies shows that existing laws and customs are the most important criteria for deciding what is right or wrong for most adults in a given culture.”

Therefore, “just as public opinion became more sympathetic toward the abortion-rights position after abortion was legalized,” it would likely go the opposite way if it is again criminalized.

Argument from “Compulsory” Pregnancy
Some abortion-rights advocates claim that laws restricting abortion are “tantamount to advocating compulsory pregnancy.” This seems hardly worth addressing for its desperation, but it’s out there and I’m sure spoken or written with a straight face in all seriousness. Obviously, the government does not and will not force anyone to get pregnant. Once a woman is “with child,” as they used to say – and it’s interesting that we don’t hear that anymore, but unsurprising since it more accurately expresses the inconvenient truth – then only if the unborn child is not a human person with rights would this argument have any firepower at all. But that is territory they have been unable to secure.

Argument from Privacy
This argument claims that a decision to abort is an intimate and private one that should be restricted to the woman, her doctor, and her family, and off-limits to the government or anyone else. Beckwith points out several problems with this one, as with all the others.

  • It’s dishonest, especially when used as a bona-fide defense in advertising or social media, because it implies that the abortion physician is someone who knows the woman well enough to help her make the right decision when in fact it is likely she has never seen him for anything else. And she is not obligated to inform, much less get counsel from, any family member including the father of her child.
  • It assumes what has not been established – that the unborn are not fully human. Because “if the unborn is fully human, then killing her, even in the most intimate and private of settings, is still morally repugnant…Consequently, the privacy and the intimacy of the decision are irrelevant to the morality of abortion.”
  • Quoting ethicist Stephen Schwarz, the author argues that, “it is abortion, not the prohibition of it, that violates the intimate realm of a woman who is pregnant. It is abortion that intrudes into this beautiful sanctuary, where a small, innocent, defenseless child is nestled and protected.” Assuming the full humanity of the unborn, Schwarz affirms, “Yes, there is something private and intimate that we should protect: the child. Abortion is a violation of the child’s privacy, and intrusion into what is intimate for him, his own person.”
  • Beckwith concludes, “Men cannot beat their wives in the name of privacy and neither can parents molest or physically abuse their children because the family circle is ‘a private and intimate sanctuary.’ Therefore, it is the personhood of the unborn that is the real question, not appeals to privacy, intimacy, or any other politically correct ‘neutral zone.’”

Some classic attacks on the person arguments will be neutralized next time.

1. Francis J. Beckwith, Politically Correct Death: Answering Arguments for Abortion Rights (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993)