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Useful thoughts for debating abortionists

A scattering of helpful ideas for anyone who has to debate the issue of abortion.

A couple of variants on my original simple argument against abortion—these can be memorized easily, though reciting them by rote will probably be less effective than working them naturally into conversation:

  1. Killing your children is wrong.
  2. Your unborn child is one of your children
  3. Therefore, killing your unborn child is wrong
  1. Killing another human being to make your life easier is wrong
  2. A fetus is a human being.
  3. Therefore, killing your fetus to make your life easier is wrong.

Some other thoughts to have in mind

If you’re discussing abortion with someone, most people will agree with these statements but then try to deny the implications. Gently pressing them on their inconsistency can help open their eyes:

Parting thoughts about attitude

I don’t recall ever meeting an abortionist who genuinely seemed to care about the truth. I’m not saying they don’t exist; but I’ve only met ones who, a priori, regarded any attack on abortion as an attack on women (and themselves, if they are women). This makes it very difficult to converse with them. I am often reminded of 2 Thessalonians 2:11. Some suggestions for dealing with these types:

19 comments

  1. Rob

    You list a bunch of abstract arguments. You do not deal with realities.

    I’ve lived in NYC in Astoria (admittedly not a horrible neighborhood, but not particularly upscale) for around 10 years. I’ve never been mugged once.

    The fact is, most of the people who get abortions are not fit to be mothers. Their kids would in fact grow up to be criminals, or else create an unsustainable economic burden on the rest of us.

    If irresponsible, lawless people want to demographically remove themselves from the picture, eventually you have to get out of their way. No one has to feel guilty for allowing abortion in that sense.

    To give an analogy. If someone loses blood because of an accident, you should give blood if you’re able. But if someone continually cuts themselves, then regrets it, and tries to get blood from you, you’re justified in saying eventually, “Go kill yourself if you want, otherwise you’ll just end up bleeding both of us to death. We seem to have reached that point.

  2. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Rob, if I understand you correctly your argument is essentially that since most abortive women are not fit to be mothers, it is therefore permissible for these women to murder their children. Or, alternatively—since most children of these women will grow up to be criminals, it is therefore permissible for their mothers to murder them before that happens.

    Am I understanding your argument correctly?

  3. Rob

    You need to be clear about “permissible”. It may not be permissible in an ideal sense, or perhaps in your moral opinion, but that’s beside the point. It should be permitted in practice, because 1) they will get abortions anyway, 2) Due to the way the system is now, such an increase in that demographic would lead to economic injustice against people who do not even live near by, due to redistributionist tactics. Think of the tolerance of abortion as one “evil” aspect of the current system that counterbalances other “evil” aspects. If you just correct one part (which you feel is abortion) the system will collapse. So while permitting abortion may not be ideal, it is a compromise, it is better than collapse.

    And I think crisis pregnancy centers should be free to operate without the frivolous, silly legal intimidation that they are facing in NY and elsewhere (trying to dictate their advertisements and such). If they are persuasive and truly offer a service that is desired, they’ll win out in the end. But to overwhelm the system by outlawing abortion will be disaster.

    To give another comparison, let’s say that drugs were legalized. Would Chicago still be having 500 murders/year? I doubt it. Drugs aren’t ideal, but sometimes you must compromise a bit on an ideal position to avoid disaster.

  4. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Rob, so far we have you down as saying:

    1. If a woman is unlikely to make a good mother, it should be legal for her to pre-empt this difficulty by murdering her child before it is born.

    By the same logic, CPS should have the option of executing children rather than placing them into foster homes.

    2. If a child is unlikely to grow up to be an honest or productive citizen, it should be legal for a mother to pre-empt this difficulty by murdering her child before it is born.

    By the same logic, we should be allowed to execute any child that seems likely to turn out badly. Of course, even if it were morally permissible to kill someone you knew would grow up to become a criminal, we don’t know whether any aborted children will grow up to become criminals (and indeed, in many parts of the world most aborted children would not, so your argument at best is overly selective).

    3. If a woman will find a way to murder her child before it is born, then we should legally provide her with a way to do so.

    By the same logic, if a serial killer will find a way to murder other people, then we should legally provide him with a way to do so.

    4. If allowing certain people to live will result in economic injustice to others, we should murder those people instead.

    To take another example, if there isn’t enough lebensraum (living space) in our country, we should make more by murdering those we consider less desirable. People like Jews and gypsies.

    5. The “system” will collapse if we outlaw the murdering of unborn children.

    Let’s say your shrill assertion is somehow true. Why think a system which codifies the systematic murder of unborn children should be allowed to stand?

    6. Crisis pregnancy centers should be free to operate without the frivolous, silly expectation that they abide by fundamental moral codes and human rights.

    And while we’re at it, we should ensure that schools and daycare centers are free to kill children if they see fit as well.

  5. Rob

    Ok, I think we have identified axiomatic disagreements here… so further discussion would be pointless.

    But I have to take issue with your inaccuracies with your points #6 and #4

    I’m really shocked by your misunderstanding in your #6.

    I’m *agreeing* with prolifers against the sleazy tactics of powerful prochoice lobbies in trying to shut down crisis pregnancy centers.

    I think if pro choicers get to self servingly block free speech of those who disagree with them, then in parity, all Planned Parenthood ads should likewise be forced to say “We do not offer ultrasound, but if we did, you probably wouldn’t want to have an abortion. We do this so as to get your bucks”. Truth in advertising: ie. the logic of their own lawsuits should force the same restrictions on them. But I think organizations should be allowed to advertise how they like, and the consumer has the responsibility to do any research before giving his business to that organization. I’m shocked you are agreeing with the totalitarian tactics of the pro-aborts here.

    Perhaps you misunderstood my comment about crisis pregnancy centers???

    I’m a libertarian atheist – that’s where I’m coming from. I generally hate what the left is doing, yet I agree that abortion should be legal. That’s where I’m coming from. Does that help?

    1 more point. You are distorting what I’m saying with #4
    “4. If allowing certain people to live will result in economic injustice to others, we should murder those people instead.

    To take another example, if there isn’t enough lebensraum (living space) in our country, we should make more by murdering those we consider less desirable. People like Jews and gypsies.”

    That distorts things on 2 levels:
    1) Jews by merely existing in a “space” weren’t committing any positive action against Nazis. The Jews had as much right to live where they were as Nazis did. This is different from what I’m talking about with redistributionism. In this system, people merely by existing have an unlimited right to confiscate your property from you, through the mechanism of government.
    Just bing “Cloward-Piven” if you want the details on how this strategy works.
    I’m saying that because an unjust mechanism like redistributionism exists, it’s good that another mechanism (abortionism) also exists that to some extent compensates for the former.

    I’d agree *both* are not ideal and *both* arise from human evil. But you must get rid of *both* at the same time, otherwise we will just be playing into the hands of the Cloward-Pivenists, like Obummer.

    2) In any case, your words “we should make more [lebensraum] by murdering those we consider less desirable” is unfair. I’m not advocating that if irresponsible people have kids, those kids should forcibly be taken away and murdered. I’m not with the “Science Czar” Holderin who thinks that government can do this. I’m just saying, let these people have the freedom to do what they want. I’m not advocating force of Government as your comment implies.

  6. Rob

    Please let me give a Biblical analogy. When I think of how the lef t has subverted our Constitutional rights and oppresses us, I feel despair as Hezekiah did when the Assyrians attacked.

    But, almost miraculously, these idiots on the left support the self-destructive policy of abortion, their own constituency.

    It’s like witnessing the destruction of Sennacharib’s host. I find it hard to feel any way other than relieved, like Hezekiah. Get out of their way, I say. Let their own self invoked Angel of Death give them what they deserve.

  7. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Rob, sorry about misunderstanding your point #6. Not living in the US, I’m not as familiar with the situation there, so I got the wrong end of the stick. I certainly agree with your comments about advertising.

    And with regard to redistributionism, I also agree with you: it is institutionalized theft. However, that doesn’t justify your position:

    I’m saying that because an unjust mechanism like redistributionism exists, it’s good that another mechanism (abortionism) also exists that to some extent compensates for the former.

    As you have observed, while one injustice may mitigate the effects of another injustice, they are both still injustices, and the correct response to them is to permit neither. The compensatory good of one does not offset its gratuitous evil. It is still better to get rid of the greater injustice (the murder of millions of innocent children), at the expense of adults who can fend for themselves. That is just obvious. Adults in a society are supposed to protect children, not use their systematic slaughter as an economic shield.

    I’m not advocating that if irresponsible people have kids, those kids should forcibly be taken away and murdered. I’m not with the “Science Czar” Holderin who thinks that government can do this. I’m just saying, let these people have the freedom to do what they want.

    Let’s not mince words. You are saying, let these people have the freedom to kill their children, because that makes other people’s lives easier.

    It’s like witnessing the destruction of Sennacharib’s host.

    Where is the analogy between mothers murdering innocent babies who they’re supposed to love and protect, and the Angel of Yahweh destroying an aggressive enemy bent on destroying God’s people?

  8. Rob

    “Rob, sorry about misunderstanding your point #6.”

    No problem.

    And here for my part let me say that I concede what you say. You’re saying that my conjecture that some people might be an economic burden does not mean I should (passively) support their being willfully killed, any more than I would support murder in any other context.

    I might have agreed with you at one point. At this point I’m too frustrated and frankly scared about what this government is doing to care about the aborted, even if they contain people that are innocent and a few who might even agree with me if they should grow up. I don’t feel anything for them to be frank.

    So we’re at an impasse – I concede your point. Feel free to use me as a textbook example for your Sunday school as to how metaphysical naturalism erodes our sense of ethics. :)

  9. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Hehe, well Rob I must say you’re one of the most reasonable atheists I’ve talked to about this. It’s nice to debate someone who seems to act the same online as he would in real life.

    I think you’re right that metaphysical naturalism erodes ethics. In fact, I’d say that’s inevitable. If we’re all just fundamentally animals, and there ain’t nothing wrong with other animals killing each other (we don’t worry about rabbits eating their young, for instance), then it’s hard to find a principled way to complain about humans killing each other. Sam Harris gave it a go a short while back, but William Lane Craig took him to the cleaners ;/

    The problem of grounding moral values was a big issue for me when I was an atheist. I felt strongly that we *ought* to act in certain ways. But I couldn’t figure out how to make that “ought” into anything more meaningful than an expression of evolved preference. What else could it be under naturalism?

  10. Matthew Lee

    First I would like to say bravo to both Rob & Bnonn on your discussion. Rarely have I seen a discussion like this that did not quickly erode to the same banal comments or silly insults. While I agree wholeheartedly with Bnonn, I will say “tsk tsk” to you for your “shrill assertion” comment. That had the potential to degrade the discussion.

    I believe that the Bible teaches us that all human life is sacred and murder is wrong. I believe it even made it into the 10 Commandments… But unlike many of my fellow Christians here in the US, I believe all murder is wrong, of the unborn and the born, which also makes me anti-death penalty. After all, if Jeffrey Dalmer can become a believer in jail, who are we to take that opportunity away from anyone else? And please anyone who is tempted to give the “why spend the money to imprison someone who is never getting out” argument, go do the research. The legal process to get someone put to death costs far more than just leaving them in jail. But I digress.

    The real point I want to make is in response to Rob’s comment about abortion reducing crime. Steven Levitt in his book Freakonomics makes a compelling case for why this is a true statement. He goes to great lengths to clearly state that he is not making a moral judgement, he is simply applying the tools of economic analysis to demonstrate that it is true. It would certainly seem to support Rob’s assertion that most women who have abortions are unfit to be mothers. But we then get to the point where I differ with Rob.

    To me, what this conclusion highlights is not the benefits of abortion but rather the failings of our current system. Most people in the pro-life camp here in US spend a great deal of time and money advocating for making abortion illegal. Few people spend much time or money trying to improve the situation of the women currently having the abortions. Or, if we cannot move past blaming these women for their circumstances and thus concluding that they are not deserving of our help (Thank God Jesus didn’t see it that way for the rest of us!), we can at least look for ways to improve the circumstances of the kids such that they are less likely to grow up to be criminals.

    Our local Crisis Pregnancy Center provides not only counseling, ultrasounds and education to show women that there are alternatives to abortion, they also provide parenting education and support in the form of clothes, diapers, baby food, etc to make it a more economically viable option for these women. But they are badly underfunded and can only do so much. They need much more support than they currently get from the private sector in order to be able to make a difference on a large scale.

    My conclusion is this. From a completely amoral standpoint, abortion makes total sense. It is an extremely cheap and seemingly effective way to reduce crime in this country. So if a person holds a worldview that says that human life holds no greater intrinsic value than say a mosquito it is a logical conclusion. But if one believes that there is intrinsic value to human life, then the added expense to society of perserving it is justified. Then the only question becomes how do we want to “pay” that added expense? In increased crime caused by disadvantaged, poorly raised and educated youths with no prospects? Or in putting in place programs to provide those same children the opportunity to grow up to be productive contributing members of society? To me the choice is simple. The first is shortsighted and foolish, making the second option the only viable solution. Even if it does smack of “redistributionism” or the dreaded… socialism. Gasp! Cower! Screams of “Communist”, “Enemy of the State”, “Unamerican” and all other forms of McCarthyism may now commence.

    I would like to add a post script to my already lengthy comment. The pastor of my church in the lead up to the last election made an interesting comment about abortion. He stated that perhaps if the roughly 50 million Americans who have been legally murdered since Roe v. Wade were alive today we would not be facing our current economic crisis. A statement that would only be true if those 50 million people were productive members of society. A conclusion not supported by Steven Levitt’s research and analysis of what would have occurred under our current system.

  11. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Matthew, thanks for your comment. I’m not really qualified to remark on the economic aspect in more than a very abstract way, having not researched this (I haven’t read Levitt’s book, for instance). But as you say, it’s important to support families if we expect to make headway against abortion.

    Mind you, it strikes me that it’s hard to support families in a political and cultural environment which constantly undermines their importance with things like no-fault divorce, civil unions, acceptance of promiscuity and fornication, etc.

    One thing I did find odd about your comment—and this is rather tangential, so forgive me—is your disapproval of the death penalty. I’m not sure how you can consistently disapprove of murder on biblical grounds, while simultaneously regarding capital punishment as murder, when the Bible denies that it is murder and affirms that it is a just punishment for many crimes?

    After all, murder is the unjust killing of another human being. But if capital punishment is justice by definition, then it cannot be murder, can it?

  12. Matthew Lee

    I have been asked that question many times. While I could go on at great length, I will confine my answer to just a few of the reasons I believe capital punishment is wrong. First, I think the biblical support for capital punishment ended with the new covenant. Jesus tells us to forgive 7 times 70 times which is a Jewish metaphor for infinitely. Second he told us in John 8:7 that only the person who is free from sin may “cast the first stone” which is to say be the executioner. Since Jesus himself is the only man free from sin, it follows that He is reserving that right for himself. Only His judgement is perfect thus only He can mete out the ultimate punishment. There are also numerous passages where Jesus refers to God, and only God, as the ultimate judge. So I firmly believe that under the new covenant, we are no longer called or even allowed to take on this role. One could even argue that God demonstrated this in the case of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5, Peter exposed the sin, but God judged and sentenced them.

    Even if I did not believe the above I find the thought chilling that flawed human beings capable of error are placed in the position of ultimate judgement over another human being. If an error is made and the death penalty given, there is no way to undo it. If that error was made and the person had not yet accepted Jesus Christ, that chance has then been robbed from them and they have, in effect, been condemned to eternal damnation by an Earthy, not Heavenly court. Without going into the nature of free will, God’s sovereignty, Calvinism, Arminianism and such which is an entirely other debate, suffice it to say human beings simply lack the capacity for perfect judgement and thus I believe should err on the side of caution.

  13. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Thanks for the explanation. I disagree with your reasoning quite whole-heartedly, but I think this is clearly an issue where Christians have some leeway in terms of conscience — and it’s pretty off-topic anyway, so I’m just going to agree to disagree :)

  14. Matthew Lee

    I agree with you that this is off topic. Somewhat. In the United States at least, it is often the hypocrisy, or apparent hypocrisy, of Christians on this issue which is used to sidetrack the discussion from the evils of abortion. The 2 arguments typically used by pro-choice people in my experience are:

    1. embryos are not people and thus it is not murder.
    2. if Christians believe in the sanctity of human life, why don’t they believe in the sanctity of all human life? The “right to life” should not end at birth.

    My answer to the first one is poppycock. Even if you do not believe that there is something fundamentally different about human beings from all other forms of life, the argument that an unborn child is “just a group of undifferentiated cells” or a “blastocyst” is only true for a very short period of time. So short that most women would not even be aware they were pregnant when it was still true. As a father of three I have heard the heart beats of all my children at about 6 weeks and seen ultrasound images of them at 10 weeks that clearly showed that they were very small but also very much identifiable as people. So even devoid of morality that argument only holds true for the first few weeks of pregnancy. So that argument is not only disingenuous, it is fundamentally dishonest.

    Which brings us back to Rob’s earlier point as to why the left in this country fights so hard to prevent things like requiring an ultrasound prior to giving an abortion. They know that that would put the lie to the “it’s not a person” argument for the vast majority of women and most would never have the abortion.

    The second argument is much harder to refute. I happen to agree with them. Honestly, I do not think this is “an issue where Christians have some leeway in terms of conscience.” I believe that when Jesus said only the person who is free from sin can act as executioner that is exactly what he meant. If you have some New Testament passages you can point me to that you feel support the death penalty, I would truly love to hear them and your reasoning. I mean that with all sincerity.

    Quite frankly, it would allow me to respond to this criticism in a much more meaningful way. I could say “I agree with you, but many Christians look at Book Chapter:Verse which says such and such and feel that that means God supports the death penalty. Thus it is not inconsistent with a “pro-life” worldview.” As it stands, when people bring this up and I don’t have an answer they feel they have somehow taken the moral high ground and it tends to end meaningful discussion of the real issue of abortion.

    So I actually do feel this discussion is wholly, or perhaps holy :), relevant to this issue. Without a solid response to this ancillary topic, it will continue to undermine the ability of Christians to be heard when communicating our heartfelt belief in the sanctity of human life including unborn life. Secularists will continue to accuse us of hypocrisy and ignore all aspects of our arguments on that basis. Personally, I feel it is a tactic of people who know they are in the wrong. It is used to used to muddy the waters and allow them, and any onlookers, to continue in their wrong belief secure in the delusion that it is the other person’s hypocrisy and not their lack of morality that is the issue.

    I would truly value your thoughts and insights on this matter. I think you are an intelligent and thoughtful person (hence why I subscribe to your newsletter!) and I imagine you have sound biblical reasons for supporting the death penalty. It would be of great value to me to hear them.

  15. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Hey Matthew, okay fair enough :) I thought it would be good to write a new post on this, rather than burying my comments here, as I expect there are lots of people interested in this topic:

    Are Christians hypocritical to support the death penalty?

  16. Pedro Corso

    Hi Bnonn, I like the way you construct your arguments, they’re really solid. However, you did not cover everything with your argument:

    http://atheistethicist.blogspot.com.br/2005/11/abortion-and-infanticide-part-i.html

    http://atheistethicist.blogspot.com.br/2005/11/abortion-and-infanticide-part-ii.html

    Could you respond this argument? I’m christian, and I couldn’t find a way out to refute this argument, so I thought that maybe you could do it.

  17. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Hola Pedro, I’d be happy to respond to that argument. Can you tell me what you found difficult about it?

    Saludos,
    Bnonn

  18. Pedro Corso

    I do not speak english, but here we go:

    First I’ll try to construct his argument here and then I’ll tell you how I’d try to refute it, and why it won’t work:

    1. There is no value without desire – There is no way of harming someone in any morally relevant sense if this person is not capable of wanting things, so that there’s nothing that this person wants that can be given or taken away.

    2. The aversion to pain is a fundamental desire.

    3. A fetus, unless it has a functioning brain, cannot have aversion to pain.

    Conclusion: Killing a fetus before his development stage pointed in #3 doesn’t morally affects him in any way, so it’s plausible to kill a fetus under those conditions.

    Ok, this is the main argument, I think I did it right. If you want a more detailed view of the argument you can just read the autor’s posts. So, here are some of my attempts of refuting this argument:

    Attempt 1: Refusing #1 – “There’s no value without desire”:

    This didn’t work, because then it’d be wrong to take a living tree down, for example.

    Attempt 2: Invalidating the argument by the uncertainty of the fetus’s brain development:

    Even if this fact is uncertain, it doesn’t affect the argument at all.

    Attempt 3: Invalidating the argument by comparing a fetus with an animal:

    I’m not quite sure about this, but accordingly to the autor’s point of view, a human being is much more valuable than any other animal, because animals in general are not as valuable for us than an human being. That makes sense, but it still makes killing animals immoral, as they can feel pain as well.

    Any other way to refute this argument?

  19. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Hey Pedro, I spent a bit of time writing up a new post where I respond to some of Alonzo’s more terrible argumentation:

    http://bnonn.thinkingmatters.org.nz/atheist-ethicists-not-as-ethical-as-you-might-think/

    Hope this helps :)

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