Five Pro Life Arguments that Just Aren’t Helping

The following is an edited version of an article I wrote for Trinity News.

The question of whether medical terminations are morally justifiable is usually a very divisive one, in which emotions have a bad habit of boiling over. As such the level anger unleashed on twitter following the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar was quite understandable, and many people will no doubt re-evaluate their position as a result.

Yet if the Pro-Life movement find themselves losing thousands of supporters in the long term, it will be their fault and theirs alone. There are many good arguments for being pro-life – most obviously that killing an unborn child without good reason seems rather callous and a waste of human life. Unfortunately these tend to be eclipsed by the amount of bad arguments out there. I chose to single out five because the number has a nice ring it, and so this list is far from exhaustive.

The overall point I would like to make is that if we Pro-Lifers are to maintain any kind of public support, we cannot afford to continue putting forward ridiculous, hypocritical and misleading arguments.

1. Abortion encourages “irresponsible behaviour”. “Do the crime, do the time”.
By this logic, airbags in cars and safety helmets on bicycles should encourage reckless road behaviour. But even more damaging is the fact that it implies that children are somehow sent as a “punishment” for “sexual sinners”. What was that about valuing the life of the unborn child again?

Another unfortunate aspect of this argument is that it tends to come alongside misogynistic statements such as “keep those legs closed”. Far from encouraging safer sex, it serves to alienate people, at a time when the Pro Life movement should be trying to bring people together.

2. The Catholic Church holds that life begins at conception.
Apologies if I offend any religious people, but this argument can simply be ignored due to the inclusion of the word “God”. We live in a secular society, where everyone has the right to believe or not to believe in any kind of God. Therefore while the religious premise may hold true for some or even most of any given population, it might be rejected from the start by others.

This is precisely why, after leaving the Catholic Church, I became Pro Choice. It was only after re-examining both sides of the argument that I decided to return to the Pro Life again. Be under no illusions about the fact that I’m in the minority here, so if you believe that life begins at conception, please make an argument based on either a secular brand of philosophy, science, or better still – both.

3. If a mother and child’s life is at risk, it is wrong to intervene and terminate the pregnancy, because only God has the right to decide who lives and who dies.
As in point two, using religion to frame an argument only works in a theocracy. Yet even then this type of argument might potentially be used to oppose any form of medical intervention that prevents a patient from dying, which is rather absurd. It’s also difficult to explain to people how, as in the case of Savita Halappanavar, why two people should die when one could easily live. Thankfully this view is in the minority today.

4. Abortion damages women.
Anti-abortion groups frequently allege that abortion damages women, claiming that since terminations go against nature they cause some profound mental and spiritual trauma. Women, they say, will always regret it. This might seem reasonable except for one point – there is little or no proof. It’s a case of “he said, she said”. Of course for some women the procedure is highly distressing – and bear in mind that very few women leave abortion clinics jumping for joy – for others it’s a necessary unpleasantness soon to be forgotten.

But Pro-Life groups cite studies that show a higher rate of depression among women who have abortions? Yes, in fact they do. Pro-Choice groups also publish studies that show that their is no such correlation. And in any case correlation does not imply causation.

The only abortions that have been proven to put women at risk are unregulated “back-street” abortions, and using those in any argument against abortion would be self-defeating.

5. Abortion is never needed to save a woman’s life.
The Life Institute recently embarked on an expensive advertising campaign alleging this point. Setting out to deny scientific fact in a country in which 75% of the population graduate from secondary school tends to be risky at the best of time. It’s even worse when the media publicise the fact the death of a woman in the middle of an advertising campaign that sets out that such things never happen. How pro life groups get away with using this is by modifying the definition of abortion to exclude life saving treatment that “accidentally” terminates pregnancy – which is basically a form of abortion. Sophistry at its highest.

I’ve tried to include as representative as possible a range of arguments, though only the second and third arguments tackle the question of why abortion should be considered immoral. The use of religion is what ultimately detracts from their value. The others have little or no intellectual value, and only exist to mislead a public that is becoming increasingly paranoid about being misled.

Rightly or wrongly the Pro Life campaign has an image problem. It’s seen as a group of old religious nutters, who dream of returning the country to the dystopian 1950s, with all its Magdelene Laundries, mass censorship and religious indoctrination. And as a Pro Life person myself, there are times when I even find myself believing it.

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