Pro-choice Argument: A Woman Should Have Control Over Her Own Body

In a fallacy that appeals to the heart, the arguer uses emotional appeals rather than logical reasons to persuade the listener. The fallacy can appeal to various emotions including pride, pity, fear, hate, vanity, or sympathy. The appeal to sympathy is actually a formal fallacy labeled ad misericordiam.

Generally, the issue is oversimplified to the advantage of the arguer. For example, in 1972, there was a widely-printed advertisement printed by the Foulke Fur Co., which was in reaction to the frequent protests against the killing of Alaskan seals for the making of fancy furs. According to the advertisement, clubbing the seals was one of the great conservation stories of our history, a mere exercise in wildlife management, because “biologists believe a healthier colony is a controlled colony.”

Have you ever run into this?  For instance, take the following pro-choice argument. Is it a principle or a fallacy?

Pro-choice argument: A woman should have control over her own body.

This statement, while arguably true when applied to the individual, does not address a number of details.

First, her baby has its own body, brain, heartbeat, blood type, sex, and genes–half of which was donated by the father.  Does that mean the baby is half his, legally?  Or is possession truly nine-tenths of the law?

Second, it neglects the controversy of whether it is a ‘fetus’ or a ‘baby’.  (A popular Right to Life slogan is, “If it’s not a baby, then you’re not pregnant.”)  If it is a fetus, a mere sac of blood and tissue, surely it is within a woman’s right to have it removed, the same as one would have a cancerous tumor removed.  If, however, it is a baby (thereby implying that the woman is indeed pregnant and not simply experiencing a random growth or venereal disease), then one wonders what rights the unborn child is allowed to possess.

The “woman should have control over her own body” argument appeals to a liberal, human rights slant.  It fuels the emotional certainty that we should all have consummate control over our bodies and what goes on inside them, while neglecting the same control for the unborn child.

In heated issues where positions are characterized by a high emotional index, it is common for antagonists to hurl fallacies at each other, but this is immature. When considering such a devisive topic as abortion, it is often difficult to separate emotions from rational debate (but not impossible.)

Pro-choice is said to follow from the widely accepted principle that individuals have a right to control their bodies.  The counterargument would have to examine to what extent the principle is applicable. For example, do people have a right to kill themselves?  To damage their bodies through self-destructive habits such as drinking, smoking, taking narcotics or mountain climbing?  If yes, do women have that right in full when they are pregnant or do mothers have obligations to limit self-destructive habits when they are pregnant?

To the extent you weaken the premise on which the argument depends, to that extent do you weaken the conclusion for pro-choice.

Are You Sure That’s FAIR?

(I just ran across an old college paper from years ago. Figured I kept it to put it to use, right? So, here it is.)


 

“While news is important, news interpretation is far more important” – H. V. Kaltenborn

The article titled, “Abortion Coverage Leaves Women out of the Picture” by Tiffany Devitt (Special Issue on Women, 1992) asserts that the news industry repeatedly neglects to focus the abortion issue on women, instead turning the debate into an issue that is often political in nature. The author believes that the media has tended to discuss the abortion issue from a distance; a distance much too far away to involve themselves in determining the feelings and view points of those immediately impacted by the issue – women (and arguably, unborn children).

“..as is the case with other social policy issues such as civil rights or welfare, abortion is more often covered not from the perspective of those most affected by the issue, but from the standpoint of Washington politics. According to the National Newspaper Index of major dailies, there were more articles on how the issue of abortion has affected various political candidacies, races and parties than there were articles on how women with unwanted pregnancies are affected by growing restrictions on funding and counseling.” (Devitt, 1992)

Devitt makes a number of poignant arguments throughout the article. She states that one article in the Los Angeles Times debated whether women reporters could objectively write about abortion and points out that the article never even asked the same question about men. Devitt also shows how there have been a number of incidents where abortion legislation has been passed and interviews with the women who will be affected by the legislation have been non-existent. At one point, she even makes the assertion that “stories regularly [carry] the soundbites of abortion-rights representatives and anti-abortion spokespersons” but fail to glean the other side’s perspective. She does not, however, back the latter up with any examples.

This last point is especially timely for me, as I recently received a call from a distraught friend over the same phenomenon. This friend works as a legislative representative for the state Right to Life office and, as part of her duties, occasionally goes on radio and television interviews. This one radio debate, in particular, left her feeling railroaded. She knew from the opening comments between the interviewer and the third person on the line that the interviewer was already very pro-choice. As the debate progressed, it became more and more apparent that she was there merely to help portray the image that the radio station was conducting impartial forums on controversial issues. Not only was she cut off in mid-sentence during the few chances she attempted to break into the conversation, but she was also forcefully excluded from the conversation until the end when she was simply asked if she had any closing remarks. It appears, then, that the tendency to illicit supporting views at the expense of objectivity is universal.

As was the case with this article.

There were a few items that I found interesting about Devitt’s article. First, it is hosted on a website for an organization called FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting). “As a progressive group, FAIR believes that structural reform is ultimately needed to break up the dominant media conglomerates, establish independent public broadcasting and promote strong non-profit sources of information.” (FAIR, 2003) They go on to further describe themselves as being an “anti-censorship organization” and their mission as being one of fostering “greater diversity in the press”. For a group that calls themselves “Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting”, I saw little of it in their limited collection of abortion papers. What I saw was a collection of articles that supported one point of view; the very antithesis of what FAIR says they stand for. While Devitt was attacking the news media for a pro-life slant, she was stomping her biased feet to support the pro-choice camp. Not once did she attempt to illustrate a slant from the opposing side.

Finally, one might also notice that FAIR offers links to NARAL (National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League) and Planned Parenthood from their website, but they stop there. One would think that if an organization were trying to build a name for themselves as being forthcoming and accurate with the facts, they would make sure their readers had full access to all points of view.

After all, wouldn’t that be the FAIR thing to do?

 


References

Webster’s Book of Quotations. (1992). New York, NY: Pamco Publishing Co., Inc.

Devitt, T. (1992). Abortion Coverage Leaves Women out of the Picture. Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting. Retrieved April 2, 2003 from the World Wide Web: http://www.fair.org/extra/best-of-extra/abortion-coverage.html

Cohen, J. (2003). What’s FAIR?. Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting. Retrieved April 2, 2003 from the World Wide Web: http://www.fair.org/whats-fair.html

Bucher, R. (2000). Diversity Consciousness: Opening Our Minds to People, Cultures, and
Opportunities. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

Special Issue on Women 1992

This graphic depicts the abortion debate as two hands tugging at a rag doll– suggesting that the debate is about an “unborn child” rather than about women’s rights (Los Angeles Times, 7/22/90).

Abortion Coverage Leaves Women out of the Picture

By Tiffany Devitt

As a background graphic for reports on abortion, TV has sometimes used a depiction of a late-term fetus hanging in space, with no connection to a pregnant woman. The “floating fetus” logo is in sync with the media’s tendency to push women out of the public’s mental picture of the abortion issue.

In recent years, national media have heavily covered the issue of abortion. In 1989 and 1990, close to 1500 articles on abortion appeared in major dailies; the weeklies — Time, Newsweek, U.S. News & World Report — have featured stories on abortion more regularly than any other social policy issue.

However, as is the case with other social policy issues such as civil rights or welfare, abortion is more often covered not from the perspective of those most affected by the issue, but from the standpoint of Washington politics. According to the National Newspaper Index of major dailies, there were more articles on how the issue of abortion has affected various political candidacies, races and parties than there were articles on how women with unwanted pregnancies are affected by growing restrictions on funding and counseling.

Though former Gov. Bob Martinez of Florida will never have an abortion, a Washington Post headline declared (8/1/89): “Governor at Risk on Abortion Issue.” While it is individual women, not political parties, who confront the choice to terminate a pregnancy, a Wall Street Journal headline stated(10/20/89): “Abortion Debate Proves Painful for Republicans.”

National news outlets have occasionally shown themselves willing to deal with the painful reality of abortion for women and the tragedy of unwanted children — but usually only when discussing abortion policies of foreign governments, in particular the policies of Eastern European countries under Communism. For example, Newsweek published an article titled “When Abortion Is Denied: What of the ‘Unwanted’?” (8/22/88), discussing the consequences of Czechoslovakia’s ban on abortions. And the Washington Post ran a poignant article (6/17/90) on restricted access to abortion in Romania under Ceausescu. But the human consequences of restricting access to abortion in the U.S. have seldom made news.

What is striking in the coverage of abortion in mainstream media is the lack of opportunities that U.S. women have to speak for themselves and articulate their concerns. Although stories regularly carried the soundbites of abortion-rights representatives and anti-abortion spokespersons, the women affected by specific restrictions were rarely cited as sources in abortion stories.

For example, the Supreme Court decision that enabled states to require women under the age of 18 to get parental consent before getting an abortion was widely covered. However, while more than 1 million teenagers become pregnant each year, and thousands of them are affected by state legislation requiring parental consent, reporters almost never sought their reaction, covering the legal change without consulting anyone in the group that it impacts.

Articles on the recent cuts in Medicaid funding for abortion, and on President Bush’s veto of a provision that would have granted an exception in cases of rape or incest, similarly failed to quote the women who would be affected — poor women, largely women of color, and rape and incest victims. Rather, the story was played as a political skirmish, with members of Congress and administration officials, mostly male, squaring off against each other and trying to appear principled.

One recent challenge to abortion rights has been in the realm of abortion referrals and counseling. In September 1990, the Supreme Court was asked by the Bush administration to uphold federal regulations that prevent doctors, nurses and counselors at federally funded family-planning clinics from discussing the option of abortion or referring patients to abortion providers. An exceptional front-page article in the Washington Post (10/30/90) interviewed women who count on the services of these clinics and contemplated what it would mean if they closed. But most stories on the issue merely reported that the “U.S. Files Narrow Defense on Abortion Counseling” (New York Times, 9/9/90) and were relegated to the back pages.

Not only have women been undercited as a source in abortion stories, but much space has been devoted to questioning their capacity to speak on the subject altogether. (See Extra!, 7-8/90.) The Los Angeles Times (6/3/90)devoted 28 column inches to exploring the question, “Can Woman Reporters Write Objectively on Abortion?” — without pondering whether male reporters can.

The Suicide Felt Around The World

On June 11, 1963, a Buddhist monk named Thích Quang Duc was among the procession of approximately 350 monks and nuns who surrounded the intersection at Phan Dinh Phung Boulevard and Le Van Duyet Street, just outside the Cambodian embassy in Saigon, South Vietnam.

Thich Quang Duc burning monk

“Thích Quang Duc emerged from the car along with two other monks. One placed a cushion on the road while the second opened the trunk and took out a five-gallon gasoline can. As the marchers formed a circle around him, Thích Quang Duc calmly seated himself in the traditional Buddhist meditative lotus position on the cushion. His colleague emptied the contents of the gasoline container over Thích Quang Duc’s head. Thích Quang Duc rotated a string of wooden prayer beads and recited the words Nam Mô A Di Dà Phat (“homage to Amitabha Buddha”) before striking a match and dropping it on himself. Flames consumed his robes and flesh, and black oily smoke emanated from his burning body.

“The last words of Thích Quang Duc before his self-immolation were documented in a letter he had left:

‘Before closing my eyes and moving towards the vision of the Buddha, I respectfully plead to President Ngô Dình Diem to take a mind of compassion towards the people of the nation and implement religious equality to maintain the strength of the homeland eternally. I call the venerables, reverends, members of the sangha and the lay Buddhists to organise in solidarity to make sacrifices to protect Buddhism.’

(Thich Quang Duc, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thich_Quang_Duc, retrieved November 27, 2011.)

Thích Quang Duc—and those who would later follow his example—was protesting the systemic religious persecution of Buddhism by the Roman Catholic government under President Ngô Dình Diem. It is estimated that 70-90% of the Vietnamese population was Buddhist at the time.

The photo of Duc’s death—taken by Associated Press journalist, Malcolm Browne—quickly spread around the world. It is said the image of fiery self-immolation sparked a turning point in ending the Vietnam War, in part by piercing the Western world’s sleepy awareness regarding the social evils and religious persecution occurring in Vietnam.

Self-immolation by fire had been going on for centuries prior to this. Often, the suicide was seen as a show of great respect, in honor of Gautama Buddha. In the case of Duc, self-sacrifice was used as a public outcry against religious persecution. It is doubtful Thích Quang Duc could have fully foreseen the worldwide impact of his death, though the presence of the media had indeed been encouraged. The day prior to Thích Quang Duc’s death, a spokesperson for the Buddhists had informed U.S. correspondents that “something important” would be happening at the intersection the next day.

These suicide protests helped bring awareness to the languishing Vietnam War, making suicide a tool of shock, used to break through human apathy. On its own, Thích Quang Duc’s self-immolation—without a worldwide audience—would not have had the same impact. The press was a necessary partner, rendering the act considerably more effective as a result.

In Regard to the Concept of Respect

An environment of religious inequality and disrespect had already been fostered by the Diem regime. Signs of unrest included:

  • The Buddhist flag had been banned
  • Aid was being directed toward Roman Catholic villages, neglecting Buddhist villages whom refused to convert
  • Weapons had been taken from Buddhist soldiers and given to their Roman Catholic counterparts
  • Military officers converted to Roman Catholicism in order to gain access to promotions
  • Forced conversions under the threat of violence were becoming more prevalent
  • Buddhist protests were growing in frequency and size
  • Government intervention, intended to quell the protests, had already lead to numerous deaths

Vietnam was deep in the throes of conflict and the Buddhist majority railed against the growing atmosphere of intolerance.

In circumstances where respect for a population is extremely low, dissent will spring up, giving rise to civil unrest. The effect of the widespread disrespect by the Diem regime is obvious in this case, but where does the self-immolation of Thích Quang Duc and others fit into the concept of respect?

If suicide is an ultimate sign of self-disrespect (I think it is safe to state setting oneself on fire would not be a sign of physical respect,) what happens if it is used as a tool for ending disrespect against a people? In Thích Quang Duc’s own words, his death was a plea for “religious equality.”

Regardless of which religious belief systems were involved, I believe what matters is the idea that one group was ostracized by the other. In order to bring greater awareness to the issue of religious disrespect, Thích Quang Duc made his last act a symbol to be captured and promoted to the world.

Could Thích Quang Duc’s statement have been made as powerfully any other way?

TED Talks: Alexander Tsiaras: Conception to birth — visualized

Image-maker Alexander Tsiaras shares a powerful medical visualization, showing human development from conception to birth and beyond. (Some graphic images.)

Planned Parenthood Admits Abortion Kills the Life of a Baby

In the beginning, it appears everyone was on the same page. Below is a Planned Parenthood pamphlet on family planning, as printed in 1952. Quote:

Is it an abortion?

Definitely not. An abortion requires an operation. It kills the life of a baby after it has begun. It is dangerous to your life and health. It may make you sterile so that when you want a child you cannot have it. Birth control merely postpones the beginning of life.

Planned Parenthood pamphlet admits abortion is killing a baby

Planned Parenthood pamphlet admits abortion is killing a baby

A Fight for the Unheard Minority

This sanctity of life video employs a powerful message delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in his stand against the Vietnam war. Dr. King was adamantly against abortion and denounced it as a form of genocide on numerous occasions.

“Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
April 4, 1967

Given at Riverside Church, New York City, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s address as delivered to the Clergy and Laymen Concerned About Vietnam. The short excerpt used in this video:

“I come to this magnificent house of worship tonight because my conscience leaves me no other choice. I join you in this meeting because I am in deepest agreement with the aims and work of the organization which has brought us together, Clergy and Laymen Concerned About Vietnam. The recent statements of your executive committee are the sentiments of my own heart, and I found myself in full accord when I read its opening lines: ‘A time comes when silence is betrayal.’ That time has come for us in relation to Vietnam.

“The truth of these words is beyond doubt, but the mission to which they call us is a most difficult one. Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government’s policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one’s own bosom and in the surrounding world. Moreover, when the issues at hand seem as perplexing as they often do in the case of this dreadful conflict, we are always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty. But we must move on.

“Some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak.”

(Rev. Martin Luther King, Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence, http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/45a/058.html, retrieved November 10, 2011.)