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.

Pro-Choice Mom Believes Any Reason Will Do

Recently, I stumbled across a blog that stated the following:

“As you all know, I am pro-choice. I don’t believe in parental notification laws. I believe you can have an abortion for whatever reason you want. And yes I am a mother. And yes I was upset when I miscarried cuz that was a baby to me. However, IT IS MY CHOICE!!! And that’s what the abortion debate is about. […] Fine, if you are prolife. I don’t push my opinions on you and I expect you to do the same.”

A few things struck me here:

  1. This person is a mother and still believes—even after having gone through the whole pregnancy and childbirth experience—that abortion (the right to kill her baby in utero) is still something she thinks she wants to defend.
  2. She admits she is aware there is a baby within. (Pro-abortionists usually favor referring to an unborn baby as a zygote or fetus—anything to avoid calling it a baby, because really—who wants to kill an innocent, defenseless baby? Killing babies is just bad mojo.)
  3. She illustrates defensiveness over anyone telling her what she can and cannot do with her body. This appears to be the main foundation upon which she rests her entire pro-choice position. One can only wonder if she takes other physical mandates as personally. After all, it’s against the law to physically assault others with your body. It’s against the law to neglect buckling your body into your car. It’s against the law to walk in public while nude. We have all these laws that tell us what we can and cannot do, where we can and cannot go and even what we can and cannot say.
  4. She says it’s not her place to tell others what to do. Isn’t this what laws are? Rules, created by people, set to define appropriate behavior? We live in a world of laws; otherwise we live in a world of chaos. Daily, we choose to either work within those laws (citizen), without those laws (criminal), or on the laws (lawmaker.) Throughout our lives, most of us have donned two or three of these roles at one time or another, to varying degrees.

I think the most troubling idea here is the notion this mother knows there is a baby in the womb but thinks her “right” is more important than her baby’s life. Some questions I’m struggling with:

  • Does this rigidity offer her a much needed sense of control or certainty in her life?
  • Does she feel her life is so restricted by laws that tell her what she can and cannot do with her body that she simply cannot bear one more law?
  • Is it that she was influenced by someone close to her in her past and now subconsciously clings to the pro-abortion paradigm that was originally given to her?

And the biggest question of all:

  • What pushes this young mother to defend this pro-abortion mindset even after seeing her baby for the first time? Can a new mother truly look at her newborn baby after enduring 10 months of pregnancy’s highs and lows and think, “Yes, I should definitely have had the right to kill this child while she was inside my body?”

Really?

Sanctity of Life and Prolife Patriotism

Prolife PatriotismPatriotism is also a favorite theme in prolife campaigns, often portrayed by a national flag in the background, apparently in an attempt to attach a belief in the value of life with deeply-rooted patriotic feelings to further foster a greater sense of team spirit and loyalty to the cause. Just as with religious or political undertones, while this may galvanize a group with patriotic attachments, ultimately this dilutes and distracts from the pure and simple truth that life is sacred.

One who believes strongly in the sacredness of human life may not necessarily hold any great sense of country, regardless of their national origin.

Furthermore, it is the continued disconnected thinking of people—reinforced by the lines on a map—that helps us maintain the myopic view that this is a problem “in the United States” or a problem “in China” instead of recognizing the devaluation of life as a global human short-sightedness.

Sanctity of Life, God and Religion

Many times, a prolife stance may turn into a discussion about God and religion. Unfortunately, imagery and Christianity tends to remind those standing outside those religious paradigms of their separateness; the exact opposite effect of fostering and understanding of unity and connected thinking.

An atheist who rejects the belief that there is a Divine force that surrounds us and guides us may be put off by the use of religious imagery. In a recent news story, an atheist group filed a lawsuit in New York to remove the cross (a distinctly Christian symbol) from the Ground Zero memorial at the site of the World Trade Center.

Indeed, people on both sides of this issue may be missing the point. Those who put up the cross meant well and likely were not seeking to alienate anyone. Yet it is likely atheists have not been the only segment to notice the cross speaks to Christian loss and grieving—at exclusion by omission of all other faiths (or in the atheists’ case, non-faith.)

A peace-loving Muslim who may have suffered racial or religious rebuke by their non-Muslim neighbors as a result of the 9/11 attacks may notice a purely Christian monument at the center of Ground Zero and feel a pang of isolation. In that moment, that person may feel very much outside the American melting pot in which they are trying to belong.

Often in prolife circles, the sanctity of human life argument is placed squarely upon quotes from the Bible. Here are several of the more poignant biblical verses:

  • So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. ~ Genesis 1:27
  • You shall not murder. ~ Exodus 20:13
  • I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. ~ Deuteronomy 30:19b-20
  • Before I was born the Lord called me; from my birth he has made mention of my name. ~ Isaiah 49:1b
  • Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart. ~ Jeremiah 1:5a
  • For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. ~ Jeremiah 29:11
  • Your hands have made and fashioned me. ~ Psalm 119:73a
  • You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb. I praise you, so wonderfully you made me; wonderful are your works! My very self you knew; my bones were not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, fashioned as in the depths of the earth. Your eyes foresaw my actions; in your book all are written down; my days were shaped, before one came to be. ~ Psalm 139:13-16

It is my belief that the principle of the sanctity of life is separate from any religious backing. Regardless of which body of religious teachings you hold—whether built upon the Bible, the Qur’an, the Tanakh, or other religious works—I believe the idea of sanctity of life to be a separate issue. Your religion (really, your interpretation of your religion) may agree with a belief in the sanctity of life and if it does, great. However, I believe the sanctity of life to be a universal principle and this is different than being a religious mandate, subject to interpretation by a group of believers.

Sanctity of Life in the Prolife Movement

Popular in prolife circles, the term “sanctity of life” describes the belief that all human life is sacred, from the moment of conception (even science has proven this is the instant the spark of new life begins) leading until an individual’s natural death.

Unfortunately, there are often other messages that accompany and serve to dilute the prolife delivery of a sanctity of life message. Many times a prolife delivery of a sanctity of life message carries spiritual, political, religious or patriotic undercurrents through its choice of words and imagery. This is fine, so long as the one experiencing the message subscribes to those additional views. The inherent problem is the potential alienation of anyone who stands outside those secondary belief systems.