Thursday, October 15, 2015

Bad Pro-choice Arguments: Don't Like Abortion? Don't have one.

One of my pet peeves is Bad Pro-choice Arguments. I'm of the opinion that Bodily rights is the only one almost anyone should be using in almost any situation.

One "argument" usually seen in snark comment or bumper sticker form is the "don't like abortion, don't have one" retort.

I HATE it. It adds literally nothing to the conversation.

This phrase encodes a fallacy, a strawman. In order for an argument to actually refute an opponent, it must engage the central premise of the opponent's argument. This phrase does not do that.

What is the central premise of the anti-choice argument? Basically that abortion is (unjustified killing akin to) Murder. Now abortion isn't legally considered murder, but they think it ought to be.

So to engage an anti-choicer, you need to show why it shouldn't be considered like murder. The most common ways to do this are to talk about how it isn't a person or why the fetal removal is justified. Anything else (including arguments from practicality) does not engage the central premise.

So, in effect, you are strawmanning their position by acting like they're considering abortion a mere preference when they're making a moral/legal claim.

I compare it to "don't want to pray in school? Just don't bow your head". It completely misses the point, just like this does.

EDIT: As my friend Jonathan Fernandes just reminded me, "Don't like Slavery, don't have slaves."


  1. If you want to engage the person, sure, by all means, extend on a cogent argument. But I always considered the "don't have one" retort as a way to free oneself fast of a sealion or similar critter one does NOT want to engage in detail. Then again, that's just me :)

  2. It's a comical response to what is a mainly religious based argument...
    The only point at which this can and should be debated, is the attempt to deny the individual rights of the pregnant women....
    HER BODY, HER's the freedom to choose, pure and simple.

  3. "Don't like murder? Don't commit one." Yep, doesn't work.

  4. "Don't like murder? Don't commit one." Yep, doesn't work.

  5. "Don't like murder? Don't commit one." Yep, doesn't work.

  6. I completely agree that the "don't like it? - don't have one" argument is horrible, but I've never been 100% convinced by the "woman's right to control her own body" argument. It certainly has merit (a pregnancy is a serious challenge to the body), but I can imagine situations (hypotheticals at least) where even a significant non-consentual intervention or use of force on Person A could be justified to save the life of Person B. I'm not saying this in practice outweighs the woman's right to control her own body in the particular case of abortion, but I can't see that argument as bullet-proof for this reason. For me the primary reason why abortion is ok is this:

    I'll grant the "pro-life"-ers that abortion is murder - but we must then ask: "Why is murder wrong?" Or perhaps "When is murder wrong?". I'm pretty much in agreement with Sam Harris that questions of morality are about suffering and well-being, and in the case of an abortion, I do not see any suffering incurred, in contrast to the murder of a born person, where there will likely be loved ones, who will suffer greatly. Especially in the case of abortions performed early in the pregnancy, when the foetus is not capable of suffering, but even if the foetus is capable of feeling pain, I would say that an abortion, if performed well, involves only a very moderate and finite amount of suffering, like we do to children when giving them shots etc. This I don't have a problem with (hell, if you want to make an unborn person experience suffering - let them grow up and live a full life!).

  7. To play devil's advocate I'm not sure this would qualify as erecting a straw man by saying, "Don't like abortions? Don't have one.". I think it's more of an oversimplification of an anti-choicer's position than it is a distortion, misrepresentation, or exaggeration. Yes, the anti-choice position presents the moral and legal aspect that abortion is murder and should be illegal. Additionally, however, anti-choicers generally have the preference not to get abortions in any or most circumstances. They could still hypothetically get them even if they find them morally repugnant. Why do I say that? Well, we have an untold number of examples of people committing acts they believe to be immoral. Lots of people who believe lying is wrong still lie once in a while. Lots of people who believe theft is wrong have stolen things. And yes, lots of people who believe murder is wrong have still committed murder. This is why I think their stance on abortion is a combination of moral/legal beliefs and personal preference. Saying, "Don't have an abortion if you don't like it." is greatly simplifying their argument as opposed to distorting or misrepresenting it.

    1. I can tell you firsthand that anti choicers indeed have abortions.

  8. Good article. The first time I recall this form of argument was in the same sex marriage debate. "If you don't like same sex marriage, don't marry someone of the same sex". When used in that context the argument has the appeal of framing the argument strongly in favour of the person arguing for a "live and let live" approach while the opposing side is framed as needlessly sticking their nose into someone else's personal life.

    It works because people now generally accept that there aren't major consequences to society when two people of the same sex get married and it shames the person making the argument for preventing two people from having a life together. It's not really an argument as much as it is a debating tactic.

    To me applying this argument to abortion or prayer in schools appears to be a lazy attempt to bring an argument that works in one sphere into another sphere.

  9. I am so tired of having this debate on their terms. It's a false dichotomy that comes into play way too late in the game to not be about control. We're too busy trying to solve problems and shit to mount our high-horses and put dibs on "pro-life." Talk about things that are hard to try to stand against. Everyone is pro-life, we just disagree about the value of quality vs quantity. There's a little heart on my license, because I had to consent to have my organs removed in case of my accidental death, and we want paramedics to be able to begin organ preserving procedures ASAP after passing, because there are literally just lists and lists of people dying waiting for organ transplants, and we can't force anyone to donate. But women should be forced to carry offspring they don't want, and undergo waiting periods to really think about the life they are killing. Pro-life my ass. Instead of harassing that 14 year-old who clearly isn't ready to be a mom about adoption when there are so many children in foster care--they could bring people cookies while they are in line at the DMV and talk to people about signing up for organ donation. Maybe bring a few pictures of human beings with lives, families, friends, responsibilities, educations that were publicly funded, hopes, and dreams--instead of creepy, gross dead baby parts that should have been used in disease research. Pro-life groups could probably save a lot of lives if they did that--not even counting additive affects from improving the DMV atmosphere, and making people want to stab everyone else just a little bit less. That is why I usually refer to them as "pro-birth" and personally identify as "pro-license-to-parent" which you can be assured includes an extensive contraceptive program.

    I'm supposed to care about a being with no concept of life or relationship with anyone, and I just googled "pro-life" and "organ donation" on the off chance any of them extended their pro-life stances to encourage these efforts and found a list of headlines much like the first "Refusing to be an organ donor could save your life."

    Just fucking bastards. Through and through. Sorry for the rant, but it is so frustrating doing backflips trying to engage these people productively within their myopic world view when they clearly aren't even thinking about how hypocritical and inconsistent their own logic is, but still think they have a right to care about an embryo that is just so clearly not their fucking business from any rational perspective.

    1. I made the choice some would prefer to have demanded be my only option.
      I had, and raised, a child.
      But I am still very strongly pro choice.
      Those so eager for every conception to result in a human being joining us here: all of them need to foster and adopt and contribute hugely to women and children's health, housing, education, and so much more.
      Make the choice to produce a baby an easy and acceptable one, and face the fact that pro-life means lifelong.

  10. Last time I had this discussion I pointed out that there are people alive today because abortion is safe and legal. My goal is to get them to understand that life is messy and that there are people out there who have to make really difficult decisions. If they engage I walk them through from the life of the mother, to the health of the mother, and finally to how teenage mothers are really treated. I would rather just cut to the quick and tell them to stop slut shaming women, and start raising responsible men. But I'm usually having this discussion with coworkers. People who don't believe in a woman basic right to bodily autonomy just don't make my friends list.