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Ethics, Pro-Life

Abortions rates are lower in countries where it is legal- some thoughts on recent pro-choice comments

 Highly restrictive abortion laws are not associated with lower abortion rates. For example, the abortion rate is high, at 29 and 32 abortions per 1,000 women of childbearing age in Africa and Latin America, respectively—regions where abortion is illegal under most circumstances in the majority of countries. In Western Europe, where abortion is generally permitted on broad grounds, the abortion rate is 12 per 1,000. ( Sedgh G et al. cited below)

There it is in black and white. Countries in which abortion is illegal have higher rates of abortion in most cases. What does this mean for the pro-life argument? Some have argued that pro-life advocates should work to make abortion legal. For example, Margot Magawan writes, “It’s clear that top Republican candidates are being short-sighted and ineffective, rushing off in precisely the wrong direction if their goal truly is to reduce abortions.” The argument seems to be quite simple. After all, if the goal of the pro-life advocates is to reduce the number of abortions, then if making it legal reduces them, they should argue to legalize abortions.

There are a number of problems with this argument, however, and I’ll briefly list them before examining them in turn.

1. Those making this argument seek to compare countries unilaterally based on a situation with all kinds of factors which cannot possibly be weighed fairly.

2. The argument reduces the goal of the pro-life movement to reducing abortions only; but the movement has a broader range than that. The argument is susceptible to a reductio ad absurdum which shows that the premise on which it is based is absurd.

3. The argument begs the question against the pro-life position by assuming the position itself is false.

3. The argument assumes consequentialism as a metaethical theory without argument.

1. Comparing Countries Unilaterally

It seems strange to me to compare the situations of different countries unilaterally on an issue like this. For example, it seems to have been shown that many things cannot be compared in this way. Installing democracy into random countries does not have a stabilizing effect. Comparing the economic situation of Rwanda with that of the United States seems almost grotesque. I’m not disputing the results of the study cited above; rather, I’m disputing the application of those results to a moral sphere. Think of all the factors which must be weighed: economic status, education, career choices, etc. To then take the raw data and apply it to a moral sentiment is quite a stretch. After all, it doesn’t take into consideration all the factors that those countries in which abortion is legal may have.

I do not want to make this the focus of my rebuttal, however, because I think the next 3 points are much stronger. To those we shall now turn.

2. Is Pro-Life About Reducing Abortions?

Another problem with the argument is that it assumes the pro-life position is dedicated to reducing abortions. That sentence may seem strange on a first reading, but read it this way instead: “the pro-life position is dedicated to reducing abortions only.” That is where one of the major difficulties arises for those making this argument. The pro-life position is not only about reducing abortions. In fact, while reducing the number of abortions is a goal of the pro-life movement, that is not the only goal or even, perhaps, the highest goal.

Suppose that reducing abortions was the only goal of the pro-life candidate. In that case, one way to reduce abortions would be by eliminating all human beings. If, after all, not a single human being were alive, there would be no abortions! This is, of course, patently absurd. Why? Not just because it seems obviously wrong to murder everyone on earth (or to murder anyone) in order to reduce the number of abortions, but also because this is a gross reduction of the pro-life position.

The pro-life position isn’t just about reducing the number of abortions. It is about advocating for life. In other words, those in the movement are making a factual and a moral claim: the entities aborted are human persons and it is wrong to kill them. But those who want to make the argument that pro-life advocates should legalize abortions in order to reduce them are, on a pro-life view, essentially arguing something similar to this:

Suppose that making murder legal reduced the number of murders. If you are against murder, you should then legalize murder.

The absurdity of this argument becomes clear because no one but a psychopath wants to legalize murder. But then it becomes clear that those pro-choice people making this argument have begged the question against the pro-life person. Let’s turn to that.

3. The Argument Begs the Question

If the pro-life position is correct, then it makes a mockery of this argument. Suppose, for the sake of argument, that the advocate of the pro-life position is right: the unborn are not merely embryos (and other stages of development) but are rather human persons who deserve the same rights as people outside of wombs. Now, granting these assumptions, suppose one finds that legalizing abortions reduces them. To then argue that “we should legalize abortions to reduce their number” is exactly equivalent to arguing that we should legalize murder to reduce the number of murders. Note here that I’m not saying legalizing murder does reduce the number of murders; I’m arguing that if the pro-life position is correct, these arguments are exactly analogous. One who argues we should legalize abortions would be the same as one who argues we should legalize murders, if the pro-life position is correct.

Thus, it becomes clear that those who make an argument like that of Margot Magawan have begged the question against the pro-life position. They simply assume that it is morally permissible to have an abortion, and combine that with the false position that the pro-life position is only about reducing abortions. Thus, the argument fails because it begs the question. Without argument, the pro-choice advocate has caricatured its opposition and argued against this false image.

4. It assumes consequentialism.

The last rebuttal is more technical, but I want to keep it brief. Consequentialism is, basically, the position that it is not the status of actions themselves which are judged as moral but rather the consequences. If one takes an action which has morally good consequences, that action is deemed good.

Now consider once more the argument, “If your goal is to reduce abortions, you should legalize them [because if abortion is legal, the number is reduced].”

This argument doesn’t take into consideration the moral status of an abortion [again, see above: they’ve already begged the question]. Rather, it assumes that because the consequences (fewer abortions) are considered by pro-life advocates as morally good, they should take the action (legalizing abortions) which open the door for these consequences.

Without too much strain, it becomes clear that most pro-life advocates do not hold to consequentialism as a metaethical theory. There are many alternative metaethical theories which are preferable for any number of reasons. If a pro-life advocate holds to a deontological theory of ethics, for example, he will argue that the wrongness of abortion is outweighed by the benefits of reducing the number. Such examples could be multiplied almost beyond comprehension. Thus, the pro-choice advocate has assumed, again without argument, a controversial position and then utilized that position to argue against pro-life advocates. Therefore, the argument fails.

Conclusion

The argument which has been considered here is that “if the goal of the pro-life advocates is to reduce the number of abortions, then if making it legal reduces them, they should argue to legalize abortions.” I have rebutted this argument in four ways. First, it seems to trivialize the enormous amount of factors which must go into consideration of comparing abortion rates across countries. Second, it reduces the pro-life position almost beyond recognition and is susceptible to a reductio ad absurdem. Third, it begs the question. Fourth, it utilizes a controversial metaethical theory to justify its premise. For these four reasons, I conclude that the argument is unsound.

Source

Sedgh G et al., “Induced abortion: incidence and trends worldwide from 1995 to 2008,” Lancet, 2012. (accessible: http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736%2811%2961786-8/fulltext); summary: http://www.guttmacher.org/media/presskits/abortion-WW/statsandfacts.html.

Image Credit: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Prolife-DC.jpg

SDG.

——

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About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick has an MA in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. His interests include theology, philosophy of religion--particularly the existence of God--astronomy, biology, archaeology, and sci-fi and fantasy novels.

Discussion

16 thoughts on “Abortions rates are lower in countries where it is legal- some thoughts on recent pro-choice comments

  1. 2. Is Pro-Life About Reducing Abortions?”

    Defining the goal in these situations is always a challenge, because there are always extreme cases. There are always “unintended consequences”.
    Clearly the goal is not “reducing the number of abortions” — you point out the absurd extreme that we could kill off people (or simply kill pregnant women) to reduce the number of abortions.

    Perhaps the goal is “reducing the PERCENTAGE of abortions” relative to live births (ideally down to 0%). This is more plausible (although I could now suppose preaching a duty for “good Christian families” to have lots of kids to reduce the percentage, which also does not really improve anything).

    Perhaps the goal is some “greater good” that is yet to be clearly delineated. Perhaps the goal is raising ratio of (joy) / (misery). Or raising the ratio of (God’s presence) / (Satan’s presence). But these all get very elusive and hard to define.

    There is also the question of what OTHER “evils” you are willing to inflict in order to reduce THIS PARTICULAR “evil”. I can think of all sorts of (medical, political, economic, physical, social, and/or religious) (rewards and/or punishments) applied to (pregnant women, non-pregnant women, young men, and/or medical professionals) that would result in reduction of abortion rates. But with many of these, the “cure” would be worse than the “disease”.

    I wish I had the answers — mostly I just seem to have more questions.

    Posted by Tim Folkerts | March 7, 2012, 4:01 PM
    • Tim,

      You raise a number of important issues, each of which could serve independently to reduce this pro-choice argument into absurdity. By making an assumption about the singular goal of the pro-life movement, those making this argument have failed to acknowledge the complexities of motivations and goals involved in a movement of activists, which is odd because they themselves seem to have multiple, independent goals.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | March 8, 2012, 10:11 AM
  2. And another thought that just struck me…

    Suppose that making murder legal reduced the number of murders. If you are against murder, you should then legalize murder.

    “Legalize” relates to how governments deal with something. This is very different from morality. Perhaps I feel that the church, rather than the secular government should deal with murderers. Perhaps I believe in “Old West Justice” and that I should be allowed to murder someone who murdered a friend or family member of mine. Either of these (through love or fear) could lead to a lower murder rate without any sense that murder is “good” or “moral” or “to be encouraged”. It simply shifts the consequences away from government and to other entities.

    (Conversely, I could be in favor of taking care of widows and orphans without being in favor of specific government welfare programs for widows and orphans.)

    Posted by Tim Folkerts | March 7, 2012, 4:17 PM
    • Yes, I specifically tried to avoid the messy issue of types of government and views on legislation. There are any number of arguments which could come up here and they are outside my areas of expertise, so I would probably leave such discussion to others while just making a few comments from the sideline. After all, who determines how the government should legislate? What should the government legislate and when? Etc. It’s a very messy issue which I tend to try to avoid, because it is simpler to deal with the moral issue than the legal issue, and it seems fairly clear that if abortion is killing an innocent child, then it should not be legal, regardless of which system of legislature one prefers.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | March 8, 2012, 10:14 AM
  3. 1. This is your valid response. There are way too many variables to conclude strong causal links.

    2 and 3. “Legalizing murder” only sounds absurd because it inherits the absurdness of murder rates going down (in the short and long run) when allowed to occur. If we’re granted the latter, absurd premise, legalizing murder is absolutely the correct thing to do (though it sounds absurd).

    4. Let’s say that we know for sure that prohibiting abortions causes the abortion rate to go up (in the short and long run). That your given pro-lifer would continue to support prohibition under this scenario is an excellent case study of the failure of deontology as a coherent metaethic. “Assuming metaethical consequentialism” is meritorious to an argument. But I know you disagree. 🙂

    Posted by Stan | March 8, 2012, 5:56 PM
    • Replying to myself here to add to #4.

      Thought experiment: Let’s say that there is some world wherein when abortion is outlawed, there are tens of thousands of abortions each year. When abortion is legalized, the number of abortions drops to 1. Both of these rates will persist as long as their prerequisite conditions persist. The temptation by those enthralled to deontology to advocate for prohibition in this world is evidence of the danger of deontology.

      The New Covenant as explicated by Paul is about the fading of deontology and the rise of metaethical consequentialism. 1 Corinthians 10:23 – “All things are lawful, but not all things are beneficial. All things are lawful, but not all things are constructive.”

      Posted by Stan | March 8, 2012, 6:06 PM
      • That is one heck of a stretch, Stan, considering that Paul is quoting teachings he disagrees with. Honestly, this is just really poor exegesis. Look at Romans (the whole book, essentially) for an affirmation that Paul’s view is deontic.

        Your answer to 2 and 3 really underscore what my problem is with this argument. You’re literally saying that it is okay to legalize murder, were it to reduce the number. In response to someone willing to say that, I can’t help but stare at the screen with incredulity. If someone can honestly say, “We should absolutely legalize murder if it reduced the number of murders,” then I can’t really do much other than ask you to justify your metaethical position.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | March 8, 2012, 6:35 PM
      • It wouldn’t let me reply to your above comment, so I just replied to my own…

        You said,

        “That is one heck of a stretch, Stan, considering that Paul is quoting teachings he disagrees with.”

        Are you familiar with 1 Corinthians 10? It’s where Paul explicitly relaxes a mandate of the Council of Jerusalem (a New Covenant law, one might say) and deals with the entire issue consequentially. He isn’t disagreeing with “All things are lawful” or “I have the right to do anything.” The notion that he’s disagreeing with the “new freedom” betrays a rather bizarre inexperience with the text. Verse 29b: “For why is my freedom being judged by another’s conscience?” 1 Corinthians 10 is an anecdotal criticism of legalism, while maintaining the moral force of consequence. That’s why he says, “All things are lawful, but not all things are constructive.”

        Galatians, particularly ch. 2-5, is one giant proof text for my position.

        Galatians 5:1, 13-14
        “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery [to laws]. … You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. … For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”

        This notion of “freedom in Christ” is exactly that which he’s referring to when he talks about being free to do anything, but being bound by the moral consequence of those things nevertheless.

        You said,

        “Your answer to 2 and 3 really underscore what my problem is with this argument. You’re literally saying that it is okay to legalize murder, were it to reduce the number. In response to someone willing to say that, I can’t help but stare at the screen with incredulity. If someone can honestly say, ‘We should absolutely legalize murder if it reduced the number of murders,’ then I can’t really do much other than ask you to justify your metaethical position.”

        And when you say we should prohibit X even if prohibition causes X to increase, I feel the same way about you! That’s plum wacky, J-Dub!

        Let’s alter the thought experiment a little, and say that non-prohibition of bad thing X actually catalyzes an environment in which X is zero. Would you still fight for prohibition of X? Or does your advocacy of prohibition only spring to life when zero becomes one? (If so, I have hope for the future, for there is a spark of consequentialism buried within you!)

        I would also call into question (so we stop begging it) the assumption that the state is morally bound to legislate against ALL morally bankrupt actions. Clearly you don’t think it should (I hope), so the only question is under what conditions it should. Metaethical consequentialism enjoys the power of demonstrability here… the power of objective measurement. Deontology, unfortunately, must appeal to ill-defined and subjective “gravity thresholds” and such.

        Posted by Stan | March 9, 2012, 2:16 AM
      • Stan,

        If we’re going to proof-text, then how about this:

        “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.” (I Corinthians 10:31-33)

        Please provide how a single abortion gives glory to God?

        Or how about this: It was due to sin that grace was necessary and it is by grace (through faith) that we are saved (Ephesians 2:8). So, if I understand the consequential argument you’re asserting, sin is good because it brought about grace/salvation. I think Paul disagrees with you.

        Romans 6:15:

        “What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! “

        Posted by toddes | March 9, 2012, 12:08 PM
      • Toddes, you said:

        “‘So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.’ (I Corinthians 10:31-33)

        Please provide how a single abortion gives glory to God?”

        It doesn’t. But when you actively promote something that, while good on the surface (“by mere appearances” as Jesus might say), actually catalyzes MORE wrongdoing than ever before, then what are you doing? Answer: You’re causing folks to stumble.

        You said:

        “Or how about this: It was due to sin that grace was necessary and it is by grace (through faith) that we are saved (Ephesians 2:8). So, if I understand the consequential argument you’re asserting, sin is good because it brought about grace/salvation. I think Paul disagrees with you.”

        Sin (“a-martia,” lacking a meritorious mark) is by definition depreciative, at least in the local spheres of our activity. But you’re right in that Paul’s theology has sin a necessary precursor to an even MORE fruitful outcome.

        Romans 5:20:

        “The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more.”

        Romans 8:20-21

        “For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.”

        In other words, God used the sin of mankind as a sort of “investment” in a greater net yield later down the line. This is the solution to the problem of evil that leverages sovereignty: Sovereign God predestined all sin, which is locally evil, in service of a global good. The ability for a good God to utilize ills like this (which the Bible says he does!) is only possible under metaethical consequentialism.

        However, I want to make sure we’re on the same page, here. You seem to be taking it for granted that “abortion being legal” is a “sin.” If abortion being legal causes abortions to go down in the short and long term, then legalizing abortion (itself a sin) is not sinful. Put another way, if legalizing abortion is the best way to reduce abortions, then it is meritorious, and thus by definition not sinful (“a-martia”).

        Posted by Stan | March 10, 2012, 1:40 PM
  4. I appreciated this article. BTW, it’s “reductio ad absurdum” with a U, not an E. I know spell checker doesn’t like either, but if you look it up you’ll see I’m right.

    Posted by Shiggity Shwa | November 18, 2012, 4:05 PM

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