Pro–Choice Tactics

July 16, 2022

Pro–Choice Tactics

We would all do well to listen to opposing viewpoints more often and more charitably. The issue of abortion is no exception. Personally, I welcome arguments that the unborn isn’t human, hasn’t attained personhood, or that there are moral issues with restricting abortion that I have not properly considered. In my experience, the arguments for these positions tend to be weak, but even more than that, they are hardly ever given in the first place. Rather than a rational case, the pro–choice position seems to rely solely on tactics of empty sloganeering, arguing from extreme exceptions, and forwarding wild assertions about pro–life intentions.

Tactic #1: Empty Slogans

Language games can be dangerous. It’s easy to replace arguments with mantras and believe that you’re saying something meaningful when you’re actually saying nothing at all. We pretend like we know what someone means when they say they “support women’s choice” or that they are for “reproductive freedom,” but we really don’t—these are meaningless catchphrases. How can you support a “women’s right to choose” when there’s no content to that choice? Choose what? Surely no one supports choice unrestricted. What are “reproductive rights”? Are these really under attack? It would seem that people are displaying their reproductive freedom in their ability to get pregnant in the first place. In fact, what does “abortion” even mean? How does one terminate a pregnancy? Why is there such little information out there as to what goes on during these procedures and what results? There is a massive veil of mystery when it comes to abortion and the abortion industry. Why? There is a real (and possibly intentional) lack of clarity surrounding this debate. Often vagueness of language is a sign of a weak position.

Tactic #2: Extreme Exceptions

It’s rare to hear a discussion of abortion that doesn’t include the topics of rape, incest, or ectopic pregnancies. My question is what do these things have to do with the morality of abortion? Not much! That’s not to say that they aren’t important discussions in themselves; it’s just to say that they are secondary discussions. If abortion is good and moral, then of course it’s justified in the rare circumstances of rape and incest (ectopic pregnancies have nothing to do with abortion and is a complete red herring). If abortion is inherently immoral, how one became pregnant may at most provide moral or legal exceptions in those particular circumstances.* In other words, rape and incest have nothing to do with the morality of abortion broadly. Imagine arguing that we should get rid of all traffic laws just because at times it may be justified to disregard them (e.g., when rushing someone to the hospital). When you must rely on rare exceptions to rhetorically boost your case, it may be because your general position is indefensible.

* Whether rape or incest actually justify abortion in those cases is another discussion.

Tactic #3: Ascribing Motives

Maligning those who hold opposing views doesn’t replace the need to defend your own views. In place of arguments for abortion, the pro–life movement is smeared as just wanting to control women’s bodies. It is merely asserted that any restriction on abortion is an attack on women’s freedom and autonomy. But what evidence is there of that? Are there other examples of widespread efforts to control women’s bodies? Any other medical procedures or surgeries that this movement is trying to ban? If there is in fact a broad attack on female autonomy, you’d expect more than a single charge. If you can’t think of anything, it’s because there just isn’t a broader conspiracy at play. Abortion is being targeted because there is something unique and relevant about this procedure in particular—namely that there is a separate, innocent life involved. One could argue against this point, but it’s far easier to conjecture about the motivations of others and try instead to “win” the argument by character attacks.

My point here is not to make a pro–life case. It’s instead to point out that the general conversation surrounding abortion and the tactics involved should cause anyone in the pro–choice camp serious pause. If pro–choice is the superior position—if abortion is truly a good thing (or at least a morally neutral and necessary thing)—then why is there such a concerted effort to talk about any and everything except abortion? Why is there such little effort to understand or address the pro–life position? Usually when you’re dependent on vague slogans, trying to latch on to any scenario that makes your position seem justifiable, and turning your opponent’s position into a broad conspiracy, it’s not because you are on the rational side of the debate.