If you read posts on abortion critics' organizations' social media pages, it is very common to see posts and comments much like these:
- Don't pro-choice people know that fetuses are alive, or are life??!
- Don't pro-choice people know that "life begins at conception"??!
- Don't people know what science says about what fetuses are?
- Don't people know that fetuses, and even embryos, have hearts and heartbeats?
- Don't pro-choice people know that fetuses are human?
- Don't they know that abortion kills humans?
- Don't they know that abortion kills human organisms?
- Don't they know that abortion kills human beings?
- Why are pro-choice people so dumb?!?
The belief is that pro-choice people are missing out on some obvious facts and truths, and that if these errors were corrected, they would, or should, see that abortion is wrong, and obviously wrong. That this all is allegedly so obvious is why there's this attitude that pro-choice people are just stupid, ill-motivated, and worse.
Now, I agree that many pro-choice people misunderstand many things about abortion. They sometimes, indeed often, say silly, misinformed things in defense of their views, and their objections and responses to contrary views are weak.
This is all unfortunate since there are good arguments for their views: they could be more informed and engage the issues and the people they disagree with in more productive ways (and so the message of this post is for them too!). That is one of the most important themes of the Thinking Critically About Abortion book, which was not any kind of "tract" or cheerleading for the typical pro-choicers' understanding of the issues: just because their broad conclusion on the issue is correct, that doesn't mean their reasons are good.
The problem though is that the abortion critic here is also seriously misinformed: they say silly things too, although often about more abstract, controversial issues than what the pro-choice person says silly things about.
So, abortion critics often* seem to think pro-choice people are really dumb but that's because those abortion critics simply haven't sought to understand what the pro-choicers might be thinking (by asking them, "Why do you think that?" and "What do you mean by this word?") and so they misunderstand the issues. They don't understand that there's a complexity inherent to the topic that they don't know about, and so they don't know that they don't know.
How can this be corrected?
In short, people can learn about the issues in genuinely "fair and balanced" ways! How do you do that? Here are some quick ideas:
- Don't believe everything you are told!
- If some objection is raised against some view, ask how people who advocate for that view would respond: is their view stated accurately?
- Would they agree with how their view has been presented, or would think they think it's been misrepresented, created by people who are in their own "bubble" or "echo chamber"?
- Is the objection based on misunderstandings? Is the objection a "strawman" or a "strawperson"?
- Does the objection overlook important information or claims?
- Do advocates of the view objected against have responses to the objection? Are the responses effective?
- Given that, is the objection really as strong as its advocates claim it is?
In short, people need to really better understand the issues and understand each other. They need to talk to people, listen, and seek to understand. Misunderstanding is a vice, but it can be overcome.
So, to return to the initial "gotcha" questions:
- Yes, fetuses are alive, or are life, in a biological sense, but just because something is biologically alive or life doesn't mean it's wrong to kill it. (What are uncontroversial examples to make that point?)
- Yes, biological "life begins at conception" but that might not be the type of "life" that really matters. (What else could "life" mean, or be?)
- No, science does not, in itself, answer moral questions: knowing the relevant science is essential, but there are always distinctly moral concerns that need to be engaged when thinking about ethical issues.
- While anti-abortion advocates are fixated on "heartbeats" (that some pro-choice people falsely [?] claim aren't really even real heartbeats: see here for illustrations suggesting a 2mm heart), but whether something has or doesn't have a heartbeat is morally irrelevant: most vividly, there is nothing inherently wrong with stopping a heart: what's around the heart is what matters, not the heart or heartbeat itself or lack thereof;
- Yes, fetuses are biologically human, but just because something is biologically human doesn't mean it's wrong to kill it. (What are uncontroversial examples to make that point?)
- Yes, abortion kills humans, in the sense of beings that are biologically human. But whether and why they are, or would be, typically wrong to kill is the issue: do they have what makes biologically human beings wrong to kill? That requires reviewing proposals for what makes us wrong to kill and seeing if they apply to all or any fetuses.
- Yes, abortion kills biologically human organisms? But whether and why they are, or would be, typically wrong to kill is the issue: do they have what makes biologically human organisms wrong to kill? That requires reviewing proposals for what makes us wrong to kill and seeing if they apply to all or any fetuses.
- Yes, abortion kills human beings, in the sense of beings that are biologically human. Whether fetuses are "human beings" in the ways that people often have in mind when they deny that fetuses are human beings is unclear though. (When people deny that fetuses are "human beings" what do they mean by "human being"? They should know fetuses are biologically human; they know they are "beings" in some sense; they should even agree that they are organisms. So what do they mean by "human being"?).
All these concerns (and more) are reviewed in the book
and the many blog posts
While some pro-choice people may be "dumb," some of them are not: they sometimes
simply have more complex views that don't readily translate to soundbites
. It's these views that their critics first need to really understand, since understanding is a virtue and understanding is necessary for any effective critiques. And sometimes, understanding a view leads to understanding that it has merits too. Maybe even the pro-choice folks are right, at least about a few things, if not more.
* To be clear, I am certainly not claiming all
abortion critics think or respond in ways that are described above. But it is common. The only anti-abortion organization that I know of that intentionally at least tries
to avoid these problematic ways of engaging these issues and other people, and encourages others to do the same, is the Equal Rights Institute
All blog posts are here!