III. Introduction to Pro-abortion Rhetoric
[The following material is presented here, with permission, from the
Center for Bioethical Reform. Priests for Life is grateful to the authors, Gregg
Cunningham and Scott Klusendorf.]
Five Key Observations
About Pro-abortion Rhetoric
* Shoving the
Debate From the Abstract to the Concrete
I. Key Observations About Pro-abortion Rhetoric
rhetoric often assumes the unborn child is not human
Pro-abortion rhetoric calls into question the humanity of many people, not just
Pro-abortion rhetoric confuses function with being
Pro-abortion rhetoric often does not justify the radical position of
Pro-abortion rhetoric often attacks the character of individual pro-lifers
instead of addressing the issue
A. Pro-abortion rhetoric often assumes the unborn child is not human
1. Abortion advocates must show that the unborn are not human in order to
justify their position. But instead of proving this conclusion with facts and
arguments, many abortion advocates simply assume it within the course of their
rhetoric. This constitutes the logical fallacy known as begging the question.
As Francis Beckwith points out in Politically Correct Death, one
begs the question whenever one assumes what one is trying to prove. To cite an
example, abortion advocates who argue that abortion is justified because a woman
should have the right to "control her own body" are assuming that there is only
one body involved in the abortion act -- that of the woman. But this is
precisely the point they are trying to prove. Hence, they beg the question.
2. Or, take the popular assertion, "No one knows when life begins, so
abortion should remain legal." But to argue that no one knows when life begins,
and that abortion must remain legal through all nine months of pregnancy,
assumes that life does not begin before birth -- the exact point the abortion
advocate is trying to make. Hence, once again, he begs the question.
3. Then, of course, there is the famous "back alley" argument that asserts
American women will die by the millions if abortion is restricted in any way.
But unless you begin with the assumption that the unborn child is not human,
this argument is tantamount to saying, "Because some people are killed
attempting to murder others, the state should make it safe and legal for them to
B. Pro-abortion rhetoric calls into question the
humanity of many people, not just the unborn
1. There is not one argument that abortion advocates use to dehumanize
unborn babies that could not also be used to dehumanize groups of people walking
about outside of the womb.
2. If, for example, a "conscious sense of self" is what indeed makes one human,
then the reversibly comatose, the momentarily unconscious and the sleeping would
all have to be declared non-persons. As is true with the pre-sentient unborn,
these individuals lack a conscious sense of self and, for the moment, cannot
"think" like an adult.
3. Or, if viability is the standard by which we determine human personhood, then
all those dependent on kidney machines, pacemakers and insulin would have to be
judged non-human along with the fetus. As Dr. Nathanson points out, there is no
ethical difference between a kidney patient who is plugged into and dependent
upon a kidney machine and an unborn child who is plugged into and dependent upon
4. Abortion advocates also try to dehumanize unborn babies by appealing to size:
"A fetus that is only a quarter of an inch long cannot be a person like a full
grown adult woman is." But since when has size had anything to do with the
rights that people have? Men are generally larger than women, but does that mean
they are more human? Is it less a crime to beat a small child to death than it
is to do the same to a larger one? Is Wilt Chamberlain more of a person than
Pamela Maraldo, the past president of Planned Parenthood, simply because he is
5. Abraham Lincoln once challenged an imaginary proponent of slavery by noting
that there was nothing which could be said to question the humanity of blacks
that would not also apply to many whites as well:
You say A. is white and B. is black. It is color, then: the lighter having the
right to enslave the darker? Take care. By this rule, you are to be slave to the
first man you meet with a fairer skin than your own.
You do not mean color exactly? You mean the whites are intellectually the
superiors of the blacks, and therefore have the right to enslave them? Take care
again: By this rule, you are to be a slave to the first man you meet with an
intellect superior to your own.
But, you say, it is a question of interest; and, if you can make it your
interest, you have the right to enslave another. Very well. And if he can
make it his interest, he has the right to enslave you. (The Collected Works
of Abraham Lincoln, Rutgers University Press, 1953. vol. II, p.222)
In the same way, there is nothing which could be said to question the
humanity of the unborn that would not also call into question the humanity of
many people walking around outside of the womb.
C. Pro-abortion rhetoric confuses function
1. Abortion advocates claim that a "person" is a living entity with
feelings, self-awareness and the ability to interact with his or her
environment. Since the fetus, they allege, can do none of these things, it
cannot be fully human. But a little reflection will show that one's inability to
function as a person as outlined above does not prove that one lacks the
being of a person, which is the essential thing.
2. To cite a routine example from medicine, a person under anesthesia cannot
feel pain, is not self-aware and cannot interact with his environment. Yet no
one would suggest that such an individual is less than fully human simply
because he lacks these functional abilities. This is because we rightly
recognize that although he cannot function as a person, he still has the
being of a person. Day old calves, for that matter, have greater functional
abilities than do day old infants. But this does not convince us that cows
deserve the same moral status as do non-functioning newborns.
3. Or, take the following functional definitions of personhood offered by
abortion advocates and analyzed by Professor Peter Kreeft in his essay "Human
Personhood" (Journal of Biblical Ethics In Medicine, Winter 1990). "Is a
person," Kreeft writes:
*One who can consciously perform personal acts? If so, people who are asleep are
not people and we may kill them.
*One with a present capacity to perform personal acts? If so, that would include
sleepers but not those in a coma.
*One with a history of performing personal acts? That would mean that a 17-year
old who was born in a coma 17 years ago and is just now coming out of it is not
a person. Also, by this definition, there can be no first personal act, no
personal acts without a history of past personal acts.
*One with a future capacity for performing personal acts? That would mean that
dying persons are not persons.
It follows then that the ability to perform human functions is not a necessary
condition for human personhood. Rather, a person is one with the natural,
inherent capacity to give rise to personal acts -- even if one lacks the current
ability to perform those acts. (Example: a person in a reversible coma lacks the
current ability to function as a person, but he nonetheless has the
inherent capacity to function as a person.)
4. From the moment of conception, the unborn child has the inherent capacity
to function as a person. That he cannot yet speak, reason or perform personal
acts means only that he cannot yet function as a person, not that he lacks the
essential being of a person.
D. Pro-abortion rhetoric often does not
justify the radical position of abortion-on-demand
1. Abortion advocates disguise their true position on abortion by
appealing to the so-called hard cases. They will argue, for example, that it's
cruel for pro-lifers to expect a woman who is raped to carry a child to term. A
key reason why this argument doesn't work is that it cannot be used to justify
the "pro-choice" position of abortion-on-demand.
2. Remember, the "Pro-choice" position is not that abortion should be legal only
in cases of rape or incest, but that any woman can kill any baby at any point in
the pregnancy for any reason or no reason. The argument from rape and incest, if
successful at all, would only justify a woman's right to an abortion under those
circumstances, not for any reason she deems fit during the entire nine months of
3. In reality, when liberals appeal to the hard cases they are creating a smoke
screen. To expose it, try saying, "OK, I'm going to grant for the sake of
discussion that we keep abortion legal in cases of rape. Are you willing to join
me in working to ban all other abortions, 97% of which are done mostly for
convenience? If not, why did you bring up rape except to deceive the audience
into believing that you support abortion only for the hard cases?"
E. Pro-abortion rhetoric often attacks the
character of individual pro-lifers instead of addressing the issue.
1. Liberals know that if they are forced to defend the act of
dismembering a defenseless child, they lose! So what they do instead is assault
the character of individual pro-lifers. In logic, this is commonly referred to
as the ad hominem fallacy.
2. Examples of this fallacy abound. Take, for instance, the oft heard
assertion that it is hypocritical for pro-lifers, to protest abortion unless
they are willing to adopt all the babies they don't want aborted. Let's assume,
for the sake of argument, that pro-lifers, are not already doing this. How would
this in any way justify the act of dismembering a defenseless child? While it is
true that pro-lifers have a duty to help those facing a crisis pregnancy (both
mother and baby), it is not true that abortion is justified whenever that
obligation is left unmet.
3. To illustrate this further, imagine how bizarre it would sound were
someone to argue, "Unless you are willing to marry my wife, you have no right to
oppose my beating her." Or, "Unless you employ ex-slaves in your business, you
have no right to oppose slavery." (Indeed, this was the very argument slave
owners made a century ago.)
4. On a more subtle note, abortion advocates often say that prolifers are
inconsistent because they say abortion is murder, yet they are unwilling to
prosecute women who have them. But how does this help make the pro-abortionist's
point that the unborn are not human and that abortion is justifiable through all
nine months of pregnancy? At best, it only proves that individual pro-lifers are
unwilling to consistently apply their position. It does nothing, however, to
discredit the full humanity of the unborn child.
5. A century ago, American abolitionists were generally unwilling to
prosecute former slave owners once the Civil War concluded. Did this in any way
make the point that the African American slaves were less than human or that the
abolitionists' case against slavery was a flawed one?
6. Currently, as Francis Beckwith points out, many states make it a capital
offense to kill a police officer in the line of duty but not an ordinary citizen
on the job. Does this mean that an ordinary citizen has less value (or is less
human) than the police officer?
7. In short, each of the above examples, while attacking the individual
pro-lifer, do nothing to refute the pro-life position that the unborn child is
fully human from the moment of conception.
II. Shoving the Debate From the Abstract
to the Concrete
A. Make abortion
advocates defend killing babies--and do it with pictures!
Force abortion advocates to admit that they don't believe that all points of
view are equally valid
Resources for answering
Special Supplement: Exposing
Pro-abortion Rhetoric on Late-term Abortion
A. Make abortion advocates defend killing
babies--and do it with pictures!
1. When liberals advocate the adoption of public policy
which tends to legitimize disgusting behavior, they know better than to attempt
a defense of the behavior itself. More cleverly, they limit debate to
discussion of the right to disgusting behavior.
2. To cite an example, when the question is whether the government should censor
freedom of expression in the arts, liberals are in full cry. But when forced to
answer whether tax money should be spent on sexually provocative photographs of
naked children, bold liberal rhetoric becomes incoherent mumbling. Circulate the
actual pictures and the mumbling fades to embarrassed silence.
3. Words are easily misunderstood and quickly forgotten. Pictures are simple to
comprehend and seldom fade from memory. Showing Harder Truth
forces the other side to discuss abortion against the backdrop of the video. It
forces them to talk about whether or not abortion kills babies -- which means
At a recent meeting of the National Abortion Federation, Kathryn Kohlbert, on
e of the chief opponents of the partial-birth abortion ban, urged members not to
let pro-lifers sidetrack them with discussions on the specifics of the abortion
"I urge incredible restraint here, to focus your message and stick to it,
because otherwise we'll get creamed. If the debate is whether the fetus feels
pain, we lose. If the debate in the public arena is what's the effect of
anesthesia, we'll lose. If the debate is whether or not women ought to be
entitled to late abortion, we probably will lose. But if the debate is on the
circumstances of individual women…then I think we can win."
So, shove the debate from the abstract question of "choice" to the concrete
question, "Does abortion kill babies?" Don't let abortion advocates get off with
a defense of women's rights. Make them defend abortion at a factual
level. Make them defend killing babies. Make them defend abusing women. And do
it with words and pictures. [See pp. 271-76]
B. Expose pro-abortion lies with
1. There is nothing more convincing (and potentially embarrassing to your
opponents) than holding up pro-abortion sources to refute pro-abortion lies.
This seems so obvious that one can only marvel at the large numbers of pro-life
speakers who fail to do this. It's as if these poor misguided souls think
offering an unsubstantiated opinion is enough to dispel layers and layers of
pro-abortion rhetoric. Well, it's not.
2. Remarkably, the following misstatements of fact surface again and again in
abortion debates. Refuting them is not difficult.
-- "Abortion is legal only during the first trimester."
-- "Women need abortions for medical reasons."
-- "Women don't use abortion for convenience purposes."
-- "RU 486 is a safe and easy drug."
-- "Anesthesia kills the baby prior to partial-birth abortion."
-- "Partial-birth abortions are needed to save a woman's life."
-- "Methotrexate abortions are safe and easy like RU 486."
-- "Only white babies are wanted for adoption."
-- "Pro-lifers are dishonest to show pictures of aborted babies."
-- "Abortion is a safe and easy procedure."
Resources for answering pro-abortion rhetoric:
* Francis Beckwith, Politically Correct Death (Baker, 1993)
* Stephen Schwarz, The Moral Question of Abortion (Loyola, 1990)
* Peter Kreeft, The Unaborted Socrates (InterVarsity Press, 1983)
*P.U.C. Debate (Scott Klusendorf vs. Planned Parenthood) and USC Debate (Gregg
Cunningham vs. ACLU) 3 tape set. Order from Center for Bioethical Reform
*Precious Unborn Human Persons (By Gregory Loukl). Order from Stand to
Reason, 1-800-2 REASON
Special Supplement: Exposing
Rhetoric about Late-term Abortion
"Abortion is legal only during the first trimester"
- Hold up the Pacific Bell Yellow Pages ads listing abortions at
24 and 28 weeks on a walk-in basis. 28 weeks is a third trimester procedure!
- Hold up and cite the Centers for Disease Control's Abortion Surveillance
report. Note that 13% of all abortions annually are done after 13 weeks which
means that according to the CDC's own figures, 181,000 babies are
killed each year after the first trimester. (Make sure to point out that the CDC
- Hold up and cite from the Los Angeles Times article (1/17/91)
where late term abortionist Dr. James McMahon reports doing procedures as late
as 32 weeks -- a mere six weeks short of a full term delivery. Note further the
New York clinic cited in the same article that does 16,000 abortions a year,
half of which are done late-term.
"Partial birth abortions are done only to save the woman's life or health""
- During a taped interview with American Medical News,
abortionist Martin Haskell said, "In my particular case, probably 20% are for
genetic reasons. And the other 80% are purely elective."
- Dr. James McMahon told the House Judiciary Committee (July, 1995) and
American Medical News that he uses the partial birth method for what he
calls "elective" abortions up to 26 weeks (six months) and for "non elective"
abortions up to 40 weeks (i.e. up until birth). His definition of "non-elective"
abortions includes just about everything, however. He lists
maternal "depression" as the single largest indicator of these so-called "non
elective" abortions. After conducting extensive interviews with McMahon, the
Los Angeles Times reported, "If there is any other single factor that
inflates the number of late abortions, it is youth. Often, teenagers do not
recognize the first signs of pregnancy. Just as frequently, they put off telling
anyone as long as they can." So much for the lie that these abortions are
- Abortion advocates claim that only 500 partial birth abortions are done
yearly. But as the Bergen Record reports, 1,500 partial birth abortions
are done annually in New Jersey alone -- and almost none are medically
- As reported by Dr. Pamela Smith in American Medical News, "There are
absolutely no obstetrical situations encountered in this country which require a
partially delivered human fetus to be destroyed to preserve the life or health
of the mother."
- Cite late-term abortionist Warren Hem (American Medical News) as
saying, "I have very serious reservations about this procedure ... You can't
really defend it ... I would dispute any statement that this is the safest
procedure to use."
Public Speaking on Abortion