Abortion advocates, you need to try harder
Lazy dismissals of the pro-life argument will not work long-term. It might score you brief political points, but overtime your influence wane.
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 Hello friends. Scott Klusendorf here, president of Life Training Institute. Welcome to the Case for Life podcast, where we aim to help you defend your pro life views persuasively in the marketplace of ideas. Want to say a special thanks again to Life Training Institute for sponsoring this podcast. Be sure to visit our website at prolifetraining.

com for more resources that will help you be a better defender of life. Today, I want to talk about this theme, how to be a smarter defender of abortion. Now you might think that’s really strange that I would want to help the other side out, but I’ve just spent two weeks rummaging through a string of comments to some of the, uh, things said in response to podcasts and material we’ve put out there.

And I was geared up for some intelligent dialogue. Now I should know better by now, but that’s what I was hoping I would find. And what I have to tell you is that there wasn’t any single comment I read that caused me to even for one second reconsider my own view. Instead, nearly 100 percent of the comments went along these lines.

You’re the worst person in the world. You hate women. You want to control women. You don’t live out your pro life views. You say you care about life, but you really don’t. And as I read through these comments, and a few of them bordered on violence, we reported one gentleman who made a threat, basically, uh, saying that if I didn’t change my views, I would have more than angry comments coming after me.

We always report that stuff to law enforcement just because of the nature of it. But what would surprise me more than anything? Was zero attempts to engage the actual argument. So I’m going to talk about what this debate is really about and why it’s contentious. I understand why it’s contentious, but what is difficult for me is to understand the intellectual laziness of critics.

I really do think you can do better if you’re on the other side of this issue. In fact, before we’re done here, I’m going to walk you through the top five books you should read If you support abortion, and I’m going to give you a brief summary of what each of those books argue. Now, I don’t agree with these authors.

I think they’re mistaken, and I address them in my book, The Case for Life, where instead of engaging just the street level, uh, fire throwers, I engage the smart people on the other side, because I think that’s how you have an intelligent discussion. You should go after the strongest arguments of your opponent, and Not the weakest ones.

That’s how you look credible and what I saw in the last couple of weeks, and I do this once a year, I’ll just go through and look through some of the comments that are coming along. Most of the time, I don’t have time to engage them, and I just leave them alone. But once in a while, I want to take a look and see if there’s any new twist in the debate.

Is anybody saying anything creative? Anybody saying something interesting that would make for intelligent, uh, discussion. But this time was a total disappointment. There was one guy, to his credit, we’ll call him Mitchell because that’s what his name was. Mitchell was the only one who engaged the question of what abortion is really about.

In other words, he engaged the question, who counts as one of us? Because when you strip away all the fire breathing rhetoric, You strip away all the cliches. The abortion debate is not about who loves women, who hates them, who is really acting pro life, who isn’t. It’s not about any of that. It’s about one question.

Do the unborn count as members of the human family? And at least Mitchell understood that was the debate. And he went on to argue for his position, mainly along lines of viability, which I’ll say something about in a moment. But he was the only one who actually tried to intellectually debate this in an honest fashion.

Everybody else, it was just either threats, or you’re the worst person in the world. And therefore, everything you say doesn’t matter. A lot of the arguments that I heard, or comments, simply went along these lines. Just shut up. Go away. Uh, you know, when you get to heaven, Jesus is gonna personally dangle you over the fires of hell.

I mean, that’s the level we went to. And, this is distressing. In fact, In a few weeks, I’m going to have a conversation with a friend of mine who does not agree with me on abortion. Her name is Nadine Strausen, and we have debated abortion. in front of university audiences. Nadine was the president of the ACLU for 12 years, I believe.

She and I disagree on abortion, but here’s what I appreciate about Nadine. She is a strong proponent of free speech. She does not try to censor people. She does not try to shut them down. Instead, she is willing to engage the argument over who counts as one of us. Now, again, I think her position is not credible.

I don’t think it’s persuasive. It certainly hasn’t persuaded me. And it’s hard for me to imagine how it would persuade anybody in the middle. But at least she is on the right issue. And she and I are going to have a conversation in an upcoming episode on what free speech looks like. But what I want to do today is shift gears just a little bit.

Let’s again review what an argument is and what you have to do to refute it. An argument is a couple of premises followed by a conclusion. And that argument can be refuted one of two ways. If I say Socrates is a man, all men are mortal, therefore Socrates is mortal. That argument might be mistaken if you can do one of three things.

Show the conclusion doesn’t follow logically, meaning the argument is invalid. Or number two, show the argument is unsound, meaning one or more of the premises is false. Or you could show that the terms are used in an unclear or equivocal fashion. If you do one of those three things successfully, you can refute the argument.

But calling names does not refute the argument. Suppose Joseph Stalin argues exactly the syllogism we just did, that all men are mortal, Socrates is a man, therefore he is mortal. All right, that argument, is sound or valid, even if Stalin is the worst person in the world. And we could all make a good argument that he was because we know what he did.

Okay. But here’s the thing. Bad people can make good arguments. So let’s again, assume pro lifers are the worst people in the universe. We have no rivals in terms of how bad we are as people. We don’t give a rip about kids once they’re born. We hate women and just want to control them. And we’re probably just a bunch of misogynists.

Assume all of that were true, even for the women amongst us. How would that refute the argument we make that it’s wrong to intentionally kill an innocent human being? Abortion does that, therefore it’s wrong. And of course, anybody who’s had a seventh grade logic course knows that you can’t dismiss an argument with an ad hominem attack, meaning you attack the person rather than the argument, but that’s really what the, some of the comments were.

That we were looking at. So what I want to do is help those of you that think you’ve, you’ve carried the day by simply attacking the character of pro lifers. I actually want to help you argue better. So here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to walk through the five best books on your side of the issue.

Not pro life side, your side. And I’m going to give you a brief summary of what each argues and commend to you that you read these authors, not because I think they’re right. But they will make you smarter. At least you will engage the issue in an intellectually honest fashion. None of these authors I’m about to go over takes the approach that you can dismiss the pro life argument with an ad hominem or personal attack.

They are much smarter than that. These are people who are in academia, and I’ll walk you through what each of them argues and help you through it. The first book I would recommend is Dr. Warren Hearn’s book, Abortion Practice. And the reason is, at least then, you will understand what abortion procedures are.

There were people who jumped on the thread last week and said, Oh, abortion does not dismember unborn humans. That’s just pro life propaganda. Oh yeah? Well, Dr. Hearn would beg to differ with you, and this is the medical teaching text that teaches doctors, or abortionists we should say, how to dismember living human beings in the womb.

In fact, Dr. Hearn himself said to a Planned Parenthood conference several decades ago, We gotta stop lying about what we’re doing. What we are doing is beyond denial at this point. He said, when you do a dismemberment abortion, the sensations of dismemberment flow through the forceps like an electric current.

That’s pretty graphic. That’s not a pro lifer talking. That’s a pro abortion doctor who kills children for a living. Not because I say that’s what he does. That’s what his book says he does. In fact, in the book. He goes step by step through how to dismember a fetus, how to learn to learn what the extremities feel like with the forceps, how to pull them off the fetus, and then he talks about crushing the head and collapsing it with a pair of forceps, uh, that he talks about gives off a sensation like popping a ping pong ball with a strong pair of players.

And then he says you need to learn to watch for the calvaria sign, meaning the emergence of white fluid coming out of the cervix that indicate you’ve successfully crushed the brain of the child. Again, that’s not a pro lifer giving you inflated rhetoric. That’s your guy that you celebrate, Dr. Warren Hearn saying this.

So I recommend his book, Abortion Practice, so you at least get a sense of what abortion is from someone on your side of the issue. When we say it intentionally kills an innocent human being, We’re not using inflated rhetoric. Again, that’s coming from your guy. The next book I would recommend you read if you want to become a smarter abortion choice advocate is Peter Singer’s book Practical Ethics.

Now, I disagree with Singer’s conclusions. But I appreciate this about him. There’s a consistency to him. And here’s what Singer argues. All of the arbitrary lines people want to draw between fetus and newborn don’t hold up. They don’t work. And for example, Singer says, fetus isn’t self aware, newborn isn’t self aware.

You can kill both. Neither has a right to life. In fact, he’ll go on to argue that That no newborn should be considered a person until 30 days after birth and disabled infants can be killed on the spot if it suits the preferences of the parents. Now you may say, well, that’s him, that’s not us who just support abortion.

But here’s what Singer’s gonna say to you. You can’t do that. The same arguments that work to defend killing the unborn work equally well to kill newborns. And by the way, Singer is not the only one who’s going to say that. I would commend to your reading as well, Dr. Jeff McMahon’s book, The Ethics of Killing.

McMahon is going to go through The arguments that are used to justify abortion and point out that they work equally well to kill newborns. And here’s his basic thesis. Until you have mental continuity, meaning you have a sense of yourself existing over time, your life experiences are connected through memory and reflection, You do not have a right to life, and a fetus and a newborn do not have mental continuity.

And what matters is not biological reality, what matters is mental reality. And the fetus and the newborn don’t have it. In fact, he is quite candid in this book. One of the things I really like about him Is his, his willing, willingness to be candid about where his argument leads. And McMahon says, look, uh, my argument destroys the concept of human equality.

It’s really hard to argue for egalitarianism when what gives you a right to life is not your nature that you share in common with all other living human beings, but rather your ability to function with cognitive awareness, with continuity over time, mentally. And he says, if that’s what gives us our value, then obviously those with more of it have greater rights than those with less.

And he basically chides his side of the issue by saying, look, um, really, if you want to be honest about that, we should admit that human equality is a myth. It makes us feel good. But it doesn’t really exist. There’s no real foundation for it, given our view that what makes you a person is some gradient characteristic, like self awareness, uh, seeing yourself existing over time, feeling pain, whatever, whatever trait you pick out, he says, you’re going to end up with people who have more of that than others, and there goes your foundation for human equality.

The other book I would recommend you take a look at is David Boonin’s book, A Defense of Abortion. Now this book, which is published by Cambridge University Press, by the way, the books I’m citing here are all academic publishers. So, uh, McMahon’s book, for example, is Oxford University Press. Boonin’s is Cambridge.

And, uh, the others I cite are all going to be Oxford or Cambridge University Press. So we’re not talking here about people who want to be academics. We’re talking about people who are. Now, Bunin’s book, A Defense of Abortion, really has two parts to it. The first part is a defense of what he would call the organized cortical brain function argument that goes like this, that although you once existed as an embryo, you didn’t have the same right to life then as you do now.

Now, this is a stunning thing because. Boonin is going to separate a little bit from guys like Peter Singer, Michael Tooley, Jeff McMahon, and others. Boonin is going to say, when you were an embryo at the one cell stage, that was you back then. You, you didn’t become a new thing later, that was you all along.

In fact, to make sure we get his point, he has a, a stunning, uh, Opening segue where he talks about his son, Eli, and he says, you know, when my son Eli was born, he was identical to the fetus. He was several weeks later, and he goes on to say Boone and does. That the thesis of his book is that it would have been perfectly permissible to kill Eli.

Not a different Eli, the same Eli that was born. Because, although Eli is identical to his former embryonic self, it doesn’t follow he has the same right to life then as he does now. And what gives Eli a right to life, or any of us a right to life, says Boonin, is having immediately exercisable desires. And until you have those, you don’t have a right to life.

Now we can think of a lot of counterexamples here, and I’m really not interested in going too deep in that today. I merely want to summarize what these thinkers say. But for example, could a slave be conditioned not to desire his freedom? Well, yes. But does that mean he’s not entitled to it because he doesn’t desire it?

I think we would all say no. We recognize that slave has an ideal, uh, desire to be free, even if he can’t immediately exercise it because he’s been brainwashed. Boone, I don’t think, gives a good argument for explaining why the slave should still be kept a slave if he doesn’t, or why a slave is still entitled to his freedom even if he doesn’t desire it.

These are problems with these kinds of arguments, but at least Boonin gets the argument right. The debate is about who counts as one of us, and do we have the same rights in all our existence as we do at our prime. I think Boonin’s right about what the issue is. Now, a newcomer on the block, who I think is an important person for you to read if you are in favor of abortion, and by the way, Perlifers, listen up.

You too ought to be reading these books. Don’t think we’ve done our job if we simply learn how to defeat the easy stuff that the hotheads throw at us on the internet. It’s not real difficult to respond to somebody who says, oh, you just hate people. You’re the worst person in the world. Yeah, it’s pretty easy to point out they’ve dodged the argument, but I think we need to do better than our critics.

We shouldn’t respond the way they do. Let’s be smarter than they are. In fact, let’s know their smart people better than they know their smart people. Uh, and here’s one you ought to be familiar with, a new one. Kate Griesley, she is in, over there in Oxford in England, her book, Arguments About Abortion, is really an interesting read.

And Kate Griesley is going to put together a thesis that goes like this. The way around the human equality problem is to buy into what she calls a range view of personhood. And she says, you know, personhood is not something that we should think of as an immediate threshold, that once you cross it, You’re now a person.

Rather, she says, we should think of personhood as gradually emerging, much the same way you gradually went from being a child to an adolescent, and you did that almost without notice. It just kind of happened, and it’s really difficult for you to pinpoint the exact moment that change happened. So that’s her first line of argument, but she recognizes with that argument, there’s a problem, and that problem is this.

Thanks. Development doesn’t stop at birth or any other place along the line. We continue developing and therefore, how are we going to account for human equality? And here’s her solution. She says we need to have a range view of personhood that goes like this. Once you cross over the threshold of birth, you are equally a person whether you’ve just crossed that threshold or you’ve been born for decades.

And she gives an example. She says if you think of the state of New Jersey, Princeton, which is in the dead center of the state, is in New Jersey, but so also is Hoboken, which is right there on the Hudson River, and barely in New Jersey. In fact, it’s just across the river from New York City. But Grisly’s point is this, both Hoboken and Princeton are equally Uh, considered New Jersey, even though one is in quite a ways and the other is barely in, and her point is, we don’t have to worry about the equality problem once you are through the threshold or in the range of what she calls personhood.

Which happens at birth. Now, I don’t think that’s persuasive. It’s an interesting thesis, but to me that’s just another layer of philosophical bureaucracy that she throws out there. She does have a threshold. It’s birth. And she needs to give a good argument for why birth is what decisively changes you.

Now, Peter Singer is going to say birth is totally irrelevant. I agree more with him because I don’t see any relevant difference between the child in the womb And outside, how does a change of location suddenly transform you from a non human, non valuable thing we can kill to a valuable human being we can’t?

These are questions that I think Kate Griesley needs to do a better job of arguing, but again, I commend her because at least she is drawing upon what the real argument is about. It’s about who counts as one of us. And by the way, I also love her book because she makes a devastating critique of Judith Jarvis Thompson’s violinist argument.

That basically is, uh, Thompson’s arguing for bodily rights. Thompson will argue even if the unborn are human, and even if they are persons with a right to life, they do not have a right to use the body of the mother to sustain their own lives if the mother wishes to withhold that support. And Greasley does an excellent job of making the point that abortion is much more than merely withholding support.

It’s one thing to claim you’re withholding support, It’s quite another to slit your victim’s throat in the name of withholding support. And Griesley’s essential argument is you can’t get from a right to withhold support Two, I can intentionally kill an innocent human being. And I think she’s quite right about that.

So I commend her for her thoughtfulness on this. So let me say this to you. If you support abortion before you just start spouting off about, Oh, your opponents all hate women. They don’t like them and they’re inconsistent hypocrites. Well, maybe we are now. I don’t believe we are. And I’ll say something about that momentarily, but here’s the thing.

You really need to engage the pro life argument. First, you need to accurately state what it is, and then show where it is either unsound or invalid. It’s not going to work for you to just launch these ad hominem attacks. Eventually, people get smart to this kind of thing. So, if you want to be smarter on your side of the issue, I really suggest you take a look at the authors I just mentioned, and I’ll mention one more here.

Dr. Daniel Callahan’s book, abortion Law, choice and Morality. This is an older book, but Callahan, who was head of the Hastings, uh, Institute, a bioethics think tank tank in the seventies and and eighties, does a great job of summarizing all of the bad arguments in favor of abortion. And he too is gonna argue that it’s really personhood that matters.

And he too will argue, it’s the question, what is the unborn that truly matters in this debate? Now he arrives at a different conclusion than me, but I can respect that he at least has put a lot of thought into this. And you can see from the size of his book, he’s not just going to give a bunch of cliches.

He’s going to try to think through things carefully, and I can appreciate that about him. So I would commend his book to you as well. And, by reading the smart people on your side of the issue, if you support abortion, at least you can avoid the bad arguments that people at the street activist level make.

Now, pro lifers, again, I think you also need to read these books, and I want to say something to the pro lifers watching here. Please do not make dumb pro life arguments. I’ll give you an example of a couple of dumb ones you should avoid. Don’t go onto forums and say, you know, Margaret Sanger was a racist.

Okay, let’s say she was a racist, and I happen to think there’s a strong case that can be made she was, but how does that support your view or refute the abortion choice view that abortion is morally permissible? Could abortion still be morally permissible? Even if Margaret Sanger is a racist, yes, because the argument for abortion stands or falls apart from the people making it.

It doesn’t work to say, aha, you know, Margaret Sanger, who’s your hero, was a real devil. Therefore, there goes your whole case. No, that’s just another example of an ad hominem fallacy that also manages to incorporate the genetic fallacy of faulting an idea based on its origins. Avoid those kinds of arguments if you’re pro life.

Also avoid this one. The famous Beethoven or doctor who killed, or who would cure cancer argument. It goes like this. Well, you know, you support abortion and guess what? That probably means we’ve aborted the doctor who would have cured cancer and we probably aborted the next Beethoven who would have brought us beautiful music.

That is a really dumb argument to make and here’s why. Pro lifers do not argue you that abortion is wrong because it kills gifted people. We argue it’s wrong to intentionally kill an innocent human being regardless of his or her gifting, regardless of his or her development, or what their future potential might be career wise.

We think it’s just as wrong to slit the throat of a homeless man as it is to do that to Steve Jobs. So don’t make a bad pro life argument. Brush up on what the good arguments are. And my hope would be that cooler heads on both sides of this issue would come together and talk about the real question, and that is What is it that determines who’s a member of the human family?

Are we members of the human family by nature, or are we members of the human family only by some performance function we can achieve and immediately exercise? That’s the real debate. Let me, uh, end by just coming back to this question of viability. I mentioned that Mitchell was the only one on the thread that actually tried to engage the question that matters, and I salute you, Mitchell, for that.

Good work. Um, he, uh, brought up the idea that viability is where he wanted to camp out, and that until the unborn are viable, they do not have a right to life, they’re not human beings with a right to life. Uh, so, the first question I, I, I engaged Mitchell on, and by the way, ours was a very civil discussion, there was something about Mitchell I appreciated, if he, if I made a good point, he would acknowledge it, he would say good response.

Now, he might come back and still disagree, but he would acknowledge good points, and I appreciated that. In fact, I looked forward to his comments, because I knew we would have a thoughtful discussion. But one of the questions I asked him is, Could you tell me why viability is what gives us value in the first place?

I wasn’t ultimately satisfied with any of his answers, but at least he was willing to posit something as being decisive. Then I, I, I went to some counter examples that I think argue against viability being decisive. For example, if viability, the ability to live independent of anyone or anything is what gives us value and a right to life, what do we do with conjoined twins like the Henschel twins?

These are young women who are now in their thirties and they are literally joined at the hip. You look at a picture of them and the press has followed them since infancy. You look at these girls, there’s one set of legs, Two hips, two body trunks, two shoulder heads. Um, I should say one set of hips, two body trunks, two shoulders, and two heads.

Their, their bodily, their bodily systems are intertwined. You cannot separate them. They share vital organs. Their circulatory system is all wound up between the two of them. If you try to separate them, you will kill both of them. And so the question I asked Mitchell was, if viability is what gives us a right to life, Doesn’t it follow that neither one of those twins has a right to life because neither one can live without the other?

Again, I wasn’t satisfied with his explanation. But at least he tried. He said something to the effect, well, that’s not the real world. This is really a rare thing. And even if these twins do exist, and he wasn’t denying they don’t exist, he would, or do exist. He was basically saying that’s a rare, extreme example.

Well, it may be, but keep in mind with these counter examples, we’re tense. We’re testing the principle. It doesn’t matter how often it happens. We’re testing the principle. that viability is what gives you value. I then used another example when he didn’t like that one. I gave the example of infants that are born with allergies, and this happens from time to time, and these infants can only tolerate their own mother’s milk.

That’s it. They can’t take formula. They can’t take any other, uh, means of nourishment. They have to get it from their mother. Now, at that point, we’ve got a born child that still depends on its mother’s body for survival. Does that mean those children with those kinds of allergies do not have value and a right to life because they still depend on their mother?

Again, we’re not talking about a fetus in the womb at this point. We are talking about a child already born. Again, um, Mitchell and I did not agree on these points, but at least we were talking about the right questions. And at least the, the pro abortion authors I cited a moment ago, who also for the most part in, uh, support infanticide because they recognize that, uh, The arguments for abortion work equally well for infanticide, but at least they are engaging the issue that matters in this debate, and that is this.

Who counts as one of us? And if your response to the pro life view is not addressing that question, You’re off the mark and you’re not engaging the debate that is really out there and happening. So anyway, if you are pro life, I hope this has helped, you know, who the smart people are on the other side.

And by the way, pro lifers, one last thing I want to say here, please do not go around and say things like anybody who supports abortion is just dumb and stupid. There are some smart people on the other side that would shred you if you are not read up on what their arguments are. Don’t think that there isn’t somebody out there smarter than you.

There’s always somebody out there that could be smarter than you. What you want to do though is be smart enough to know what the real argument is about. And the real argument is not about how do pro lifers behave. The real argument is not about Do they love women or do they hate them? And it’s also not about whether people who support abortion hate children and just want people to die.

I think we need to get better than that. And that’s what I’m looking forward to in my upcoming conversation with Nadine Straussen. Let’s talk about the real issue. Who counts as one of us and let’s make sure the marketplace is open to the free exchange of ideas so we can hammer these questions out as a nation.

rather than just divide into separate camps of hotheads. I think we can do better than that. All right, that’s enough for today. Again, be sure to visit us at Life Training Institute, prolifetraining. com and at our social media sites for the Case for Life podcast. Thanks for hanging in there with me today and I look forward to seeing you next time.