This post is a brief commentary on Ariana Karatsanis’ “Infiltrating and Debunking Campus Pro-lifers: An Exercise in Self-Control” , an explication of Ariana’s experience in a Lifeline meeting which describes as “welcoming.” Despite a tacit open-mindedness regarding hearing the pro-life position and its defense, strong misunderstandings of the pro-life position persist if for no other reason than this “open-mindedness” is a covering for misrepresenting, and overlooking much of, the pro-life position. I have re-printed her entire post to ensure that I am not misstating her words nor making unwarranted assumptions about her claims. Her paragraphs are put in quotations.
“A couple of weeks ago my friend told me about protestors standing by Western campus for the “Pro-Life” movement. Their signs were covered in images of live and dead fetuses, impossible to miss on your way to class through the University gates. Although I completely disagree with “Pro-Life” beliefs, I wanted to further my knowledge of their perspective so I decided to sign up for their club “Lifeline,” a USC approved club, and attend their first meeting.”
This is very admirable, open-mindedness is needed on both sides of the debate.
“I am pro-choice. I believe and stand up for women making their own decisions and having autonomy over their own bodies, so you can imagine this was the last place I wanted to be. I wanted to use this opportunity to understand their side of the debate rather than ignoring their voice and beliefs. Upon further investigation however, I found the majority of their arguments were based on fallacies and subjective examples that when taken into the perspective of larger society become insignificant.”
First, how do we reconcile “I wanted to further my knowledge” with “this was the last place I wanted to be”? Second, it is important to remember what fallacies are, misuses of logical reasoning. What is a “subjective example”? I have never heard this phrase, though perhaps it will be clarified eventually.
Definition of a Human Life
“The first claim in the Lifeline argument was about the science concerning when a fetus becomes a human life. The President of the club explained that there was a spectrum of where this could be possible, before conception, during conception, and after conception. The examples for the three were: before the egg and sperm met, during fertilization, and when a child was two years old. It was then stated that a woman could not get pregnant without sperm (obviously), and that a two year old cannot poof into existence (no shit), so it must be during fertilization that the egg and sperm become a human life.”
Straw man fallacy: Lifeline does not ask when a fetus becomes a human life, but of when human life begins. A fetus is already a human life, for “fetus” means “young one” in Latin and hence it is an age-ranged term (speaking in biological terms). There are species of fetuses i.e., elephant fetuses, dog fetuses, et cetera. Asking when a fetus in a mother’s womb becomes a human being is an abuse of biological science.
“While I am not a science student, this “argument” is being used as a tactic in order to convince listeners to believe their message. Two out of the three examples are on extreme ends of the spectrum forcing the listener to agree with their opinion by default. They are missing multiple points in the spectrum that could possible define when a human life begins. Many claim it is when the fetus can live on its own, or when it is birthed, and many points before. The club stated that this idea was backed by science, but the debate of when a fetus becomes a human life is ongoing. These claims are more opinion than they are a scientific fact.”
The purpose of the before/at/after distinction is to show that there are only three live alternatives to when a human life begins. I fear Ariana did not understand it (though she says it is very clear). For within the “after” category many have advanced arguments from dependency (the formalization of what she means when she says “fetus can live on its own”). Sadly, Ariana overlooks that as pro-lifers in Lifeline, we do our best to respond to these objections (which are, admittedly, often more sophisticated than the characterization she provides). The point: Lifeline does address this, and proof lies in Maria McCann’s pro-life apologetic workshops (available on YouTube). She explicitly addresses this problem. There is no “tactic” involved—only an honest attempt at displaying and responding to the argument from dependency.
A Woman’s Choice
“A young man was walking past the pro-life activists and was asked if he was pro-life. He said: “No, I think women should have choices.” The activists’ response went along the lines of asking multiple questions with obvious answers in order to persuade the listener into thinking his beliefs had changed. She asked him if he would support a woman’s choice to go to the bar and drink (if she was legal), he said yes (obviously, well I hope you think that). Then asked him if it was okay for the girl to choose to drive home drunk, he said well no, of course not. These two questions produced/constructed/manipulated the argument. It was said that this woman made a choice, but the wrong choice, and while it’s amazing to support women’s rights there is a fine line to which we cannot cross. Interesting side note: the pro-lifers claim that the name “pro-choice” is propagandistic, as it makes the assumption that they are anti-choice when they actually claim to be anti-murder.”
Ariana has not understood the analogy (this is evident from her not displaying the full example typically given by pro-life apologists). What the analogy shows is that our rights only extend—whether we are women or not—only until other human beings are involved. For example, most regard it as acceptable to have a few drinks at the bar (why not?). It is morally permissible to exercise my autonomy and have these drinks. However, in what does the wrongfulness of drunk driving consist? It consists in the fact that we have used our autonomy and right for freedom to put another at risk. Analogically, abortion does not merely put another human being at risk (the preborn), but dismembers, disembowels and decapitates her. In that sense, can it be a “right” to take the life of another human being? Not to be pedantic about words, but “pro-choice” is pro-choice-for-abortion. While many would like–including Ariana–to say pro-having-rights-over-ones-body–this overlooks the central focus of the pro-choice position: pro-abortion.
“The comparison of abortion to drunk driving is a little far fetched in my opinion. Claiming that a fetus’ rights are equivalent to a human walking on the street is absurd. A fetus, especially early on in the pregnancy, cannot live on its own, it is dependent on a woman’s body.”
I am afraid Ariana misunderstands what analogies do. Analogies do not merely equivocate two situations; instead, they often highlight that from the fact that we would reason some way in some example, and let’s imagine we have an identical situation to the former, to be consistent we need to reason the same in both cases. The dependency objection goes as follows: Because the preborn are utterly dependent on a woman’s body, the woman should have the right to take the life of the preborn child. This objection is far from new. In fact, speaking from experience, I have dealt with this objection almost every time I have talked about abortion with others. Is this argument a good one? Well, let’s think about it. It is plausible that infants are utterly dependent on other human beings for their existence after their birth (they cannot do anything for themselves i.e., shelter, feed, protect themselves, et cetera). This is not something controversial. Does it follow from this that we should be able to take the lives of infants? Of course not. In the same way, from the fact that preborn are utterly dependent on their mother for survival, it does not follow that the mother can take the life of that child. Reply: Well, there is a difference between an infant and a preborn human being! Answer: Now the question is rightfully where it should be—who are the preborn? The relevant question is not whether dependency ever constitutes a reason to take another’s life. In what does the difference consist between the infant and preborn? There is no fundamental difference other than time. I wish Ariana had put the time into fleshing out her objection, rather than leaving it as a one-line slogan often championed by pro-choicers as the voice of a “devastating objection” to the pro-life position (when I have shown how it is, even when developed, a poor objection).
“A young woman walked up to the pro-life booth and told the President she was raped and got an abortion, and wanted to know how she felt about it. Compassion was what she responded with. Claiming that they needed to use compassion before anything else, especially in these specific circumstances. She asked her if she was safe, and continued talking to her about their movement. I do not know specifically what she told her, but to the group she said that the goal of their club was not to make people hurt over their “bad” decisions, but help them make “better” decisions. Most of these stories I am writing down are infuriating, but this one takes the fucking cake. I can respect the thought of wanting to be nice to someone and support them if they chose to do something you do not agree with, but you cannot be compassionate to people while still using images of aborted fetuses in order to scare people into agreeing with you. These images are real, and I do not think they need to be banned but blasting them all over campus in order to push your own agenda on students is disgusting. The shock factor is the only thing being used here. Telling a woman she made a bad decision after having an abortion is far from being compassionate. Saying “better” decisions, argues that they know right from wrong when they really know nothing about her personal experiences to make them capable of judging.”
For anyone who has ever talked to someone post-sexual assault, it is one of the most heart wrenching experiences (speaking from my experience in talking to victims of such an atrocious crime). As Ariana has noted, what was used was compassion by the pro-lifer. The problem? The imagery of aborted children. The problem with the argument given here is that it mistakes the purpose of these images. The allegation is that they are for “scaring”, “push[ing] [an] agenda” with a “shock factor” which is “disgusting.” However, I would ask a question here: Why does an aborted child scare us? Why does it shock us? Why is it disguising? It is scary, shocking and disgusting because abortion is these things. Awful things happen in this world like sexual assault, and no one—pro-life or not—wants something like sexual assault to persist. However, if the reality of what happens in abortion is not displayed, and Ariana admits that “these images are real”, will the three hundred abortions in Canada alone each day stop? Is preventing the massacring of preborn children “pushing an agenda”? If it is, there needs to be an argument for this position, and not empty assertions. I would also like to note a straw man. “Telling a woman she made a bad decision after having an abortion is far from being compassionate”—what pro-lifer has said this to a victim of sexual assault? The compassion of the pro-lifer (at least in Lifeline) is to do precisely as the one Ariana mentioned—to ask if that person is safe, if that person has gotten help and is receiving genuine treatment and healing. The intention is not shaming, the intention is to admit that awful things like sexual assault happen, and that is a problem that needs to be fixed—but the solution is not abortion, for an abortion does not undo sexual assault (it only takes the life of another human being). I am very dissatisfied that Ariana thinks a judgement is being made on the person of sexual assault, I wonder what she makes of, to re-hash a previous example, a drunk driving victim who sees a MADD commercial on TV. Should we promote taking MADD TV commercials off of TV because they can trigger individuals who have had genuine mental trauma (themselves or another they love being involved)? Of course not, we realize that drinking and driving is deadly, and that needs to be known despite the hardships associated with publicizing this message. The intention of these commercials is not to trigger individuals who have experienced horrendous events. Rather, the intention of these commercials are to display the wrongfulness of hurting another individual because of your choices (an abuse of the wonderful right to autonomy). In that sense there is a right and wrong (and skeptics to morality in general end up in either inconsistency i.e., we cannot affirm genocides being morally wrong or self-contradiction i.e., “you ought not judge another’s morality” makes a moral judgement). No one is making the claim that one knows what it is like to suffer something as awful as sexual assault if that person has not experienced it; the claim being made is that despite these sufferings which we should help others with and alleviate, we should not find the solution of these problems in taking the life of another, innocent human being (nor in shaming others for previous decisions they’ve made). It is a both/and–not shaming, helping that person and preserving the truth of the inhumanity of abortion.
“Another point of discussion were critical pregnancies, where either the woman’s life is at risk during the pregnancy or possible birthing defects are predicted. There were many shared stories about positive experiences of women who pushed through harmful pregnancies with support and ended up having their child and were glad they did. They were using isolated incidents and inductive reasoning to exemplify the broad possibilities of such circumstances.”
This is factually incorrect. The examples given involve both instances of “pushing through” but of harder cases where the mother’s life was more severely at risk. It also never downplayed the difficulties associated with having a severely disabled child. While these were noted, they were fairly and philosophically considered. It is simply wrong to suggest that in this meeting (in which I was in attendance) there were these dimensions overlooked. But at any rate: How else do you address critical pregnancies than taking an inductive survey of the cases we have recorded medically and evaluate them? This is important when considering something as multi-variable as critical pregnancies i.e., ectopic pregnancies.
“Privilege is something I noted down when I was in this meeting. There were many stories about children who have a disability but are loved and cared for, and these are incredible situations, but the reality is that someone has to have resources to raise a child. This includes caregiving and monetary support. While some women are able to support their children, we cannot ignore the other women and families who are not as privileged to provide time, money and love for their children.”
This is agreed by Lifeline. We should be doing better as a society to help these individuals.
“It was said that pro-choice activists believe that all babies with possible disabilities should be aborted. This statement is ridiculous and completely false. It is about giving women the right to decide for their own future and their own bodies; Pro-Choice, not Pro-Abortion.”
Of course this is “ridiculous and completely false”, for the pro-life position has been misrepresented by Ariana (and this is permissible, for she is writing a blog post, subject to informal comments—nothing peer-reviewed or subject to fact-checking (what I am attempting here)). The pro-life position does not entail the belief that pro-choicers believe this; rather, it is from accepting certain pro-choice beliefs i.e., an abortion at any time is permissible, suffering constitutes the permissibility of abortion, disability implies a lack of personhood and hence the permissibility of abortion, et cetera, it follows logically that the pro-choice position involves the belief that pre-born human beings with disabilities are able to be aborted. The sloganeering of this comment masks the real discussion which took place.
“I was surprised at how welcoming they were at the club, I sat and listened, but it was extremely difficult not to speak up. Although my perspective has not changed, it was an interesting experience at least. The president did offer to buy me coffee to chat another day, but it’s safe to say I won’t be taking her up on that anytime soon.”
I admire the tacit open-mindedness, but if one does not speak up in an environment which is “welcoming”, I regard this as not a problem on the part of Lifeline. Open-mindedness is an engagement in the pursuit of truth, not being “stoic” and having “self-control” in the face of opponents who present arguments and evidences for their beliefs (and do not resort to sloganeering and one-liners). I regard it as unfortunate that these objections found in this blog post by Ariana were not mentioned in the meeting she attended, for they have been addressed and plausibly refuted in Lifeline activism, the pro-life workshops and just about every Lifeline meeting.
General notes: Although it was claimed that Lifeline was making fallacies in reasoning, no formal/informal fallacies have been identified explicitly, “subjective examples” was never defined and the central argument against abortion “The Human Rights Argument” was also not interacted with. There was also no presentation of the pro-life position of many of the issues raised, it was more often that there were comments like “Lifeline talked about…” rather than a fair, accurate presentation of the material.
 Ariana Karatsanis’ “Infiltrating and Debunking Campus Pro-lifers: An Exercise in Self-Control” https://openwidezine.com/2017/11/11/infiltrating-and-debunking-campus-pro-lifers-an-exercise-in-self-control/#comment-7244 Accessed April 8th, 2018.