Ad Hominem Attacks: The Ad Hominem Argument for Abortion

Article ID: DA020-2 | By: Francis J. Beckwith

Ad hominem” literally means to “attack the man” (or person). Therefore, “to attack ad hominem is to attack the man who presents an argument rather than the argument itself.”25 Instead of dealing with what a person is actually saying, one attacks the person. This is a bad form of reasoning because it ultimately does not refute the person’s argument. Hence, when the abortion rights advocate judges, ridicules, insults, or slanders the pro-lifer as a person, he or she does not attack the arguments for the pro-life position.

Why Don’t Pro-lifers Adopt the Babies They Don’t Want Aborted?

One common ad hominem argument can be distilled into the following assertion: Unless the pro-life advocate is willing to help bring up the children he or she does not want aborted, he or she has no right to prevent a woman from having an abortion. As a principle of moral action, this seems to be a rather bizarre assertion. For one reason, it begs the question by assuming that the unborn are not fully human. Wouldn’t these same pro-choicers consider the murder of a couple’s children unjustified even if they were approached by the parents with the following proposition: “Unless you adopt my three children by noon tomorrow, I will put them to death.”? Clearly, if these pro-choicers refused to adopt these children it would not justify their parents in killing them. Hence, it all depends on whether the unborn are fully human. Second, think of all the unusual precepts that could be fairly derived from such a moral principle: unless I am willing to marry my neighbor’s wife, I cannot prevent her husband from beating her; unless I am willing to adopt my neighbor’s daughter, I cannot prevent her mother from abusing her; unless I am willing to hire ex-slaves for my business, I cannot say that the slave-owner should not own slaves. Now, I believe that the pro-life movement as a whole does have a moral obligation to help those in need, especially unwed mothers (and there are enough organizations dedicated to this task to show that the pro-lifers do practice what they preach).26 But it does not logically follow from this moral obligation that abortion automatically becomes a moral good simply because individual pro-life advocates are not currently involved in such a cause.

Aren’t Pro-lifers Inconsistent if They Support Capital Punishment?

Some pro-choice (and even pro-life) advocates have pointed out that some people who believe in capital punishment are also pro-life on the abortion issue. And since capital punishment entails the killing of another human being, these pro-lifers are inconsistent. Some people assume that this inconsistency makes the pro-life position on abortion incorrect. There are several reasons why this belief cannot be justified. First, how does this help the pro-choice position or hurt the pro-life position on abortion? Wouldn’t this argument make people who are against capital punishment and for pro-choice equally inconsistent? Second, inconsistent people can draw good conclusions. For example, an Irish terrorist may inconsistently believe that it is all right to murder Catholics and not Protestants. But this inconsistency in his thinking would not make his correct conclusion about the wrongness of murdering Protestants automatically incorrect. Hence, this argument is a red-herring and does not deal with the ethical legitimacy of the pro-life position. Third, there are a number of pro-life advocates who do not believe that capital punishment is morally justified.27 The pro-choice advocate can’t say that these pro-lifers are inconsistent. Why does he (or she) not then give up the pro-choice position and embrace this pro-life position, since it should seem to him even more consistent than the anti-capital punishment pro-choice position? Fourth, I believe that one can plausibly argue that the pro-life position on abortion is consistent with capital punishment. Pro-life advocates, for the most part, do not argue that killing is never justified, for many believe that there are legitimate instances in which killing is justified, such as in the cases of self-defense and capital punishment, both of which do not entail the killing of an innocent human life. Abortion does entail such killing. Hence, the pro-life advocate who believes in capital punishment is saying, “It is wrong to take the life of an innocent human being, but the capital offender is not innocent. Therefore, capital punishment is morally justified.” Although I have not made up my own mind on the issue of capital punishment, I do not believe it is logically inconsistent with the pro-life position. In summary, like the previous argument, this one is a blatant example of the ad hominem fallacy, since it is a direct attack upon the character of the pro-life advocate. Instead of dealing with the pro-lifer’s arguments against abortion, the pro-choice advocate attacks the pro-lifer.

Men Don’t Get Pregnant

This argument is so silly that I fear by acknowledging it I may be giving it undeserved credibility. But since I hear it so frequently in the media, I think it ought to be answered. I was confronted with this argument in a debate at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (December 4, 1989). One of the debate participants, Social Work professor Dr. Esther Langston of UNLV, told the audience that she thought that it was rather strange that two men (myself and my debate partner, Mr. David Day) were arguing against abortion. After all, men don’t get pregnant; abortion is a women’s issue. I responded to Professor Langston by pointing out that arguments don’t have genders, people do. Since many pro-life women use the same arguments as we did in the debate, it was incumbent upon her to answer our arguments, which stand or fall apart from our genitalia. I pointed out that since she could not argue the same way if a woman were putting forth our arguments, therefore, our gender is totally irrelevant to whether the pro-life position is correct. In a subtle and clever way she dodged our arguments and attacked us — a clear case of the ad hominem fallacy. Second, on the same rationale, Professor Langston would have to reject the Roe v. Wade decision, since it was arrived at by nine men (7-2). Third, abortion is a human issue, not just a women’s issue, for it has consequences for everybody in society. It is in part from men’s salaries that tax dollars are taken to fund abortions; it is men who must help in child-rearing or pay child support if the mother chooses not to abort; and it is the man’s seed which is one of the material causes (along with the female’s ovum) of the unborn’s being (there has been only one known virginal conception). Fourth, the appeal to the pregnant woman’s personal involvement can be used as a two-edged sword. Could not someone argue that since men don’t get pregnant, and hence are less tainted by personal involvement, their opinion concerning the morality of abortion is more objective?

NOTES

1 Concerning this, Dr. Stephen Krason writes: “A number of studies have shown that pregnancy resulting from rape is very uncommon. One, looking at 2190 victims, reported pregnancy in only 0.6 percent.” (Abortion: Politics, Morality, and the Constitution [Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1984], 283.) 2 See Andrew Varga, The Main Issues in Bioethics, rev. ed. (New York: Paulist Press, 1984), 67-68. Varga himself, however, does not believe that abortion is morally justified in the cases of rape and incest. 3 On the fact that abortion on demand is legal in America, see Part One of this series in the previous (Fall 1990) CHRISTIAN RESEARCH JOURNAL. 4 See the results of studies of 4,800 victims of rape in the St. Paul-Minneapolis area, as cited in John F. Hillabrand, “Dealing With a Rape Case,” Heartbeat 8 (March 1975):250. 5 Bernard Nathanson, M.D., Aborting America (New York: Doubleday, 1979), 238. 6 Michael Bauman, “Verbal Plunder: Combatting the Feminist Encroachment on the Language of Religion and Morality,” paper presented at the 42d annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, New Orleans, Louisiana, Nov. 15-17, 1990, 16. 7 Krason, 284. For an overview of the research, see Sandra Kathleen Mahkorn, “Pregnancy and Sexual Assault,” in David Mall and Walter F. Watts, M.D., The Psychological Aspects of Abortion (Washington, D.C.: University Publications of America, 1979), 67-68. 8 Krason, 284. 9 See the arguments in the Planned Parenthood Federation of America brief (for Roe v. Wade), as cited in Krason, Abortion, 315-19. 10 E. F. Lenoski, M.D., “Translating Injury Data into Preventative Health Care Services,” University of Southern California Medical School, unpublished, 1976, as cited in Krason, Abortion, 320. 11 See B. D. Schmitt and C. H. Kempe, Child Abuse: Management and Prevention of the Battered Child Syndrome (Basle: Ciba-Geigy, 1975). 12 Krason, 320. See Rosemary S. Hunter, M.D., et. al., “Antecedents of Child Abuse and Neglect in Premature Infants: A Prospective Study in a Newborn Intensive Care Unit,” in Pediatrics 61 (1978):629, 634; Vincent J. Fontana, M.D., and Douglas J. Besharov, The Maltreated Child, 4th ed. (Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas, 1979), 12-13, 27; Richard Gelles, “A Profile of Violence Toward Children in the United States,” in Child Abuse: An Agenda for Action, eds. George Gebner, Catherine J. Ross, and Edward Ziegler (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980), 102-3. 13 Justice Harry Blackmun, “The 1973 Supreme Court Decisions on State Abortion Laws: Excerpts from Opinion in Roe v. Wade,” in The Problem of Abortion, 2d ed., ed. Joel Feinberg (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1984),195.14 Ibid., 196. 15 “Webster v. Reproductive Health Services,” United States Law Review 57 (22 July 1989): 5044-45. 16 Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, “Reproductive Choice: Basic to Justice for Women,” Christian Scholar’s Review 17 (March 1988):291. 17 See the results of The Boston Globe/WBZ-TV nationwide poll recently published in the Globe, which concluded that “most Americans would ban the vast majority of abortions performed in this country….While 78 percent of the nation would keep abortion legal in limited circumstances, according to the poll, these circumstances account for a tiny percentage of the reasons cited by women having abortions.” (Ethan Bronner, “Most in US Favor Ban on Majority of Abortions, Poll Finds,” The Boston Globe, 31 March 1989, 1, 12.) 18 Webster, 5044, footnote 16. 19 See especially the nontheological defense of the pro-life position by former abortion-rights activist Bernard Nathanson, M.D. (Aborting America). 20 See Mollenkott. 21 George Mavrodes, “Abortion and Imagination: Reflections on Mollenkott’s ‘Reproductive Choice,'” Christian Scholar’s Review 18 (Dec. 1988):168-69. 22 Bronner, 1, 12. 23 Barbara J. Syska, Thomas W. Hilgers, M.D., and Dennis O’Hare, “An Objective Model for Estimating Criminal Abortions and Its Implications for Public Policy,” in New Perspectives on Human Abortion, eds. Thomas Hilgers, M.D., Dennis J. Horan, and David Mall (Frederick, MD: University Publications of America, 1981), 178. For a summary of the scholarly dispute over the prelegalization statistics, see Daniel Callahan, Abortion: Law, Choice and Morality (New York: Macmillan, 1970), 132-36; and Krason, Abortion, 301-10. 24 For more on prenatal development and the scientific evidence of the unborn’s humanness, see Part Three in this series in the (forthcoming) Spring 1991 issue of the CHRISTIAN RESEARCH JOURNAL. 25 Nicholas Capaldi, The Art of Deception: An Introduction to Critical Thinking, rev. ed. (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1987), 92. 26 Among the many organizations which help unwed mothers and women in crisis pregnancies are Crisis Pregnancy Centers (branches are found in many cities across North America), Pregnancy Crisis Center (Virginia), and Bethany Lifeline (1-800-234-4269). See also the interview of the administrator of an Assembly of God adoption agency in “Alternative to Abortion,” Pentecostal Evangel (11 Feb. 1990), 14-15. 27 For example, see Ron Sider, Completely Pro-Life: Building a Consistent Stance (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1987).

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