More from Amplify: the religious fallacy

by Roger Resler

Continuing with my responses to “10 Arguments in Favor of Pro-Choice Policy” from Amplify Your Voice.com:

7. Religious ideology is no foundation for any law. Freedom of religion is guaranteed to any citizen in the United States; so why would the beliefs and values of one religion mandate actual laws for all citizens? It would be unfair, unjust and immoral. We do not have laws against eating fish, nor do we have laws that declare it is legal to sell one’s daughter, rape someone, or keep a person as a slave—all things that are promoted in religious text.

This argument will receive special attention. I apologize in advance for the length of this post. This is one of my pet peeves. It is an especially egregious falsehood because it is doubly wrong. It falsely accuses its opposition of what it is guilty of itself.

Ironically, pro-choice proponents are rarely challenged on their hypocritical use of this argument, despite resorting to it often.

Let’s start with the silly stuff first. Amplify suggests that:

“We do not have laws against eating fish, nor do we have laws that declare it is legal to sell one’s daughter, rape someone, or keep a person as a slave—all things that are promoted in religious text.”

No pro-life leader or organization promotes or propagates these things which explains why Amplify doesn’t support this allegation with citations. To blithely declare that these are all “things that are promoted in religious text” is a dishonest attempt to associate pro-life people with archaic and barbaric practices that have nothing to do with a pro-life position. This  argument is patently dishonest on its face and should be abandoned.

Such tactics will likely backfire since the real hypocrisy of painting one’s opponents in a false light is difficult to conceal.  Why the need to define one’s opposition as something they are not? I suspect it’s because the actual reasons for being pro-choice aren’t very good reasons.

On to the more important allegation.

Amplify suggests that a good reason to be pro-choice is that “Religious ideology is no foundation for any law.” In the first place, the assertion is simply false. Whether or not pro-choice proponents approve, laws in western culture have been founded on the Judeo-Christian ethic and go back to the Ten Commandments.

But the more important point is that the implication that being pro-life is unequivocally religious is also false. While many pro-life people are religious, it is a mistake to assume the pro-life position is inherently religious or necessarily bound to religious ideology, much less that of a specific religion. It is not. Ultimately the pro-life position is based on observable biological data; whereas the pro-choice position rests on controversial, metaphysical dogma. Yet the pro-choice community is fond of claiming that science is on its side in a battle with the “religious right.” Nothing could be further from the truth.

Here is a classic example of pro-choice deception from the Pro-choice Action Network of Canada:

Personhood at conception is a religious belief, not a provable biological fact.

Religious communities have differing ideas on the definition of “person” or when abortion is morally justified. In the Canadian courts, however, a fetus has consistently been found not to be a person with legal rights. – PCAN, Canada

Notice how the burden of proof regarding the ambiguity of personhood is implied to lie with the pro-life community? Personhood, whether beginning at conception or not, is indeed “a religious belief, not a provable biological fact” (!) but the pro-life position does not rest on it! The pro-choice position does! Unfortunately, this backwards reasoning has become widely accepted to the point where it is now being taken for granted by many people.

Amplify suggests that, “It would be unfair, unjust and immoral” for the law to be founded on “the beliefs and values of one religion.” In a pluralistic society that might be true if the law required something out of the ordinary for purely religious reasons, such as making it illegal not to recite a certain number of Hail-Mary’s. That would be an unacceptable form of religious imposition. But the same religion that believes in reciting Hail-Mary’s also promotes the idea that murder is wrong or that stealing is wrong. Should we eliminate laws against murder and stealing because religious people who recite Hail-Mary’s believe it is wrong to murder and steal? Of course not.

What is ultimately “unfair, unjust and immoral” is to kill innocent human life. Atheists can agree with that assertion. So then, the relevant question becomes: does abortion kill an innocent human life? Without question, the answer is yes. There is no disputing this; at least not rationally.

Instead, what most often occurs is that pro-choice proponents attempt to separate the metaphysical concept of “personhood” from the tangible reality of a living human being. Without scientific support (as admitted by the Canadian article just cited), they suggest that the concept of being a “person” is the critically absent factor in a living human fetus that justifies abortion on demand. Abortion is perfectly acceptable, they inform us, because the fetus is not yet a “person.” Well there you go! Moral conundrum solved! All we need to know is when does a fetus become a “person” and the abortion controversy is history! So when, according to brilliant pro-choice thinkers, does that magical point occur? Answer: They don’t know and can’t agree. The result is that the answer varies depending on whatever point happens to suit their purposes at the moment. For Sarah Weddington, arguing in Roe v. Wade, the magical point occurred at birth. Justice Blackmun, writing the majority opinion, was much more ambiguous, suggesting that viability – which is not really a point – had more significance.

However, by noting in Roe v. Wade, that “the unborn have never been recognized in the law as persons in the whole sense,” pro-choice Justice Blackmun inadvertently implied that the unborn are at least persons in a partial sense.

This is an amazingly tenuous line of reasoning. In the first place, it can’t be demonstrated that such a thing as a “human non-person” exists in reality, yet Roe v. Wade collapses if not. To make matters worse, Justice Blackmun implies that “personhood” might be acquired by humans in degrees. Extending the benefit of the doubt to this wild speculation begs the question of how much “personhood” is required in order to justify laws against intentional destruction of actual human fetuses? This, in turn, raises the absurdity of how to measure quantities of “personhood.”

Any answer is, of course, arbitrary and subjective. Not surprisingly, Justice Blackmun didn’t attempt an answer. As a consequence, pro-choice proponents rest their logic on the unproven and unprovable, metaphysical dogma of “personhood” in order to justify the position they take on abortion – ironically the very thing they falsely accuse pro-life proponents of doing. The concept of “personhood” becomes critical to the morality of their position – but not the pro-life position!

The pro-choice crowd, aided by the power of the media, Hollywood and academia has legitimately hoodwinked the public on this point for forty years! We’ve bought into the ridiculous notion that the pro-life position depends on the twisted logic that was developed by pro-choice proponents in an effort to bring their own desired position closer to some semblance of coherence. It doesn’t. “Personhood” is the mess created by Sarah Weddington, Justice Harry Blackmun and their pro-choice disciples. It’s their bed. They have to sleep in it. Not pro-lifers.

The problem for pro-choice proponents is that personhood is an inherently metaphysical and subjective idea developed with fluctuating and arbitrary criteria that can’t even be universally agreed upon among pro-choice proponents. For example, radical philosopher Michael Tooley thinks that born babies aren’t persons until they acquire the ability to have “interests.” One-upping Tooley in the race of philosophers-gone-wild are Alberto Guibilini and Francesca Minerva who argue for what they casually refer to as “After-birth abortion.” The abstract from their 2011 Journal of Medical Ethics article says it all:

Abortion is largely accepted even for reasons that do not have anything to do with the fetus’ health. By showing that (1) both fetuses and newborns do not have the same moral status as actual persons, (2) the fact that both are potential persons is morally irrelevant and (3) adoption is not always in the best interest of actual people, the authors argue that what we call ‘after-birth abortion’ (killing a newborn) should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled.

After the initial jolt, incredulous observers suspected a devious pro-life attempt at parody in this unusually sterile defense of premeditated, postnatal murder. Yet these philosophers were chillingly serious. In a classic case of pathological lack of empathy, the pair weren’t terribly concerned with whether or not the tangible, living newborn has any actual “interests” (like continuing to live) but whether he or she is capable of cognitive awareness of any interests he or she might possess:

We take ‘person’ to mean an individual who is capable of attributing to her own existence some (at least) basic value such that being deprived of this existence represents a loss to her.

Having moved sufficiently beyond the suddenly dangerous neonatal stage themselves, Guibilini and Minerva retroactively define and then arbitrarily deny their younger peers “moral status as actual persons” while also candidly admitting “it is hard to exactly determine when a subject starts or ceases to be a ‘person.'” Undaunted by the difficulty of pinpointing the presence of personhood (as they define it) and the annoying moral implications accompanying the resulting ambiguity, they, nonetheless, reason that since neither newborns nor fetuses possess this elusive but critical quality (or at least, one presumes, a sufficient amount of it) then “killing a newborn” is perfectly acceptable.

Shocking as this rightfully should be, this is exactly where pro-choice logic leads. Guibilini and Minerva may advocate barbarity, but at least it’s logically consistent barbarity.

One can sympathize with the unexpected dichotomy this forces onto unsuspecting pro-choice laymen who’ve mindlessly parroted the religious fallacy for decades as though it somehow supports their decision to be pro-choice. Perhaps inadvertently, or perhaps not, Guibilini and Minerva substantiate the pro-life assertion that there is no significant moral difference between a human fetus and a human baby:

In spite of the oxymoron in the expression, we propose to call this practice ‘after-birth abortion’, rather than ‘infanticide’, to emphasise that the moral status of the individual killed is comparable with that of a fetus (on which ‘abortions’ in the traditional sense are performed) rather than to that of a child. Therefore, we claim that killing a newborn could be ethically permissible in all the circumstances where abortion would be.

Overlooking the nonsensical notion that a “newborn” could be “the individual killed” while simultaneously not a “child,” Guibilini and Minerva at least candidly acknowledge what other pro-choice proponents have emphatically denied since Roe first rolled off the presses: that a human fetus and a human baby are essentially the same thing from a moral standpoint.

The unintended upshot is that there is no longer any logical way to remain pro-choice without either resorting to arbitrary, metaphysical ideas that are contradicted by common sense or venturing into full-scale barbarism. Either abortion on demand is acceptable because there is something radically, morally different about the human in the womb as contrasted with a newborn (metaphysical concept), or there is no demonstrable moral difference but pro-choice proponents want the freedom to kill it anyway (barbarism) whether inside the womb or not.

Of course Guibilini and Minerva merely suggest that the magical point at which a sufficient amount of personhood is obtained occurs sometime after birth. Such theorizing illustrates the inherent problem with the “personhood” standard in the first place.

There is no question that humans in the womb are human. Humans can only reproduce other humans. There is no question that humans in the womb are alive. If abortion does not kill the occupant of the womb then pregnancy continues – which makes the debate over when human life begins an irrelevant side show. It doesn’t matter when human life begins since it obviously already began at some point before an induced abortion is required to kill it.

Pro-choice proponents tell us it’s okay to kill the living human in the womb because it either does not kill a “person” or it does not kill a “person in the whole sense” (they can’t agree on which). It’s time we challenge the purveyors of this metaphysical nonsense to conclusively prove it using the scientific method. No philosophical drivel. No semantic word games. No legal loopholes. Just documented, peer-reviewed, repeatable observation. Good luck with that.

It is the obligation of those who wish to retain the right to intentionally destroy human fetuses, under the moral assumption that they are not “persons,” to conclusively demonstrate the correctness of that critical premise of their argument.

Until then, pro-life people and independents who haven’t fallen for pro-choice propaganda will work to pass laws under the reasonable assumption that the pro-choice dogma of “personhood” is an unacceptable religious imposition designed to benefit one group of humans at the expense of another more vulnerable group of humans.

Roger Resler is an author, researcher & media producer for Truth In Depth Productions.

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