How Proponents of Abortion-on-Demand Dodge the Issue

Written by Tim den Bok

(View PDF version with illustrations)

 

Introduction

Many proponents of Canada’s current policy of abortion-on-demand—defined as abortion at any time during the woman’s pregnancy, and for any reason—refuse to face the real issue. This issue is the metaphysical status of the pre-born (embryo/fetus). Hereafter, I will refer to it simply as the “status of the pre-born.” Metaphysics is the study of ultimate reality. Why is the pre-born’s status the real issue? Because if it is a person, then it is protected by the moral rule against homicide while if it is not a person, then it is not protected by this rule. By homicide I mean the direct killing of a human being. The killing of a human being is “direct” when his or her death is intended either as an end in itself or as a means to some other end. The act of homicide is, what ethicists call, prima facie (pry-mah fay-shah) morally wrong. The term prima facie is Latin for “on the face of it,” or “at first sight.” An action that is wrong in this sense is morally prohibited unless there are overriding reasons to the contrary.

Some proponents of abortion-on-demand take issue with the claim that the real issue in the debate over abortion-on-demand is the status of the pre-born. They argue that even if the pre-born is a person, it would be wrong for the government to legally compel a pregnant woman to use her body as a natural incubator to sustain it. This argument was first put forth by the philosopher Judith Jarvis Thomson (born 1929) in her essay “A Defense of Abortion.”1 However, the right of privacy over

one’s own body does not justify homicide. And, in fact, Thomson would seem to concur with us on this point. In the above-mentioned essay, she argues, only, that a pregnant woman has the right to withhold support from the pre-born. Nowhere does she argue that she has the right to directly kill it. But what she, seemingly, fails to understand is that this is, in fact, what abortion does. To quote the philosophers Stephen Schwarz and R.K. Tacelli, “[Although} a woman who has an abortion is indeed ‘withholding support’ from her unborn child…. abortion is far more than that. It is the active killing of a human person—by burning him, by crushing him, by dismembering him.”2 To use an analogy, borrowed from the ethicist Norman Geisler, (born 1932) abortion is like inviting a destitute person to come into your house—since in over 99 percent of pregnancies the pre-born is in the woman’s womb as a result of a free act on her part, for which she, as such, is partly responsible—and then, after deciding that he or she is no longer welcome, killing him or her.3 Given these considerations, the author Randy Alcorn (born 1954) is surely correct when he says, “It is reasonable for society to expect an adult to live temporarily with an inconvenience if the only alternative is killing a child.”4

As we will see shortly, proponents of abortion-on-demand will often go to great lengths to avoid dealing with the issue of the pre-born’s status. These dodges often, though not always, commit, what logic textbooks call, “logical fallacies.” A logical fallacy is, roughly, a mistake in reasoning. In this paper we will look at six of these fallacies. Knowledge of these fallacies will help the reader to avoid being sidetracked by them. I will also suggest a good way to defend oneself against them by asking Socratic questions, the purpose of which is to steer the discussion back to the question of the pre-born’s status, which is the real issue.

Breaking the Rules of Dialogue

Douglas Walton (born 1942) is an eminent logician (i.e., expert in logic). He says that, in general, whenever a fallacy is committed a rule of dialogue is broken.5 There are two rules in particular that proponents of abortion-on-demand who dodge the issue violate. The first rule states that participants in a dialogue must try to fulfill their burden of proof,6 Or to put it another way, “He who asserts must prove.” This is, perhaps, the most fundamental rule of argumentation. As an example, someone, such as the philosopher Bertrand Russell (1872–1970), who claims that Jesus never existed, has the unenviable task of having to prove this assertion.

Opponents of abortion-on-demand have, as their burden of proof, the obligation of showing that personhood begins before birth. They typically draw this line at fertilization. By fertilization, we mean the process by which the sperm and the oocyte unite to form a one-celled embryo, known as a “primordial” embryo. Proponents of abortion-on-demand, on the other hand, must, unless they are also going to argue for infanticide, establish that personhood begins at birth.7 Why? Because, for them to concede that it begins to exist earlier than this, whether suddenly or gradually, would be to admit that, at least, some abortions are acts of homicide, and are, as such, prima facie wrong—a view which is inconsistent with the abortion-on-demand position.

The time to try to come to an agreement with one’s partner in dialogue on the real issue in the debate about abortion-on-demand, says Walton, is the opening stage of the dialogue. The importance of doing this cannot be overemphasized. For, as Walton says, “Allegations of irrelevance cannot be settled fairly if the issue of the argument was never stated or understood in the first place.”8

The second rule says that participants in a dialogue must not try to shift their burden onto the other person illegitimately.9 To help the reader understand this rule, let us first consider how to shift a burden legitimately. One way that this can be done is by offering a refutation of what the other person has said. For example, consider the claim that the existence of evil disproves that there is an all-good, all-powerful God. A legitimate way to shift the burden of proof back on to the person making this claim is to appeal to the so-called “free-will defense.” According to it, because we have a free will, we, not God, are responsible for our actions, some of which are evil. (Of course much more can be said on this matter. Our point, here, is simply that the “free-will defense” is a legitimate response to the problem from evil.) In contrast, an example of an illegitimate way to shift this burden would be something like the following:

“The Bible talks about you. Yeah, it says, ‘The fool hath said in his heart there is no God.’”

This response is illegitimate because, to quote from a textbook on critical thinking,   “One does not prove a point by attacking a person.”10

 

Logical Deceptions

There are several ways that proponents of abortion-on-demand dodge the real issue. As I said earlier, logic textbooks call these dodges “logical fallacies.” The term fallacy derives, in part, from the Latin word fallere, which means “to deceive.” Logical fallacies, then, are deceptions. This is true whether the deception is intentional or unintentional. (Hence, the logical sense of the term “deceive” is not identical to its ordinary meaning, which requires that the act be intentional.)

Logic textbooks group fallacies into two broad categories: formal and informal. In this paper I am only concerned with informal fallacies. “These fallacies,” one scholar says, “bear directly on issues of truth and falsity.”11 Reasons that are given for the basis of a conclusion, but that commit informal logical fallacies, are bad reasons. By this I mean that they cannot stand up under scrutiny. Because they are logically fallacious they fail the test of logic, which is an important criteria of truth. The conclusion of the argument could still be true. It is just that no good reason has been given to accept it.

 

The Harmful Effects of Fallacies

Albert Camus (1913–1960), the French Nobel prizewinning author and philosopher, says, “Mistaken ideas always end in bloodshed, but in every case it is someone else’s blood. That is why some of our thinkers feel free to say just about anything.”12 This has certainly been the case with regard to the mistaken ideas on abortion put forth by leading proponents of abortion-on-demand, such as Henry Morgentaler (1923–2013). Speaking of the pre-born, for example, Morgentaler says, “There is no child there.”13 This mistaken idea led him to open twenty abortion clinics throughout Canada, train over one hundred doctors on how to perform abortions, and, perhaps, most significantly, begin a fifteen-year legal campaign that culminated, in 1988, with Canada’s abortion law being declared unconstitutional in the case R. v. Morgentaler.14Sadly, as a result of these actions, countless innocent human lives have been taken.

What is true of mistaken ideas, in general, is true of logical fallacies in particular. Like mistaken ideas, they can result in actions that are extremely harmful. This has undoubtedly been the case with regard to the logical fallacies committed by proponents of abortion-on-demand. As we will see in a moment, the popular arguments for abortion all commit logical fallacies of one sort or another. In fact, the distinguishing characteristic of these arguments is that they assume, without proof, that the pre-born is not a person. This is the logical fallacy known as begging the question. In contrast, sophisticated pro-choice arguments, such as those given by philosophers, theologians, and bioethicists, do not make so obvious a mistake.

Unfortunately, because the popular pro-choice arguments are repeated over and over again in the popular media, the average person who hears or reads them assumes that they must be true. This is known as the “Big Lie Theory.” According to it—or, at least, one aspect of it—if a person tells a lie frequently enough, it will be believed. This propaganda technique was used effectively by Joseph Goebbels (1897–1945), the Reich Minister of Propaganda. “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it,” he said, “people will eventually come to believe it.”15 Examples of pro-choice “arguments” that have come to be accepted, not because they are true, but because of their frequent repetition, are that “Abortion is a woman’s right,” “The fetus is a part of the woman’s body,” and “Abortion is a safe, medical procedure.”

 

Scripture on the Rebutting of Foolish Arguments

Scripture tells us to rebut foolish arguments, or show them to be false. For example, Proverbs 26:5 (NIV) says, “Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.”

Before we look at what this verse means, let us, first, be clear on what is meant here by the term “fool.” Normally, today, when the word is used, it is applied to someone of low intelligence. However, this is not what the Bible means by the term. A fool, in the biblical sense, is someone who is lacking in moral character. For example, fools, the Bible says, are deceitful (Proverbs 14:8), scornful (10:23), and are right in their own eyes (12:15).

Let us now look at the meaning of Proverbs 26:5. When it tells us to rebut the fool “according to his folly”, it means that we should expose his or her foolishness. For if we do not, the person may deceive himself or herself, as well as others, into thinking that he or she is right when nothing could be further from the truth.

But, you may be wondering, does not the verse immediately preceding this one tell us to not show foolish arguments to be false? It says, “Do not answer a fool according to his folly or you will be like him yourself.” This verse uses the phrase “according to his folly” in a different sense than it is used in verse 5. When this verse uses the phrase, it means that when we argue with a fool, we should not employ the same tactics as him or her (e.g., verbal abuse, impatience, poor listening skills, etc.). Otherwise, we, too, are guilty of acting foolishly.

Six Ways Proponents of Abortion-on-Demand Avoid the Real Issue

In this paper we will look at six ways that proponents of abortion-on-demand avoid the real issue. Each of these ways are fallacies that have been given names by logicians to help one identify them and tell them apart. They are as follows: 1) argumentum ad hominem; 2) appeal to pity; 3) red herring; 4) loaded terms; 5) hasty generalization; and 6) irrelevant conclusion.

All of the above fallacies are listed in logic textbooks as fallacies of relevance. They are called this because they all try to prove a point that is not the point in question.

 

Socratic Questioning

As well as examining these fallacies, we will look at an effective way to answer them that involves, what is called, Socratic questioning. This type of questioning gets its name from the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates (470/469–399 B.C.). Three distinguishing characteristics of Socratic questioning, say Drs. Richard Paul and Linda Elder, authors of the book The Art of Socratic Questioning, are that it “raises basic issues, probes beneath the surface of things, and pursues problematic areas of thought.”16

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Three Distinguishing Characteristics of Socratic Questioning

  1. It “raises basic issues.”
  2. It “probes beneath the surface of things.”
  3. It “pursues problematic areas of thought.”

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Socrates questioned his partners in dialogue with various goals in mind. One such goal was to expose the other person’s ignorance. Always, however, Socrates’ ultimate goal in asking questions was to find the truth. “My way toward the truth,” he said, “is to ask the right questions.”17

Immediately following each fallacy, in between a set of border lines, I will suggest three Socratic questions that can be put to those who employ such mistaken reasoning. Though the ultimate purpose for these questions, as with Socrates, is to find the truth, their proximate goal is to steer the discussion back to the question of the pre-born’s status.

 

Justifying Our Criticisms

However, it is not enough, when rebutting fallacies, to simply ask critical questions. It is also important to be able to justify one’s criticisms. For example, if your partner in dialogue attacks your position because of its origin, you need to do more than simply cry, “Genetic fallacy!” Mere assertions, in other words, will not do. You must also be able to explain what is wrong with this way of arguing, and why the argument in question is an example of this mistake. For this reason, as well as examining some of the ways in which proponents of abortion-on-demand avoid the issue, I will also explain why they are logically fallacious.

 

Argumentum Ad Hominem

           One way that proponents of abortion-on-demand try to divert attention away from the real issue is by attacking the opponents of this practice themselves and/or their circumstances. This is a common fallacy. The Latin name for it is argumentum ad hominem. It means “against the person.”

Unfortunately, the ad hominem attack is a very common fallacy today. Three venues where it is frequently heard are political gatherings, talk shows, and formal debates. Those who commit this fallacy do so, often, to divert attention from the fact that their position is weak. The idea here is: If you cannot attack the argument, attack the arguer. As an illustration of this point, consider the following story:

In England solicitors are allowed to prepare legal cases but not to defend them. That task belongs to barristers. On one occasion a solicitor got a case ready and passed it onto the barrister who was to “plead” it. On the day of the trial, the barrister showed up just moments before it was to begin. So confident was he that the solicitor had done a good job of getting the case ready for him—that he had not even bothered to look at it. After sitting down, he opened his briefcase and pulled out his case, only to read the following words: “We have no case: attack the plaintiff’s lawyer!”18

Examples of this fallacy, as used by proponents of abortion-on-demand, are as follows:

  • “Anti-choice groups don’t care about born children or their mothers.”
  • “It’s inconsistent of anti-choice groups to defend both the sanctity of human life and capital punishment.”
  • Anti-choice proponents are violent. They shoot abortion providers and bomb abortion clinics.”
  • “Anti-choice groups are trying to force their religious views on a pluralistic society.”
  • “Abortion is a women’s issue. Since men can’t personally experience it, they should keep their opinions about it to themselves. ”
  • “Anti-choice proponents are religious, fundamentalist zealots who hate women.”

The Greek philosopher Plato (429–347 BC) says that, “Arguments, like men, are often pretenders.”19 This is certainly true of the “arguments” above. They all

pretend to be logically sound arguments. But, though psychologically persuasive, they are all seriously flawed from a logical perspective. For the real issue in the debate about abortion-on-demand is, not the character and/or circumstances of those who oppose this practice, but the status of the pre-born. Of course, these “arguments” do have a kind of relevance. Otherwise so many people would not find them persuasive. But this relevance, as we have said, is psychological, not logical.

The ad hominem attack is not always fallacious. One place where it can be relevant is in the courtroom. Establishing, for example, that a witness was once charged with perjury, though, admittedly, ad hominem, is in no way improper. But though ad hominem attacks are warranted in some circumstances, this is not the case in a dialogue. For here, unlike in a courtroom, a person’s character and circumstances are irrelevant.

It is tempting to defend oneself against the above accusations. To do so, however, would be bad strategy. For it would allow the focus to shift from the pre-born’s status to the character and/or circumstances of opponents of abortion-on-demand.

As well as bad strategy, it is also unnecessary to defend oneself against these accusations. Why? Because even if it is true that opponents of abortion-on-demand are morally bad, it could still be the case that the pre-born is a person, and that, as such, abortion-on-demand is prima facie morally wrong. This shows that the two matters are, logically, unrelated.

The ad hominem fallacy, as a form of argumentation, is malicious. As such, it has no place in a rational dialogue, the purpose of which is to find the truth.

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Three Socratic Questions

  1. “Why does that argument not commit the ad hominem fallacy?”
  2. “How does that argument help you to fulfill your burden of proof?”
  3. “How are the character and/or circumstances of opponents of abortion-on-demand relevant to the question of the pre-born’s status?”

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The Appeal to Pity

           Another way that proponents of abortion-on-demand try to divert attention away from the real issue is by trying to arouse sympathy for women with unwanted pregnancies. This is a common fallacy called the appeal to pity. It occurs when, to support a conclusion, an arguer arouses sympathy for the plight of someone rather than giving reasons. It is often committed by defense lawyers in criminal trials. For example, sometimes they will try to persuade a jury that their client is innocent of murder by talking about the client’s terrible childhood. Why is this a fallacy? Because the client’s upbringing is completely irrelevant to the question of his or her guilt.

An striking example of this fallacy is given by the logician Irving Copi in his book Introduction to Logic. He tells the story of a youth who brutally killed both of his parents and, then pled for leniency on the grounds that he was an orphan!20

Of course, the appeal to pity is not always fallacious. Think, for example, of the urgent pleas for money made by humanitarian organizations like World Vision and the Christian Children’s Fund of Canada. Should we reject these pleas simply because they pull on our heartstrings? Of course not! There is nothing improper with such an appeal. For the person making it was not obligated to support a conclusion with reasons.

As is clear from the following examples, proponents of abortion-on-demand are frequently guilty of committing the appeal to pity:

  • “If abortion is made illegal, thousands of women will again die from back-alley abortions.”
  • “Outlawing abortion will result in aborted women being prosecuted and convicted for homicide.”
  • “If abortion is made illegal, only rich women will be able to afford to travel to foreign countries to get them, which is discriminatory.”
  • “Abortion should be accessible to women who feel they can’t raise a child with disabilities.”
  • “Denying abortion to women who are pregnant due to rape or incest would be cruel.”
  • “It’s a proven fact that refusing women access to abortion can harm them both physically and mentally.”
  • “If abortion is forbidden, then poor women will be forced to go on welfare to support their children.”
  • “Unless women continue to have access to abortion, unwanted pregnancies will interfere with their careers, which would make it harder for women to compete against men.”

Like the ad hominem fallacy, the appeal to pity is psychologically persuasive. As a powerful rhetorical ploy, it can be used to: 1) hide the weaknesses of one’s case; 2) divert attention away from one’s burden of proof; and 3) discredit one’s opponent.

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Three Purposes for Which the Appeal to Pity Is Employed

  1. It is used to hide the weakness of one’s case.
  2. It is used to divert attention away from one’s burden of proof.
  3. It is used to discredit one’s opponent.

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But though the above arguments are psychologically persuasive, like the ad hominem fallacy they are, nonetheless, logically fallacious. As such, they are all bad arguments. To see why this is so, we need, again, to ask ourselves the question: What are proponents of abortion-on-demand supposed to be trying to prove? The answer to this question, as I said earlier, is that a person begins to exist at birth! Instead what they often try to do, as we have seen, is arouse sympathy for women with unwanted pregnancies. But this is not the real issue. As such, these arguments are logically irrelevant.

It is important to understand that in rejecting the above arguments as irrelevant, we are in no way insensitive to the misfortunes of women with unwanted pregnancies. It is simply that none of the reasons given above justify homicide.

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Three Socratic Questions

  1. “Why does that argument not commit the logical fallacy appeal to pity?”
  2. “How does that argument help you to fulfill your burden of proof?”
  3. “Your argument presupposes that the pre-born is not a person. What is your justification for this presupposition?”

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Hasty Generalization

           Another common tactic used by proponents of abortion-on-demand for voiding the real issue is to focus on the so-called “hard cases.” By this I mean abortion for the reasons of rape, incest, fetal abnormality, and threat to the woman’s life.

Both sides in this dispute agree that a woman who becomes pregnant as a result of rape or incest is the victim of a horrible crime. Nonetheless, research shows that all of the “hard cases” combined, account for less than one percent of all abortions.21 This means that more than 99 percent of the pre-born who are aborted are perfectly healthy, were conceived through consensual sex, and do not pose a risk to the woman’s life!  However, a person could be excused today for thinking that the exact opposite is the case: that it is the “hard cases” that account for the vast majority of abortions performed in Canada. The media is largely to blame for this false impression. One of its favourite questions to ask opponents of abortion-on-demand is, “Do you believe that abortion is justified in the case of rape?” For example, this question was asked of Stockwell Day, former leader of the Canadian Alliance.22 More recently, Rick Santorum was asked this question during his 2011 campaign for Republican Party nomination for President of the United States.23

Tim Graham, of the Media Research Center, calls the rape-question, “One of the hoariest tactics of liberal media personalities.…” He says further, “Can you imagine a liberal interviewer asking if they [pro-choicers] would accompany their daughter to the clinic? Or what would they do if the daughter regretted their abortion? No, only the pro-lifers get this hardball.”24

Rather than facing the real issue, some proponents of abortion-on-demand try to justify their position by attempting to arouse sympathy for the victims of rape and incest who become pregnant. In doing so, they commit the fallacy, just discussed, of appeal to pity.   They also commit the fallacy called hasty generalization. One logic textbook defines this fallacy as follows: “If one considers only exceptional cases and hastily generalizes to a rule that fits them alone, the fallacy committed is that of [hasty generalization].”25 According to another logic textbook, this fallacy says, “Accept this general conclusion because these (unusual or atypical) cases support it.”26 An example of this fallacy would be the argument that, since we lock up dangerous criminals, it is okay to rob law-abiding citizens of their freedoms.27

Proponents of abortion-on-demand seem to commit the fallacy hasty generalization when they try to justify this practice by appealing to the “hard cases.” Their reasoning seems to be as follows: “Look at pregnancies involving the “hard cases” of rape, incest, fetal abnormality, and threat to the woman’s life. It would be a terrible injustice to legally force women in such situations to give birth. Therefore, there should be no legal restrictions whatsoever on abortion.” But this is clearly a fallacious argument. For even if one were to grant that abortion is justified in the “hard cases”—which, as we have seen, make up less than one percent of all abortions—it would not follow that abortion-on-demand is acceptable. To argue that it is, says the ethicist Francis Beckwith, would be like saying that just because one is justified in breaking the speed limit in the case of an emergency, that, therefore, there should be no speed limit at all.28

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Three Socratic Questions

 

  1. “Why does that argument not commit the logical fallacy hasty generalization?”
  2. “How does that argument help you to fulfill your burden of proof?”
  3. “Even if one were to grant that abortion is justified in the “hard cases”, how would it follow from this that abortion-on-demand is acceptable?”

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Loaded Terms

           Sometimes proponents of abortion-on-demand try to dodge the issue by resorting to the use of a loaded term (or phrase). This fallacy occurs when a loaded term (or phrase) is used, in place of reasons, to undermine a person’s position. Words that are loaded are not neutral but make a value judgment. For example, someone who is determined about something could, depending on one’s view of the matter, be described as either tenacious or pigheaded. As well, a person who takes his or her religion seriously could be called very religious, or a religious extremist or fanatic.

Another name for this fallacy is question-begging epithet. It was first described in this way by the English philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1784–1832) because, since a loaded term makes a value judgment that is not proved, this fallacy is a subclass of the fallacy begging the question. The fallacy begging the question occurs when one assumes what one is supposed to prove.

As should be clear from the previous example, it is not always a mistake in reasoning to use loaded terms. It all depends on the context. For example, it is, obviously, not fallacious to use loaded terms in a poem. It is fallacious, however, to use them when one is in a dispute with someone.

As we said earlier, proponents of abortion-on-demand often resort to the fallacies of loaded terms to dodge the issue of the status of the pre-born. Consider, for example, the following imaginary exchange between a proponent and opponent of abortion-on-demand:

OPPONENT OF ABORTION-ON-DEMAND:The real issue in the           abortion debate is the status of the pre-born. For if the pre-born is a person,        then it is protected by the moral rule against homicide, while if it is not a            person, then it is not protected by this rule. From this, it follows that my          burden of proof is to show that the pre-born is a person, while yours is to             show that it is not.”

PROPONENT OF ABORTION-ON-DEMAND:That’s ridiculous! I find it            absolutely outrageous that you anti-choice people think that you can deprive      women of our right to choose, our right to make reproductive choices, our         right to control the decisions affecting our own bodies!”

Let us examine what happened in the above exchange. The opponent of abortion-on-demand began by, correctly, focusing the discussion on the status of the pre-born. In response, the proponent of this practice let loose with an angry outburst containing the following loaded phrases: “anti-choice people,” “right to choose,” “right to make reproductive choices,” and “right to control the decisions affecting our own bodies.” These phrases are all question-begging epithets because they all assume, without proof, that abortion is a legitimate woman’s right. But this could only be the case if the pre-born is not a person. For if the pre-born is a person, then it is protected by the moral rule against homicide.

 

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Three Socratic Questions

  1. “Why does that argument not commit the logical fallacy loaded terms?”
  2. “How does that argument help you to fulfill your burden of proof?”
  3. “That argument presupposes that the pre-born is not a person. What is your justification for this presupposition?”

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Red Herring

This fallacy occurs when a person diverts attention away from the real issue. Usually, this is done to hide the weakness of a case. This fallacy gets its colourful name from a technique used to train hunting dogs. This practice involves dragging a smelly red herring across the path of dogs that are in pursuit of a prey. If the dogs follow the new trail, they are scolded and jerked back onto the original trail. In this way they are taught to stick to a scent.

An example of this fallacy would be the skeptic who, in response to the claim by a Christian that the New Testament is a historically reliable document, replies that it is full of contradictions. This is a red herring because the point in question was not the inerrancy of the New Testament, but its historical reliability. These are two totally separate issues. For if a document had to be inerrant to be historically reliable, no historical documents could be considered reliable!

It is not hard to see how most, if not all, of the arguments that we have looked at in this paper in support of abortion-on-demand commit this fallacy. The real question in this debate, as I have said, repeatedly, is the status of the pre-born. All of the fallacious arguments that we have looked at in this paper draw attention away from this question in one way or another. The ad hominem argumentsdo this by attacking the character and/or circumstances of opponents of abortion-on-demand. The arguments that appeal to pity try to dodge the real issue by arousing sympathy for women with unwanted pregnancies. The arguments that commit the fallacy hasty generalization attempt to sidetrack us by focusing on the “hard cases.” The arguments that contain loaded terms try to divert us through the use of loaded terms.

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Three Socratic Questions

  1. “Why does that argument not commit the red herring fallacy?”
  2. “How does that argument help you to fulfill your burden of proof?”
  3. “Is this the real issue that we should be focusing on?”

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Irrelevant Conclusion

Many of the above arguments put forth by proponents of abortion-on-demand also commit the fallacy irrelevant conclusion. This fallacy occurs when one tries to establish a point that is not the point in question. An example of this fallacy is the argument that because torturing terror suspects to elicit important information often works, therefore, the statement, “Torture is morally justifiable,” is true. This argument commits the fallacy irrelevant conclusion because proving that torture works is not the same as showing that it is morally justifiable.

Proponents of abortion-on-demand, as I argued above, should be trying to prove that a person begins to exist at birth. Instead, as we have seen, they attempt to demonstrate that, among other things, opponents of abortion-on-demand are of questionable character, or that women with unwanted pregnancies are deserving of our sympathy, or that the “hard cases” are a common occurrence. But in doing so, they are trying to prove a point that is not the point in question.

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Three Socratic Questions

  1. “Why does that argument not commit the fallacy irrelevant conclusion?”
  2. “How does that argument help you to fulfill your burden of proof?”
  3. “Is the point you are trying to establish the point in question?”

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The Need for Gentleness

“No one,” as the Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias (born 1946) has pointed out, “likes to be hit over the head with logic.” For, by its very nature, logic, like math, is hard, objective, and impersonal. With logic, as one textbook on the subject says, “Order is the key word.”29 Logic is all about putting our thoughts in order. Given this fact, it is not surprising that the experience of being corrected with logic can leave one cold. To make matters worse, those doing the correcting can easily come across as heartless. This is especially the case given the sensitive nature of abortion. For this reason, when presenting this material, it is important to follow the biblical admonition to correct those who are in error with gentleness. We would do well to heed the following instructions from the apostle Paul (c. 5—c. 67):

“A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able         to teach, and be patient with difficult people. Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they     will learn the truth. Then they will come to their senses and escape from the        devil‘s trap. For they have been held captive by him to do whatever he             wants.” (2 Timothy 2:24–26, NLT)

 

Conclusion

In this paper we have examined six logical fallacies that are often committed by proponents of abortion-on-demand in an attempt to dodge the real question in the debate over this practice: Is the pre-born a person? I also suggested, as a way to try to steer the discussion back to this issue, several Socratic questions that can be put to those who commit these fallacies. I am confident that the reader, equipped with, both, the knowledge of these fallacies, as well as these Socratic questions, should, with some practice, be able to keep a discussion about abortion-on-demand focused on the status of the pre-born. “To be forewarned,” as the saying goes, “is to be forearmed.”

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References

1. Judith Jarvis Thomson, “A Defense of Abortion,” in The Problem of Abortion, 2d ed., ed. Joel Feinberg (Wadsworth Publishing Company: Belmont, CA, 1984), 173–87.

2. Francis J. Beckwith, Politically Correct Death—Answering Arguments for Abortion Rights (Baker Books: Grand Rapids, MI, 1993), 133.

3. Norman Geisler, Christian Ethics—Options and Issues (Baker Book House: Grand Rapids, MI, 1989), 141.

4. Randy Alcorn, Pro Life Answers to Pro Choice Arguments (Multnomah Press: Portland, OR, 1992), 80.

5. Douglas N. Walton, Informal LogicA Handbook for Critical Argumentation (Cambridge University Press, New York, NY, 1994), 18.

6. Ibid, 18.

7. There are some proponents of abortion-on-demand, such as Michael Tooley and Peter Singer, who also defend infanticide. However, it has been my experience that most proponents of this position are unwilling to go to such extreme measures. Though they may be pro-choice with regard to abortion, the same is not true when it comes to infanticide.

8. Douglas N. Walton, Informal LogicA Handbook for Critical Argumentation (Cambridge University Press, New York, NY, 1994), 60–61.

9. Ibid, 18.

10. M. Neil Browne and Stuart M. Keeley, Asking the Right Questions—A Guide to Critical Thinking (Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1994), 74.

11. Ed. L. Miller, Questions that MatterAn Invitation to Philosophy (McGraw-Hill Book Company, The United States of America, 1984), 43.

12. James W. Sire, Habits of the Mind—Intellectual Life as a Christian Calling (InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove, IL, 2000), 212.

13. William D. Gairdner, The War Against the Family (Stoddart Publishing Co. Limited: Toronto, ON, 1992), 431.

14. “Henry Morgentaler.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Morgentaler. 01/03/14. Web.

15. “Joseph Goebbels quotes.” http://thinkexist.com/quotes/joseph_goebbels/. Web.

16. Dr. Richard Paul and Dr. Linda Elder, The Thinker’s Guide to The Art of Socratic Questioning (Foundation for Critical Thinking Press, Dillon Beach, CA, 2007), 3.

17. Ronald Gross, Socrate’s Way—Seven Master Keys to Using Your Mind to the Utmost (Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam: New York, NY, 2002), 47.

18. Irving M. Copi, Introduction to Logic (Collier-Macmillan Canada: Toronto, ON, 1969), 61–62.  

19. Henry A. Virkler, A Christian’s Guide To Critical Thinking (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN, 1993), 184.

20. Irving M. Copi, Introduction to Logic (Collier-Macmillan Canada: Toronto, ON, 1969), 65.  

21. Brian Clowes, Ph. D., The Facts of Life—An Authoritative Guide to Life and Family Issues (Human Life International: Front Royal, VA, 1997), 178.

22. “Stockwell Day”—INJUSTICEBUSTERS. injusticebusters.org/index.htm/

Stockwell_Day. htm. 15/02/01. Web.

23. “Piers Morgan Pushes Santorum If He’d Oppose Abortion If His Raped Daughter Was ‘Begging You’ For It. newsbusters.org/blogs/tim-raham/2012/01/23piers- morgan-pushes-santorum-if-hed-oppose-abortion-if-his-raped-daughter. 23/01/12. Web.

24. Ibid.

25. Irving M. Copi, Introduction to Logic (Collier-Macmillan: Canada, Toronto, ON, 1969), 68.

26. Norman Geisler and Ronald M. Brooks, Come Let Us ReasonAn Introduction to Logical Thinking (Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1990), 105.

27. Irving M. Copi, Introduction to Logic (Collier-Macmillan Canada: Toronto, ON, 1969), 85.

28. Francis J. Beckwith, Politically Correct Death—Answering Arguments for Abortion Rights (Baker Books: Grand Rapids, MI, 1993), 69.

29. Norman L. Geisler and Ronald M. Brooks, Come Let Us Reason—An Introduction to Logical Thinking (Baker Book House: Grand Rapids, MI), 12.