Pro-choicers regularly defend abortion with “life of mother” as well as rape and incest cases. We should allow abortions, the arguments run, because sometimes doctors and families must choose between the life of a pre-nate in peril, on the one hand, and the imperiled mother herself. Or, we must allow abortions because, in some cases, the pregnancy is the result of rape, or December-May incestuous molestation.
Such arguments are often persuasive. Even most folks prone to adamantine opposition to abortion think that if a tough choice must be made, the mother should be saved. Similarly, making a woman carry to term a rapist’s baby, or an older-relative molester’s, does seem awfully unfair, if not necessarily unjust. Perhaps excusable, even if the life of the pre-nate is to be sacrificed. Maybe.
But it is simply the truth that only a minuscule percentage of actual abortions — the abortions regularly performed in this country — fall into one of these categories. Indeed, there is a far higher number of third-term abortions — grisly, ghastly affairs — than abortions done for those above-mentioned extreme cases that most people see as more than arguably allowing of abortion.
And it is not as if I do not hear pro-choicers rush to defend against anti-abortion arguments by resort to percentages, but reversing their logic. I often hear defenders of legal abortion* rush to inform me that third-term abortions are very rare. Indeed, recently, when I was discussing second-term abortions, and the methods involved (often also quite grisly), a pro-choice young woman immediately informed me that late-term abortions are very rare. And we were not even talking about late-term abortions!
On the one hand, a small number of abortion cases are used to justify all abortions, while on the other, a different small (though larger) number of abortion cases are declared irrelevant to the case against abortion.
The old switcheroo; a changeling argument.
You see the utility of the first ploy. Defend a large number of abortions not on the grounds of their exact nature, but because a few abortions within the broad category seem reasonable. It is a form of deflection. Evasion, really. It changes the terms of the debate while seeming to fall squarely inside the context most pro-lifers insist upon.†
This got me thinking. What if we switched subjects? That is, stick to defending large numbers of “unpleasant” events by recourse to a small number of putatively justifiable actions that form a small subset of the events.
Most of my progressive friends, like me, are very concerned about police shootings. We think that it is quite obvious that many police shootings are unjustified. We also frequently lament the fact that police too often successfully band together, along with prosecutors and the whole state system of police power, to defend murderous and careless and cowardly cops who abuse their power and privilege with gunfire.
But it is also undoubtedly true that many, many police shootings of suspects are indeed justified. There are bad people out there, criminals. And many of them resist arrest with violence, or are caught by the police committing violence, and threatening more. These situations do not merely allow police to shoot, but in some cases even morally require the police to shoot.
And it may very well be (I really do suspect it is the case) that most police shootings are justified.
So, in this context, engage in a thought experiment.
What if the current number of self-defense and other justifiable shootings by police were used to excuse the shootings of innocents by the same ratio‡ of life-of-mother/rape/incest abortions to the vast majority of abortions?
The blood would be flowing in the streets.
* In full disclosure, I believe that early abortions, at the very least, ought to be legal. I have a justification of this practice, as abhorrent as I find it. Sometimes one is required to set aside one’s feelings and moral prejudices and acknowledge that our power over others must be limited, in part in recognition of our limitations as moral beings, as what Immanuel Kant called our status as Legislators in the Kingdom of Ends. Though, in actual fact, my argument pertains to Means, not Ends, but we shall leave this for another time.
† The second ploy is of course directly contradictory to the first. The standard of an appeal to a small number of cases is not consistently applied. But let us leave that hanging.
‡ In the course of the above thought experiment I did not give actual numbers for the multi-million killer abortion industry for a reason. I want the reader to think about how important (or not) the numbers and percentages are. Imagine yourself bargaining with The Lord over the status of Sodom and Gomorrah. How important are the numbers of righteous men? What does the percentage of good and evil mean to us, when contemplating great evil? (The percentage of life-of-mother abortions, I read, is less than 1 percent. In 2015, there were about 400 fatal police shootings of suspects in the U.S. Arguendo, if only three-quarters were justified, that would mean 30,000 fatal shootings would be justified given pro-abortion apologetics.)