One of the most common ad hominem arguments against the pro-life movement is that pro-life people only really care about the unborn, and don’t care what happens after birth (or about the conditions into which the child will be born).
Often, this argument goes hand-in-glove with the argument that if pro-lifers really want to be pro-life, they have to support giving more money to such-and-such a social program, or hand out free condoms, or endorse some other politically-liberal policy. Other times, the argument is that pro-lifers need to personally adopt kids, or else be content to let them get aborted.
So, for example, the Facebook group “Pro-Choice Liberals” happily co-opted this quote from Sister Joan Chittister:
Here are seven reasons this argument is as bad as it widespread:
1) Even if the argument were true, it would be ridiculous
Even if the charge that pro-lifers are only focused on birth were true, it would be a ridiculous argument. Imagine that you saw a woman save a drowning child. Are you really going to object, “Well, are you going to pay for his college education?”
She’s done an amazing thing, saving the life of a stranger. Criticizing her for not doing other good things is absurd. So sure, ensuring that children can’t be legally murdered for the first nine months of their lives isn’t the only moral issue, but it’s a darn good start. And if the choices are “I’ll protect you for the first nine months of your life, but then you’re on your own” and “I think it should be legal to kill you for the first nine months of your life,” that’s an easy choice.
2) The argument is logically fallacious
Again, assume for a moment that pro-lifers really don’t care about what happens after birth. Would that make killing an unborn child defensible? Of course not. It’s a logical fallacy (an ad hominem attack, more specifically) to answer pro-life arguments by saying that you think pro-lifers are nasty people.
3) The argument is unspeakably melodramatic
Think about what this objection is really saying. Usually, it’s that pro-lifers aren’t really pro-life because they don’t support this or that social program. That amounts to saying “you won’t give me money for this program? Do you just wish I was dead?” It’s closer to a teenage emotional meltdown than an actual political stance.
After all, in most of the cases we’re talking about, life and death are just not on the line. Wanting the education of your neighbor is a good thing. But not caring about your neighbor’s education or not caring if your neighbor gets murdered aren’t even in the same ballpark. So even if it were true that pro-lifers were just apathetic to your quality of life after birth, the argument still would be melodramatic and emotionally manipulative.
4) The argument is hypocritical
To the person making the argument that if pro-lifers won’t fund x program, they must want people to die: right now, on Kickstarter, there are people trying to crowdsource money to pay for cancer treatments.
Whether or not you’ve personally contributed to any (much less all) of these people, surely we can agree that you could do more. You could find a way to give a few dollars more, even if it means working a bit more or spending less on yourself. But you haven’t. Does that mean that you want those poor people to die? I certainly hope not. More likely, it means that you recognize in your own life that there’s a difference between not paying for someone else’s medical care and not wanting that person to live.
5) The argument is more than a little condescending
Bear in mind that the argument generally consists of telling people that, unless they’re willing to support this or that social program, they aren’t truly pro-life.
But it’s not like pro-lifers are somehow exempted from poverty, disease, and old age. It’s condescending to say to these people (in effect), “I know what’s best for you, and if you disagree, it can only be because you wish you and everyone like you was dead.”
6) The argument is demonstrably false
As I said, even if the arguments about pro-lifers not caring about what happens after birth were true, it would be a bad argument. But the argument just isn’t true. This whole “pro-lifers don’t care about anything after birth” is a gross slander of a huge group of people, and appears to be rooted in exactly no empirical data.
If you look at the actual data, a very different story emerges. I know of no comprehensive data comparing the giving rates of pro-lifers v. pro-choicers, since most places don’t ask about that when you give. But we can get some strong clues by looking at Republican v. Democratic giving, and at red state v. blue state giving. (Now, I realize that not all pro-lifers are fiscal conservatives or Republicans; but that’s the underlying assumption of this argument. But even that assumption was true, the argument would be false.)
So here’s what we do know. Of the top seventeen most generous states for charitable contributions, all seventeen of them voted for Romney in the 2012 election [while true, this fact is slightly misleading, in that D.C. would have made it on that list if it were a state]. And of the seven least charitable states, all seven of them voted for Obama. (You can see the data for yourself)
And that’s just one measure. Huffington Post, hardly a bastion of moral conservatism, points out that Republicans (54%) are more likely than Democrats (45%) to donate money to charity, and far more likely to personally volunteer for a cause (33% to 24%). They’ve also assembled charts showing that people living in “red states” volunteer more than those living in “blue states.”
So it’s not just a matter of writing a check: the sort of people who are most likely to be pro-life are also the sort of people who are most likely to personally lend a hand. And anyone actually familiar with the pro-life movement already knows this. Pro-lifers are frequently the first to sacrifice personally: adopting kids, counseling women in crisis, helping struggling families out of their own pocketbooks. And if you actually were to listen to the speakers at the March for Life, you’d discover that this is exactly what the pro-life movement, as a movement, encourages.
So the argument gets it entirely backwards. It’s precisely the sanctimonious “you don’t care about people after they’re born” crowd who are least likely to help born or unborn people in any demonstrable way.
7) The real debate is about the means, not the ends
While they may not be as likely to personally help out, it’s nevertheless true that most liberals, like most conservatives, care about the elderly, the infirm, the poor, and the disabled. Are there selfish people who don’t care about others, or are content to use disadvantaged peoples as political props? Of course, and that’s true on both sides of the abortion debate and on both sides of the political divide. But for the most part, there’s genuine concern for human life on both sides. If you can’t recognize that, you’ve let partisanship totally cloud your ability to understand or empathize with people who disagree with you.
Vice President Mike Pence, in his remarks at the March for Life, said
“You know, life is winning in America. And today is a celebration of that progress that we have made in this cause. You know I’ve long believed that a society can be judged by how we care for its most vulnerable, the aged, the infirm, the disabled, and the unborn.”
That’s a beautiful articulation of both the pro-life movement and political liberalism at their best: advocacy on behalf of those too disadvantaged to advocate for themselves. (One might add “immigrants” to the list of those for whom society needs to care, but the statement is still powerful as it stands.)
So the question isn’t “should old people be allowed to live?” — unless we’re debating euthanasia, in which pro-lifers are once again the ones on the side of life. The question isn’t even really “is it my responsibility for ensuring that you have a good quality of life?” Usually, the question is “how best do we ensure that the most vulnerable among us are protected?”
And the answers to that problem are often tricky. Social Security does a lot of good, but there are legitimate reasons to believe that our spending is unsustainable. Virtually everyone recognizes that healthcare is important, and that there are major flaws in our healthcare system, but most of the proposed solutions are expensive, untested, and complicated. Education is important, but pouring more money into public education doesn’t always correlate to demonstrate improvements. To demand, “you must support my particular plan or else you want people to dieeeeee” is ridiculous.
This is why the quotation from Sr. Chittister above is fatuous: she openly assumes that if “you don’t want any tax money to go there,” then you don’t want children to be fed, clothed, etc. This assumes a particular solution to these problems (taxpayer-funded governmental programs), and with it a political ideology. It evinces a grave lack of charity towards those who don’t share her views on the size and scope of federal authority.
Pro-choicers tend to be more liberal, and tend to be more trusting of the government as a solution to these problems. Pro-lifers tend (although there are numerous exceptions) to be less trusting of the government to fix these things — which may be part of the reason that they show more of a proclivity towards volunteering and working towards solutions on their own. But that’s a question about how trusting we should be of big government, or how much we think throwing tax money at a problem solves it, not of how much we love our neighbor.
That’s not to say that the fiscally conservative answer is the right one to any of these questions. It’s only to say that these are the sorts of issue that we should be able to disagree upon civilly, without accusing the other side of not caring about human life. Virtually all of us that we would like (amongst other things) a well-educated, healthy society in which the most vulnerable are taken care of. We just don’t always agree upon how best to get there.
So instead of saying “pro-lifers only care about babies until they’re born,” a more accurate statement might be something like, “although pro-lifers disproportionately give more of their time and money, I don’t see eye-to-eye with many of them on the solutions to certain social ills.”
But that argument would require nuance, and to view your political opponent as human, and as basically decent.
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