It is not uncommon today to hear that a political candidate supports "a woman's right to choose." This catch phrase is all around us and is repeated as often as necessary to counter those stubborn extremists who oppose abortion. I've even seen a flyer for a "pro-choice happy hour" under the title "What You Can Do to Support a Woman's Right to Choose." Yet despite its popularity and sway, the phrase "right to choose" is a blatant case of what logicians call a red herring: a false scent used to put an opponent off the trail.
This argument for abortion, minus the egalitarian rhetoric, goes thus: "Abortion is acceptable because a woman has a right to choose what is right for her and her baby." This is all well and good, except that the key point-a fetus is not a person-is left unproved, and the "right to choose" is thrown into the argument to take its place. This argumentative red herring neatly switches the issue from "Is abortion murder?" to "Can a woman choose?". It is so effective that the former defendant is now the prosecutor, pillorying the extremists for their reprehensible attack on women's rights.
Of course, effectiveness itself proves nothing. Auschwitz was effective. And the particular irony of this situation is that the abortion advocates have not actually shown that abortion centers are essentially different from death camps-at least not by the argumentum ad choicem. The outpouring of love for "choice" is nice, but it just isn't enough. It really doesn't seem to occur to some women that the choices they make might actually be objectively right or wrong.
In fact, it could be argued that the argumentum ad choicem actually begs the ethical question. Consider this: the "right-to-choose" argument, though vague, could basically be reconstructed as follows: (1) Nothing that we have a right to choose can be wrong. (2) But we do have a right to choose an abortion. (3) Therefore, abortion is not wrong. But do you notice anything wrong with this argument? The conclusion "abortion is not wrong" is not so much proved as assumed at the outset: "We know abortion is not wrong because it is acceptable."
An example might help. I have a right to choose a peanut-butter-and-banana sandwich, for nowhere does Scripture say or imply that it is immoral for me to do so. I do not, on the other hand, have the right to choose my neighbor's VCR. So suppose someone watching me eat my peanut-butter-and-banana sandwich asked me to prove that it was morally acceptable for me to do so. That is, he wants an explanation of why I can have the sandwich but not the VCR. If I then responded that my sandwich was acceptable because I have a right to choose it, I would be guilty of question-begging. The argumentum ad choicem fares no better: while it may be convincing to those who already hold the acceptability of abortion, it is mere circular reasoning when it is used to prove the acceptability of abortion.
But let's go further, and imagine that the argumentum ad choicem is actually solid, for this catchword illustrates a subtle danger in the right-to-choose mindset. Not only is the "pro-choice" fad pro-red herring and pro-circular reasoning, it is pro-subjectivism. By this repeated emphasis on "a woman's right to choose," do the supporters of abortion mean us to understand that the key issue isn't really the nature of the fetus but the nature of the mother's will? It almost seems to hint that women would choose abortion even if they knew their child satisfied their requirements of personality. G. K. Chesterton has humorously pointed out the danger in this: "Let all the babies be born. Then let us drown those we do not like." The anxious mother need not worry; if she decides that mothering is not right for her, she may simply dispose of the unwanted baggage. Then we would all applaud her right to choose and murmur that only when morality is placed in the hands of the individual can progress occur.
In other words, the "pro-choice" argument dodges the issue, but it brings up an even graver issue. Pro-choiceism, if carried to its logical conclusion, means pro-moral anarchy: there are no ethical constraints except the choice of the individual. But this brings up an important question. If all this is indeed true, why in the world are our friends such tenacious supporters of women's "rights"?
1. I may be misinterpreting, but in that case most of the blame would be on the ambiguity of the abortionists.
2. This is much the same as if I declared that I believe in God because otherwise there would be no one to pray to!
Copyright April 01, 2002, all rights reserved. 6829 views