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Why "Reducing the Number of Abortions" Not Necessarily Prolife

That is the title of a brief essay I just published on moralaccountability.com. Here's how it begins:

President Barack Obama is unequivocal in his support of “abortion rights.” He has opposed laws forbidding the gruesome practice of partial-birth abortion, and even voted against Illinois’ born alive infant protection act, which protects babies who are born alive after surviving an attempted abortion. Despite Obama’s record, some prolife Catholics and Evangelicals supported the president’s candidacy on the grounds that his policies would reduce the number of abortions. Although my moralaccountability.com colleague Professor Michael New has provided convincing refutations of the empirical claim...made by Obama’s self-identified pro-life supporters, I want to respond to what I believe is the philosophical mistake that lurks behind their argument.

You can read it in its entirety here.


Comments (18)



Did the toilet just flush? ;^)

Ni, that meant Francis' article hit nuttin but net.

Whoops, that should've spelled "No", not "Ni"

This is a great piece. I am infuriated by the "reduce the number of abortions" phrase. It trivializes abortion to something like a disease that people get by natural causes. Like "reducing the incidence of breast cancer."

We need to forget about rigid legalism and instead focus on reducing the number of Jews who are gassed, reducing the number of hostages who get their heads sawed off by terrorists, and reducing the number of Coloreds who are sold into slavery. We'll never completely get rid of these things, and you can't legislate morality anyway, but we should all be able to unify under a banner of changing the culture to minimize the need to gas Jews, saw off the heads of infidels, and sell Coloreds into slavery.

That is, we would be able to unify under that banner if the shrill and divisive among us would stop obsessing over whether or not these things are legal.

One of the problems with the "reduce the number of abortions" idea is that those conservatives who accept that notion are granting too much to the liberals, giving them far too much the benefit of the doubt. The argument runs along the line of "Well, we may not be able to come to a consensus on this morally or legally, but can we at least agree that reducing the number of abortions is a good thing?"

Now I think this is fine as far as it goes; the problem is that the libs do not want it to go any farther. Conservatives, on the other hand, seem to see it as a sort of stopping point on the road to further political or legal action. In other words, they mistakenly see it as an incidental measure on the way to further limitations. The libs see it as nothing of the sort, and those conservatives who do take that line are, in effect, having the wool pulled over their eyes.

I don't know that conservatives who agree with it as an intermediate step are necessarily having the wool pulled over their eyes. I have no doubt that for some libs, the reduce the need measures are the final stopping point. That doesn't make it any less a temporary or intermediate step for me. I don't see how supporting programs that reduce abortion would prevent me agitating for full illegality of abortion or somehow "tricks" me into stopping at the lib's point.

I think it may be more insidious than some of this discussion implies. Putatively pro-life liberals are setting things up such that standing down on the legal initiatives is treated as a prerequisite for unity on non-legal initiatives, and non-legal initiatives are inextricably tied to validating and supporting the legal status quo. The objective purpose or formal cause (independent of intentions) is not unity on all things pro-life, but silencing and neutralizing the legal initiative. A true unity would be a both/and proposition, not "stand down on the intolerant legal issues as a means to the end of 'working together' on social programs."

The whole thing is just another gambit of Hell, and those who embrace it are, whatever their subjective intentions, fighting on the side of Hell.

The analogy with slavery is somewhat weak, because regulating slavery in order to reduce its magnitude may be, depending on the circumstances, the proper and moral measure. Whereas the only moral measure with regard to abortion is to ban it.

First, when I wrote 'incidental measure' above what I really meant was 'incremental measure.'

c matt, I don't think all conservatives who take that line are necessarily being duped. It does appear to me, however, that what Zippy says is true. There are some conservatives who seem to be willing to believe that standing down on the legal initiatives, however temporarily, while working with the libs to reduce the numbers is an okay plan of action. The thing is, to the libs it's not temporary at all and the conservatives need to realize this. They are naive if they think that the libs really want the same thing as they do. The "we-all-want-the-same-thing-we-just-have-different-ways-of-achieving-it" thing is balderdash, and conservatives shouldn't fall for it.

If abortion in the US had an incidence comparable to what we commonly charge as homocide, arguing that we need to "reduce the number of abortions" would be a respectable position to take. In the context of over 1 million unborn children murdered per year though, I question the decency, and certainly the Christianity of anyone who makes such an argument---no, let's face facts, I deny both of those qualities. Given our cultural history in the US, I'm pretty confident that this will end in a tide of bloodshed, just like the Civil War did. Compromise is quite simply not possible. There is no 'win-win' solution.

In the context of over 1 million unborn children murdered per year though, I question the decency, and certainly the Christianity of anyone who makes such an argument---no, let's face facts, I deny both of those qualities.


Come one -- you're being irrational and so passe.

Every red-blooded American has the God-given right to murder their babies, even after they happen to be born but, most especially, when they're still in their mother's womb.

Let's join Obama's Crusade to spread this Gospel all around the World by not only providing funds to this end but also devoting ourselves to its message.

I recognize the satire in your response, and I'm amused.
Unfortunately, the sentiment you satirize is rather prevalent, and I believe that it will block any peaceful solution to the problem.
The UK, if I recall, solved its slavery problem ultimately by basically buying out their slaveholders after strangling the slave trade. I'd be amenable to 'buying off' the opposition if that is what it took to get them to agree to stop the machinery of Molech. Unfortunately the option of 'paying the ransom' for the unborn (in coin instead of in blood) isn't even on the table, nor will it be. It's too bad, there are a lot of things about a technological society that I like.

I suppose making the argument is fine. It was always obvious with anyone with half a brain disposed to see the truth. But I suppose a little Hume and Aristotle will prove far more productive. First, passion is what drove these "prolifers for Obama" to vote for him in the first place. It wasn't reason. It was the Democratic version of the fear of WMD's, an Economy of Mass Destruction. (Yes, I claim coining rights to EMD's)People aren't disposed to see the truth and ow that the guilt is setting in that thesepeople have sold someone elses birth right for a pot of porridge, it will be evn more difficult to dislodge.

The fact is that that people never see abortion in this country. they see gruesome stuff on CSI and other shows, but not abortion. And since vision makes us know things more than any other sense (Aristotle, Met Alpha) public opinion will not change until the public actually sees it. This is the main reason why gay marriage is not widely enshrined in law and abortion is. When Justice for All, a group that visits university campuses with a large visual display regarding abortion came to my school (TAMU) the effect was dramatic. The adherence to pro-choice mantras just melted away among the great majority of students, once they saw what it was. The upshot being that we need to change strategy from argument, which we have already won, to manifesting the truth.

Oh I don't doubt for a second that there are some conservatives that fall into the mindset Zippy describes. But it seems you would have to be pretty thick (or not that troubled by abortion) to not see through it.

I'm pretty confident that this will end in a tide of bloodshed, just like the Civil War did. Compromise is quite simply not possible.

I would hope it would not come to that, but I agree there is no compromise possible - abortion is clearly an either/or proposition.

But one difference wrt slavery, we don't as of yet have too clearly defined geographical differences in opinion. Although we have the red/blue state thing, it really is more of a county-by-county and even possibly a household-by-household divide. Perhaps if RvW was overturned, and then we had pro-life v abortion states.

The trouble with the argument is that the other choice is not to make abortion illegal. Bush did not do that. McCain would not have done that. Certainly if that was achievable in the presidential election then we would be morally obligated to make that happen. What we have is one inconsistent ethic on life opposed to a slightly better inconsistent ethic on life. Neither of which was likely to change the status quo very much in the short term.


I think you're missing the point. Obama is going to do nothing to ensure that the unborn will be protected by the community in any way. He will do absolutely nothing. George Bush banned federal funding of embryonic stem cell research (something Obama opposed). George Bush put in place an bioethics commission that issued judgments very favorable to the prolife ethic (something Obama is unlike to duplicate). George Bush signed the first law to really cut into Roe, the partial-birth abortion ban (something Obama opposed). George Bush placed throughout his administrative departments--including justice and HHS--people in general who are sympathetic to the prolife view. Obama will appoint no prolifers. None. George Bush gave us Alito and Roberts, two justices likely to vote to overturn Roe. (Obama voted against BOTH).

The problem with Obama is not that he's inconsistent. He is consistent. He is consistently and passionately pro-abortion. If only he were inconsistent, I would have some hope.

As far as the "social justice" agenda--which is usually offered by the Left as a way to balance Obama's pro-abortionism--I don't buy it. First, it assumes that the policies in fact will work to raise the poor out of their plight. If the Great Society has taught has anything, it's that it does not work. Second, if they did work, it would not necessarily mean that they are establishing a prolife ethic. As I note in the essay linked in this entry, policies may have a desired empirical effect--e.g., fewer people on food stamps--but there could be undesireable and unforseeable effects, e.g., people who think that the government has an obligation do what churches and one's friends and family should be doing. In other words, the price of equality may be loneliness and dependency. The biggest mistake we Americans make is confusing equality with justice. But sometimes the achievement of the former comes at the expense of the latter. It's almost as if misery would become a good if it were equitably distributed. (That's right, I forgot, we call that "Cuba")

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