Friday, March 29, 2019

Question-Begging Arguments on Abortion

Many arguments about abortion are bad. Sometimes this is because they “beg the question,” or assume the argument’s conclusion as a premise. Question-begging arguments against abortion assume that abortion is wrong or that fetuses are wrong to kill; question-begging arguments in favor of abortion assume that abortions are not wrong or that fetuses are not wrong to kill. This is circular reasoning and must always be dismissed.

Sometimes it’s obvious why an argument is question-begging (“Abortion is wrong because abortion is not right”); other times reflection is needed. Here are some question-begging arguments for the permissibility of abortion:

“Abortion is not wrong because:

(1)   abortion is a personal choice.”
(2)   couples should be able to make that choice.”
(3)   women have a (moral) right to have abortions.”
(4)   well, if you don’t like abortions, then don’t have one!”

These all seem to assume that abortion is not wrong.

About (1), we would never say that choices to commit arson or kidnapping are “personal choices.” Dying your hair or quitting piano lessons, however, are “personal choices.” “Personal choices” are choices that are not wrong to make. Saying that abortion is a “personal choice” assumes that abortion is not wrong, as does claim (2).

Regarding (3), sometimes when people assert that they have a “right” to do something, they are merely saying that it’s not wrong to do that something. That assumption begs the question. (If they explain why women have such a right, the argument might not be question-begging).

Response (4) is a slogan, not an argument, that assumes that abortion is not wrong. Imagine someone said, “Don’t like vandalismDon’t vandalize!” “Don’t like stealing? Don’t steal!” This would be are absurd because these actions are wrong. (4) assumes abortion is not wrong.

Here are a few question-begging arguments against abortion:

“Abortion is wrong because:

(1)   abortion is murder;”
(2)   there are morally better options than abortion, like adoption;
(3)   if a woman gets pregnant, she just must have the baby;”
(4)   women who have abortions are irresponsible;”
(5)   good person wouldn’t have an abortion;”
(6)   women who have abortions feel guilty.”
These all assume that abortion is wrong:

(1)   “murder” means “wrongful killing,” so (1) says that killing fetuses is wrong because it’s wrongful killing;
(2)   this assumes that abortion is a bad or undesirable option: it may be but we can’t just assume that;
(3)   this asserts that women must not have abortions, which is to say that it’s wrong;
(4)   “irresponsible” people don’t do what they are supposed to do, so (4) assumes that abortions are wrong;
(5)   this assumes that abortion is wrong and so a good person wouldn’t do it;
(6)   some women feel guilty after abortions, but many do not. And just because someone feels guilty for doing something does not always mean they have done wrong: there is “false guilt.” (Someone not feeling guilty does not show that they did not do anything wrong either!). It only shows that they believe they have done wrong, which doesn’t mean that they really have done wrong. (6) assumes abortions are wrong.[6]

We want our arguments on this topic, and any topic, to never beg the question. 

This is a section from this chapter "Early and Later Abortions: Ethics and Law."