Debunking the Debunker – 1

I will never tire of series.

My bright and dreamy eyes have been directed toward a site called, which appears to be all things Progressive.  Among its pages is a set of “11 common arguments against abortion access debunked,” or so says the URL.

I will say the author, one Seth Millstein, demonstrates an admirable economy of language and restraint on gif’s and images.  Not that they are well chosen, only that they are modest in quantity.

He’s also a step further along the path.  Much of the debate is happening in memes, and the memes cannot be reliably distinguished from drunken ranting.  Anyway, let’s get on with it, and perhaps there is yet more depth to be found.


Thus says Bustle:

Common Argument #1: A fetus is a human being, and human beings have the right to life, so abortion is murder.

Your Response: I’m probably not going to convince you that a fetus isn’t a life, as that’s basically the most intractable part of this whole debate, so I’ll be brief:

  • A fetus can’t survive on its own. It is fully dependent on its mother’s body, unlike born human beings.
  • Even if a fetus was alive, the “right to life” doesn’t imply a right to use somebody else’s body. People have the right to refuse to donate their organs, for example, even if doing so would save somebody else’s life.
  • The “right to life” also doesn’t imply a right to live by threatening somebody else’s life. Bearing children is always a threat the life of the mother (see below).
  • A “right to life” is, at the end of the day, a right to not have somebody else’s will imposed upon your body. Do women not have this right as well?


I answer that…

The argument is really better phrased like this:  A fetus is both human and alive.  Anything that is human and alive has a right to life.  Therefore, abortion is wrong because it takes a human life.

And when we rephrase it that way, the first part of the objection – “a fetus isn’t a life” – falls away.  In fact, there is really no coherent way to argue that a fetus isn’t alive.  This is precisely why pro-lifers push the ultrasound – the fetus is thus revealed to be clearly human, and clearly alive.

With that rephrasing, how does the rest of his objection hold up?

  • A fetus can’t survive on it’s own.”  Right, until it’s 22 weeks or so, and medical technology is reducing that number all the time.  (Science, for the epic motherfreaking win!).  In any event, this is a non-sequitur – there’s no argument made here.
  • “…the “right to life” doesn’t imply a right to use somebody else’s body…”  Well, why not?  The very same mother used someone else’s body to get where she is.  May we consider her life illegitimate, and strike her down for the past grievances of her own mother?  Why, exactly, did the claim on her life end when she was born?  (It sounds silly, but that’s actually a point that would cause a lot of trouble).
  • But the real point here is that Progressives – in so many ways – want to separate themselves from reality.  The reality is that when men and women engage in sexual intercourse, the woman may become pregnant.  This objection treats that reality as arbitrary, as something the man and woman might not reasonably expect.  (See, Science(TM)).
  • Moreover, virtually everyone recognizes the gravity of abortion.  Pro-choicers are fond of saying it should be rare, safe, and legal.   Well, why rare?
  • And so, if abortion is a thing to be avoided as much as possible, and if a woman might reasonably expect to become pregnant as a result of sex, the choice occurs well before the human being is conceived.  And notice that virtually everyone is pro-choice about that.*


The next couple of objections run along with this one, but we will note their nuances and continue to develop the counter-objection:

  • The “right to life” also doesn’t imply a right to live by threatening somebody else’s life.”  We should make clear that “threatening” someone is usually a voluntary act, not something we could reasonably ascribe to a fetus.  The fetus is not threatening anyone; the accidents of his existence may run into conflict with the existence of another.  But the heart of this objection is really in the notion that one’s bodily autonomy cannot be compromised, which is implicitly based in one’s self-determinism and right to life.
  • Thus, another counter-objection can be seen starkly here:  When there are competing claims on a right to life, who trumps whom?  Do we simply side with the stronger person – does might make a greater right?  Does the weaker have to die just because he is weaker?
  • But the probability of death in abortion compared with maternal death in childbirth is nowhere near equal.**
  • Therefore, it would seem unacceptable to take the life of one person to protect against the remote prospect of death for the other person.  And where that prospect is more imminent, most pro-life arguments accept the use of measures to preserve the life of the mother.
  • A “right to life” is, at the end of the day, a right to not have somebody else’s will imposed upon your body. Do women not have this right as well?”  When did their right to bodily autonomy begin, if not when their bodies began?
  • First of all, somebody may legitimately impose their will on your body without your permission.  The police, for example, when you are being arrested.
  • Or again, a bouncer may impose on your body if you are instigating a fight on private property.  Even a perfect stranger may legitimately impose on your body to break up a fight, or to save your life.
  • No, a right to life depends on the concept of human dignity, or something like it.  This is considerably more supple than the rigidity of Progressive thought, because it implies a right to self-determination combined with certain responsibilities, like respecting the dignity of others and their right to life and accepting the consequences of our actions.
  • In fact, we could go on the offensive and ask the Progressive why the fetus’ bodily autonomy is being violated.  Sure, he is dependent now, but dependency is no reason for killing.  We do not permit killing the lame, the sick, those with special needs, or infants, even if they are a great burden on us.
  • And if accepting human dignity is a true understanding of reality, then anyone who is human and alive possesses it.  Or else, you will have to make quite a convoluted argument which excludes fetuses but no one else.  (And that sounds like bigotry).


*This begs the question of rape; Millstein treats this later on, so I will leave it for now.

**It is worth observing that the rate of death in abortions is nearly 100%; the rate of maternal death in childbirth is 18.5 out of 100,000.  Please understand – this is still an abject tragedy when it happens, and I am not diminishing that fact.  It is a devastating possibility.  But we are not talking about perfect symmetry here.

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