With the 2016 presidential election only weeks away, the topic of abortion is permeating media outlets, once again emerging as a predominant issue in the race for the White House. Advocates on both sides recognize this election as a pivotal point in American history, with the future of abortion likely hanging in the balance. Senator Clinton (and the Democratic Party) represent the pro-choice position, adamantly vowing to oppose legislation that “impede[s] a woman’s access to abortion.”2 This pursuit entails taking proactive measures to increase the availability of abortion procedures, beginning with repeal of the “Hyde Amendment.”3
Although Trump’s position on abortion is less consistent, he now acknowledges a commitment to the pro-life agenda, vowing to nominate pro-life justices to the US Supreme Court, approve legislation banning late-term abortions, etc.4 Since making this commitment, pro-choice lobbyists have sought to discredit Trump’s stance, leveraging classic arguments against the pro-life position. However, popular pro-choice arguments prove unreasonable, while simultaneously failing to discuss the fundamental moral questions associated with the practice of abortion. This brief essay demonstrates this point by analyzing a recent Self Magazine article titled, “I’m An Ob/Gyn and A Trump Presidency Scares Me—Here’s Why.”5
The Pro-Life Position is not “Anti-Science”
Dr. Gunter begins the debate by claiming (Trump’s) pro-life agenda is anti-science, yet never leverages any scientific evidence to refute the pro-life position.6 Instead, Dr. Gunter voices her rejection of the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which aims to outlaw elective abortions once the developing child is capable of feeling pain. Proponents of the bill argue that abortions after 20-weeks ought to be prohibited since medical evidence shows human fetuses react to touch by eight weeks after fertilization and painful stimuli after 20 weeks of gestation.7
Dr. Kanwaljeet Anand, professor of pediatrics, anesthesiology, and neurobiology, at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, explains that not only can a fetus feel pain at 20-weeks, but the pain experienced is likely more severe than what would be experienced by an older child or an adult. Dr. Anand explains,
The human fetus possesses the ability to experience pain from 20 weeks of gestation, if not earlier, and the pain perceived by a fetus is possibly more intense than that perceived by term newborns or older children. . . . The highest density of pain receptors per square inch of skin in human development occurs in utero from 20 to 30 weeks gestation. During this period, the epidermis is still very thin, leaving nerve fibers closer to the surface of the skin than in older neonates and adults. Even though the fetus possesses excitatory pain mechanisms (receptors and fibers that recognize and respond to painful stimuli) before 20 weeks of gestation, the pain inhibitory mechanisms (fibers which dampen and modulate the experience of pain) do not begin to develop until 32-34 weeks of gestation. Thus, a fetus at 20 to 32 weeks of gestation would experience a much more intense pain than older infants or children or adults, when these age groups are subjected to similar types of injury or handling.8
State legislators acknowledge this as a valid argument, and 14 states have recently enacted similar legislation to prohibit abortion procedures after 20-weeks.9
Rather than providing evidence against this position and providing counterarguments for consideration, Dr. Gunter merely offers an empty assertion, arbitrarily dismissing the premise as a “flawed foundational principle.” Unfortunately, many readers probably failed to appreciate the irony of Dr. Gunter slandering the pro-life agenda as anti-science, while simultaneously failing to offer scientific evidence in support of her argument.
Finally, the ability of a human fetus to recognize pain is entirely irrelevant to the fundamental morality of abortion itself. We do not legislate against murder because it is physically painful; we legislate against murder because it is the act of terminating a human life without just cause. It would be inconceivable to justify murder, as long as the killer ensured his victim did not feel any pain associated with the act of murder. Therefore, this question regarding pain merely serves as an indicator of our moral depravity, identifying how barbaric we have become as a people. As a nation, we have collectively declared abortion is socially acceptable. We have already approved ending human life without cause, the question is, will we continue to condone the practice knowing that it produces an extreme level of physical trauma culminating in the child’s death?
Common Pro-Choice Arguments Are Fallacious
Throughout her article, Dr. Gunter offers many fallacious arguments. This section will outline three common fallacies and will demonstrate how they fail to advance the pro-choice argument.
Appeal to Pity (argumentum ad misericordiam) – This occurs when the opponent attempts to get support by exploiting emotions, instead of offering sound reasons based upon evidence. In remarking on the Hyde Amendment, Dr. Gunter says, “Medicaid is the main source of health care for low-income women, women who also have a much higher rate of unplanned pregnancies. Abortions are often delayed in this group as they struggle to come up with the money for a procedure; as a result, many women end up with later procedures and suffer more financially.”
This statement attempts to evoke emotion, appealing to the reader’s pity for impoverished women, rather than providing a case against the pro-life position. Essentially she is saying, “These women need abortions, but can’t afford them. If our society does not help them, they will suffer even worse than they are already. Therefore, we must fund their abortions.” While we ought to express compassion for women in precarious situations, her statement does not establish abortion as the only (or best) solution for dealing with the stressors of an unplanned pregnancy. More importantly, the comment fails to address the core issue of the debate, effectively ignoring the fundamental question, Is abortion morally permissible? If the answer to this question is ‘no,’ then any discussion concerning government funding is meaningless. Pro-choice advocates need to present a compelling case for the morality of abortion and successfully refute the pro-life position before a meaningful conversation about funding can take place.
Begging the Question (petitio principii) – This fallacy is committed when an arguer merely assumes their conclusion in their argumentation. In addition to appealing to pity, the above statement also begs the question, merely assuming the pro-choice supposition—that abortion is morally permissible—rather than presenting a positive case for such a conclusion. The pro-life argument does not arbitrarily condemn providing state-sponsored medical assistance to impoverished people in America; it vehemently opposes government funding of abortion based upon the premise that abortion is morally repugnant. The pro-life argument provides compelling reasons to believe such a conclusion is true, thereby requiring pro-choice supporters to present valid counterarguments to show why this position is unreasonable. Unless and until this occurs, discussion concerning additional abortion-related issues is inconsequential.
Appeal to Authority (argumentum ad verecundiam) – In this fallacy, an illegitimate authority offers testimonial evidence, or an authoritative figure delivers an unfounded claim, as support for a proposition/conclusion. Although Dr. Gunter does not present any expert testimony to make her case, the title of her article, “I’m An Ob/Gyn and A Trump Presidency Scares Me—Here’s Why,” suggests the author speaks with a particular medical or scientific authority. She even concludes the article, “As an Ob/Gyn this vision of the future frightens me. And it should frighten you, too.” However, throughout the article, Dr. Gunter makes unfounded assertions, failing to provide evidentiary support for her claims.
Unfortunately, the article is a three-page political diatribe, rarely touching upon her area of expertise (i.e., reproductive health). While Dr. Gunter may be qualified to give expert testimony about procreative concerns, her position as an Ob/Gyn is utterly irrelevant to issues of national economic policy and government legislation. In this regard, she is not an Ob/Gyn providing expert testimony; she is merely an individual expressing her political views, who also happens to be an Ob/Gyn. Unfortunately, this article will likely sway many readers, who will accept Dr. Gunter’s unsubstantiated assertions as reliable, expert testimony, merely because of her position and the title of the article.
While this is merely a brief examination of Dr. Gunter’s article in Self Magazine, this short essay demonstrates fallacies that are common in popular pro-choice arguments. It is imperative that people analyze the truth-claims being presented in our culture and use logic to determine if a claim ought to be accepted as factual. This becomes increasingly crucial as we address issues of supreme moral significance (such as the issue of abortion) which inherently have widespread and long-lasting repercussions.
- This essay does not intend to promote a particular political party or candidate, defend Trump’s political policies, or disparage Dr. Gunterto. Instead, this essay aims to examine popular pro-choice arguments, as presented throughout the media, while encouraging rational discourse between opponents on both sides of the debate.
- Democratic Platform Committee, “2016 Democratic Party Platform,” Democratic National Convention, July 21, 2016, https://www.demconvention.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/Democratic-Party-Platform-7.21.16-no-lines.pdf, 37.
- Ibid.; the Hyde Amendment prohibits the expenditure of federal funds (i.e., Medicaid) for elective abortions. See P.L. 94-439, §209, 90 Stat. 1418, 1434 (1976).
- Donald Trump to the Pro-Life Coalition, September 2016, posted on the Susan B. Anthony List Website, https://www.sba-list.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Trump-Letter-on-ProLife-Coalition.pdf.
- Jennifer Gunter, “I’m An Ob/Gyn and A Trump Presidency Scares Me—Here’s Why,” Self Magazine, October 13, 2016, http://www.self.com/story/reesa-partida-triathlete-with-rheumatoid-arthritis.
- This essay assumes the reader understands the logical basis for the pro-life position. For a detailed explanation, see “Outlining the Pro-Life Position,” and “Defending Life: Refuting the Pro-Choice Position.”
- Senator Graham, et al., 114th Congress, 1st Session (June 11, 2015): S. 1553, https://www.congress.gov/114/bills/s1553/BILLS-114s1553is.pdf.
- Kanwaljeet S. Anand, “Expert Report of Kanwaljeet S. Anand, M.B.B.S., D.Phil.,” January 15, 2004, http://www.nrlc.org/uploads/fetalpain/AnandPainReport.pdf.
- “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act Fact Sheet,” National Right to Life, May 31, 2016, http://www.nrlc.org/uploads/stateleg/PCUCPAfactsheet.pdf.