Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Is It Acceptable For Men To Argue Against Abortion?

Even though I don't engage in pro-life campaigning, in expressing my philosophical views I'm frequently berated with the comment as a man I'm not allowed to have an opinion on abortion. Occasionally this is made as a polite suggestion, but the overall impression I get is that it is used as an anti-intellectual manoeuvre to try to shut down critical enquiry on this ideologically-charged topic.

In any case it is simply a ridiculous argument. Firstly it's an ad hominem. There's obviously no logical relationship between the individual who happens to be articulating an argument and the soundness of that argument.[1] Do you think that whenever there's an exam question on abortion all the males get an F even if they make the same points as the females? Moreover, it is inconsistent for those people who take this line (and I say 'people' because many men do too,) to appreciate the support that men such as myself give for the provision of education and other rights for women.

Abortion is absolutely not a woman-only issue. Every child has a father and half of children are male. Many of the doctors who are asked to kill babies via abortion are men. Sometimes abortions are even solicited because a male child isn't wanted (though this of course happens much more often with girls). And as Erin Manning has said, “By making abortion a 'women's issue,' we're playing right into the notion that fatherhood is irrelevant and that men should be free to have sex without consequences for as long as they want to- if pregnancy occurs, the woman can 'deal with it.”

What about a more explicitly reasoned form of the argument? - 'One has to be know what it's like to be someone in order to judge them.' When applied to abortion, not only does this involve the same logical problems I mentioned at the start, but for those who are pro-choice it carries a particular problem. They are committed to the prevention of the suffering of children with congenital disabilities being a particularly persuasive case for abortion. Indeed, this is often the 'central case' from which the wider legitimation of abortion is generalised on a utilitarian proviso. But if you need to know what it's like to be someone in order to judge them, then able-bodied parents are unable to judge the life of a disabled child as not worth living, and therefore should not be allowed to solicit abortions on such grounds. If the central case of the legitimation could not even be defended, then that would cast doubt upon whether it could be defended in any case.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I am as strongly sympathetic to this principle of not judging others whose experience we are unable to share as pro-choicers must, if consistent, be unsympathetic. This is not inconsistent of me because holding that abortions are wrong in fact does not constitute judging the particular parents who have them. To be charitable to the pro-choice position, however, what I think what they mean to say is that 'men will never experience pregnancy, so it is unfair for them to push women into making sacrifices that men will never have to make'. But this is still illogical on the ad homimen grounds explained above, yet just in case the pro-choicer doesn't accept that for some reason, I will proceed as if is not.

Secondly, there is a significant sense in which men experience pregnancy, not just vicariously through being affected by the suffering of the mother, but by being under the same pressure to prepare for the child and provide for it through to adulthood. Fathers (along with other family and friends and medical professionals) also have responsibilities for supporting the health and safety of the mother and their child in her womb.

Despite these pressures and duties, men certainly cannot experience pregnancy as a woman experiences it physiologically, and perhaps existentially. Yet what is decisive for this pro-choice argument is not that men can have identical experience but that they can find themselves[2] in situations at least as morally grave and as difficult as pregnancy. It shouldn't take that much imagination to see that this is the case.

To keep it maximally analogous let's refer to saving childrens' lives. There may be child, for instance, that will die if someone doesn't adopt them and no one wants to (and if there is a state in this place it's not going to force anyone to do so). If there were only one man who is available and has the means to do so, it would be morally obligatory for that individual to do so adopt the child.

Some pro-choicers may object that this example is only relevant to the sacrifices involved in child rearing and not those of pregnancy and to this end I offer a second example. Say there's been a natural or industrial disaster and a child will die if a particular man doesn't save them (again, he's the only one around who's able to do so) from a hazardous environment. He knows that when he enters the area to do this there's a small chance he'll die, a bigger chance that he'll lose a limb of suffer some other lifelong impairment, and it's certain it will hurt like hell. Everyone would agree that he was a moral monster if didn't make that sacrifice, take those risks to himself for the good chance of saving a child's life. Indeed, under some jurisdictions they may even prosecute someone for failing to do that.

Even if the men who find themselves in such situations act irresponsibly by avoiding such sacrifices that wouldn't make it right for women to do the same. The examples I've just thought up may seem unlikely to happen to any one man, but the fact that can happen, let alone that they do in at least some places, is sufficient for showing that men can be faced with situations that require sacrifices at least as demanding as pregnancy. Not that, as I've made clear, this should be a requirement for our sex to enter into the debate on the topic.

Ultimately, standing up for the voiceless -for animals, the disabled, the elderly and the very young- should cross all social divisions, not least of all sex.


[1] Assuming that an interpretation of the argument's premises can be given which translates indexical terms such as 'I' (which make designations relative to the speaker or other contextual factors) into non-indexical terms.

[2] Leaving aside the issue of responsibility for knowingly engaging in unprotected intercourse.

This article was provided by Apologetics UK Facebook group member Peter Hardy.


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