We were born with a brain. Why can’t we use it when debating abortion?

Some character flaws are irremediable. One of mine is a time-wasting obsessive-compulsive drive to fact-check clichés. In the wake of Dobbs, the US Supreme Court decision which overruled Roe v. Wade, this has become a necessity. Bear with me as I recount my latest dive into a rabbit hole.

Around the world there has been outrage. I read in a recent issue of a nicely-edited student magazine at the University of Calgary, in Canada, that US abortion laws were a form of modern eugenics. Odd, I thought: how can saving lives be eugenic?

The author quoted a 1980s demographer named Ben Wattenberg who had written: “The major problem confronting the United States today is there aren’t enough White babies being born.” As it happens, I had read Wattenberg’s fine book, The Birth Dearth, and I didn’t recall this nonsense.

The author’s source was an essay written last year which cited another article about The Birth Dearth, which also quoted Wattenberg.

I looked up The Birth Dearth – it’s not difficult for a journalist to find it on the internet. No such quote.

An Amazon review of The Birth Dearth attributed the quotes to Jane Elliott, an anti-racism campaigner active in the 70s and 80s. In an interview on YouTube she claimed that Wattenberg expressed his vile, racist sentiments in the book’s first paragraph. “I am not misrepresenting him. I’m telling you almost exactly what he says,” she says.

Misremembering? Misspeaking? Hallucinating? Whatever. Ms Elliott was simply not telling the truth. Not in the first paragraph, or the first page, or the first chapter, or anywhere in the book do these words appear.

Mr Wattenberg died in 2015 and cannot sue for defamation. He would never have anticipated that his book would be used to prove that Dobbs and the pro-life movement are racist.

Sloppy research in a Canadian student newspaper is not a big deal. But it is typical of commentary after June 24 which describe the pro-life movement as a danger to women’s rights and as racist.

That is news to the black pro-life movement. “The most dangerous place for an African American to be is in the womb of their African American mother,” says the Rev Clenard H. Childress Jr, founder of a group called Black Genocide.

But supporters of Roe v. Wade are creative. One of their theories is that the pro-life movement is linked to the Great Replacement Theory – a fringe belief that Democrats are promoting immigration to submerge the white race. “It may not be immediately obvious how the fight over abortion rights is tied to the ‘great replacement’ theory,” write two journalists at the popular news site FiveThirtyEight. They’re right; it’s not.

Another is that it is linked to white supremacist groups. MSNBC discovered one called RapeKrieg, a group whose aim is mass rapes of white women to produce more white babies, along with killing Jews and members of other minority groups. How many in the group? It’s not clear. There could be just one. But MSNBC says ominously: “In a post-Roe world, a plot to force women to become pregnant, however fringe it might be, takes on a whole new meaning”.

Then there are the philosophically loopy arguments for abortion which I have described before in MercatorNet. Abortion is good because of quantum physics and abortion is good because there is no difference between right and wrong anyway.

Why are these weird arguments being wheeled out to support abortion rights? Why aren’t activists dealing with fundamental issues: is an unborn child human? Is it a person? Does a woman have a right to kill a person? Does abortion lead to human flourishing?

Why are they resorting to smear tactics instead of debate?

A pro-abortion philosopher explained why in a recent issue of the American Journal of Bioethics. Nathan Nobis, of Morehouse College, says glumly that activists are simply not interested in arguments about morality and ethics. They want laws which support their prejudices. They don’t want to think.

A recent open letter to the media from an American group called Physicians for Reproductive Health exemplifies this. It calls upon journalists to ignore pro-life arguments.  

Medicine and science are not up for debate. Health care is not a matter of opinion, it is a matter of fact. And the fact is, abortion is not in the realm of theory or belief. Abortion belongs in health care, social services, and public health reporting.”

In the United States, everything should be up for debate. Isn’t that democracy?

This aversion to engaging with issues is exactly what Dr Nobis is complaining about. He should know. He is the author, with another philosopher, Kristina Grob, of an easy-to-read book, Thinking Critically About Abortion. It analyses the most common arguments for and against abortion and points out their strengths and weaknesses. Unfortunately, he says, the pro-choice crowd is not interested in thinking about the morality of abortion. For them, it is simply a legal issue:

“I have, however, gotten a lot of negative reactions, including from pro-choice people, which leads me to my observation that most vocal pro-choice people do not care about engaging abortion ethics: they believe that abortion is obviously not wrong and that anyone who thinks otherwise is ignorant, ill-motivated, or evil. Some pro-choicers argue it’s offensive to engage people who disagree, claiming that’s like arguing with slaveholders, but forgetting that arguments were given against slavery, which contributed to positive change.

“Abortion-advocacy organizations also appear to have zero interest in engaging in anything about ethics: indeed, they actively avoid the issues.”

He observes that pro-choice advocates were unprepared for Dobbs. For decades they had been promoting a legal right to abortion. Now that the right has been removed – at least in some states -- they will have to make ethical arguments – and they don’t know how.

If people were rational, the future would look bright for the pro-life cause.


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