Common Arguments and Responses

Classic Arguments

"My body, my choice."

"It's not your body."

This chant (it's not even really an argument) is used by pro-choice advocates everywhere. It's based on the false assumption that anything inside a woman's body is also her body. In reality, an embryo or fetus has its own genetic code from the moment the egg and the sperm combine. Within minutes of this event, the fertilized egg begins the process of mitosis, splitting into more cells, and forming the building blocks of a viable infant. Although the fertilized egg is not viable outside of the womb, it is whole, distinct, and living human being.

"A fetus isn't a human."

"DNA research says otherwise."

The Latin word from which we derive the word "fetus" literally means "offspring, child." Thus, it should be no surprise that the genetic code of a fetus, embryo, or fertilized egg codes to a human. Not only this, but the DNA that is written when a sperm fertilizes an egg is distinct from that of the mother and has all the information necessary to build a viable human baby. It is not changed by the mother's body in any way once the egg is fertilized.

"A fetus isn't human because of (size, level of development, environment, degree of dependency)"

"What difference does that make?"

These four attributes (collectively called "SLED") are often cited as excuses for a fetus not possessing human rights. One way to engage this argument is with an argumentum ad absurdum, or taking the argument to the limits of its logic. For example, ask if Arnold Schwarzenegger has the right to kill a child asking him for a cookie. Arnold is clearly larger than the child, more developed than the child, in a different location than the child, and not dependent on him to have a cookie. This is clearly an absurd interpretation of your conversation partner's argument, but it does highlight that there is no material difference between the bodybuilder and the child. Likewise, being inside or outside the birth canal does not change what a person inherently is.

"It's a woman's right."

"What makes it a right?"

When Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, the phrase "All men ... are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness." features a prominent place in the first sentence. The "unalienable rights" he mentions reference the work of John Locke, a British political philosopher from the 1600s, who called them "natural rights." He derives these rights from a hypothetical "state of nature," in which there is no governing body nor a judicial system, and society and technology are at their most primitive. If an individual in the "state of nature" can obtain and defend something without appealing to a higher power, it is a "natural right." Thus, as abortion is not fundamental to being human, clearly, it does not fit this definition of a right.

"I wouldn't have an abortion, but..."

"Why wouldn't you?"

In the easiest case, your conversation partner will admit that they think abortion is bad. From here, lead them from the specific ("I wouldn't") to the general ("The law should not allow someone to do something bad.") This can be achieved with an example: "If abortion is bad but legal, why don't we make other bad things legal? Why not let people embezzle money from their company? Why not let people cheat?"

"People have free will."

"Then why can't we destroy, rape, and steal freely?"

This argument is typically just a knee-jerk reaction to encountering an opposing viewpoint. Most conversation partners who use this argument are not true anarchists, and debunking this is as simple as pointing out that one can will to do anything unethical, but the law exists to discourage that. This will direct the conversation more quickly towards unpacking your fundamental beliefs about human life and protecting it.

"Pro-Lifers are just Pro-Birth/Anti-Abortion."

"We are also opposed to suicide, euthanasia, and the death penalty."

It's certainly true that the Pro-Life Movement focuses a lot of time on the abortion issue, but we object to all attacks on life. Abortion is the most prevalent issue, because it is so widespread and federally legal, but in districts where euthanasia and assisted suicide are legal, we oppose them openly, as well.

"No uterus, no opinion."

"A court of nine men decided Roe v. Wade."

This argument targets men specifically. If he or she uses this line, your conversation partner clearly believes abortion to be an issue that can only be decided by women. First of all, remind them that the Supreme Court in 1973 had no female justices, and to date, it has never been a majority female. If they had their way, abortion would still be illegal in Texas and other states. Secondly, the ethics of abortion are a philosophical matter, and claiming that a group of people have no say in the matter is intellectually dishonest. It would be equivalent to saying that people living today can't talk about slavery in the US, because we neither were nor owned slaves.

"If abortion is illegal, people will just have unsafe/back-alley abortions."

"The data don't support that claim."

When encountering this argument, present Chile, where all abortions have been illegal since 1989. Since 2001, the abortion rate (which is measured by hospital discharges related to abortion, according to government data) has dropped steadily by approximately 2% per year. Even the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice research firm, acknowledges this fact. Where the Guttmacher Institute fails is in accusing Chile of having substandard healthcare. Chile's healthcare system is one of the most advanced in South America, being ranked 33 in the world by WHO's reckoning (the USA only ranks 37). If Chile can successfully ban and reduce incidence of abortion, the US can, as well.

Fringe Cases

"What if the mother's life is in danger?"

"Medicine has advanced beyond the need for treating pregnancy complications with abortion."

Nowadays, there is only one complication with pregnancy that cannot save both mother and child, and that is an ectopic pregnancy. If a fertilized egg does not make it all the way to the uterus, it may implant in the fallopian tube and begin to grow there. In this case, it must be removed to save the life of the mother. However, an abortion cannot accomplish this. The embryo must be surgically removed, and, unfortunately, it will not be able to survive outside of the womb. Fortunately, this is a rare condition. 

"What about rape/incest?"

"It's a terrible situation. There are better ways than abortion, though."

The implication of this argument is that a mother would be forced to remember the horrible crime committed against her for the nine months of pregnancy. However, what this argument does not acknowledge is that abortion is also a painful experience, psychologically and sometimes physically. A woman who has an abortion needs to live the rest of her life with that decision, which oftentimes, she ends up regretting. Any time a pregnancy is terminated, post-partum depression is a risk, and aborted pregnancies have a significantly higher probability for this outcome. Most Pro-Life organizations will either offer or refer to other organizations that offer services for crisis pregnancies. These include legal aid, counseling, and adoption agency contacts.

"What about all the kids in foster care?"

"There are thousands of couples waiting for their applications for adoption to be approved. We need more people in the adoption industry to facilitate the process."

This argument tries to engage the option Pro-Lifers typically advocate - adoption - and make it sound impractical or unethical. What it ignores (or more likely is ignorant of) is the fact that there is an abundance of people trying to adopt. The application process is lengthy and involves a deep background check, because adoption agencies want to ensure that children are put in families that will take care of them. This is not a flaw of the system, because it is built as a safeguard for the children in foster care. It is merely a lack of resources. Instead of advocating for abortion, we should advocate for an expansion of the adoption network, so that children can be placed in safe and loving homes faster.

Newer Arguments

"Consent to sex is not consent to pregnancy."

"You can consent to actions, but you cannot consent to consequences. Pregnancy is the natural result of sex."

Contraception is not 100%. This fact is even on the label. Any time one engages in sexual activity, pregnancy is a possible result. This argument seeks to divorce the action from the reaction. It is equivalent to "Choosing to eat candy every day is not choosing to get fat" (where the consequence is the natural result of the action) or "Agreeing to rob a bank is not agreeing to go to jail" (where the consequence is a risk of the action, even despite one's best efforts to avoid it). Killing the vulnerable child in the womb is an immoral and immature response to the consequences of one's actions. 

"The earth is overpopulated!"

"Economics is not a zero-sum game."

This argument is becoming increasingly popular, but it makes a false assumption about resources and workers. When people work, they produce more than they consume, which is why the market is able to function. Furthermore, technological advances reduce our dependence on non-renewable resources by the day. Desalination technology produces drinkable water from seawater. Aquaponics and vertical agriculture produce food at greater rates than ever before, in less space than ever before, even in cities. New ways to recycle pollutants are discovered every year. In short, labor generates wealth and value.

Additional Resources/Training