There is a pro abortion meme that I have seen shared on Facebook more times than I can remember and I felt the need to finally sit down and write up a response to it. It looks like it was originally a pro-life meme that was shared on Reddit, and was responded to by a user going by the screen name “fandomsandfeminism.” This response, it seems, went viral last year when it first appeared and as I mentioned I have seen it numerous times and continue to see it pop up on Facebook somewhat regularly.
The thing that irritates me about memes so much is that they are made for a culture with a short attention span. While some of them might make a good point or bring up a good issue, the reality is that most meaningful arguments on important subjects take more than a few sentences to express. The best memes are admirably concise summaries of more complex arguments, but let’s be honest, those are few and far between. The meme works best at the level of confident assertion, not rational dialogue.
That’s what ends up making this particular meme so dangerous. Because this meme is itself actually a brief response to another meme, it goes slightly deeper than memes usually go. While the response of fandomsandfeminism is ultimately still a short and shallow response, at nine sentences it is far longer and more in depth than the original meme. This puts it in a “sweet spot” where it’s succinct enough that even people with short attention spans will still likely read it, but long enough that it obviously serves as a more in-depth response than the original meme.
Here is the meme:
The goal of this post is to provide a meaningful pro-life analysis of the actual argumentation that fandomsandfeminism used. I know that not every Christian has the time to think about every issue in sufficient depth to be able to know how to respond to challenges like these, so hopefully this is useful for a good many of you who will read it. So let’s dive in:
The first peculiar thing about the argument from fandomsandfeminism is that it is entirely based around the concept of “bodily autonomy,” which she (I’m not sure if this is a man or a woman, but I had to pick a pronoun) defines as “this cultural notion.” Now, I know that this just represents the opinion of one person, but is that really where feminists want to go? That women don’t have any inherent dignity or worth except what they are granted by culture? This seems completely at odds with not only the Christian worldview, but it also seems like it’s violently against the whole idea of feminism in the first place. Surely if you base your whole argument on a concept you want to ground that concept in being an inherent right –not a “cultural notion.”
However, let’s grant the argument that both women and men have bodily autonomy and that the government ought to respect it. The first thing that becomes obvious about bodily autonomy as you begin to think about it is that it has its limits. We don’t let a pedophile expose and gratify themselves in a park full of children despite the fact that they have “bodily autonomy.” There are many other examples of the limits of bodily autonomy that we could explore, but the most obvious and universally agreed upon is that bodily autonomy does not include the right to harm someone else. Your bodily autonomy entitles you to do what you want with your hands, provided “what you want” does not include strangling someone or beating them to death.
This means that the determining factor of whether abortion should be permissible is not whether women have bodily autonomy (everyone agrees that they do), but whether or not abortion ends the life of a human being, since bodily autonomy does not extend that far.
Related Post: The Abortion Debate is About LIFE –Not CHOICE
Unfortunately, “fandomsandfeminism” provides no argumentation as to why the unborn child should not be considered a person. The absolute closest she comes is saying that in the “early stages” of pregnancy their status as a “human life” is “a debatable claim”(as a side note, I think she means to say “person” and not “human life” here. It is beyond dispute that the child in the womb is in fact human and not something else and that it is in fact biologically alive. It has it’s own unique and unmistakably human genetic identity and is growing and developing according to its own genetic blueprint from the very beginning. The standard pro-choice claim is to differentiate “personhood” –which is a state of being that entitles you to the rights, dignity, and privileges of a human “person”– from the simple fact of being a unique, identifiable, and living human being. So chances are that she meant “life” as something beyond biological life. Since the term “person” is the more standard term in this debate and seems to most closely represent her intention, I’ll be using the terms “person” and “personhood” in this response). It should go without saying, but calling something “debatable” is not an actual argument against it not an actual argument, it’s just a vague assertion. Technically, every claim is a debatable claim. You could debate the existence of gravity if you were so inclined. Now chances are she means that there are more serious challenges to the personhood of unborn children than there are to the existence of gravity, but the existence of serious opposition means little. In our own country’s history, there was serious opposition to the notion that blacks shared equal humanity with whites. That has no bearing whatsoever on the truth that blacks and whites (and all other races, ethnicities, and various other classifications of the human family) absolutely have equal dignity, worth, and value.
This failure to engage the central issue of the debate is essentially a failure to engage the debate. If nothing else, fandomsandfeminism loses this argument because she never actually puts forward a positive case for her position, she sweeps the debate under the rug and hopes no one notices.
What is astounding is that if we take careful note of her language, she implies that the child in the womb is in fact a person. She says that the personhood of the child in the womb is debatable, but she restricts that statement to only “the early stages of pregnancy,” meaning that for most of the pregnancy, the child is a person, or to use her language “a human life.” This is a stunning concession. She tries to hedge her claim by saying that the “VAST majority” (though we need to point out, obviously not all) of abortions happen during this time of contested personhood, but the fact is that her statement harms her case more than it helps it. If the child in the womb is unambiguously a person at one stage, why not at all stages? Think of it this way: if the child just before birth is a person, why isn’t that exact same child a person eight months earlier? It’s the same child, in the same body, just at an earlier stage of development. Is “personhood” or “humanity” something that you need to attain by reaching a certain level of development? Is it not something that you inherently posses by virtue of existing as a human being? We categorically reject every attempt to deny personhood to fellow humans from the antisemitism of the Nazi gas chambers, to the kidnapping and enslaving practices of the slave trade. It’s not up to us to define who is a person and who is not. You can object that in the case of the child in the womb there are many things that they do not posses that adults do, but that is simply because they are at an earlier stage of development. A child in the womb at 9 months is at an earlier stage of development than a 6 month old who is at an earlier stage of development than an 18-year old who is at an earlier stage of development than a 25-year old. None of that is relevant to the fact that they are all human beings. We cannot cherry-pick traits that our fellow humans must posses to be recognized as human persons.
Ironically, fandomsandfeminism’s argument ultimately ends up being self-defeating. The entire premise of a woman’s right to abortion is rooted in two assertions: the concept of “bodily autonomy,” and the claim that whether or not children in the womb are real human life is “debatable.” But one thing that is not debatable is that at every stage of development the child in the womb has a body. At some stages that body is far more recognizably human (such as at 18 weeks where they look like a normal baby but are still right in the wheelhouse for a D&E abortion where they will literally be ripped limb-from-limb), at some stages their body looks more like a blob to us than anything else, but at every stage the child has a physical form of their own, with their own unique genetic makeup. If fandomsandfeminism’s assertion is correct that “a person’s control of their own body is “above all important and must not be infringed upon,” then we must not infringe upon the child’s bodily autonomy by ending their life.
Now, that was the substance of fandomsandfeminism’s actual argument: that bodily autonomy includes the right to abortion and that children in the womb are not entitled to protection as human beings. As has been pointed out, neither of those is actually a real argument and both are outrageously flawed, even to the point where her position is inherently self-contradictory. She had also, however, attempted to support those positions with a couple of analogies, so let’s turn our attention to examine those.
The first analogy was comparing restricting abortion to her being forced to give blood to save her sister in the hypothetical event that her sister had been injured in a car crash. Right off the bat it should be noticed that fandomsandfeminism knows that the two situations aren’t really comparable because she adds this line to the setup of the hypothetical situation: “and I was the only person on Earth who could donate blood to save her…” Obviously, there are probably close to a billion people that could give blood to save her sister, but she needs to make the situation medically impossible in order for it to be comparable to abortion. I believe this analogy was first used by Dr. David Boonin, author of “A Defense of Abortion.” His analogy was a bit more involved and a bit better (yet also flawed). His scenario was that the person facing death needed a bone marrow transplant which, as far as I understand, has a much smaller potential pool of donors than a blood transfusion does. At any rate, the fact that the hypothetical scenario she offers is not even a possible real-life scenario is not even the greatest of its flaws.
One thing that can’t be missed is that the analogy is attempting to compare the obligations which someone has to save a life that is in danger to the permissibility of proactively ending a life that is not in danger (unless you want to restrict the analogy only to extreme situations where the baby and/or the mother are in mortal peril). Those are not at all the same moral questions and cannot be meaningfully compared in an analogy.
There is also the issue of the fact that someone taking your blood involves their direct and unnatural violation of your person. There is no such direct violation when it comes to abortion. If someone takes your blood against your will, they are responsible for that blood being taken since in the natural order of things you would still have it had they not intervened. If the law tells you that you can’t end your baby’s life, the law is not responsible for the fact that you are pregnant, the law didn’t make that happen.
Another way in which the analogy falls short is that it ignores the relationship dynamic that exists between a mother and her child. All people have a moral obligation not to kill other people, but a mother has a special moral obligation to care for and protect her children. This is a legal reality as well. If a mother is neglecting her children, the government can actually step in and take the kids away. Taking someone’s children away is on the level of the absolute most unthinkable invasions of a person’s rights imaginable. The fact that the government routinely does it and it’s not even a controversial issue is a testimony to just how self-evident a mother’s responsibility to provide for her children is.
One thing that needs to be remembered is that to use an argument from analogy, there doesn’t need to be a 1:1 correspondence between each point of the analogy. However, there absolutely does need to be at least some congruity between the key points of comparison. That’s the whole point of an argument by analogy. This argument fails at every step to make a meaningful comparison between the two situations and thus utterly fails as an argument.
The last thing that should be noted in regards to this analogy is that it undercuts current pro-choice argumentation. One of the current goals of the pro-choice agenda, as evidenced by the “shout your abortion” movement, is to de-stigmatize abortion and present it as something either morally neutral or even morally good. In this analogy, however, regardless of whether or not you believe the government should be able to force a person to give blood to their dying sister, wouldn’t you at least agree that there is a clear moral right and wrong in this situation? The blood transfusion analogy explicitly compares abortion to a fundamentally immoral and cowardly action. Surely, this is not an argument that feminists and other abortion advocates want to be making.
Her final analogy (and the one that was clearly supposed to pack the most punch as it is the argument that gets used as her concluding statement) is that since we give bodily autonomy to corpses in the case of needing prior consent to harvest organs, we should give bodily autonomy to women in the case of abortion. Her claim is that if women were denied access to abortion that they would have less bodily autonomy than a corpse.
What is amazing is the fact that she makes no attempt at establishing an actual connection between these two things. She mentions how hard pregnancy is, but that doesn’t do much to relate it to the issue of organ and tissue donation. The proper comparison to the illegality and immorality of harvesting an organ from a corpse that didn’t provide consent during their life would obviously be the illegality and immorality of harvesting an organ from a pregnant woman who did not provide consent. That is a direct, 1:1 comparison. If you were allowed to do the latter and not the former, then yes, corpses would indeed have more bodily autonomy than pregnant women and that would absolutely need to change. That’s not the case however, and neither the impermissibility of harvesting organs from a corpse without consent nor the impermissibility harvesting organs from a pregnant women without consent have anything to do with abortion. She fails to demonstrate any conceivable way that it could be rightly said that restricting abortion access or making abortion illegal would give more bodily autonomy to corpses than to pregnant women.
One thing that I should address is her assertion that the pro-life cause is saying that women “MUST sacrifice their bodily autonomy.” Firstly, as we have already seen, bodily autonomy in no way shape or form includes the right to an abortion. Secondly, there is this confused notion of a woman being “forced” by pro-lifers (or back in the time before Roe, by the law) to carry a pregnancy to term. It’s not pro-lifers who would be doing that. It’s the created order that does that. Pregnancy is a natural facet of human life, not a legal punishment.
Now, as a side-note (but a very interesting one), someone could object to the phrase “created order” saying that I am bringing my “religion” into the discussion, in which case they are more than welcome to “leave religion out of it” by substituting “nature” for “created order” and my statement will still carry the same effect. The reality is however, that pregnancy was designed with the intention of getting a child ready to be born. Whether or not someone is inclined to attribute this undeniable design and purpose to a designer or to chance is their call, but it’s noteworthy that as hard as you try you can never fully get away from theological questions. To be honest, I think this is why fandomsandfeminism chose to root her key argument (bodily autonomy) in a “cultural notion” rather than an inherent right. Inherent rights can’t exist if strict materialism is true. I think that by rooting bodily autonomy in culture, fandomsandfeminism is trying to avoid the implications of mankind being created in the image of God. If we are created by God, then God gets to define when human life begins, we don’t.
Returning to my actual counter argument, we must finally (and most significantly) note that by using this analogy that fandomsandfeminism has once again shot herself in the foot. It turns out that there is indeed a comparison that can be rightly made between abortion and organ harvesting, but it’s not between the pregnant woman and the corpse. It’s between the child and the corpse. If we afford a lifeless corpse the value and dignity of being a human person, how much more should we extend that same value and dignity to a living human child? The concept of “personhood” might be debated by those who deny that all human beings are persons, but no one on either side of the debate can even for a second deny that the child in the womb at every stage of development is alive. She even goes so far as to make the statement that “you can’t even ask people to sacrifice bodily autonomy to give up organs they aren’t using anymore after they have died.” It seems to escape her notice that children in the womb also have organs which, in contrast to dead corpses, they are using. No doubt she would want to reply that in the “early stages of pregnancy” these organs have not yet formed, but even so not only has this statement provided concrete argumentation for not aborting any child who has developed organs, but the larger argument by analogy precludes any abortion at any stage. The implication of fandomsandfeminism’s arguments was that we should not extend more dignity to the dead than to the living, and she was right. We shouldn’t. But in the case of abortion, it is denying access to abortion that grants dignity to the living and allowing access to abortion that takes that dignity away.
In summary, I welcome the arguments of fandomsandfeminism. They strengthen the pro-life cause by failing to provide a viable justification for abortion, they provide a robust argument for the dignity of the child in the womb with the “bodily autonomy” argument, and they supply analogies that paint abortion as immoral, cowardly, and depriving the living the same dignity granted to the dead.
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