It’s a rule of thumb that people defending bad ideas often latch on to the most ridiculous of justifications.
In 2019 columnist Jill Filipovic wrote a piece for The Guardian, touting a new study that purported to defeat the pro-life position once and for all. According to the study, holding pro-life views on abortion correlated with holding misogynistic views or sexist behavior in other areas. Furthermore, because pro-life advocates largely oppose liberal policies intended to help people in need, their commitment to supporting human life is questionable at best, and dishonest at worst. According to Filipovic, this proves that the pro-life movement was never about protecting human life; it has always been about controlling the sex lives of women.
The study Filipovic cites is garbage and bears no real impact on the pro-life position. For one, a quick Google search reveals the group who funded the study, Supermajority, is led by none other than the disgraced former president of Planned Parenthood, Cecile Richards. That alone undermines the study’s credibility. Imagine if the president of PETA or the National Rifle Association was forced to resign in disgrace after a massive publicity scandal rocked the organization. Then, that same former president of the organization in question commissions a study to determine the “real motives” of their ideological opponents. Should we trust such a study? Probably not.
Second, even if the findings of the study were accurate, it proves nothing. Let’s review the pro-life argument:
- It’s wrong to intentionally kill an innocent human being
- Elective abortion intentionally kills an innocent human being
- Therefore, elective abortion is wrong
There are legitimate questions to ask. Is this syllogism valid? In a valid syllogism the conclusion necessarily follows from the truth of the premises? It appears to be valid, but maybe one of the premises is wrong. Maybe abortion does not kill a member of the human family, or if it does, it is still justifiable to kill them regardless. In that case the syllogism is valid but not sound.
Neither the claims for or against the validity nor the claims for or against soundness can be substantiated through this social survey. It’s impossible. If the unborn are not human beings, you can’t learn that from the behavior of those who recognize the unborn as human, you have to examine the nature of the unborn themselves. That’s a job for embryology, not sociology. The social sciences are not relevant to questions of a biological nature. To answer the question “What are the unborn?” We must go to the scientific discipline concerned with studying the unborn.
The science of embryology establishes that from the earliest stage of human development, the human embryo is a distinct, living member of the human family. As Dr. Maureen Condic points out, this is evidenced by several factors,
““First, humans, and all multicellular organisms, undergo development-that is, an orderly sequence of maturation that results in a characteristic adult form… A second characteristic of organisms is their ability to repair injury to restore the health and function of the entity as a whole. Embryos are quite remarkable in their ability to recover from even catastrophic injury…A third characteristic of organisms is adaptation to changing environmental circumstances, such that the health and overall function of the organism is preserved…Finally, at all stages of the life span, organisms show integrated function of parts to promote the health of the organism as a whole”.
As Dr. Condic concludes, the embryo, like it’s later stages of life, is developing along the pathway that eventually results in an adult human being. Because of this, we know the early human embryo is a member of the human family. If someone wants to dispute this claim, they must go to the findings of the discipline most concerned with studying the unborn. Sociology is not it.
In addition, let’s suppose the study touted by Filipovic as the final defeat of the pro-life movement is accurate. Let’s suppose it is true, all pro-life people, including the women within the movement, are misogynistic, sexist jerks bent on behaving cruelly towards women in need.
Should we or should we not be allowed to intentionally kill the unborn? That question needs to be resolved prior to any discussion about the behavior of pro-life activists in regard to other issues. Sociological findings about the behavior of pro-life activists are simply irrelevent. At best, they may reveal a number of moral blindspots pro-life advocates need to address within the movement; yet given that adherents of any social justice movement run the risk of overlooking their own moral blindspots, this doesn’t tell us anything profound about the pro-life position.
To highlight the problem in a slightly different way, many people who oppose the intentional killing of innocent human beings after birth (toddlers, for instance) also hold many of the bad ideas Filipovic attributes to pro-lifers. Are we really supposed to conclude that killing toddlers must be morally acceptable, because some of the people opposed to killing toddlers might be jerks? The very idea is ludicrous. Provided, it is much harder to agree with someone who is callous and insensitive, but that is a matter of psychology, not morality. So why view the killing of the unborn any different? Filipovic needs to argue for why the unborn may be treated differently, and not resort to broad Ad Hominem slandering of her opponent’s moral character. Once again, we are back to the question: What are the unborn?
In addition, social science cannot tell us anything about morality. Moral claims are beyond the scope of scientific disciplines. For instance, you cannot conduct a research study to determine what love, charity, purity, or justice are. These are moral virtues that may end up being represented to a greater or lesser extent in a population group being surveyed, but science itself cannot describe these virtues, or tell us why they are morally good virtues to pursue. Should friends come to one another’s aid in a time of distress? What does it mean for men to love their wives self-sacrificially? Should one always act with integrity, even if it means risking their job or reputation? These are questions that the social sciences are incapable of answering, but they can inform our decision making when it comes time to act on moral truths.
Lastly, Filipovic (and many of those who share her views) are cheating in a way. They simply assumed, without any argument whatsoever, their positions on all other unrelated political and ethical issues are morally correct, and anyone who disagrees with their positions must be either misled at best or evil at worst. But why should anyone believe a thing like that? Why should I believe those with a Progressive political or social philosophy are the only ones with views in line with justice and goodness? Why don’t conservatives or Libertarians have ideas promoting justice, goodness, and human flourishing? The claim that all of one’s ideological opponents are only motivated by cruelty and evil also needs to be argued for, not merely assumed to be true. Good intentions alone are not a solid basis for making decisions about public policy. Sound reasoning, prudence, and careful research are all necessary to come to a decision on which policy to pursue. Having good intentions is not an excuse for intellectual laziness.
No, the social sciences don’t defeat the pro-life position. Critics like Jill Filipovic need to try harder to make their case, instead of resorting to lazy slandering.