A (really long) response to Goretti Horgan

It’s been a while since I’ve written a response blog (or any kind of blog, for that matter!). The main reason is that it’s rare that anything of substance is published or said in the media which is worth responding to in-depth. I’ve found that fallacious and vapid pro-abortion arguments – i.e. almost all – are best addressed using quick tweets. It’s much less time-consuming and often gains more traction. Once in a while, however, something grabs my attention that I think deserves a fuller response.

On October 4th, Goretti Horgan, a longtime abortion activist, appeared on Radio Ulster’s Talkback show to discuss the full commissioning of Northern Ireland’s abortion services. What followed was, perhaps, the most ill-informed and logically fallacious set of arguments I’ve ever heard from a leading abortion advocate – and that’s saying something.

To try and keep this as efficient and readable as possible, I’ll quote Goretti using bold italics and comment underneath. I recommend that everyone listens to the original broadcast, to ensure that I haven’t taken her out of context or missed something of substance (for brevity, I haven’t quoted every single word, but I have tried to quote her more salient points as fully as possible with a view to accuracy and fairness).

She starts by explaining why, in her view, abortion services took so long to be fully commissioned in Northern Ireland despite it being legal for three years. She then says:

“We still have people having to travel to England to access this basic healthcare, which is legal here, and yet isn’t available.”

It’s true that abortion is now legal in Northern Ireland and that some women still travel to England to avail of it, but notice what this assumes about the unborn. It assumes, without qualification, that the unborn are not human and instead argues that because some human beings go to extreme lengths to end the life of other human beings, the government should make it easier to do so. But why? I see no good reason why the government should be faulted for making it difficult to end the life of your own offspring. Yes, abortion is now legal, but legal doesn’t mean moral.

Almost three out of four people who responded to the Northern Ireland Life and Times survey (NILT), almost two out of three think that it is a woman’s right to choose whether or not to have an abortion. So Mr Wells has a right to his opinion, but he cannot say that most people agree with it.

This is completely false. The 2016 NILT survey showed that the majority of people in Northern Ireland do not agree with abortion based on choice alone. See the graph below.

Furthermore, the UK government’s 2019 consultation on abortion services showed that 79% of all 21,000 submissions received “Expressed a view registering their general opposition to any abortion provision in Northern Ireland beyond that which is currently permitted.”

Most interesting, however, is this candid admission (13:10 mark) by Naomi Connor of the abortion advocacy group Alliance for Choice, who, when discussing the prospect of an ROI-style referendum on abortion, said: “It’s obviously different in the South (of Ireland). A referendum wouldn’t work in the North, and nor do we want one because we think we’d lose it (laughs).” I’ve always said that if you sit quietly and let abortion advocates talk amongst themselves, the truth always gets revealed. Privately they know full well that they don’t have the majority support, but publically they say the opposite. Some people call this “telling fibs”.

“It’s also worth saying that there are women who are dead now, who have left children behind them, no mother to bring up those children because of the lack of abortion laws we had here.”

This is a hugely significant claim, so, and I don’t mean to sound cold here, who are these women? Where can we access the data on this? I ask because the one thing abortion activists do well – really, really well – is that they never waste a tragedy. They love a martyr. If there was even the slightest chance that a woman died in Northern Ireland as a direct result of our abortion laws, she would, like Savita Halappanavar and Sarah Ewart, be a household name. There would be vigils and murals all over Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter and plays performed at the Mac in her memory. It seems odd that this has only been revealed now and in such a fleeting manner. Secondly, and crucially, these anecdotal stories are moot because abortion on the grounds of saving the mother’s life has always been legal in Northern Ireland.

Personhood begins at birth, human rights begin at birth, and until a fetus is able to survive outside of the woman’s body, then really, the idea that … to say that people kill babies when they have an abortion is an absolute lie…”

Here, Goretti appeals to personhood theory to justify her view on abortion – that is, the idea that being a human isn’t sufficient to grant full human rights – you must also be a person. But, yet again, she merely asserts this without offering any supporting argumentation. Human rights are recognised in that which is human; they are not handed out like some sort of government benefit once a human life reaches a particular milestone. It’s also worth noting that personhood theory is only ever invoked when one group of humans wants to kill and/or oppress another group of humans. Goretti’s view – “It’s human, but it’s not a person” – has been argued countless times throughout history to a calamitous effect – Rwanda, Cambodia, Chechnya, Auswitcz, and many others spring to mind. It’s highly unlikely that she’s got it right this time.

Secondly, she appeals to the fetus’ total dependency on her mother as justification for ending its life, but again she offers no arguments in defence of this view, or, indeed, why a mother isn’t morally obliged to keep her offspring alive. Or why we can’t kill other humans who are also wholly dependent on others. Or why is survivability a value-giving property? Or why ending human life based on it not being able to do something isn’t ableist?

Thirdly, in regards to the phrase ‘killing babies,’ there are many high-profile abortion practitioners, feminists and pro-choice philosophers who are quite happy to concede that abortion kills; some even admit there’s a baby involved. Here are a few of them:

Given the wealth of scientific evidence pro-lifers have at their disposal, and the candid admissions of many abortion advocates, there is no reason why we should take Goretti’s word over those even higher up the abortion activism hierarchy than she is.

More than half of all the people who have abortions are already mothers, already have children, and so we know what we’re doing and we know that what we are doing is not giving life, which is very different to killing. And really that language has to go.

It’s funny how pro-lifers are the ones charged with being anti-science yet abortion advocates regularly make statements like this that could’ve easily come from the mouth of a 17th Century nostrum dealer. Basic science, not to mention basic logic, tells us that a woman is pregnant because the act of giving life has already taken place. If there is no life then the woman is not pregnant and no abortion is necessary. Again, Abortion is, by definition, an act of killing. Consider this quote from renowned abortion provider Dr Warren Hern (emphasis mine): “I inserted my forceps into the uterus and applied them to the head of the fetus, which was still alive since fetal injection is not done at that stage of pregnancy. I closed the forceps, crushing the skull of the fetus, and withdrew the forceps. The fetus, now dead, slid out more or less intact.” Does that sound like merely ‘not giving life’ or does it sound more like ‘taking life’? If no killing was involved, how did the previously-alive subject of this abortion come to be dead? What happened to it?

Astonishingly, for an academic, Goretti also fails to understand the difference between actively doing something (an abortion) and not doing something (not giving life). Withdrawing sustenance, if that’s what she means by not giving life, is not the same thing as actively ending a life, which every successful abortion does. So how does she get around this? In an Orwellian power move, she demands the language change to accommodate her view. Sorry, no. The English language exists outside your abortion paradigm, Goretti.

We have to face up to the reality that we have parents in this region who are being forced to end pregnancies that they might want to continue because they literally can’t afford another child because there’s a two-child limit to the benefits and tax credits that are given to families across the UK and I haven’t seen Mr Wells’ party standing up to the Conservatives and saying “this is a scandal”.

Here she engages in subject-changing legerdemain to conflate issues and derail the conversation with the simple goal of making her opponent look like a bad person. She’s basically saying, “If you don’t agree with my specific political beliefs and support the same government programmes I support, then you’re a hypocrite for saying abortion is wrong.” But wait a minute; if abortion is the intentional and unjust taking of innocent human life, then other government policies, while important, are not the issue. Her argument here is like someone making a defence of slavery by saying, “Until you support government schemes that help plantation owners cover the cost of losing their workforce, you’re a hypocrite for speaking out against slavery”. Well, OK, maybe the government should do more to help people in general, but that’s irrelevant if slavery is a moral wrong. Charging someone with hypocrisy, or pointing out that they’re only concerned about one particular issue, is not adequate justification for ending a human life.

Rights are a continuum, rights develop. Of course, as a fetus develops, as it becomes more viable, it definitely does start to have rights … I don’t know anyone who doesn’t agree with that (the presenter then asks, “Is it a person?”) … no, no, no, it’s not a person, either before the law or in morality generally until it’s born.

This best sums up the difference between the pro-life view and the pro-choice view. Either you believe that every human being has an equal right to life, or you don’t. The pro-life view is that human beings are intrinsically valuable because they are human beings. The pro-choice view, as Goretti demonstrates, is that human value sits on a sliding scale of development where humans gradually gain value based on arbitrary milestones, such as viability (I’ve never known a viable newborn, by the way – leave a newborn be for long enough and he’ll soon die). So, if human rights are a continuum awarded by those in power based on an arbitrary characteristic, then every social justice cause that Goretti holds dear is fixed in thin air because if human rights can be given for arbitrary reasons, they can be taken away for arbitrary reasons. She wants to fight for and defend the poor and marginalised – that’s great – but on her understanding of human rights, her sword is a length of hose she bought in Home Bargains and her shield is an old cereal box wrapped in toilet paper.

There is no other situation where a person literally lives in another person’s body, so you can’t have that. You can’t have another person living in another person’s body. So you can’t have personhood until it’s out of the other person’s body. It is really as simple as that.

Let’s break this mess down into a syllogism to help unpack it:

  1. There is no other situation where a person lives in another person’s body.
  2. You can’t have another person living in another person’s body.
  3. Therefore, the person inside the other person is not a person, and we can kill them.

While premise (1) is true, premise (2) is by no means obvious because it a) neglects the moral obligation parents have to keep their children alive (let alone not kill them) and b) fails to understand that just because something is a unique situation, it doesn’t follow that we can kill the subject of that situation to solve a problem. For example, conjoined twins – where the weaker twin literally uses the organs of the stronger twin to survive – is also a unique situation, but it would be unthinkable for the twins’ parents to hire a doctor to kill the weaker twin on the basis that “There is no other situation where a person shares another person’s organs…”. Therefore, the only reason why you would believe premise (2) is if you already believe premise (3) to be true. In other words, Goretti hasn’t logically arrived at premise (3) through sound reasoning; she already assumes premise (3) to be true and this is her way of laying out her argument so that she doesn’t have to properly defend it. It’s question-begging and circular reasoning.

The problem is, even if you accept that an 8 and a half month… even a fetus that is a couple of days away from being born, is equal to the person who is pregnant, then it comes to the which one do you save in that kind of a situation?

Why would Goretti assume that an abortion at this late stage (which could take days to complete) would be needed to save the life of the mother when a C Section could be done in a fraction of the time? If this is a life and death situation and time is of the essence, and assuming this is a wanted pregnancy, why opt for the lengthier and significantly riskier procedure that ends with the death of a full-term child? This is an odd argument. But again, it’s moot, because abortion has always been legal where the mother’s life is genuinely at risk. Furthermore, it’s a false dichotomy because abortion to save the life of a mother is not about one life being less equal than the other; it’s about trying to save both with the understanding that the weaker of the two patients might die as result. The intent here is not to kill, but to save. That is vastly different from what Goretti wants and campaigns for, which is abortion for any reason through all nine months. She appeals to the hard-but-understandable cases to justify her true belief that abortion should be on demand. It’s a motte and bailey fallacy.

“Nobody wants an abortion at any stage, but they certainly don’t want an abortion at a later stage in pregnancy and the only reason people have those later abortions, that anti-abortionists only want to talk about, they’re a tiny, tiny, tiny proportion (presenter: “very small”) they are always for very severe medical reasons because the mother’s life is in danger or because of some very, very severe fetal abnormality…” 

Once again for those at the back: abortion to save the life of the mother has always been legal! It’s true that most abortions are indeed performed at under 10 weeks (89% according to Government stats for 2021), and some pro-life activists indeed tend to focus more on later-term abortions, but pro-lifers don’t believe abortion is wrong because of the gestation period; they believe abortion is wrong because it unjustly ends an innocent human life. In other words, the age of the victim is irrelevant. The bigger picture, however, is that 98% of all UK abortions in 2021 were performed for reasons other than those reasons that abortion advocates only ever talk about – rape, incest, a risk to the mother’s life, etc. Additionally, in the US, there’s a good case to be made that most abortions carried out after 21 weeks are not medically necessary, either for the mother or the child.

(Presenter: “Do you see any room for compromise?”) “Not useless you’re going to say that the woman’s life is only equal to that of the fetus that she’s carrying. I don’t believe that. I think the woman’s life is of more importance… that she has given over her body to grow this baby… and really she shouldn’t have to risk her life in order to do so.”

Ah, so it is a baby, then! Glad we agree on something. Sadly, this is where the agreement ends as the undefended assertions continue. Who said giving over your body to grow a baby is an adequate justification for killing the baby? This is an odd and impoverished view of the mother-child relationship. This also seems to be a tacit admission that not all human life is equal. Why are the mother and baby (her words) not equal? Because the mother uses her body to grow the baby? I wonder if this also extends to finances and emotions. Can a mother end her baby’s life because she gives over literally everything to her once she’s born? If not, what difference do the first nine months make?

To recap, it’s clear that Goretti’s arguments don’t withstand any kind of scrutiny; they’re shallow, ill-thought-out, disingenuous and fallacious – and they wrongly ground rights in arbitrary characteristics and a sliding scale of human development instead of where they should be grounded – one’s human nature (the clue is in the name – human rights). And, despite her confidence and self-assured delivery, her arguments aren’t even in line with what other abortion advocates are saying. Such arguments may well be persuasive to an 18-year-old in their first year of uni who has just discovered feminism for the first time, but anyone who cares about the pursuit of truth – both for and against abortion – should see right through them.

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