Fallacious arguments are a bit like Where’s Wally?. Once you learn how to spot Wally, you can easily spot him on every page. Similarly, once you learn how to identify logical fallacies – no matter how eloquently put – they leap off the page and beat you over the head with a hurley bat.
I mention this because, after reading this article by Fionola Meredith, I got beaten so badly by a whole gang of fallacies that I had to be rushed to intellectual A&E.
According to Fionola, some men aren’t qualified to speak on abortion because “murdering the little babies” is the sole reserve of those with a womb. But since pro-life men use exactly the same arguments as pro-life women, it is incumbent upon Fionola to answer these arguments without resorting to fallaciously attacking someone’s gender or making unqualified assumptions about their character. Does she do that? Nope. In fact, the entire article is who’s who (what’s what?) of logical errors, from name-calling and emotional appeals to wild and unqualified assumptions. There’s even some amateur psychology in there too for good measure.
Some of these angry, heartless men call themselves Christians. That’s a sick joke. If you’re such a champion of the unborn foetus that you can’t spare an ounce of compassion for a raped child, then what does your faith count for?
Let’s assume that these men are angry and heartless. In fact, while we’re in prejudice mode, let’s make them tax dodgers and drug dealers too. They’re horrible, compassionless, hypocritical, drug-dealing, tax-dodging, pro-life Christian scummers. And they stole the lead off yer Da’s shed. So now what follows? Nothing. Abortion is still the intentional taking of innocent human life.
What we see here – and in the following four (!) paragraphs – is a commitment to the ad-hominem fallacy – that is, attacking people (who she’s never met) as opposed to their ideas in lieu of making a persuasive case of her own. It’s just name-calling. And name-calling is not an argument.
Notice also that she attacks a strawman – the intentional misrepresentation of an opponent that is easier to defeat than their actual view. I’ve yet to meet any pro-lifer who wouldn’t have compassion for a raped child. Such a charge is as ridiculous as it is unfounded. But it also cuts both ways. If you’re such a champion of raped children that you can’t spare an ounce of compassion for the child heading for the abortion chopping block, then what does your egalitarian secularism count for? See how that works?
A much better approach – and one desperately needed in our wee divided country – is to advance actual arguments that must be defended. Arguments that stand or fall on their merits, not the gender (or colour, or race, or religion, .etc) of those espousing them.
It’s true that we frequently hear female voices who are implacably opposed to abortion in all circumstances, although I’ve never yet heard one of them give a satisfactory answer as to why any girl or woman should be forced to give birth to a child she does not want.
The answer is simple and wholly satisfactory to any right-thinking person: the value of human life is not determined by wantedness. A woman should not be able to poison alive / methodically dismember her unborn child because she does not want her, any more than she should be able to poison alive / methodically dismember her two-year-old for the same reason.
Again, the gender of the person making this point is completely irrelevant – it is either true or false on its own merit – but since you mention it, there are countless female pro-life leaders articulating this basic philosophical truth in the world today. In fact, the whole pro-life movement is headed up and staffed almost exclusively by women. There’s at least a dozen of them in NI alone. Why not meet with them if you’re still unclear?
I think they are motivated by something far more base, ugly and deplorable. I believe they are driven by contempt for women, a desire to control them and to have dominion over their bodies.
Listen to the vitriol in the words they use. What you’re hearing, echoing down the millennia from the dawn of time, is misogyny: an ancient fear, suspicion and resentment of women and their extraordinary power to give birth.
There’s no doubt that Fionola is a talented writer and articulate speaker (as much as I disagree with some of her views, I enjoy listening to her on the radio and reading her articles), but she’s no psychiatrist. All of this is mere conjecture that lies outside the bounds of her knowledge and expertise. How does she know what drives someone? Is she qualified to make statements about someone’s personal psychology? I doubt it. Is she privy to their medical records? I hope not. This is yet more name-calling, just made a little more sophisticated by wrapping it up in pseudo-psychology and poetic language.
And who are these suspicious and contemptuous men anyway? Big Ivor Bogroll she heard on the Nolan Show? Well, she might have a point with Big Ivor – I once saw him eat a plastic fork in a KFC outside Lurgan – but she hasn’t mentioned any names, or provided any evidence of these alleged transgressions, just assumptions and generalisations and someone she heard on the Nolan Show. This is not journalism – or even a thoughtful opinion piece – it’s naked activism.
Men can never know what it is like to experience a crisis pregnancy. They will never grapple with the horror and fear. They will never have to take out a bank loan to fund their personal travel expenses to England, or to make the lonely, disorienting journey there and back.
Consider this: Fionola will never know what it’s like to fight in a war. She will never grapple with horror and fear. She will never have to survive on benefits or struggle with PTSD. Therefore, Fionola doesn’t get to decide whether the army can torture war prisoners or not.
That’s a pretty bizarre argument, don’t you think? So, why would discussing other moral issues like abortion be any different? It’s true that gender perspectives on abortion can help us understand the personal experience, but they are no substitute for rational inquiry.
The abortion question does not hinge on gender or personal experiences (indeed, many women will never know what those things are like, either), but whether or not the unborn child has value and is worthy of protection. Would she make the same appeal to emotion if the debate were about killing toddlers instead of fetuses?
But ultimately it won’t be the man’s decision, nor should it be. Their views count for less, and rightly have no legal weight, because it is the woman who carries the child. She deals with the immediate physical reality of the pregnancy, as well as the lifelong impact of giving birth to another human being.
OK – if men can’t make decisions on abortion, then the 1967 Abortion Act is bad law. After all, it was introduced by David Steel, a man, and backed by a government comprising entirely of men. The same goes for Roe V. Wade in America which was passed by nine male judges. Of course, Fionola likely believes that the views of those men – and today’s male abortion lawmakers like Simon Harris and Leo Varadkar – do not count for less and have plenty of legal weight because she agrees with them.
So what this all amounts to, then – even with a shoe-horned attempt at balance by referencing the “kindly pro-life men” she knows – is the silencing of those she disagrees with based purely on their gender. Think about that for a second. Isn’t that the very base, ugly and deplorable trait that she claims to detest in others?