That Devastating Argument against Pro-Lifers

Patrick S. Tomlinson has come up with what he considers to be the argument that will silence the people who are against abortion once and for all. He puts forth his argument on Twitter, not, perhaps the best place to find reasoned debate, but here it is.

Whenever abortion comes up, I have a question I’ve been asking for ten years now of the “Life begins at Conception” crowd. In ten years, no one has EVER answered it honestly. 1/

It’s a simple scenario with two outcomes. No one ever wants to pick one, because the correct answer destroys their argument. And there IS a correct answer, which is why the pro-life crowd hates the question. 2/

Here it is. You’re in a fertility clinic. Why isn’t important. The fire alarm goes off. You run for the exit. As you run down this hallway, you hear a child screaming from behind a door. You throw open the door and find a five-year-old child crying for help. 3/

They’re in one corner of the room. In the other corner, you spot a frozen container labeled “1000 Viable Human Embryos.” The smoke is rising. You start to choke. You know you can grab one or the other, but not both before you succumb to smoke inhalation and die, saving no one. 4/

Do you A) save the child, or B) save the thousand embryos? There is no “C.” “C” means you all die. In a decade of arguing with anti-abortion people about the definition of human life, I have never gotten a single straight A or B answer to this question. And I never will. 5/

They will never answer honestly, because we all instinctively understand the right answer is “A.” A human child is worth more than a thousand embryos. Or ten thousand. Or a million. Because they are not the same, not morally, not ethically, not biologically. 6/

This question absolutely evicerates their arguments, and their refusal to answer confirms that they know it to be true. No one, anywhere, actually believes an embryo is equivalent to a child. That person does not exist. They are lying to you. 7/

They are lying to you to try and evoke an emotional response, a paternal response, using false-equivalency. No one believes life begins at conception. No one believes embryos are babies, or children. Those who cliam to are trying to manipulate you so they can control women. 8/

Don’t let them. Use this question to call them out. Reveal them for what they are. Demand they answer your question, and when they don’t, slap that big ol’ Scarlet P of the Patriarchy on them. The end. 9/9

I wonder just how many people on the pro-life side Tomlinson has actually talked to, because it seems to me that almost everyone would agree to save the five year old child. I don’t think that anyone would dispute that the life of a child who can think and feel pain is worth more than the life of an embryo who has not yet developed a nervous system. After all, everyone, no matter how strongly pro-life, agrees that abortion is permissible to save the life of the mother precisely because the life of an adult women is considered to be worth more than the life of an unborn embryo or fetus. A great majority of people who oppose abortion concede that abortion is acceptable is cases of rape or incest. This does not mean, however, that the life of an embryo is worth nothing at all or that it is acceptable to abort an unborn baby for trivial reasons or for no reason at all. Mr. Tomlinson actually addresses this in a follow up tweet.

Because a lot of people are missing the point, it is not being argued the embryos are not alive. Nor is it being argued they are without value. All that is being demonstrated is their value is not equal to that of a human child. That’s it. That’s the point.

Good, then we are in agreement. However, it does not follow that if an embryo is of lesser value than a child that it is acceptable to abort or destroy the embryo for any cause short of preserving the life of a more fully developed human being. Nor does it mean that somehow arguing against abortion is lying or being hypocritical. It is possible to concede the relative lesser worth of an embryo while still being concerned to protect the life of that embryo. Notice,also, that Tomlinson uses the adjective human to modify child but not embryo, a subtle  suggestion that the embryo is somehow not really human.

Tomlinson also misses, probably deliberately,  the distinction between a difficult decision between two evils and  decision to commit an overt act which may be considered evil. To illustrate the difference, consider these two scenarios.

First, suppose there is a mother at home with her five year child and their cat. Suddenly a fire breaks out and engulfs the house. The mother only has time to save either her child or her cat. She cannot save both. I think that everyone but the most fanatic animal rights lunatic would agree that she should save her child. Why? Because the life of a human child is worth more than the life of a cat. This does not mean, of course, that the life of the cat is not worth saving, or that the woman is lying when she expresses concern for the life and well being of her cat.

Now for the second scenario. Suppose that a mother is at home with her five year old child and their cat. The child tells his mother that he is bored so to amuse the child, the mother takes the cat outside, lights it on fire, and they both have a good laugh as the cat runs around the yard burning to death. I think everyone would agree that such behavior would be reprehensible. Why? Because even a person who is not sentimental about animals would recognise that torturing a living thing for no reason is an evil act.

What is the difference between the two scenarios? In both cases the cat suffers a painful death by being burned alive. The cat suffers the same level of pain in both scenarios. Does it make any difference? I think it does. The difference is between a regrettable choice and a deliberate act. In the first scenario the woman is blameless. In the second scenario the woman might be a psychopath. The end result is comparable, as far as the cat is concerned, but the motive is different and that is what makes the difference. It is one thing to allow an embryo or even a thousand embryos to perish while saving a child, it is quite another to deliberately destroy a human embryo who, if left alone, will develop into a human child

That is the core of the controversy about abortion, whether or not abortion is the destruction of a human being, the one thing that no one on the pro-choice side wants to discuss. They prefer to use euphemisms like “women’s health” or impugn the motives of pro-lifers by suggesting they are not interested in preserving life but oppressing women or establishing a Christian Theocratic patriarchy, anything to change the subject. My advice is don’t let them get away with it.

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