March 22, 2018

Abortion and the hard cases

Rebecca Kiessling
By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, March 22, 2018

Abortion and the hard cases

Thanks to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his kerfuffle with the Summer Jobs Program, abortion has been in the news lately. Whether the SJP and its “values test” are amended or not, it's important that public discourse about abortion be respectful, thoughtful, and well informed.

Perhaps the following objections and replies will be helpful.

1. Objection: Rape, incest, and protection of life or health of mother justify the current abortion practice.

Reply: No, arguments that abortions are necessary for these special situations are legitimate (if at all) only for those special situations. In my research I have discovered that these special situations account for less than 5% of the total. To justify the total on the basis of 5% makes the mistake in reasoning called the fallacy of hasty generalization. 

2. Objection: Rape justifies abortion.

Reply: Rape is wrong, definitely, for sure, 100%. But, as terrible as rape is—which it is!—some perspective is needed. Consider the following points.

Abortions due to rape account for only a small number (less than 5%) of total abortions. Thus, to justify the general abortion situation because of these few terrible cases is (again) to commit the fallacy of hasty generalization.

Also, the mother has been victimized. So the mother needs care. But keep in mind that abortion does not undo the trauma of rape. Keep in mind, too, that abortion can be traumatic as well.

Also, abortion may be related to subsequent health problems. According to the documentary Hush: A Liberating Conversation about Abortion and Women’s Health (2016), abortion risks include breast cancer, premature birth (of subsequent children), and psychological problems. By seeing abortion as a solution to rape, we might victimize a woman (a second time).

Also, we should remember that to kill by abortion the innocent human being conceived by the crime of rape is like killing an innocent bystander at the scene of a crime—a crime perpetrated by the bystander’s father. Surely, the father deserves (severe) punishment, not the child.

Moreover, the child's voice should be heard. Significantly, there are people who have been conceived by rape and are now speaking out on behalf of those who cannot. Enter attorney Rebecca Kiessling and company—people conceived via rape. Kiessling writes: “Have you ever considered how really insulting it is to say to someone, 'I think your mother should have been able to abort you.'? It’s like saying, 'If I had my way, you’d be dead right now.'”

Yes, rape is wrong, definitely, for sure, 100%. But let's be sure we don't succumb to the two-wrongs-make-a-right fallacy.

3. Objection: The life-of-mother-versus-life-of-child situation justifies abortion.

Reply: Yes, possibly, as self-defence (though some or perhaps many mothers would sacrifice their lives for the life for their child).

Significantly, however, the life-of-mother-versus-life-of-child situation is rare in North America (source: Dr. C. Everett Koop, former U.S. Surgeon General, "Deception-On-Demand," Moody Monthly, May 1980; also see here).

This means that justifying general abortion situation on basis of small percentage is (again) a hasty generalization. 

Conclusion: Rape, incest, threats to the life or health of the mother are tough cases that fuel many emotional arguments for abortion. Nevertheless, it's important to remember that these tough cases account for a very small percentage of the total abortions. 

Fordham University ethicist Charles Camosy, in his book Beyond the Abortion Wars (2015), says the tough cases amount to 2 percent of the total cases. As I've indicated above, others report that it might be 5 percent. Whether 2 or 5 percent, the fact remains that it’s a small percentage.

Significantly, this means 95-98% of abortion cases are due to social problems.

But, surely, social problems require social solutions—not the killing of children.

Canada should have a law that protects unborn children AND addresses the social problems that pressure women to abort.

Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Providence University College. The views expressed in this column do not always reflect the views of Providence. Many thanks to daughter-in-law Jessica van der Breggen for suggesting this topic. 

March 08, 2018

Reproductive freedom vs. abortion

By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, March 8, 2018

Reproductive freedom vs. abortion

What follows is a slightly edited footnote from my book An Enquiry Concerning Human Abortion, written thirty-something years ago. The truth of this footnote remains relevant for us today.

As Canadians know, in October of 1986 abortionist Henry Morgentaler appeared before the Supreme Court of Canada in his campaign against then-extant abortion law. As Canadians may also know, on the opening day of his appeal Dr. Morgentaler expressed his position with these words: “I hope the Supreme Court will grant reproductive freedom to Canadian women and the ability for doctors to provide good medical care” (Maclean’s, October 20, 1985).
As Canadians may not know, Dr. Morgentaler’s position is ludicrous.
Since a human being is reproduced at the onset of pregnancy, the fact remains that the decision/choice to reproduce is made, unwittingly or wittingly, before the occurrence of pregnancy.
Now think about this: Because abortion destroys human beings after the freedom to reproduce has been exercised, and because (according to the Hippocratic Oath and the Declaration of Geneva) good medical care entails the preservation of human life rather than its destruction—and because the Canadian Supreme Court did not and does not curtail the reproductive freedom of Canadian women by legislatively enforcing the use of chastity belts and/or contraceptive measures—it is quite correct to conclude that Dr. Morgentaler has confused the freedom to reproduce with the freedom to kill. He equates “good medical care” with medical expertise in killing.  
At this juncture some persons object that if they have taken care to use contraceptive measures and yet become pregnant, then they have the right to an abortion.
My reply: Considering the fact that most contraceptive methods are not 100% foolproof, and considering the fact that one takes a risk when one uses contraceptives (i.e., one risks getting pregnant), one also must accept responsibility for the risk of pregnancy when one engages in sexual intercourse. Why? Because taking a risk entails taking the responsibility for the possible consequences of that risk. Just as in Las Vegas one should accept responsibility for one’s losses when one gambles (takes a risk) and loses, so too in sexual intercourse one should accept responsibility for one’s pregnancy when one takes the risk of becoming pregnant and becomes pregnant. In other words, thinking that one has the right to abort one’s “unwanted child” after choosing to risk pregnancy is more ridiculous than thinking that one has the right to keep one’s money after one has lost it at a Las Vegas Black Jack table.

Back to the present (March 2018): Here are seven takeaways.

1. Reason and contemporary science tell us that the human embryo/fetus is in fact a human being: i.e., it's a genetically distinct, self-governing dynamic entity that belongs to the human species. It's not feline or canine; it's human. It's not a cat being or a dog being; it's a human being. It's not a kitten or a puppy; it's a human child.

2. Canada’s 1988 Supreme Court ruling did not give women the right to abortion. It merely struck down law that required therapeutic abortion committees. Why? Because the committees were not equally accessible across Canada and thus unfair to women. The Supreme Court ruling tasked Parliament with making an abortion law to remedy this unfairness and protect unborn children.

3. Reproduction, i.e., the creation of a child conceived via sex, occurs before abortion takes place.

4. Michael Bauman, PhD, Professor of Theology & Culture, Hillsdale College: “When pro-choicers have unforced sex, they are choosing. That is freedom of choice. When they decide to kill the child conceived during that sexual encounter, that is freedom from choice. They chose; now they want to be free from the consequences of that choice, even if someone has to die.

5. Only a small fraction of total abortions occur in the case of rape (forced sex).

6. Sometimes pregnancy results in socio-economic problems, but, surely, socio-economic problems require socio-economic solutions—not killing.

7. Unlike losses at the Black Jack table, a child is a blessing.

Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Providence University College, Manitoba, Canada. The views expressed in this column do not always reflect the views of Providence.

February 22, 2018


By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, February 22, 2018


“Be tolerant” is today’s oft-heard moral imperative. This principle of tolerance sounds good, but careful thinkers should ask: Is it sound?

Answer: No, and yes.

It turns out that there are two senses of “tolerance.”  Let’s call them Tolerance 1 and Tolerance 2. (If my labels seem to lack imagination, blame Dr. Seuss.)

Tolerance 1 is the contemporary popular understanding of tolerance. On this understanding, all views or identity claims and expressions are accepted as equal and true and good.

“It’s all interpretation” or “it's all perspective” or “it's all feeling” or “it's who I am,” so a view/ identity/ expression may be “true for you, but not for me” (and vice versa).

According to Tolerance 1, you are intolerant if you disagree with someone’s ideas or self-identity or self-expression/ conduct. To say someone is actually mistaken or wrong violates Tolerance 1. Such intolerance is a “sin.”

But, sin or no sin, Tolerance 1 is false.

From the point of view of reason and truth, it’s simply not the case that all ideas, feelings, and expressions are equal.

Think about it. That the Holocaust occurred is true and well supported by evidence, whereas the belief to the contrary is false and not well supported by evidence. That a square has four sides is true logically, whereas a square having three sides isn’t true logically.

Think about it some more. Western democracy is a better idea morally than Soviet communism (because the former tends to respect the intrinsic moral worth of people whereas the latter does not). Also, talking with one’s spouse to resolve a dispute is a better idea morally than beating one’s spouse.

Also, feelings can be mistaken. A woman who constantly feels she is—identifies as—overweight when she actually isn't, and thus expresses her identity by dieting to extreme, suffers from anorexia nervosa.

In other words, Tolerance 1 is an epic fail.

Now consider Tolerance 2.

Tolerance 2 is the classic understanding of tolerance.

This is the practice of forbearance toward persons who hold beliefs or engage in conduct with which one strongly disagrees. (Forbearance involves patience and showing respect to those with whom we disagree.)

Tolerance 2 is a willingness to accept a person’s right to espouse a view or express themselves or engage in behaviour even though we think the idea is mistaken or the conduct unwise or even immoral.

But, according to Tolerence 2, intolerance is not always a sin.

We may be appropriately intolerant of an idea if the idea is truly false and can be shown to be false, and we may be appropriately intolerant of a behavior if the behavior is truly harmful to self or others and can be shown to be harmful to self or others.

According to Tolerance 2, teachers are appropriately intolerant of students cheating on an exam or bullying on the playground. Also, judges are appropriately intolerant of perjury, drunk drivers, and murderers. Also, citizens are appropriately intolerant of governments that engage in deception.

In addition, I dare say, parents are appropriately intolerant of educators who claim (falsely) that the parents' child is actually the opposite sex. Why? Because just as an anorexic's feelings are mistaken about being overweight, so too a child's feelings can be mistaken about sexual identity.

Clearly, Tolerance 2 (the classic understanding of tolerance) is superior, intellectually and morally, when compared to Tolerance 1 (the contemporary popular understanding of tolerance).

The question now arises: Who’s to say what’s true and good? That is to ask: How do we arbitrate between competing claims about what’s true and good?

Answer: We are to say what’s true and good. How? By using careful reasoning and careful investigation of evidence to discern what’s objectively true and good.

Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is associate professor of philosophy at Providence University College. The views expressed in this column do not always reflect the views of Providence.

January 30, 2018

Aborting Trudeau's (other) abortion argument

Canada's Prime Minister posing thoughtful.
(Vogue Magazine, January 2016.)
By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, February 8, 2018
(This is my original. An edited, less clear version appeared in the newspaper.)

Aborting Trudeau’s (other) abortion argument

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been criticized rightly about his recent false claims that Canadian women have a constitutional right to abortion (fact check: Canada’s Charter does not set out such a right). Yet, Trudeau goes on to justify abortion because, according to Trudeau, women have “the right to control their own bodies.”

This justification should be criticized, too.

Why? Because it's absurd.

Trudeau’s justification of abortion works only if the following argument works (I call it the body-part-control argument):
  • Premise 1: Every woman has the right to control her own body.
  • Premise 2: The fetus is a part of the pregnant woman’s body.
  • Conclusion: Women have the right to abortion.

The argument sounds good, but is it sound?

Nope, it is NOT sound. Consider the following reasoning.

First, assume (for the sake of argument) that the second premise is true. That is, assume that the fetus is a part of the pregnant woman’s body.

Second, consider the logical relation of transitivity. If A is a part of B, and B is a part of C, then A is a part of C. If a brick is part of a wall, and the wall is part of a house, then the brick is part of that house.

Third, keep in mind two facts: (1) a woman has two feet; and (2) a fetus has two feet.

Now, consider the following: if a fetus’ two feet are a part of the fetus, and if the fetus is a part of a pregnant woman, then the fetus’ two feet are a part of that woman. Hence, the woman has four feet.

Now, also consider the fact that the male fetus has a penis. If the penis is a part of the fetus, and if the fetus is a part of the pregnant woman, then the woman has a penis. (Note: We’re not talking intersex here, we’re talking about a pregnant woman.)

Think, too, about the possibility of male triplets.

Since absurdities follow logically from the assumed truth of the second premise, we can conclude that the second premise is false. (This is a reductio ad absurdum argument.)

Significantly, premise 2 fails to recognize the distinction between the concepts of part and connection. An object A can be connected to object B, yet object A need not be a part of B. The piano in a mover’s truck is connected (via straps, etc.) to the truck, yet the piano is not a part of that truck. Similarly, the fetus is connected to a woman’s body, yet the fetus is not a part of the woman’s body.

Sure, every woman has the right to control her own body. But there two bodies involved in an abortion.

Dear Prime Minister Trudeau: Please notice that it’s one thing to control one’s own body—it’s  quite another to kill the body of another!


Postscript: An objection and a reply

Objection: In 2014 there was a case in China of a baby conjoined at the torso to a headless parasitic twin, so the baby had extra legs, arms, etc. This case counts against the alleged absurdity of a woman having more than two feet or two hands (e.g., eight of each) and so on (e.g., three penises). So the above critique of the body-part-control argument fails.

Reply: Nope, it’s the objection that fails. Why? Because the limbs etc. of the headless parasitic twin are ATTACHED to the baby, but are NOT PART of the baby—they are properly a part of the headless parasitic twin that's conjoined/ connected to the baby. To think otherwise is to continue confusing / not distinguishing the notions of ‘part of X’ and ‘connection to X.’ (Happily, the limbs etc. of the headless parasitic twin were successfully detached surgically from the baby.)

Recommended book (from which the above reductio ad absurdum argument is gotten):

Peter Kreeft, The Unaborted Socrates

Past APOLOGIA columns concerning abortion:
Canada Summer Jobs kerfuffle, January 18, 2018 
About my abortion columns, October 26, 2017
Abortion, February 2, 2017
About outlawing abortions, November 24, 2016
We need an abortion law, October 12, 2016
Beyond the abortion wars, August 8, 2016
We need an abortion law, September 3, 2015
On abortion, again, October 16, 2008
Aborting an abortion argument, September 18, 2008

For support for crisis pregnancy:

Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is associate professor of philosophy at Providence University College, Otterburne, Manitoba. The views expressed in APOLOGIA do not always reflect the views of Providence.