Saturday, July 17, 2004

A Common Mistake in the Abortion Debate

It is commonly assumed that opposition to abortion can be based only on religious premises. To show that this assumption is false, only one counterexample is needed. What follows is an anti-abortion argument that does not invoke any religious tenet:

(1) Infanticide is morally wrong; (2) There is no morally relevant difference between abortion and infancticide; ergo, (3) Abortion is morally wrong.

Whether one accepts this argument or not, it clearly invokes no religious premise. It is therefore manifestly incorrect to say or imply that all opposition to abortion is religiously-based. Theists and atheists alike can make use of the above argument.

Is it a good argument? Well, it is valid: if one accepts the premises, then one must accept the conclusion. That is a logical ‘must’: one who accepts the premises but balks at the conclusion embraces a contradiction. But there is nothing to stop the argument from being run in reverse: Deny the conclusion, then deny one or both of the premises. Thus, one might argue from ~(3)and (2) to ~(1). Someone who argues in this way is within his logical rights, but is saddled with having to swallow the moral acceptability of infanticide.