Jul 31, 2018 / By: Michael Spielman
Category: Abortion Arguments
I’ve been a regular listener to The Rubin Report for more than a year now. I’ve tried to get my kids to listen as well, but it’s a tough sell. You see, each episode is little more than a one or two-hour conversation between host Dave Rubin and a heretofore-unheard-of guest. How many teenagers—or adults—have the patience for such an investment? But the payout for those who endure is significant. I’m not saying that each episode is a world beater, but I almost always learn something new and frequently come away with a profound desire to make better use of the life I’ve been given. Would that more sermons did as much!
Topically, The Rubin Report is hard to pin down. Both the guest list and subject index are an eclectic mix, but it’s surprising how often abortion comes up. I say “surprising” because Dave Rubin is a comedian by trade—and a socially-progressive one at that. That’s not usually the m.o. of someone who wants to have a serious discussion about abortion. Nevertheless, it is Rubin’s assertion that abortion is never discussed honestly in the mainstream media, which may be all the explanation we need. The Rubin Report is nothing if not an ongoing memorandum against the totalitarian groupthink of modern mainstream journalism.
Philosophically, Dave Rubin describes himself as “begrudgingly pro-choice,” which is an interesting moniker. It essentially concedes that abortion is morally dubious, much like the once-popular slogan: “safe, legal, and rare.” In one episode, Rubin calls abortion “a horrific choice,” but he doesn’t believe the state should prohibit it—at least not until 20 weeks—and the majority of his guests seem to agree. When professional skeptic Michael Shermer addressed the topic, his basic argument was this: The only alternative to abortion is infanticide. In his words:
All the way up until well into the 20th century, until the introduction of birth control, women just killed their babies after they were born. And it sounds cruel, but it’s just a basic triage decision to make. ... You just can’t have that many kids. ... Practically speaking, if you restrict women’s ability to control their family size, they’re going to do it anyway. [If you say] you can’t have an abortion, we’re just going to get more trash-can babies, more infants left in the park. That’s not a pure moral argument, [but] historically, this is what happens.
Jenny Wilson, a Utahn running for the U.S. Senate, also resorted to a pragmatic defense of abortion. “Women who don’t have the security I’ve had my entire life,” she explained, “with good parents and good support, are often prey to being victimized, and so I think a woman’s right to choose is very much critical because of that.” When Rubin asked her if there was a point in pregnancy when abortion should be outlawed, she simply appealed to the status quo:
I think that’s a decision for science, and I think the courts have landed, through Roe vs Wade, and so, that’s the best I can do, [to] follow what we have in place right now. I just don’t think that in 2018 we can go back in time.
Wilson’s notion that the Roe verdict was somehow anchored in science is misinformed, but it was her sudden devotion to “business as usual” that was the most perplexing. That’s because Wilson had already made it clear that she wanted to shake things up in Washington. “I am a reformer,” she proudly declared. “I want to fix things.” But after articulating the need to make “some pretty major changes,” her fundamental defense of abortion was an awkward appeal to positive law. Abortion is legal, and that’s good enough for me. “We can’t go back to the days of real tragedies prior to Roe vs Wade,” Wilson insisted, but what those tragedies were, she didn’t say.
David Smalley is an ex-Christian public atheist. Of all The Rubin Reports I’ve listened to, his was among the hardest to stomach—not because he’s an atheist, but because he fancies himself a biblical expert for his ability to debunk the faith of Christians who have either never read the Bible or never thought through it at any depth. He credits the realization that ocean animals couldn’t have survived the flood (because of the infusion of fresh water) as his “aha” moment—apparently unaware that the Bible is full of accounts which violate the natural laws of the physical universe. With regard to abortion, Smalley asserts that any effort to prohibit it is a breach of conservative principles:
I’ve always had this problem with conservatives, that they don’t ... actually espouse ... conservative views. Meaning, we’re for small government, until a woman wants to make decisions about her own body, then they want to come into her bedroom, and tell her and her doctor [that], “You’re not allowed to do this.” Or you must have—what’s it called?—the internal sonogram thing, where they go in, forcing a woman to be penetrated with a machine, before she can have an abortion, because they want her to hear the heartbeat.
This isn’t a pragmatic defense of abortion, but neither does it offer a moral justification. Instead it leans on libertarian principles and four misstatements of fact, which I’ll address further on. YouTuber and gaming-personality Colin Moriarty agrees with Smalley’s basic premise, telling Rubin that Republicans have to be consistent with their views. “(Our commitment to) individual rights,” he believes, “also parlay(s) to a woman’s right to choose.” Moriarty, however, goes on to assert that the right to choose should be cut off at 12 or 14 weeks. Late-term abortion, he believes, is murder—though he never articulates why it’s murder late in pregnancy but “choice” earlier on. This is Moriarty’s explanation for why legal abortion is necessary:
I always use a situation, a 16-year-old girl gets pregnant. She’s just done? That’s it? She has no choice in the matter? She has to carry this baby to term, maybe she’s 6-weeks in. She has no options to get rid of the baby if she wants to? This is going to ruin her life. She’s probably going to drop out of high school. She’s going to be on the system. She’s going to be working no skilled jobs—on food stamps, all these kinds of things... You have to give people a way out because it’s not as simple as saying, ‘Well, that’s a life.’ Well, so is the person carrying it. And... it’s more complicated than that. It’s just way more complicated than just narrowing it down to this black and white thing. It’s very gray; it’s not binary.
Writer and economist Eric Weinstein takes a similar tact, questioning the basic biological reality that “life is a Boolean.” An embryo is either alive or it isn’t, but Weinstein believes this is beside the point. By his thinking, we should be focusing on “the meaning of the life or the quality of the life.” The problem of course is that such metrics are fuzzy and immeasurable—and have provided the historic justification for all manner of atrocity. Are we really to believe that abortion is the one instance in all of human history where it is morally legitimate to strip basic rights of personhood from a demonstrably human being? Aren’t policies of dehumanization always and intrinsically unjust?
Having now highlighted some of the pragmatic and libertarian defenses for abortion that have appeared on The Rubin Report, I’d like to respond with a series of statements and explanations. I do this for two reasons. First, the rationales for abortion listed above are not uncommon. There is a good chance you have or will run into them at some point. Perhaps you hold them yourself, which is why it’s so important to consider their inherent shortcomings. Second, Dave Rubin’s support of legal abortion is fragile. When he and Colin Moriarty were asked in a Q&A which of their positions was the “weakest” or the one they were “the closest to flipping on,” they both immediately pointed to abortion. “I am very vehement about a lot of my views,” Moriarty answered, “(but) that’s the one, where not only can I see the other side and understand the other side, but I can see myself being on the other side.” Rubin concurred, adding that the issue of abortion “goes to the root of the biggest questions in the universe.” With that in view, here are some things to consider:
ABORTION IS INCOMPATIBLE WITH LIBERTARIAN BELIEFS
Dave Rubin calls himself a classical liberal, with increasingly libertarian leanings. This is how he summarizes his basic ideology: “Live and let live. Do whatever the hell you want, but you can’t do it on my property. You can’t steal my [stuff], and you can’t kill me.” Live and let live, it’s on one of our shirts, but this is precisely what abortion doesn’t do, literally. It doesn’t allow the most innocent and helpless members of the human community to live—and thereby violates the central tenet of libertarianism. As Dave Rubin once said, “protecting the most at risk is the right thing to do.”
ABORTION AND INFANTICIDE ARE MORAL EQUIVALENTS.
I deplore Peter Singer’s utilitarian worldview, but I consider him the most honest abortion advocate on record. He recognizes that there is no moral difference between abortion and infanticide. They are either both morally acceptable, or they are both morally condemnable. Michael Shermer, however, places them on a sliding moral scale. Abortion is bad, he infers, but it’s better than infanticide. Is it?! Is it better to kill a smaller child than a bigger child? Or a less-developed child than a more-developed child? Or a more-helpless child than a less-helpless child? Objectively speaking, there aren’t any qualitative differences between human embryos and human newborns.
MOST WOMEN WON’T DO IT ANYWAY
At the heart of Michael Shermer’s argument is his unspoken assertion that there’s a one-to-one correlation between abortion and infanticide. If we take away abortion, he tells us, “we’re just going to get more trash-can babies, more infants left in the park.” According to the latest estimates, close to 2,500 human beings are aborted every day in the United States. Is Michael Shermer really suggesting that if legal abortion is taken away, there will be somewhere around 2,500 newborns left for dead each day in American parks and trashcans?! Surely not, because both history and common sense tell us one thing. Most of the women who are willing to have a legal abortion aren’t willing to have an illegal abortion. Fewer still would be willing to give birth, then dump their newborn in a trash can. Arguing that “women will do it anyway” is an unscrupulous way to justify abortion—which entirely ignores one significant reality. Even if women were to do it anyway, at least the violence of abortion wouldn’t have the blessing of law. At least the whole of society wouldn’t be jointly culpable for the mass destruction of the most innocent and helpless members of the human community.
CONTEXTUALIZING YOUR SUPPORT FOR ABORTION UNDERCUTS YOUR POSITION
Both Jenny Wilson and Colin Moriarty make their support for abortion as narrow and sympathetic as possible. Wilson brings up girls who are raised without the security and support of good parents. Moriarty appeals to the 16-year-old who can barely take care of herself, let alone her baby. The problem is, these are disingenuous ways to frame the issue—unless you believe that abortion should only be permissible for adolescents who don’t come from good families. If your position is that abortion should be legal for all women, in all circumstances, then why play the neglected-teenager card? Isn’t this a tacit admission that your position can’t stand on the merits? The fact is, 86% of aborting women in the United States are in their 20’s or 30’s. Less than 1% of U.S. abortions are performed on 16-year-olds. When you narrowly contextualize the need for abortion, you essentially concede its immorality. Either it is ethically permissible to kill an unborn human being or it is not. The age and competence of the aborting mother have nothing to do with it.
THE “WE CAN’T GO BACK” ARGUMENT IS NOT HISTORICALLY CREDIBLE
Michael Shermer and Jenny Wilson both make vague and foreboding appeals to history in an attempt to justify our ongoing reliance on legal abortion. For better or worse, their arguments imply, there’s no going back; there’s too much water under the bridge. This, of course, is a slave-era argument. The appeal to positive law is what the abolitionists ran up against time and time again. Society can’t exist without slavery. Abolishing the practice is not economically viable. What will we do with all these poor “unwanted” people? One hundred and fifty years after the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment, we are still trying to undue the damage of slavery, but does the difficulty of extricating ourselves from our social or economic reliance upon injustice mean that the injustice should be allowed to continue? The fact that it will be difficult to reorient society in an abortion-less future is not a legitimate moral argument.
PERSONAL LIBERTY DOES NOT EXTEND TO KILLING THE INNOCENT
David Smalley hit on a number of standard pro-choice talking points while explaining his support for abortion. He either doesn’t know or doesn’t care that in general, abortions aren’t performed in bedrooms and they aren’t performed by family physicians. Nor is it the woman’s body that is destroyed and discarded. And the transvaginal ultrasounds he refers to are being performed anyway. The state laws he references are certainly intended to discourage abortion, but they’re not unreasonably burdensome. They simply require that the mother view an ultrasound image of her tiny baby before signing the de facto death warrant. Is that too much to ask? More to the point, the law doesn’t give mothers the right to kill children in their bedroom. Nor does it give them the right to hire their doctor to do the same. Even if the aborting mother hired her personal OB/GYN to perform the abortion in her own room, or prescribe her the pills to medically abort at home, it would make no difference. Her abortion would be no more or less justified than one performed by a total stranger at Planned Parenthood. Our right to privacy does not include the right to fatally injure someone else.
IF ANY UNCERTAINTY EXISTS, ABORTION CANNOT BE JUSTIFIED
Of all the guests I’ve heard address abortion on The Rubin Report, Candace Owens—of Kanye West fame—was the only one who didn’t take a position. “I’m not really sure about abortion,” she said. “I don’t really have a position on that just yet. I think through that a lot, [but] I don’t have an answer.” Though none of Rubin’s other guests admitted to this much uncertainty, some of them did hedge their bet. Michael Shermer said “there’s not one clearly right answer.” Colin Moriarty called it a “cosmic f-ing conundrum.” In other words, they’re not 100% certain that abortion is morally ethical—which is a significant problem for them. That’s because, any amount of uncertainty precludes one’s ability to justify abortion. If there’s even a slight chance that abortion kills an innocent, morally-consequential human being, then abortion cannot be justified. The entire pro-choice position becomes untenable.
THERE IS ONLY ONE MORALLY-DEFENSIBLE LINE OF DEMARCATION
“The moment there is fertilization, that’s a life.” Michael Shermer admitted this while discussing abortion, but then quickly retreated. “Well, it’s a potential human life,” he clarified. The problem is, this is a bogus classification which has no biological basis. At the moment of fertilization, a new genetically-distinct human being comes into existence. It is alive. It is human, and it is not part of the mother’s body. We can call it a potential newborn or a potential adult, but it is not a potential human being. It is a human being. And though Shermer tries to muddy the water by insisting that there’s a difference between a human being and a human person, I’ve already pointed out why this is a historically-reprehensible argument. “Life is messy,” Shermer rationalizes. All the law can do, he believes, is to pick an apparently arbitrary point at which to prohibit abortion. “I’m okay with that,” he says in conclusion, as if he’s being extremely charitable. But the real question is this, since the law has to draw the line somewhere, why not draw it at the one and only place where it can reasonably exist?
Michael Shermer and Colin Moriarty both operate from the conviction that the morality of abortion is exceedingly complicated and difficult to evaluate. Though this is more than some abortion advocates are willing to admit, their arguments still wind up serving the interests of the status quo—which in this case is abortion-on-demand. For all their talk of “nuance,” their basic position is practically indistinguishable from the current law of the land. And all the while, they’re creating the impression among reasonably-minded people that there’s just no way to know whether abortion is right or wrong—so why bother thinking about it at all?
I would argue that the morality of abortion isn’t anywhere near as complicated as we make it out to be. In fact, the only reason it’s complicated at all is because society is desperate to provide parents with the justification they want to get rid of inconvenient children. If we were really to look at this issue from behind the veil of ignorance, not knowing whether our fate would be that of the mother or the child, is there any question about which way we’d rule? The only reason abortion is “complicated” is because it renders a pragmatic benefit to one party by entirely eliminating the other. Sadly, people are quite adept at performing whatever moral calculus is necessary to justify the conclusion they’re after. And that alone is worth serious consideration.
Michael Spielman is the founder and director of Abort73.com. Subscribe to Michael's Substack for his latest articles and recordings. His book, Love the Least (A Lot), is available as a free download. Abort73 is part of Loxafamosity Ministries, a 501c3, Christian education corporation. If you have been helped by the information available at Abort73.com, please consider making a donation.