Monday, October 15, 2007

The Abortion Papers are Starting to Come in

I had forgotten the pains of reading student papers on abortion. The repetition of bad arguments and misinformation *hurts.* When I was at Auburn I started to create a tool that would let me drop in standardized responses to standard mistakes, sort of a FAQ I could use in paper grading. I never got as far with it as I should, because I got all caught up in researching particular scientific issues, like the so called "Post Abortion Syndrome"

With my current teaching load, I really do need to creating this FAQ quickly, without getting caught up in academic journal-level research. With that it mind, I am moving some (anonymized) comments from a student's rough draft here so I can begin to create the file.

Third Paragraph

“There are many forms of contraceptives out there for women to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancies like birth control, condoms, the shot, and absincence.”

If this is so important to the pro-life argument, why does every major pro-life group also oppose all forms of birth control? This is a major anomaly in the public debate, and if you are going to raise the contraception argument, you really need to explain it. For example, A Woman’s Concern, the pro-life pregnancy counseling group views all birth control as demeaning.

Christina Page, quoted here reports that "there is not one pro-life group in the United States that supports the use of birth control."

“Abortion is an easy way out for people who do not want to take the responsibility of taking care of a baby.”

To make this argument, do you need to assume the conclusion of the first argument, that is, assume that the fetus has moral status? Notice, you could say that birth control is a way of avoiding the responsibility of having a baby, but presumably you do not because you do not think sperm or eggs on their own have moral status.

“Overall, if women are going to have sexual relations than they should be ready to take on all the responsibilities that come along with sex.”

Is this just an argument against sex for purposes other than reproduction? You seem close to saying that a couple who wants to strengthen their relationship and have fun should not have sex unless they also want to have a baby.

Also, you misspelled “abstinence.”

Fourth Paragraph

“There are also a number of risks and dangers that could happen to the mother during the abortion procedure.”

Are these moral arguments? That is, do these dangers, if they are real, make abortion *immoral* or just risky.

“Statistics show that abortion is more dangerous than childbirth.”

What statistics? Who collected them? How where they collected?

First trimester abortions---88% of all abortions—are *much* safer than childbirth. You can sometimes make abortion look more dangerous by focusing on later term abortions, which often have complications because the pregnancy is already going badly—that is what motivated the abortion to begin with. See here

“Women who have an abortion are four times more likely to die the following year than women who carry their pregnancy to full term.”

Again, where did this statistic come from? How was it collected?

“Abortion is a risk factor for breast cancer.”

To be blunt, this is not true. The connection has been alleged for some time by pro-life groups. At first the idea had some scientific plausibility, but a study published in the 1997 New England Journal of Medicine discredited the link. Pro life groups have ignored this and subsequent studies. The Bush administration even had information about the nonlink between abortion and breast cancer removed from government web sites.

My information on the abortion breast cancer non link came from Chapter 13 of this book but I forgot to mention that to my student. I also should have noted that she didn't want to say "There are many forms of contraceptives out there like...birth control."


C.A. said...

Doesn't seem to me that there is an obligation to explain the opposition to contraception in order to claim that the availability of contraception makes most pregnancies the result of a choice, or a failure of prudence that imposes and obligation.

I don't think the argument is a good one, just that it carries no additional obligation to explain fellow traveler's anti-sex beliefs. (The only case where it is an obligation is if the reason you oppose abortion is because sex is only correctly used for reproduction, or something like that, since it would entail opposition to abortion).

I think lots of people are opposed to abortion because they don't like irresponsibility and so the availability of contraception makes a claim that a pregnancy was "accidental" false in the morally significant sense for the vast majority of cases.

The weird spore people argument in JJT is supposed to address that. Doubt most people find it convincing. The bedrock belief is something like "stupidity is no excuse."

C.A. said...

grrr. "opposition to contraception" in second paragraph.

Rob Helpy-Chalk said...

Yeah, strictly speaking, asking the student to explain the platform of anti-abortion groups is some sort of ad hominem or guilt by association argument. However I deploy it for a reason. There is so much bad faith in abortion debates that it becomes vital that students recognize it and even question their own motivations.

Evelyn Brister said...

Yes, when I teach abortion, of course I get a few of these same attempts at arguments. But last time I taught it I got an original view which I hadn't heard before! It's worth knowing that men outnumber women 3 to 1 at my school, and the ratio was more like 6 to 1 in the class I was teaching.

A male student argued that what was wrong with abortion is that it's not fair for men. Women have some control over reproduction that just isn't available for men. If a woman gets pregnant and doesn't want to have a baby, she could go have an abortion and the father might not even know that he had made someone pregnant. On the other hand, if the woman wants to keep it but the father doesn't want his genes being passed on to another generation, he is NOT ALLOWED to force her to abort it. With much approval from others in the class, the student pointed out that he could EVEN be forced to pay child support for a baby that he would rather have had aborted.

Rob Helpy-Chalk said...

Is there any context in which a man has complained about child support payments and not been a total tool?