We’ve all heard it.
By now, every pro-life advocate has had the following accusation thrown at them in some way: You’re not really “Pro-life” in any sense of the term, you’re actually “Pro-Forced Birth” or “Pro-Forced Pregnancy.” Following the reversal of Roe vs. Wade by the United States Supreme Court, all manner of bizarre and vulgar epithets started getting lobbed at pro-lifers online and in person by abortion activists. The most common was the accusation that pro-lifers are in favor of “forced birth” or “forced pregnancy.” Abortion activists took to the streets to protest, claiming the US government is engaged in forcing women to give birth. Others began attaching the label “forced birth extremist” to pro-life advocates. Appealing to the United Nations Crimes Against Humanity charter, abortion advocates point out that “forced pregnancy” is listed alongside other such crimes as rape and genocide. This has led to abortion advocates asking for international intervention from governing bodies such as the United Nations on behalf of what they claim to be a horrific attack on the rights of women. This trend is far from the ramblings of mere internet trolls. Just this past week, Democratic congresswoman Stacey Abrams said in an interview that forcing women to carry pregnancies they don’t want is helping contribute to inflation in the American economy.
In light of the trend, pro-lifers need to know how to respond effectively to being labeled in such a way.
An important first step is to realize that when it comes to an issue such as abortion, just like any contentious issue, there are going to be two types of people: those who are seeking to honestly engage the issue with a pro-life advocate, and those who are simply trying to defeat a pro-life advocate. Some people aren’t interested in honest dialogue; instead, they just want to beat up those folks who disagree with their way of thinking. In their minds, the only reason a person can oppose abortion is if they are somehow sick or evil; and the best way to defend abortion on demand is not to defend the actual procedure of abortion; it’s to attack what they think are the evil people that comprise the pro-life movement.
The “Forced Birth” label is a prime example. If you can paint your opponent as a moral monster, it becomes much easier to dismiss anything they have to say. After all, who wants to listen to what someone thinks about right and wrong when they believe in forcing innocent women to give birth to children against their will?
And therein lies the problem.
Why should a reasonable person accept the premise that people opposed to abortion are only doing so for evil reasons? Maybe it is the case that some people oppose abortion for unethical purposes. So? How does this establish that there are no good reasons for opposing abortion? Critics of the pro-life view need to take the time to make their case for their views, instead of resorting to lazy accusations of malice.
Let’s review the pro-life argument:
- It’s wrong to intentionally kill an innocent human being
- Elective abortion intentionally kills an innocent human being
- Therefore, elective abortion is wrong.
Pro-lifers oppose abortion because it intentionally ends the life of innocent human beings. We know this, because the science of embryology is pretty clear about what the entity killed by abortion actually is; so clearly, the best defenses of abortion admit that abortion kills a member of the human family, and will appeal to philosophy, not science, in order to argue their points.
However, the pro-life position also makes the most sense when it comes to philosophy. We know there is no essential difference between the entities we were before our birth, and the adults we are today, which justifies killing us at the earliest part of our lives. We didn’t go through a drastic change to turn us into human beings; we already were human beings, albeit immature ones. Immaturity is not grounds for killing someone, and neither are differences in immediately exercisable capacities or the immediate ability to function as a “person.” Human beings are persons by their very nature, which is intrinsically geared toward the rational behavior we attribute personal qualities to during life.
Instead of addressing these ideas, abortion advocates who use the “Forced Birth Extremist” or “Forced Pregnancy Advocate” label are relying on name-calling to do their work for them. They’re looking for a lazy way out; instead of addressing the views of pro-lifers by responding with substance, they just expect the general public to accept opponents of abortion are motivated by evil without question. Even if it were true, our critics still need to provide a basis for why it is true.
Here’s how to answer the Forced Birth accusation.
Whenever a label is applied to someone, a necessary first step should be to ask for clarification. A simple question, “What do you mean by that?” Is helpful here. Labels must be defined and clarified. So for instance, in a conversation, if someone says “You pro-lifers are all just forced birth extremists” a helpful reply would be, “Can you please tell me what you mean exactly when you say I’m for forced birth?” Chances are, your critic has no idea, and hasn’t thought about it. Being called a name like “Forced Birth Extremist” is a sign your critic isn’t thinking very deeply. They’re repeating a slogan or label they’ve heard other people use to beat pro-lifers into silence. Asking careful questions can be a way to keep the conversation civil. Other questions can be helpful:
“You said my views are extremist. What makes you think that?”
“When you use the term ‘forced birth’, what do you have in mind?”
“Have you considered the possibility that abortion is itself using lethal force against another human being?”
The point is not to look for soundbite answers to silence critics of the pro-life view. Instead, the point of questions should be to promote further dialogue. Dialogue does more to change minds than soundbites and slogans.
It should be stated up front that the pro-life movement is not interested in “forcing” women into being pregnant against their will. Broadly speaking, pro-life advocates want all children to be conceived within the framework of a stable family environment through the love of a married mother and father. This is why many pro-life organizations actively try to promote healthy sexual relationships, with an emphasis on healthy courtships and marriages. However, we do recognize that this ideal doesn’t always play out for everyone, which is why pro-life organizations exist to address the burdens of pregnancy and parenthood by assisting women and men who are experiencing unplanned pregnancies (something many organizations have been attacked for in recent months).
In addition, the rhetoric of “forced pregnancy” is intellectually dishonest. More than nine out of ten times, when a woman becomes pregnant, it is through an act of sexual intercourse she willingly consented to, as did her partner. Pregnancy in this instance is the end result of the natural human sexual function, not government intervention. In the vast majority of cases, pregnancy is not unnaturally “forced” on a woman, it is the result of male and female gametes uniting to produce a human embryo within the parts of a woman’s body geared towards supporting such a process.
Now, if elective abortion is the intentional killing of an innocent human being, then asking someone to refrain from ending their pregnancy by killing that innocent human being is perfectly reasonable. It is the alternative, that a human being may be killed to end the condition of pregnancy, which naturally ends on its own, that seems extreme. Pregnancy is always a temporary condition; albeit one which does have negative side effects. However, negative side effects can be alleviated or at least managed. Abortion, the death of a human being, is always permanent. Using abortion to solve the problem of pregnancy is using a permanent solution to address a temporary (though not insignificant) problem.
Abortion activists who use the “Forced Birth/Forced Pregnancy” label are assuming, without argument, that abortion does not intentionally kill an innocent human being. No one would look with sympathy at a person who tried to kill their toddler as suffering from “Forced Parenthood.” The reason is we know intentionally killing other human beings to make our own lives easier is wrong. Now, maybe our critics are correct, and abortion does not kill a member of the human family, but given the status of the preborn is the very issue dividing pro-life and pro-choice people, they still need to argue their point instead of just assuming it to be true.
Some will object at this point, and assert that expecting a woman to remain pregnant is a denial of a woman’s fundamental humanity, and treats her body as having no more value than a medical incubator.
This is false. As Helen Watt points out, just as when we expect a father to refrain from violently shaking his newborn, we’re not treating him as having no more value than a mere cradle, it also follows that expecting a mother to refrain from killing her yet-to-be-born child is not treating her as a mere incubator. Expecting both men and women to exercise restraint and not kill other human beings isn’t a denial of their humanity; by expecting women and men to act like basically decent people, we affirm their humanity.
The fact pro-lifers will routinely try to reason with women considering abortion in order to help them find other options which don’t involve killing their children, proves the claim false, as the behavior of pro-lifers assumes the humanity of the women involved. We don’t spend our time trying to reason with non-human entities like animals about right and wrong; we only do it with other people, because we assume they are as fully human (and reasonable) as we are. It is pro-life advocates after all who coined the phrase “Love Them Both”.
Faulty Understanding of UN Charter
Second, many of the appeals regarding “Forced Pregnancy” rest on a pretty faulty understanding of international human rights law.
Abortion advocates will often cite Section 7.1 of the United Nations Crimes Against Humanity Charter to bolster their claim the laws prohibiting abortion are a violation of the human rights of women, as the charter lists “Forced Pregnancy” as a crime against humanity. This has led to abortion activists requesting the United Nations step in and intervene against laws preventing abortion in the aftermath of the Dobbs ruling.
The United Nations Charter lists multiple crimes that can be committed against fellow human beings, including murder, assault, and rape. The term “Forced Pregnancy” appears listed among sexual crimes. Noticeably absent, however, is the term “Forced Abortion”. We know evil regimes commit forced abortions on women who find themselves on the opposite side of the regime, as happens in North Korea, and even in the United States, women are pressured into, and sometimes forced, to undergo abortions by the people in their lives. Abortion activists owe an explanation here. Why the outrage over “Forced Pregnancy” and none over “Forced Abortion”? Isn’t forcing someone to undergo an abortion a gross injustice?
Let’s suppose “Forced Pregnancy” in the UN charter is referring to governments passing laws which deny women abortions. This would mean (according to abortion activists) the UN has declared denying a woman an abortion after she got pregnant through consensual sexual intercourse the moral equivalent of raping her. However, agents of a tyrannical government using force or threat of force to insert medical instruments into a woman’s vaginal canal to kill what she believes to be her baby would not the moral equivalent of rape in this view. The sheer stupidity of the idea is barely worth commenting on.
Additionally, if by “Forced Pregnancy” the UN is referring to merely denial of abortions, other absurdities result.
For one, so long as a woman doesn’t have to remain pregnant, there can be no limits on abortion at all, even abortions for frivolous reasons. Elective third-trimester abortions must be allowed, something only the most fanatical abortion activists are willing to support.
Examples of the Absurdity
Suppose a woman named Julie is in her 30th week of pregnancy. She is living with her boyfriend, the father of her baby, and they are planning to get married the following week so they can be ready when the baby arrives. However, a few days before the wedding, Julie’s boyfriend reveals he has been cheating on her with a coworker since finding out she was pregnant, and that he is breaking off the engagement to pursue a relationship with this other woman.
Not wanting to raise a child by herself, Julie decides to have her obstetrician perform a third-trimester abortion. He is initially hesitant, pointing out that once she gives birth in a few weeks, she will no longer be pregnant, but Julie dismisses this by pointing out that he would basically be forcing her to be pregnant and give birth against her will. Reluctantly, the doctor complies. Following training guidelines from the National Abortion Federation (1), the doctor injects Digoxin into the bloodstream of the fetus, causing cardiac arrest and death, then proceeds to remove the fetus piece by piece, using forceps to twist arms and legs to the point of breaking them off the torso, then uses curved scissors to puncture the back of the baby’s skull. Having done this, he uses a suction catheter to remove the brain and collapse the skull, before pulling the rest of the fetal torso out. He completes the procedure and renders post-operative care for Julie, based on established medical practice.
Now, in this above scenario, who stands to suffer the greatest injustice? Julie, by having to remain pregnant until her due date, or her baby? The answer should be obvious. While we ought to sympathize with Julie (who has undoubtedly suffered an injustice thanks to her cad of a boyfriend), any reasonable person can see that the supposed evil of “forced pregnancy” in this scenario pales in comparison to the forcing of death on her baby. If you are uncomfortable reading through this scenario, you ought to be. Our discomfort over late-term abortion is a sure sign the very idea of abortion denial being a horrendous crime against humanity is ridiculous.
Let’s change the scenario a bit. Suppose Julie’s obstetrician refuses to perform the abortion, and Julie is unable to find another doctor in the area willing to perform the grisly procedure. She reaches her due date and gives birth to a baby boy. Remembering what her Women’s Studies professor said about Forced Pregnancy being a crime against humanity, and no longer wanting to be a parent, Julie grabs scissors and attempts to slit the newborn’s throat. Hearing the cries of the infant, several passersby see what is occurring and grab Julie to stop her. A police officer arrives and arrests her for attempted murder. In Julie’s defense before the criminal court, her lawyer argues that Julie was a victim of a terrible crime against humanity; through being forced to be pregnant by being denied an abortion, and that by stopping her from slitting the throat of her newborn, the state was adding insult to injury by forcing her to be a parent. Killing her newborn was simply an act of self-defense against forcing her into doing something she didn’t want.
Now, ask yourself: Should any reasonable person accept this explanation? If we wouldn’t accept this explanation regarding infanticide, then why would we accept it when it would apply to killing the same baby just a few weeks or months before he was born?
Let’s change the scenario one more time. Suppose Julie is instead 25 weeks pregnant, just past the point of viability. Due to advances in prenatal genetic testing, she is able to determine her baby’s susceptibility to certain diseases, and even what sexuality her child will be. Receiving her test results, she finds out her child is has the genes tied to homosexuality. Coming from a culture with deeply entrenched prejudices against gay and lesbian people, Julie realizes that having a gay child will cause much tension with her family, and she isn’t comfortable with the idea herself. Deciding she doesn’t want to give birth to a gay child, she seeks out a doctor to perform an abortion. The doctor, troubled by the blatant homophobia, refuses to perform the abortion. Julie, sensing the doctor’s reservation, reminds the doctor that forcing her to remain pregnant with a gay child against her will is a moral crime, and compels the doctor to perform the abortion.
Has something wrong occurred here? Are we supposed to believe that it is a greater wrong for Julie to have to carry a gay child against her will than it is to kill a child so they won’t be born gay? We all can recognize killing other human beings simply because they differ from us is deeply wrong. And yet, if the “Forced Pregnancy/Birth” accusation is to be taken seriously, it would have to lead us to conclude preventing a mother from killing her child before birth because of their sexuality is a horrendous evil on par with rape, forced sterilization, and murder.
This scenario may seem contrived, but it’s far from a mere hypothetical. In his book Abortion Practice, abortionist Warren Hern recounts an incident where a woman came into his office seeking an abortion. The patient was pregnant with a boy and instead wanted to be pregnant with a girl. She asked Hern to abort her fetus so she could get pregnant again with a child of the desired sex. Hern mentions he was troubled by this, but went ahead and performed the procedure because he believed it would be a greater wrong to let her carry on the pregnancy of a boy against her will.
Other absurdities could easily be mentioned here, but the point is the accusation of “Forced Birth Extremism” itself leads to extremism in that no abortion, no matter how frivolous, may be prohibited in law so long as a woman doesn’t have to remain pregnant. In addition, infanticide may be allowed in the name of opposing “Forced Parenthood”, because the burdens of parenthood may be even greater than the burdens of pregnancy. This is insanity. However, if the idea of killing a human being before birth simply because they are the wrong sex, the wrong sexuality, or because we simply don’t want them to exist anymore troubles us, then the rage over “Forced Pregnancy” is very misplaced.
So What Does “Forced Birth” Really Mean?
What is most likely the case regarding the UN’s charter on crimes against humanity is the term “Forced Pregnancy” is in reference to actions by an evil state bent on oppressing and controlling a people group. Suppose the fictional country of Atropia invades the neighboring country of Ariana and overthrows the government. Bent on controlling and eventually eliminating the ethnic Arianan people, soldiers of the Atropian army begin raping and forcibly impregnating Arianan women, in order to gradually eradicate the Arianan bloodline. Such evil actions would warrant the label “crime against humanity.” Given the creation of the United Nations occurred in the wake of the Second World War, where events similar to this scenario were perpetrated by countries such as Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, and Soviet Russia, it makes perfect sense to think the United Nations’s listing of “Forced Pregnancy” on the list of crimes against humanity was in reference to policies of ethnic control, not abortion. It’s worth noting the creation of the United Nations didn’t lead to an abortion free-for-all in the wake of the Second World War, but a greater desire to uphold the intrinsic value of all human beings.
Let’s change the scenario somewhat. Suppose another neighboring country, the fictional nation of Drusselstein, opens its borders to refugees fleeing the war in Ariana. However, Drusselstein has strict laws against abortion, only allowing the procedure to be performed in cases of life-threatening pregnancy complications. Citing their Constitution, the Drusselstein parliament informs the public that they believe human life is intrinsically valuable from conception until natural death, and all forms of intentionally killing innocent human beings are prohibited. Which country would be most guilty of human rights violations? Atropia, Ariana, or Drusselstein?
Given the understanding of “Forced Pregnancy/Birth” being promoted by abortion advocates, one would have to conclude Drusselstein is complicit in crimes against the humanity of Arianan women just as Atropia would be.
Again, this is far from a mere hypothetical. In 2021, following the fall of the Afghan city of Kabul into Taliban control and the subsequent evacuation of Afghan refugees, multiple posts appeared online to protest the ban on abortion in Texas, stating “When are we going to fly women out of Texas?” The hubris involved in such comments is pretty hard to fully grasp, and even harder to sympathize with. Imagine saying to an Afghan refugee family who just landed in Texas, “You might as well have stayed in Afghanistan because you can’t get abortions here.” Is such a comment justified? Or even remotely intelligent? Given the treatment of women by the Taliban, which has included shooting a young girl in the head for trying to get an education, comparing one’s inability to seek an abortion to real-life violent oppression by a terrorist organization is obscene.
Finally, one last problem with appeals to the UN Crimes Against Humanity Charter is that it works against abortion activists. The charter lists murder as one of the international crimes against humanity. If murder is defined as the intentional, unjust killing of an innocent human being, and if abortion is the intentional, unjust killing of an innocent human being, then, ironically, it is the pro-choice position that is at odds with the Crimes Against Humanity Charter. Now, one could deny the claim abortion kills a human being, but the leaders of a totalitarian regime or terrorist organization could just as easily deny the humanity of their victims of sanctioned intentional killings as well. The burden of proof is on those who promote an exclusionary view of humanity, in which some humans are protected and others are arbitrarily killed. As Christopher Kaczor notes, in history whenever human beings are divided into two groups, those having value and those who don’t, a horrible mistake has been made. So why is it with abortion, we suddenly have reason to think we got it right? Prudence and wisdom would dictate we be careful not to make the same sorts of horrific mistakes as our predecessors. Cries of “Forced Pregnancy” in response to careful thinking about abortion are neither prudent nor wise, but shallow and stupid.
Wrapping things up, suppose pro-lifers start refusing to use the labels “pro-choice” and begin calling our opponents “Pro-Baby Killing Extremists” or “Sex addicts who love killing babies.” Our opponents would immediately cry foul, and demand we address their concerns over restrictions on abortions. And they would be right. Pro-lifers need to offer substance, not rhetorical abuse if we want our views to be accepted. The same thing goes for abortion advocates. If they can’t muster better justifications for their views than name-calling, there is a fair chance they aren’t basing their views on reasonable justifications, but instead on emotional hubris.
Emotions are important, but basing our commitments to protecting human beings on something as fickle as emotional hubris never goes well, and usually ends with a pretty lengthy body count.
- Paul, Maureen et. al, Management of Unintended and Abnormal Pregnancy, Wiley-Blackwell, 2009, pg. 164-166