November 2nd 2019


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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Murray-Darling Basin Plan based on debunked science

CANBERRA OBSERVED What does it take to knock down GetUp?

TECHNOLOGY Beijing's push to dominate world supply of electronics components

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS Hong Kong protestors speak candidly to NCC, as Xi threat calls Tiananmen to mind

LIFE ISSUES Of foetuses and fallacies

LIFE ISSUES To hold the hand ... an answer to euthanasia

LIFE ISSUES Melbourne and Brisbane on the march

QUEENSLAND AFA/NCC forum addresses euthanasia legislation

THE ENVIRONMENT Fresh visit to the Great Barrier Reef in its death throes

COLD WAR HISTORY Was the Vietnam War worth fighting?

HUMOUR England United, and all that ... but with Hume?

MUSIC Usage and abusage: Words what got rhythm

CINEMA AND CULTURE The mirror of villainy

BOOK REVIEW Eclectic example of genre of decline

BOOK REVIEW Brief battle a model for combined arms

LETTERS

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM ABC survey finds majority agree there is unfair discrimination against religious Australians

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LIFE ISSUES
Of foetuses and fallacies


by Sean Haylock

News Weekly, November 2, 2019

Rarely is the progressive bias of the mainstream media and the major political parties more flagrantly on display than in discussions of “reproductive rights”. On this issue in particular the arguments in favour of more permissive laws are conspicuously thin, amounting to little more than the parroting of a handful of clichés.

Anyone who recognises the necessity of defending unborn lives will likely have been driven to frustration by the arguments of proponents of abortion decriminalisation, because those argu­ments could often be best described as not even wrong. That is to say, these arguments are so ill conceived that they entirely miss the point.

 

We can identify two prominent fallacies that characterise the discourse of abortion-access proponents.

The free-to-decline fallacy

New South Wales Health Minister Brad Hazzard gave a perfect example of this fallacy when he said of the state’s extreme new abortion bill: “Personally, people may not support for themselves an abortion or termination, that may be their decision. But what this bill does is allow others to have the right to have their termination irrespective of others’ views.”

Hazzard is evidently of the view that what you personally support for yourself is your business and what anyone else personally supports for themselves is their business, and that this fact ought to be reflected in New South Wales’ health-care legislation. This assumes that the Government’s only responsibility is to facilitate individual autonomy and that any and all moral responsibilities fall wholly on the individual in the exercise of his or her autonomy. It’s logically equivalent to saying, “If you don’t approve of slavery, then don’t own slaves.”

The point here is not that abortion proponents are comparable to slave owners but that, in making the appeal to individual choice on a matter of moral principle, abortion proponents fail to comprehend the nature of the objection to their position. It is no argument against me admonishing adulterers to observe that I am free to remain faithful to my wife.

When abortion proponents make claims such as that made by Minister Hazzard, it is as though they believe opponents of abortion are chiefly concerned about the danger of themselves being made into hypocrites, rather than (as is actually the case) concerned about the danger of innocent unborn children being wantonly destroyed.

Greens MP Jenny Leong, a co-sponsor of the bill, presented a particularly stark example of this fallacy when she said in Parliament, with emphasis, as though she were landing a knockout blow: “I have one simple message: If you do not like abortions, do not have an abortion, but do not prevent other people from accessing the health care that they need and choose to have.”

(Note the telling equivocation: needing and choosing are apparently interchangeable in Leong’s view).

The effect of statements like Hazzard’s and Leong’s is simply to signal agreement to allies and unwittingly confess ignorance of, or even disregard for, the real reasoning of opponents. It is impossible to address the concerns of those animated by inviolable moral principle if one insists on speaking the language of options and preferences.

Using this language is a way of treating your adversaries as though they had made some forehead-slappingly obvious error of reasoning, which then frees you to indulge in the fantasy that you have a monopoly on heartfelt emotions and deeply held moral convictions.

The it’s-about-time fallacy

An early ABC story on the NSW bill led with a description of abortion in the state as “an offence based on legislation dating back to 1900”. Media coverage of the bill has emphasised that it will overturn laws dating back over a century by amending the Crimes Act of 1900.

Nothing about this fact alone is commendable. One could contrive any number of amendments to laws as longstanding or older than New South Wales’ existing abortion laws that would have obviously disastrous consequences.

It would not be advisable, for instance, to repeal section 25A of the Crimes Act (1900), which criminalises assault causing death. The law governing the ownership of private property in South Australia (the Real Property Act of 1886, which was the model of modern property ownership laws worldwide) is 133 years old. No one (bona fide communists excepted) is clamouring to repeal it.

Change is not in itself a good thing. The only reason that change is being tacitly praised in this case is that a familiar narrative of progress stretching back to the Sexual Revolution’s postwar origins, and encompassing the whole gamut of sexual liberation issues, is being presupposed as the context of this legislative change.

References to the “historic” nature of this reform are endorsements of a particular view of history, according to which progressive causes are the realisation of humankind’s destiny. But hating the status quo (the way things are) is no more or less reasonable, as a general proposition, than loving the status quo ante (the ways things were before).

If your reason for adopting the view that change is good is because liberation is good, then that only begs further questions. It places the onus on those who would resist revolutionary social programs where the onus should be on those who would advance revolutionary social programs. The essential truth to recognise here is this: it is much easier to destroy than to create.

Progressives would have us believe that making it easier to destroy (to cast off what John Stuart Mill in On Liberty called the “despotism of custom”) and encouraging an attitude of renunciation of the past deserves deference and support, whereas honouring and preserving the creations of the past (laws, for instance) is unworthy.

If you think that this talk of destruction is overwrought, consider Jenny Leong, again, who gave an extended illustration of this fallacy with her contribution to the parliamentary debate, which was nothing but a potted history of feminist protests against abortion laws – making liberal mention of her own role in such protests and wheeling out predictable bogeyman figures like Tony Abbott, and congratulating her allies like a prize recipient – spiced up with promises never to rest until the goal of destroying the patriarchy was complete.

Leong made no attempt whatsoever to defend the bill on its merits or to dispel the sincerely voiced concerns of her opponents regarding specific details within the bill, as though it were not even possible that a law decriminalising abortion could require scrutiny of its particulars. An account of the “long road” travelled by advocates of change does nothing to fulfill the lawmaker’s duty to ensure as far as possible that a piece of legislation will have only those effects that are intended.

All those MPs who made pointed reference to “1900” or “119 years” were essentially giving Leong’s “long road” account in miniature.

So, when MPs in the NSW parliamentary debate over this issue framed their support of the reforms by reference to the age of the laws they would repeal – as when Brad Hazzard said: “the changes in the Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill are long overdue in New South Wales”; or when Labor MP Ryan Park said: “I am not proud that we are still debating a law that dates back 119 years … Now, in 2019, women ought to be able to access the health care they need”; or when a multitude of other MPs made pointed use of the phrases “1900” and “119 years” – they were implicitly appealing to a vision of history that uncritically privileges the future over the past.

Compare another issue that is often enlisted in defence of progressives’ “right side of history” rhetoric, the rollback of systematic racial discrimination achieved by the civil rights movement. This is an example of change for the better, but it’s not the case that it’s better because it’s change.

Martin Luther King had a dream, not a prophecy. To reduce his radicalism to resentment of the past and enthusiasm for the future is to empty it of moral content, and to obscure the difference between wanting compassion to take the place of brutality (King’s dream) and wanting autonomy to take the place of restraint (the demand of modern progressives).

There is a persuasive case to be made against systematic racism that doesn’t involve repeated reference to racist laws as outdated. In fact, such references only detract from the case against racism, making opposition to racism sound like a trendy affectation.

If there is a similarly persuasive case to be made for abortion reform, then why are its proponents incapable of arguing for their desired reforms without returning continually to the theme of change as a good in itself?

“It’s [the current year],” spoken in a tone of self-righteous incredulity, is not an argument. It’s an avowal of ideological purity, designed to banish the inconvenient protests of reason. It should come as no surprise that such avowals proliferate wherever otherwise reasonable people are busily excusing murder.

Sadly we are at a point where the idealogues of “reproductive health” just cannot hear these “knock-out” arguments. They just refuse to “get the point”. The abortion bill was passed. Nevertheless, amendments to the Bill mean the Act that is now law is not as bad as the bill that was first proposed. This is the best that could be got at the time. But there is much work to be done to inform people of the true nature of abortion: that it is ending an innocent human life.




























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