With the recent passage of anti-abortion bills in states like Georgia and Alabama, many progressive politicians and commentators have taken to social media in protest. These individuals rarely argue on the merits of the issue at hand, but pivot to peripheral debates, set up straw men, or employ other logical fallacies.
Such is the case with author and commentator Matthew Dowd, who sent out the following tweet on Wednesday:
One of my younger brothers sent this out to his nine living siblings today. He is a doctor, by the way. And we all grew up Irish Catholic. And I agree with him totally: "We should pass a woman’s heartbeat law: if a woman has a heartbeat, you can’t tell her what to do with her g**damn body, ever."
Dowd’s tweet is what’s known as an "appeal to false authority." Logically Fallacious has perhaps the best definition of this particular fallacy:
Using an alleged authority as evidence in your argument when the authority is not really an authority on the facts relevant to the argument.
Dowd’s tweet contains two appeals to false authority.
First, Dowd mentions that his brother, who sent the message, is a doctor. This is meant to imply that his brother is an authority regarding all things having to do with the human body. Therefore, if Dowd’s brother states that a law pertaining to abortion is bad, immoral, or otherwise unacceptable, who has the medical and social credentials to challenge him?
Second, Dowd notes that his family "grew up Irish Catholic." This is meant to imply that he and his siblings have more experience with pro-life apologetics than most others. Therefore, if Dowd and his siblings oppose the new laws from Georgia and Alabama, what argument could a pro-life individual possibly present that they haven’t already heard and discredited?
Both of these appeals sidestep the actual arguments at the heart of these laws, which are:
- When does life begin?
- Is a fetus less human than a post-birth infant by virtue of the fact that it’s developing inside another person?
- Does development dictate humanity?
- Is abortion ethically acceptable?
These are questions that abortion supporters don’t like to answer.
While the pro-life movement believes that life begins at conception (and science backs that up), the pro-abortion movement often sets the arbitrary standard of "viability." Such a standard is indeed arbitrary because "viability" not only changes where technology changes, but it can vary from person to person.
The "viability" argument is linked to the next question. If a fetus is less human because it is dependent on another for survival, there are numerous children and adults who are also less human. Infants and young children depend on their parents or guardians to feed them, clothe them, and keep them safe. Those with moderate to severe physical and mental disabilities depend on caretakers, doctors, and sometimes machines to survive. Those in a coma also survive only with the help of others.
Further, if development dictates humanity, if a fetus is less human because it is less developed physically and mentally than an infant, a toddler, a teenager, or an adult, where does the right to terminate end? Does a 35-year-old have the right to call for the termination of a teenager because the teenager is not as far along in their life cycle? Is the 35-year-old justified in calling a teenager "less human," and therefore of less value to the species? It may seem farcical, yet that’s what’s being said of the pre-born.
Considering the above points, how can one claim that abortion is ethically acceptable? They cannot.
These are the arguments that those in the pro-abortion movement do not want to have. Instead, they pivot, or indulge in feel-good logical fallacies such as appealing to false authority in order to protect their glass castle.
When debating those in the pro-abortion movement, do not let them pivot. Do not let them engage in fallacious arguments. Keep them on point, and you will have a chance to alter their perception.