September 7, 2021
Well, those quintessential role models of moral reasoning, knowledge, informed insight and wisdom are at it again — Hollywood actresses. Drawing on their considerable intellectual prowess, some of them have gone public in expressing righteous outrage against the recent Texas abortion law (effectively banning abortion after six weeks of pregnancy except for life-threatening cases for the mother) and those who passed it. We unfortunate, unenlightened, common folk should be grateful that they have once again come to our rescue! Unfortunately, there is one small problem: In reading their statements, it is next to impossible to find an argument for their position, at least one that has any rational gravitas. Here are reflections on the three “arguments” ubiquitously peppered throughout their angry and emotive rants:
#1: The law favors men and denies full equal rights to women.
Reply: Aristotle (sorry, he was a man; see below) rightly pointed out that in approaching any topic, there is a proper ordering of issues such that some things are first and others second, third, etc. Some things are basic and fundamental to a topic; others are derivative and less fundamental. Now consider this proposition: (1) The lamp is to the left of. Is this true or false? Its neither because it is an incomplete proposition that can be made complete by (1/): The lamp is to the left of x. (1/) ‘s truth is derivative or dependent on the more fundamental and important issue of what is put in for x. If x is the number two, the proposition is gibberish. If x is the table on which the lamp stands, the proposition is false. If x is a magazine to the right of the lamp, the proposition is true. Thus, whether (1/) is meaningless, false or true depends on the more fundamental and important issue of what x is.
Now consider these propositions: (2) A woman has a right (say, a full and equal right as a man does). (3) A woman has a right to choose. These propositions are neither true nor false because like (1), they are incomplete. To see this, we replace them with (2/) and (3/), respectively: (2/) A woman has a right to x. (3/) A woman has a right to choose x. Whether or not these two propositions are true depends on the more fundamental, basic and prior issue of what x is. If x is “drive one’s car through a person’s front door” or “torture and kill a neighbor’s pet” then (2/) and (3/) are false. If x is “become a doctor” or “move into an apartment” then these propositions are true. Thus, the fundamental issue is not rights or choice, but what the right or choice is. The fundamental issue is what an act of abortion is. If it is the taking of a body part, then there is such a right/choice. If it is the killing of an innocent human person, then neither men nor women have that right and thank God they don’t. Sadly, I could not find any place where the actresses addressed the fundamentality of this issue, the associated moral status of the life in the womb, and the precise nature of an act of abortion. Until this is appropriately addressed, claim #1 is nothing but chasing windmills.
#2: The law is “a violation of all women.”
Reply 1: If abortion is the killing of an innocent human person, then it does not violate a person’s right if a law forbids them to commit manslaughter or murder.
Reply 2: Since a significant percentage of women in the US are prolife, the Texas law honors their values and epistemically justified beliefs. This is hardly a violation of these women. So, it is false that the law is “a violation of all women.”
Reply 3: At least half of the aborted human persons are female. The Texas law protects the right to life—a fundamental right—of these females. So, the “all women” claim is ridiculous.
#3: The law was passed by men and since they are not women, they don’t understand what it is like to have an unwanted pregnancy and, thus, have no right to decide things for women.
Reply: Let me tell you a true story. Years ago my buddy, professor Francis Beckwith, appeared on a secular radio station to defend a prolife view of abortion (which he did). After his defense, callers were invited to present live questions to Beckwith. One woman caller expressed outrage and disgust against Beckwith because he was a man and, therefore, was not qualified to speak about a woman’s personal issue. As a man, Beckwith just couldn’t get it. Up to the task, Beckwith offered the following response (paraphrased): “I am sick and tired of being called a man. Ever since childhood, even though I am a female, I was born with a low, gruff voice. In elementary school through high school, I was constantly subject to ridicule, name-calling, and exclusion because I sounded like a boy. In fact, fellow students called me ‘an odd-looking little boy,’ much to my embarrassment. Now, you are doing the same thing to me in your call. I am not a man, I’m a woman!” He went on to ask the outraged caller this question: Now that you know I am a woman, do you accept my arguments for the prolife position and will you become. prolife? Flabbergasted, the woman loudly said “No! I will not!” Beckwith concluded: Well, I guess arguments don’t have penises. I would add that they also do not have vaginas.
An argument must stand on its own merits. Either it is a good argument or a bad one, irrespective of the gender of the person making it. The same goes for a law. Would these outraged actresses become prolife if all the Texas legislators who passed the law were women? I leave it to the reader to answer this question.
Alas, the very fact that Hollywood people would have the gall to speak authoritatively on topics about which they have no expertise or even no decent moral education is a sad commentary on the low level of thought in our public square. And the fact that some people actually listen to these people and accept what they say, is a disastrous state of affairs.