An analogical examination of pro-life/pro-choice

Disclosure: I think whatever moral issues there might be with respect to abortion are between a woman and her conscience or her God. I am ambivalent about the ethical issues, however, and can understand the gist of arguments from both sides.

But this thread isn’t about one versus the other. Rather, it’s about an analogy pair and whether their particulars correspond. In other words, this isn’t about abortion except tangentially. It’s about an argument about abortion.

I’ve heard it said that if pro-lifers were consistent, they would oppose the death penalty. Something along the lines of, “It seems to me that the sanctity of life for these people ends at birth.”

Isn’t it the case, then, that pro-choicers would also be inconsistent if they opposed choice in other (arbitrary) matters? For example, shouldn’t a person be free to choose to sell her body as a prostitute? Couldn’t a person say, “It seems to me that freedom of choice for these people ends at abortion.”?

The analogical correspondence is the insistence on consistency in all things (or in arbitrarily selected things).

There are pro-choice activists who extend their label (whether chosen or given to them) to matters other than abortion e.g. legalizing prostitution, fighting for reproductive rights through subsidized birth control so a woman’s choice of whether or not to take birth control (and which kind) isn’t based on her income.

The problem is that both labels are simply short hand. Some pro-choicers calls pro-lifers ‘forced pregnancy activists’ (not because they’re forcing conception, but because they want to force women to stay pregnant and give birth). Some pro-lifers call pro-choicers ‘pro-abortion’ (because they believe pro-choicers always advocate abortion and don’t support women who’ve been forced to have abortions).

Seems to me people who ask these kinds of questions should question everything.
Just kidding. In an intractable debate, the only options available are pointless arguments or waiting for your opponents to die off. Heck, even demanding someone show perfect consistency in all things leads to accusing them later of robotic obedience to an aribitrary standard the moment they come up with something you disapprove of.

Pro-life - should oppose abortion, death penalty, war, killing in self defense, driving, swatting flies, using pesticides, cutting down trees…

Pro-choice- should favour abortion, prostitution, drug use, suicide, anarchy, serial killers, rule of the jungle…

Raising objections to the nuttier elements near the ends of the lists (“if my opponent is X, he must also support Y”) is just a rhetorical tool. It should be recognized as such.

The analogy doesn’t quite work for me, not because I disagree that people should try to have some kind of internal consistency of their beliefs, but because I think the arguments you are attributing to both sides don’t necessarily reflect the reality of the logic that is used on that side.

For instance, on the pro-life side, a person isn’t necessarily arguing that ALL life is sacred no matter what…they are usually referring to “innocent” life. Anyone who argues that anyone against abortion but not against the death penalty is missing that fundamental aspect of the philosophy.

And, likewise, on the pro-choice side, a person isn’t necessarily arguing that ALL choices are equally defensible or allowable, but that certain choices that only affect oneself shouldn’t be interfered with. I do personally think the example you give is that of prostitution is a logically consistent one with “pro-choice.” But someone else may disagree on the grounds that oftentimes, going into prostitution isn’t a matter of “choice” but of desperation/necessity.

ETA a conclusion: So, I guess my point is that it’s a tough argument to use unless you are SURE you understand the logic on the other side of the coin, or your arguments will easily be countered (unless, of course, you choose to pretend as though the other side has no logic, which oftentimes seems to happen in debates).


For me, the weakest argument in favor of choice has always been the “Against abortion? Don’t have one,” as if we don’t regularly outlaw unethical acts. It sounds to me like saying, “Against bribery? Don’t accept one!”

That structure of argument applies in aesthetic circumstances: “Against brussel sprouts? Don’t eat one!” But in matters that have an ethical weight, it’s a nonsense position, IMO.

The right to choice is a reasonable right if and only if the fetus does not have any rights worth considering, or if the right to choose an abortion outweighs the fetus’s right to life. In order to settle the question of abortion choice, one must settle the question of what, if any, rights the fetus has.

I maintain that embryos and fetuses until late in the pregnancy lack the capacity to appreciate rights, and that they therefore have none; it is for that reason that I support the right of choice. Not out of some absolutist sense that a person may do whatever he or she wants with his or her body.


ISTM that the analogy laid out in the OP is asymmetric: pro-life (in its broadest form) entails being against taking life under any circumstances, while pro-choice refers only to abortion. It’s clear that either is a label summarizing a position; saying that to retain consistency, a pro-choice position should encompass arbitrary choices is a misapplication of the label.

Now, as Sarafeena points out, perhaps the pro-life label is only applicable to “innocent” life. Which might cover the death penalty, assuming that there is no possibility that an innocent person can ever be convicted and executed. But then, shouldn’t all pro-lifers also be anti-war advocates? After all, surely “collateral damage” is expected, and part of that is the killing of innocent bystanders. Or is every single person not still in the womb guilty of sin, and thus deserving of their fate?

I don’t think I want to touch that question, but I think it does still speak to my point that people have all kinds of logic and justification for all kinds of things. In order to effectively debate someone, you have to understand that logic, and refute it on those grounds, not take some simplistic idea of “consistency” to apply straight across. Killing is a great example…there is probably not another action that is as universally considered “wrong.” Yet, most people will admit that there are some circumstances that warrant it, whether it be self-defense, execution of criminals, justified wars, etc. Every ethical system will have some explanation for why some killing is OK and some isn’t.

Essentially, I find Liberal’s question hard to answer, because I think the argument that if you are “pro-life” in terms of being against abortion, you have to be “pro-life” in terms of being against the death penatly to be an extremely weak one. It shows no understanding of the “pro-life” position, and to refute it, I personally wouldn’t even try to find an analagous argument against the pro-choice position, I would refute it on its own merit, which is that abortion and the death penalty are simply not the same thing, done for the same reasons, or justifiable on the same grounds.

FWIW, I believe the Catholic church also opposes the death penalty. Perhaps not as stringently as they do abortion, but they are against it.
(At least, nowadays)

The “pro life” and “pro choice” terms are too short to be complete, and unfortunately suggest that somebody is “anti life” or “anti choice”.

I think it’s logically reasonable to call somebody who claims to be “pro choice” inconsistent if they advocate any limitations on any choices at all, but only in the trivial sense supported by overextending the label literally.

Perhaps better names for the two extreme camps might be “people who want laws against all abortions” and “people who want abortion to be legal under any circumstances”. Then there would also be various “people who want some laws restricting abortions in some situations, but also want abortion to be legal in other situations”, which probably includes most of us.

I belong to one of the camps mentioned in the OP, and am pretty far towards that end of the spectrum of shades, and I still favor not referring to the other camp in ways that to me pretty obviously try to stack the deck.

That’s too strong, I think. It is reasonable to be pro-choice if you think it is undecidable whether the fetus is “human.” Since there are negative consequences for not having an abortion, which depends on the person and the situation, this means that there can be no single law that will be guaranteed to be fair to all, thus the choice must be allowed to be made by the single person most involved - the woman.

While I agree with what you wrote about rights, I’d argue that it fundamentally doesn’t matter what you and I think.

As a pro-choicer, I don’t see any inconsistency between pro-life and support for the death penalty. They seem to be fundamentally different issues.

If it were guaranteed that prostitution was not the choice because of coercion or economic necessity, I’d be pro-choice in that regard. I can see the argument that regulation reduces the bad impact, but I’ve also seen data that shows that coerced prostitution increases with legal prostitution. In an ideal world it should be legal, but I’m not sure about this one.

I think that is a better analogy than the death penalty one, btw.

“Pro-life” somehow grew out of “Right to Life” which is the actual name of an organization devoted to promoting the idea that a fetus has, well, a right to life. I think that the original formulation preserves the intent without any expectation that it should be extended to capital criminals (who have forfeited their right to life by due process).

I’m not certain when the phrase “pro-life” actually was coined or popularized as a substitute for “right-to-life”, but the label “pro-choice” was chosen by the right-to-abortion crowd in order to provide a slogan somewhat parallel to “pro-life.” Whether it’s consistent or not isn’t a big deal, it’s just marketing.

Right. I didn’t mean to turn this into an abortion debate, but meant to stick to debating the analogy.

And that’s what struck me as so odd about the OP. Look, Liberal is a logic monster who can more than hold his own in a debate. But the first thing one learns about argument against analogy is to point out where the analogy is flawed. My post could have been limited to two words – flawed analogy – but I felt the need to explain a bit.

In that vein, I’ve never heard someone so explicitly add the “innocent” qualification; the closest I’ve seen is news clips of pro-life protestors chastising women going into a clinic. Now, that may be due to my not engaging in abortion debates any longer – I know my position, my reasons for holding that view, and I’ve never heard an argument that would lead me change it. So, the last part of my post was simply mulling over that qualification and seeing how (and whether) it affects the consistency aspect laid out in the OP.

Like Voyager, I don’t see any inconsistency between opposing abortion and supporting the death penalty, and frankly I think those who absolutely don’t see how a person could support one and not the other are just being dishonest. (I’m not saying that a person cannot reasonably be pro-life and anti-death penalty; but the pro-choice halfwits who go around saying, ‘You’re pro-life but pro-death penalty; you’re such a hypocrite’ without bothering to learn why their opponent holds these views are just being asses.)

I’m pro-choice, and I accept the consequences of this, such as that prostitution should be legal.

Right, I got you. I was just trying to show that I got that you were kind of throwing out how far you could take the consistency argument, and that I was also steering away from getting this into an abortion debate.

I think others have already addressed this, but “pro-life” and “pro-choice” are not philosophical stances that should be analyzed only on the definitions of those words. They are short-hand labels for arguments that are more nuanced than the labels.

But I do see your point. When either side tries to straight jacket the other side into a narrow definition of it’s philosophical argument, then the other side can do the exact same thing. Which just shows us that we need to sit down and talk to each other, examining the assumptions we all make, and not get hung up on the labels any one side choses to call its position.

I’m pro-choice myself. I have no religious beliefs and look at the issue from a purely scientific standpoint. But if I were religious, especially of the Christian persuasion, I’d probably be pro-life. Abortion doesn’t seem consistent with the idea of an immortal soul that needs to be saved from Original Sin.

Just to address Lib - there would, of course, then need to be a defence of the insistence on consistency, no? How do you argue against someone who says it’s all subjective, and in their opinion, there’s no need to be consistent to be … I guess “aesthetically fulfilled” would describe it?

Not that that’s the tack I’d take, of course. I consider myself pro-choice but am quite willing to call myself “pro-abortion”.

I think the idea of an aesthetical take (as opposed to an ethical) take is a very interesting one, particularly as framed by Left Hand of Dorkness. But whether there is any need for consistency doesn’t really matter much to the analogy, since it pretty much applies only to those who demand consistency. Still, if there is a drift in the thread, the aesthetics of pro-life/pro-choice would be a great direction to head toward.

Religious people often use the phrase “innocent life” but in their theology this is impossible because of original sin. No one is free of sin as they carry the burden of the fall. In addition they choose the life of an embryo as more important than the life of the woman. This is a conscience choice, pro-life for one and not so much for the other.

Pro choice people just believe a woman’s life is less important than a fetus. Her primary role is to bare children, it is as simple as that.