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Why Johnny Is Only “Personally Opposed” to Abortion

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Last week, a pro-life reader from Pennsylvania wrote to me in frustration. As a young man, he is finding that many of his peers are young libertarian males who say they are “personally opposed” to abortion but nonetheless “pro choice” as a matter of public policy. My frustrated pro-life reader wanted to know how best to engage the contradiction between being personally pro life and politically pro choice. The answer, as usual, lies in learning how to ask the right questions in order to probe the inconsistency. When dealing with this particular contradiction, five questions are usually in order:

1. As a preliminary matter, you have to ask the personally pro-life pro choicer (hereafter: pro-life/PC), “Why are you personally opposed to abortion?”

This part of the exchange is always easy because you know the answer in advance. He will always say he thinks abortion is wrong because it kills an innocent human being. If the pro-life/PC did not think the unborn were human then he would have no reason for any personal opposition to abortion. Having an abortion would be morally indistinguishable from picking a scab or clipping one’s fingernails. It would inspire neither personal opposition nor any need for extended commentary.

2. Next you must ask him, “Does your belief that abortion kills an innocent human being have any objective basis?

This part of the exchange is also easy to navigate because one of two things will happen. First, he may tell you that there is a consensus in the science of embryology that the unborn is a distinct, living, and whole human being from the point of conception. Second, he may not know about the scientific consensus but will accept your argument that there is such a consensus because it supports his position.

3. Next you will seemingly change the subject by asking him, “Are you personally opposed to child rape?”

This part of the conversation will be brief. He will say “Of course I am” or some variant of that terse phrase – usually while he is shooting you an annoying look for asking what appears to be a stupid question. Of course, it isn’t a stupid question. You are laying a trap and he is walking right into it.

4. The obvious next question is, “Would you be willing to impose this belief on others by banning child rape?”

His answer will, of course, be “yes.” Nonetheless, you may want to reinforce the point and solidify the direction of the conversation by making him acknowledge that preventing people from raping children is a question of objective morality rather than some matter of arbitrary preference. It is more like the simple question of whether the state should prevent Jews from being gassed than the question of whether the state flag should be red or blue.

5. If he doesn’t yet concede that he has lost the argument ask him, “Why do you believe that rape is more serious than murder?”

He may still be so obtuse that he doesn’t yet get it. If so, slowly explain to him that he thinks it should be illegal to rape children but permissible to murder them – even though he “personally opposes” both child rape and child murder. You can now close the argument by contrasting his position with your clear position that the law should ban both the rape and murder of children because both are forms of child abuse.

By now, you have fully exposed the pro-life/PC argument as an utter absurdity. If the proponent of that position does not yet see his illogic there is only one possible reason. He needs to come clean by confessing the following:

Presently, I support the legality of abortion not because I am Libertarian but because I am libertine. I am sexually active and unwilling to take responsibility for my own conduct. I hope that if I impregnate a woman who knows I am personally pro-life she will just slip away and take care of the problem without me knowing about it.

Of course, such a “man” was never actually pro life in any meaningful sense of the word. Once you ask him how many women he is sleeping with the true motive for his cowardly stance will usually be revealed.

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