In talking about abortion with people who are pro-choice, you will encounter many different arguments against the pro-life side. Some of these arguments are directed to the abortion issue itself, while others focus more on the perceived hypocrisy or insensitivity of pro-lifers.
Offered here are brief responses to the most common pro-choice arguments, summing up the key points to raise in response to each. For more detailed treatment of these issues, consult the resources page.
“Fetus” is a Latin term meaning “little one”, used to describe a stage of development, just like “infant”
or “adult.” According to the law of biogenesis, a fetus conceived by human parents, and growing according to the instructions in its own human genetic code, is by definition human.
Human life is a continuum, beginning with the newly conceived zygote, moving through the stages of embryo and fetus on through to adult. Although a fetus doesn’t look like an adult yet, neither does a newborn baby. A human fetus is no less human simply because it is smaller and more delicate.
For that matter, neither is an embryo less human, though it looks quite strange to our eyes, even in comparison to a fetus. Still, it is our duty to recognize our common humanity at all stages of development.
Sometimes, supporters of legal abortion will concede that an embryo or a fetus is, scientifically speaking, a human being, while denying that it is a person with rights. However, when pressed, they can point to no meaningful distinction between human beings and human persons. “Personhood” is a philosophical term, not a scientific one, and
ultimately depends on individual, subjective beliefs rather than common, objective values.
Moreover, history is replete with attempts to exclude certain categories of human beings from the class of “persons” enjoying human rights, in an attempt to rationalize such injustices as slavery or genocide. Human rights are meaningless unless they belong to all human beings, without discrimination.
- See also A fetus isn’t really a human being and Why do you think the fetus is more important than the woman?
While there are unwanted pregnancies, there truly are no unwanted children. Even if a pregnant woman does not want to raise the child growing in her womb, someone else does. There are many more couples seeking to adopt than children available for adoption.
But even if a child were “unwanted,” it would still be wrong to kill them for not being wanted—just as it would be wrong to kill a child already born if her mother decided she no longer wanted her.
Moreover, no woman really wants to have an abortion. An unwanted abortion is no solution to an unwanted pregnancy.
While it is certainly true that a woman’s body is greatly impacted by pregnancy, it is not true that abortion is simply a matter of her choosing to do something with her body. The fetus growing within her womb is a separate person with its
own distinct genetic makeup. Abortion does not remove some part of the woman’s body; it destroys the body of a separate, unique individual.
That said, the truth is that pro-lifers cannot “force” a woman to choose life for her baby. Abortion is legal, and even if it weren’t, illegal abortion would still be an option. That is why we seek instead to inform women about the consequences of abortion and do what we can to help her choose life for her unborn child.
- See also How often are women coerced into getting abortions?, Why are you opposed to abortion when it helps women so much? and Where can a woman get help with an untimely pregnancy?
Despite the claims of some abortion advocates, support for abortion among the American public is rather shallow. Though many Americans will tell pollsters they support Roe v. Wade, few realize that Roe and its companion case Doe v. Bolton made abortion legal for almost any reason through all nine months of pregnancy.
- See also What did Roe v. Wade decide? and What did Doe v. Bolton decide?
In fact, 49% of Americans say they believe abortion is “morally wrong,” while only 42% say they believe abortion is “morally acceptable.” Moreover, research shows most Americans do not approve of abortion for the reasons women most commonly cite for procuring them, and significant majorities support restrictions on abortion like parental involvement
laws and bans on partial birth abortion.
- See also Why do women have abortions?
What’s more, 48% of Americans actually identify themselves as “pro-life,” while only 45% identify themselves as “pro-choice.”
Cloyd, Wendy. “Public Support for Roe v. Wade Declines.” Christian Examiner. June 2007. Link
Gallup. Abortion. July 1, 2013. Link.
Saad, Lydia. “Americans Favor Parental Involvement in Teen Abortion Decisions.” Gallup. November 30, 2005. Link.
The simple answer to this question—which is the one pro-choice people raise more often than any other—is that a child conceived through rape or incest does not deserve the death penalty for her father’s crime. However, the fully pro-life response to this question must also convey sympathy for the victims of rape and incest, whom research shows are likely to suffer more if they resort to abortion.
One large-scale study of pregnant rape victims found that approximately 70 percent chose to give birth. Many sexual assault victims see giving birth as a selfless, loving act that helps bring healing from the horrific experience of the rape itself. Women who abort children conceived through rape often report that they didn’t feel that they had any other choice, since everyone around them assumed that they would not want to give birth to a rapist’s baby.
The case against abortion for pregnant victims of incest is even stronger. Incest victims hardly ever voluntarily consent to an abortion. Rather than viewing the pregnancy as unwanted, the victim of incest is more likely to see the pregnancy as a way to get out of the incestuous relationship because it exposes the abusive sexual activity that family
members are either unaware of or unwilling to acknowledge. The pregnancy poses a threat to the perpetrator, who frequently attempts to coerce his incest victim to have an unwanted abortion.
The idea that the violent act of abortion is beneficial to victims of rape and incest is simply unfounded. On the contrary, evidence shows that abortion in such cases compounds the unspeakable pain that victims experience.
Moreover, given that one-third of one percent of abortions are performed under such circumstances, we might ask why this question is so frequently raised. Do these extremely rare cases justify tolerating the other 99.67% of abortions?
Would those who raise this objection really be willing to ban abortion if exceptions were made for rape and incest?
Johnston, Wm. Robert. “Reasons given for having abortions in the United States.” Johnston’s Archive. Last modified August 16, 2012. http://www.johnstonsarchive.net/policy/abortion/abreasons.html.
Mahkorn, Sandra. “Pregnancy and Sexual Assault.” In The Psychological Aspects of Abortion, edited by David Mall and Walter F. Watts, 55-69. Washington: University Publications of America, 1979.
Maloof, George E. “The Consequences of Incest: Giving and Taking Life.” In The Psychological Aspects of Abortion, edited by David Mall and Walter F. Watts, 84-85. Washington: University Publications of America, 1979.
Reardon, David, PhD, Julie Makimaa, and Amy Sobie. Victims and Victors: Speaking Out About Their Pregnancies, Abortions, and Children Resulting from Sexual Assault. Battle Creek: Acorn Publishing, 2000.
Despite some highly publicized cases, violence perpetrated by abortion opponents is extremely rare. All major pro-life organizations have official policies condemning the use of violence, and no cases of violence directed at abortion-bound women by pro-life activists have ever been substantiated, despite the rhetoric from some abortion advocates.
The few individuals who have committed acts of violence against abortion clinic personnel or property were not part of the mainstream pro-life movement, and in some cases have even admitted they were more motivated by a desire for fame
than concern for the plight of unborn children.
In fact, there have been more reported acts of violence perpetrated against pro-lifers than committed by them. Just as it would be unfair to characterize all pro-choice people as violent because of a few criminals, it is unfair to say that pro-lifers are violent because of a few fringe figures.
On the contrary, pro-life activism demands singular patience and peacefulness, which is why the pro-life movement is, in fact, the most peaceful protest movement in U.S. history.
Human Life International. Pro-Choice Violence. Accessed October 10, 2013. http://prochoiceviolence.com.
Ertelt, Steven. “Paul Hill’s Violence Won’t be Missed by the Pro-Life Movement.” LifeNews.com. September 3, 2003. http://www.lifenews.com/nat97.html.
“Pro-Life Leaders Respond to Tiller Shooting.” Christian Broadcasting Network. June 1, 2009. http://www.cbn.com/cbnnews/us/2009/May/Pro-life-Community-Condemns-Tiller-Shooting.
Pro-Life Action League. “League Condemns Murder of Abortionist George Tiller.” June 1, 2009. https://prolifeaction.org/hotline/2009/tiller.
It would be wrong to say that the life of a child with a disability is of less value than the life of any other child. None of us is free of imperfections, and our society prides itself on accommodating those whose disabilities would otherwise prevent them from enjoying the goods of modern life.
A disability can even become a source of tremendous personal growth and meaning. The parents of disabled children often report that their lives are blessed by the experience of caring for a disabled child, and those children grow up valuing their own lives as much as any of us does.
Moreover, aborting her own child for being disabled may compound the physical and emotional trauma women often experience after abortion. No child deserves the death penalty for being less than perfect.
- See also Why are you opposed to abortion when it helps women so much? and Where can parents get help dealing with a poor prenatal diagnosis?
The pro-life movement is often characterized as an effort by men to control women’s bodies. But in fact, some studies have shown women to be more pro-life than men. Perhaps they recognize that abortion often serves the selfish interests of men rather than the real needs of women.
The experience of pro-life counselors and the testimony of women who have spoken out about their abortions show that men are more likely to push women into abortions they do not want than to try to force them not to have an abortion. But we never hear abortion advocates speaking out against this kind of influence of men over women.
The pro-life movement calls on men to take responsibility for the children they have helped to conceive. The men who are active in the pro-life movement are responding to the call to step up and be advocates for women and children.
Finally, no one would try to impose this principle—that only those directly affected by an issue should have any say about it—to any other social justice movement. It was not only slaves, former slaves and former slave owners who spoke out for emancipation. It was not only black Americans who fought for civil rights. Nor should it be only
women, today, who speak out against abortion.
Gallup, George. The Gallup Poll: Public Opinion 2003. Lanham:
Rowman and Littlefield, 2004.
The pro-life movement cares very much about babies, both before and after they’re born. That is why we have established a nationwide support system of thousands of pregnancy resource centers (PRCs) devoted to providing emotional and
material support for women facing both untimely pregnancy and the demands of being a new parent.
- For information on contacting PRCs or donating money or baby items, see Where can a woman get help with an untimely pregnancy?
Research shows abortion has increased rates of child abuse and other violent acts. Thus, decreasing the number of abortions means that fewer children will be abused.
Coleman, Priscilla K., et al. “Associations Between Voluntary And
Involuntary Forms of Perinatal Loss And Child Maltreatment Among Low-Income Mothers.” Acta Paediatrica 94, no. 10 (2005).
The idea of widespread and dangerous “back alley” abortions prior to the nationwide legalization of abortion in 1973 is not supported by the facts. The medical director of Planned Parenthood wrote in 1960 that “90% of illegal abortions are
presently being done by physicians.”
Likewise, the “coat hanger abortion” is a myth. In his 1979 book, Aborting America, the late Dr. Bernard Nathanson, co-founder of NARAL, then known as the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws, refers to one coat hanger abortion. However, Nathanson, who later became committedly pro-life, publicly confessed to fabricating evidence in order to get abortion legalized. There is no hard evidence to support the performance of a single coat hanger abortion.
NARAL claimed that 1,000,000 illegal abortions were performed yearly, though they believed the actual number to be about 100,000. They claimed that 10,000 women died each year from illegal abortions, knowing that the actual number was a mere fraction of this.
- See also If you make abortion illegal, women will die on page 50 and What risks are associated with abortion?
Calderone, Mary S., MD. “Illegal Abortion as a Public Health Problem.” American Journal of Public Health 50, no. 7 ( July 1960): 949.
Nathanson, Bernard. Aborting America. Garden City: Doubleday, 1979. Nathanson, Bernard. The Hand of God: A Journey from Death to Life by the Abortion Doctor Who Changed His Mind. Washington: Regnery, 1997.
Willke, John, MD and Barbara Willke. Abortion: Questions & Answers. Cincinnati: Hayes, 2003.