Abortion,  Ethics,  Logic

Abortionist Logical Consistency: A Right for the Goose Should be a Right for the Gander

Some positions are best opposed by trying to show what would follow from their view. Modus Tollens is particularly helpful in this way and takes the following form: if A, then B. Not B. Therefore, not A. They have the useful feature of providing the user with a tool for showing horrible consequences that can force someone to reject the antecedent. For example, a favored argument against abortion is to suggest that if abortion is morally justifiable, then infanticide is justifiable. The anti-abortionist relies on the consequent being plainly intolerable and should lead to the rejection of the antecedent. Those who are consistent are forced either to accept the consequent (amazingly there are such people) or to give up their defense of abortion.

As someone who thinks abortion is an abhorrent evil I am often on the look out for good arguments of that form. Recently, I was perusing through some articles and low and behold I found a good ‘n. The first premise was as follows:

(1) If it’s okay for a woman to opt out of parenting once she’s pregnant, then it’s okay for men to opt out of parenting (by forgoing all obligations and rights to the child and mother).

Of course, I expected to see modus tollens. It’s plainly wrong for some guy to get out of his responsibilities to the woman he has impregnated and the child he has fathered. I was sorely disappointed. Instead of modus tollens I was shocked to see its twin, modus ponens. The form of this argument is: if A, then B. A. Therefore, B. Someone was actually supportive of the idea. The completion of the argument went as follows:

(2) It is okay for women to opt out of parenting once she’s pregnant
(3) Therefore it’s okay for men to opt out of parenting

Well, one man’s modus tollens is another man’s modus ponens I suppose. But, really? Is it really okay to not even try to man up and take responsibility for a child you are the father for?

Apparently so.

Proponents of ‘financial abortion’ such as Catherine Deveny argue that if women have the right to choose whether or not to be a parent, then men should have the same right. A man should not be forced to become a father any more than a woman should be forced to become a mother.

A so called ‘financial abortion’ enables men to absolve themselves of any obligation to a child in the same way a sperm donor is under no obligation to the child he fathers. Apparently, it is better that a father renege on his obligations before the child is born than risk him doing it later and traumatizing his child.

So why isn’t the father under any obligations to his child? Deveny suggests that obligations don’t follow from conception: “When we consent to having sex, we do not automatically consent to becoming a parent. If [people have sex and] their contraception fails, it doesn’t mean both people have to become parents.” Surely, though, consenting to an activity that is designed to make babies is to at least consent to the possibility that a baby will be made. That is, after all, how babies come about. But, no, according to Deveny, pleasure is the primary purpose. The idea that sex is for baby making is an idea of a bygone era, one long confined to the socially constructed dustbin:

One of the more common cases against it is the notion that, by having sex, you are taking a risk and therefore must “pay the price” if you get pregnant. But haven’t we moved past the thinking that people should be punished simply for engaging in pleasure? Do we really want our children to be conceived by force?…The word “responsible” comes up whenever fatherhood does — the idea that men should “step up” and “do the right thing” and support their own flesh and blood. But surely the best thing for men to do is be honest up front if they don’t wholeheartedly want to become a father?

“Moving past an idea” is a funny turn of phrase used by people who have no argument. It suggests that we get over it, leave it behind, as if that’s what some ideas are for. But that’s not what ideas are for. They are for arguing for and against and agreeing with and disagreeing with for reasons. Devoid of any reason, of course, is just plain desire. The gist of the argument is that the father is only obligated if he wants to be obligated. Interestingly, this indicates a crucial distinction in Deveny’s idea: While the relationship (father/child) is involuntary–the father does not choose to be related to the child–the obligation to have anything to do with the child is voluntary. 

I think there are good reasons to think a father has obligations to his child whether or not he feels like it at the time. Reasons like these ones (note: in the first two modus tollens fights back):

First, if a father is not obligated to the child he is the father of, then he is not obligated to try to save any child who he sees drowning in the swimming pool. So, having given up the rights to his own child, he watches as the child drowns feeling uncompelled to save it. If the mother of that child met with this man, she would feel outrage, moral outrage. He was right there. He could have saved her child. How dare he. Yet, if Deveny is right, then the obligation to the drowning child is voluntary even though the relationship with the child is not (this man is the only one who sees the child). He may opt in or out depending on his willingness to do it. And, note, there is nothing more fundamental to appeal to once one accepts that it is morally justifiable to opt out of fatherhood so the grieving mother won’t have any grounds for her complaint.

Second, if a father is not obligated to the child he is the father of, then the child is not obligated to look after the father when the father is old. What if the father is willing to parent the child (even though he could have opted out)? When he is aged and in need of care, the child may legitimately opt out of his responsibility to care for him. After all, the child was unwillingly born (he or she had no say in it) and yet despite the involuntary nature of the relationship he is now, according to financial abortion advocates, not obligated to care for his old dad unless he wants to. The father might say: ‘but I spent half my life caring for you, loving you, providing for you, teaching you, how can you opt out now?’ The child can reply: ‘the same way you could have opted out of caring for me. Just because I am your son doesn’t mean I am obligated to care for you in any way.’

Third, the Bible is clearly pro-responsibility to our children. Parents are warned against opting out: “if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim 5:8). We are also told of the benefits of being involved in parenting: “Correct your son, and he will give you comfort; He will also delight your soul” (Prov 29:17). And experiencing parenting gives us a glimpse of the kind of love that God has for us: “Just as a father has compassion on his children, So the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him” (Psalm 103:13).

I am hopeful that the view that we are ‘moving past’ obligations to an obligation-free society where desires rule the day is an idea that dies a quick death at the hand of modus tollens and his friends.

Some Bible verses about parental obligation here
An interesting survey of the philosophy of filial obligation here (from when I gathered the two modus tollens counter arguments)

Assistant Professor of Philosophy and History of Ideas at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and The College at Southeastern.