Last updated on March 9, 2019
To the editors of The Settler,
It disheartens me to see Yvonne Nachtigal’s editorial “New York Passes Radical Abortion Bill” published in Vol State’s newspaper. The piece is poorly reasoned throughout.
The state of New York’s bill S.240 (https://legislation.nysenate.gov/pdf/bills/2019/S240) states that a licensed medical professional can perform an abortion in the third trimester only when “there is an absence of fetal viability” or when “the abortion is necessary to protect the patient’s life or health.” Nachtigal’s central claim appears to be that the bill is an attempt to increase political tension over abortion. Nachtigal reasons that, because there are strong moral arguments against the bill, it must be a tactic to divide Americans against each other.
Nachtigal’s reasoning is deeply fallacious at almost every point. The editorial begins by noting that supporters of the bill appeared in photos after its passage with smiles “like witches straight out of the Wizard of Oz.” This isn’t even an argument, but an attempt to vilify supporters of the bill.
Happily, there are some genuine arguments in the piece. The first appears to be that “A recent poll shows that more Americans than ever are opposed to abortion.” It is hard to tell whether or not this is true because the poll is not cited or even named. More importantly, even if it is true that more Americans than ever are opposed to abortion, that is irrelevant. If more Americans than ever were opposed to, say, freedom of religion, that would not justify limiting freedom of religion. And the law in question is a state law, not a federal law, so only the opinion of New Yorkers could possibly matter, not the opinion of Americans generally.
Nachtigal goes on to claim that “I do not know anyone who, when given the facts about the gruesome nature of late term abortions would find it morally acceptable,” adding that “We all know of premature babies who grew to become healthy adults.” There certainly are premature babies who become healthy adults. Of course, this has nothing to do with the law in question, since it allows for third trimester abortion when a fetus is not viable. Premature babies are perfectly viable. Indeed, we can tell this from the fact that they grow to healthy adults. In any case, the fact that the author doesn’t know anyone with a certain opinion proves only that her social circle is made up of people with beliefs similar to her own. Describing late term abortions as “gruesome” while only hinting at unstated “facts” expresses a feeling of disgust without saying why that feeling is reasonable.
In what appears to be a more substantial argument, Nachtigal writes “Laws have a way of opening doors for unexpected things, and I see this one endangering the rights of human beings who are unable to speak for themselves, like the mentally handicapped; those with dementia and children with autism.” Nachtigal and I agree that the rights of the disabled should be protected. But this argument is a textbook case of the “slippery slope fallacy,” in which it is assumed without evidence that extreme changes will occur once a small change occurs. Interestingly, the text of S.240 also defines homicide as “conduct which causes the death of a person under circumstances constituting murder, manslaughter in the first degree, manslaughter in the second degree, or criminally negligent homicide.” The Nazi case Nachtigal describes a sentence later clearly falls under this definition, as would any intentional killing of a disabled person, so the very law under discussion would prevent the extreme consequence Nachtigal envisions.
Nachtigal ends the piece by writing “Dr. Martin Luther King recognized the danger of denying the equality of any people group. In my opinion the civil rights of unborn children have been violated in the United States and the recent events in New York bring that into glaring focus.” Appealing to Dr. King is a shameless rhetorical tactic that attempts to insulate Nachtigal from rational criticism by making it seem like disagreeing with her is disagreeing with a great and admirable civil rights hero. Stripped of its rhetorical clothing, the argument appears to consist of these steps:
1. It is immoral to deny the civil rights of any group of people
2. Fetuses are a group of people
3. So, it is immoral to deny the civil rights of fetuses
4. New York S.240 denies the civil rights of fetuses
5. So, New York S.240 does something immoral
The first step is surely true. But step 2 assumes without proof that fetuses are people in the same sense in which adult African-Americans are people. While both fetuses and adults are made up of genetically human tissue, personhood is a concept distinct from being genetically human. The vulcan Mr. Spock is a person, but is not human. My kidneys are made of genetically human tissue, but are not people.
My impression has always been that an editorial should aim to be a clear and explicit argument for a reasoned position on an issue. Perhaps I am wrong. If an editorial, instead, should be a mere airing of undefended opinions, wrapped in discursive tricks and disguised as a persuasive case, then “New York Passes Radical Abortion Bill” is a picture perfect example.
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