5 popular anti-choice arguments: debunked

The last few weeks have been hell thanks to the leaked draft of the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade as well as Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

Before we go any further, let me make this abundantly clear: this is an abhorrent decision that not only flies in the face of settled law, but will kill scores of pregnant people simply because of right-wing bigotry.

This isn’t an issue with two reasonable sides arguing in good faith. There is the side that supports a person’s right to bodily autonomy and how they handle their reproductive future and the side that wants to take it away because of a basic misunderstanding of health. The latter position makes up less than a third of Americans, so this clearly isn’t the “will of the people.”

According to a 2014 report from Guttmacher Institute, the majority of abortion patients indicated a religious affiliation. The highest sub-percentage came from Roman Catholics. That might have something to do with the fact that they use less contraceptives.

Despite all of that, however, the Supreme Court will overturn one of the landmark cases in American history because five justices (four of which were appointed by presidents who lost the popular vote) incorrectly think it’s “murder.”

If you’re more concerned about the opinion’s leak than its contents, you were never smart or empathetic enough to have this conversation in the first place, so please keep your garbage takes to yourself.

The rest of us will be arguing with the never-silent minority about this for the next several years, so let’s look at five of the most popular anti-choice arguments. Then dismiss them entirely.

1. Abortion is murdering a baby

This is easily the most popular argument and you can see why. If you have no idea what pregnancy is other than the fact that babies come from it, you might think there’s a baby in there the whole time.

There’re several renditions of this argument like “it could survive outside the womb” and “it has a heartbeat,” but the main point comes back to this. (Additionally, I’d like you leave a toddler in the woods by itself and see if it could “live outside the womb on its own” then recognize that your finger has a heartbeat and ergo is a life according to your qualifications).

The easiest way to debunk this is by calling the contents of the uterus what it is: an embryo and then a fetus.

Here is an excellent description of the process and its various steps from science author and nurse practitioner, Laurie Ray, but the jist is this: the embryonic stage happens in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy where the embryo replicates and develops the organs of what will soon become a fetus.

You read correctly: 10 weeks. That’s what makes Oklahoma’s 6-week abortion ban especially heinous. At the end of this process, the embryo is 1-inch long and 1/30 of an ounce.

After that, comes several months of rapid growth. Organs and limbs become bigger, a placenta and water-tight sac form, and the fetus starts to build the more complex features like eyes and the brain.

Finally, the fetus is ready to become a baby and flushes itself with hormones and adrenalin which starts the labor process. After all that time, the fetus has become a baby and no-longer able to be aborted.

Pregnant people can be extremely attached to the fetus throughout the entire process and treat it as a baby, which is amazing. But those people aren’t the ones in need of abortions so treating the rest of the nation as the same completely discredits everyone else.

This is the biggest argument and that’s why I’m spending so much more time on it, but it’s important to remember: If the anti-choice person makes this argument it’s either because they don’t understand the stages of pregnancy or disagree with modern medicine.

Either way, they shouldn’t be the ones making that kind of decision.

2. A fetus can feel pain

So, maybe that same arguer agrees that a fetus isn’t a baby, but argues that you still can’t abort it because it can feel pain. I have bad news for that person.

This is an interesting philosophical argument rather than a scientific one because the question isn’t whether a fetus can feel pain, but rather how does anyone feel pain and how does that work when a pain network develops at different stages.

According to a pain researcher and lecturer at the University of Singapore, Stuart Derbyshire, pain is received through nerve receptors, then carried through several different neurological pathways to create the sensation we recognize as pain. As you might imagine, those pathways and receptors don’t grow in tandem In Utero.

The pain receptors, or nerve endings, develop around 7 weeks of gestation. Common research suggests that they’re used more as “alarm buttons” to signal something wrong in the development process rather than actual pain.

Next, the nervous system fully develops. There are lots of different sub-processes mentioned in the study, that I encourage you to read, but the long and short is that it forms around 25 weeks. But still, that doesn’t mean it necessarily can feel pain because while the system is there, functional neural activity and psychology are not.

The rest of the article goes on to examine what fetus psychology could possibly look like, but it still suggests there isn’t any consciousness. One can believe whatever they want about unconscious sensations, but without a conscious understanding of what’s happening, there isn’t a way to object to the concept of pain.

3. You should’ve practiced safe sex

Now, this argument is just to slut-shame people.

Those making this argument want to blame the need for an abortion on someone who was “careless” or otherwise asking for it. This kind of thinking assumes that having an abortion is something to feel shame for, but there’re a few other nefarious (and incorrect) assumptions this argument makes.

Firstly, it completely erases everyone who needs an abortion because their life is in danger. Plenty of people around the country receive abortions to wanted pregnancies because complications will cause harm to the person giving birth or the soon-to-be-baby itself. Erasing this group of people implies anyone needing an abortion deserves their trauma and if they die because of it; that’s their fault too.

Just a reminder: abortion is life-saving healthcare.

Secondly, what about all the rape victims? Forcing someone to have the baby of their rapist is one of the vilest concepts imaginable and tells you everything you need to know about the person making that argument.

They probably also haven’t recognized that contraceptives are sometimes hard to come by or expensive. Poor or uninsured people can’t afford a doctor’s visit for a birth-control prescription and condoms can get pricier the more often you have sex. Contraceptives are much more available than they were in the past, but that by no means, makes them accessible to everyone.

Additionally, many people often do use contraceptives, but no contraceptive is 100% successful. The pill is the most effective, but has plenty of lapses, and condoms break all the time. And if you believe that abstinence is the only effective form of birth control, I invite you to the 21st century at your earliest convenience as long as you leave your segregation-era purity standards behind.

But that’s the real point behind this argument. People who say this think forcing someone to carry a pregnancy to term and raise a kid to adulthood is the only fit punishment for “whores.” Grow up. People should have as much sex as they want because it’s fun and literally vital for survival.

I’ve also never seen an anti-choice person with an adopted child so they should really retire that argument as well.

4. Life begins at conception

This is another version of the first argument, but it deserves special attention because of how stupid it is.

As stated above, the first 10 weeks of pregnancy don’t even involve a fetus. That’s just an embryo. A clump of cells that doesn’t have limbs, fingers, or even organs.

But before it’s even an embryo, it’s just a fertilized egg, otherwise known as a zygote. Zygotes are nearly as simple as cells themselves. They merely contain genetic code and start to divide and replicate until they can become an embryo.

The reason pills like Plan-B even work is because this stage is so far removed from the actual work of pregnancy. Those medicines use levonorgestrel, a synthetic hormone, to stop the ovary from releasing an egg to become fertilized and sheds the uterine lining to flush out any zygotes already in place.

It’s an incredibly safe pill with a 75-89% efficacy rate and widely available. That’s why it can’t even be considered an “abortion pill” because this stage doesn’t even count as pregnancy.

Additionally, if you believe this argument and have a penis, you’re committing mass murder every time you ejaculate without fertilizing an egg.

5. Abortions cause psychological damage

The final argument isn’t a very strong one (much like the others), but seems extra insidious to me because it makes one impossibly false assumption: that the person making it actually cares about people who need abortions.

It’s a bad-faith argument to claim that a procedure should be taken away because it can lead to depression and other emotional distress. The person making it assumes the role of “protector” over a fictional person they don’t know, nor actually care about, simply to make a pithy point that makes them feel moral.

It’s the same brand of paternalism that thinks sexual assault victims are “asking for it” because of what they wear or who they flirt with.

If that person actually cares about people who want abortions, they should make abortions less than impossible to receive. It’s incredibly hard and expensive to have an abortion already and they want to make it harder under the guise that they’re “protecting” the psyche of a fictional victim of “sexual deviance.”

I’d argue that forcing someone to complete a pregnancy they don’t want, then subjecting the baby to the foster care system will cause more psychological damage than an abortion.


These are just five popular (and false) anti-choice arguments, but there are far more.

This Supreme Court will continue to attack reproductive rights, including contraception, all using grossly inadequate “logic” to mask their bigotry. The leaked opinion already set the groundwork to overturn the case backing gay marriage, as well, so it isn’t going to stop with reproductive rights.

It will take all of us to combat this flagrant attack on civil liberties and we’re going to encounter a lot of bad-faith actors in the process wielding stupid arguments like the ones above. We just have to be ready for them.

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