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John's Logic: Murder & Prudence

Updated: Jun 16, 2022

Introduction

Should women who have had abortions be called murderers? This is a question that is highly disputed. The weight of the decision to kill a developing child in the womb is heavy if the anti-abortion view is correct. Even so, is it right to call post-abortive women murderers?

Our answer is this: while one might, in principle, argue that a woman who goes for an abortion could rightly be called a “murderer”, it is not prudent to do so. But first we must define what is meant by “murder” and “prudent”.


Murder and prudence: their meaning

What is murder? Strictly speaking, it is the unlawful, premeditated killing of one human being by another. Thus, all murderers are persons who unjustly kill another person and everyone who unjustly kills another person is a murderer.

What do we mean by prudence? Prudence is the moral virtue by which we make decisions for the good and put those decisions into practice via external actions. Equivalently, it is the knowledge of how to act and what to avoid.


Why one may argue that, in principle, post-abortive women are murderers

One could argue the following:

  1. By definition, the intentional unjust killing of a person (or persons) by another is an act of murder.

  2. Abortion is the intentional unjust killing of a person (or persons) by another.

  3. Therefore, Abortion is an act of murder. (from 1,2).

  4. Therefore, those who commit the act of abortion commit an act of murder. (from 3).

  5. Those who commit an act of murder are murderers.

  6. Therefore, those who commit the act of abortion are murderers. (from 4,5).

  7. Some post-abortive women are those who commit the act of abortion.

  8. Therefore, at least some post-abortive women are murderers.

Admittedly those who affirm the conclusion of this argument may disagree with the formulation of the overall argument. I do not claim that this argument will be 100% representative of the reasons some people think post-abortive women are murderers. Nonetheless, the above does give us an idea of how one might conclude that at least some post-abortive women are murderers.

Before analysing this argument, we should note that the argument still works even if you point out that technically speaking it is the doctor that is actually *doing* the killing and not the woman. True. But it does not follow that the woman no longer fits the definition of “murderer” because the woman still participates in the killing of her unborn child when she lays on that table. Furthermore, it can be argued that the mother knows that what will be killed is a child yet she nonetheless chooses to have said person killed. Therefore, she is still culpable.


The problem of prudence

As stated above, the aim here is not to refute the argument on principle. It is to show that calling post-abortive women murderers is still imprudent. In order to see why, we must recall our definition of prudence: the moral virtue by which we make decisions for the good, and put those decisions into practice via external actions. Equivalently, it is the knowledge of how to act and what to avoid. This raises the question “what good are we trying to achieve?” For us at Abortion Resistance our aim is not only to end legalised abortion, but also to turn public opinion towards a more anti-abortion stance, especially the opinion of young people. In other words, we aim to change both the law and the culture.

We will need to do both.

However, we recognise that from a pragmatic perspective, it is easier to do the former. Given that we live in a democratic society, our primary aim must be to change the minds of the populace. Thus, the good of changing people’s minds comes before the ultimate good of ending legalised abortion.


We may argue from prudence as follows:

  1. By definition, decisions made for the good of ending legalised abortion are in accordance with the virtue of prudence.

  2. The good of changing the minds of people in our society is connected to, but comes before, the good of ending legalised abortion.

  3. Therefore, decisions made in order to change the minds of people in our society (in a more pro-life direction) is in accordance with the virtue of prudence. (from 1,2)

  4. Therefore, any action that may stop people from changing their minds is contrary to prudence (from 1 and the definition of prudence).

  5. Calling post-abortive women murderers is an action that may stop people from changing their minds.

  6. Therefore, calling post-abortive women murderers is contrary to prudence and therefore should not be done.

The premise most likely to be the most disputable will be number 5. So, why is it true? Because, as accurate as it may or may not be, calling such women murderers is unlikely to change their minds. It breeds more anger and paints the pro-life cause as “women hating” (which is demonstrably false, but such is the nature of politics: rhetoric often wins the day). Furthermore, we must consider the extent of which these some women are either pressured into having an abortion or outright lied to when it comes to what happens in the womb during pregnancy and what an abortion does. Thus, labelling even *some* post-abortive women as “murderers” ends up being counterproductive at best and harmful at worst to the goals of the anti-abortion movement.


Conclusion

Whether or not the label of murderer properly applies to even some post-abortive women, the above should show why doing so is counterproductive to the pro-life movement as it exists in a democratic society. Our language and rhetoric must be refined in such a way that it neither neglects the truth or the goals of the movement. Thus, even if some post-abortive women are murderers, we should not label them as such.




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