A New York lawyer named Janice Mac Avoy gifted the Washington Post with an op-ed that was supposed to be a powerful brief for abortion. Viewing it as someone who is deeply conflicted about the ethics of abortion, which is to say, someone who is objective and who didn’t make up his mind first and then look for rationalizations to support that position, I recognized it as a perfect example of why abortion advocates still haven’t made a strong enough case for me, and perhaps why they can’t.
I am still surprised, somehow, when lawyers, like Mac Avoy, display poor reasoning skills. I shouldn’t be, I know: I’ve known plenty of dumb lawyers, even rich and successful dumb lawyers. I suppose I am hostage to the mythology of law school, that professors take students whose “minds are much,’ to quote Professor Kingsfield, and transform those minds into whirring computers of emotion- and bias- free rationality. Unfortunately, mush in, mush out tends to be reality.
Mac Avoy places her own mind in the mush column immediately, with her title “I’m a successful lawyer and mother, because I had an abortion.” This shows her adoption of the classic logical fallacy Post hoc ergo propter hoc, or “After this, thus because of this.” The statement is factually nonsense, and her column takes off from there.
1. She writes…
“In spring 1981, I knew I wanted to be a lawyer. I was about to become the first person in my family to graduate from high school. I had a scholarship to college, and I planned to go on to law school. I was determined to break a cycle of poverty and teenage pregnancy that had shaped the lives of the previous three generations of women in my family — all mothers by age 18. Then, just before graduation, I learned I was pregnant. Knowing that I wasn’t ready to be a mother, I had a friend drive me to a Planned Parenthood clinic, where I had an abortion.”
Pop quiz: What crucial piece of information is glossed over, indeed strangely omitted, from that account? Mac Avoy “was determined to break a cycle of poverty and teenage pregnancy” —so determined and laser focused on the life goal that she suddenly woke up pregnant! How did that happen? Apparently, despite her representation to the contrary, she was not sufficiently determined that she was willing to refuse to engage in the exact and only conduct that could foil her intent, and that she knew could foil her intent.
I’m not arguing that a teenage mistake of judgment should derail a life, but I am pointing out that to ignore that personal conduct, as Mac Avoy does, and pretend that pregnancy in every case is some unavoidable random tragedy like a rape or incest, is self-serving and intellectually dishonest, and like most pro-abortion rhetoric, avoids the key issues that make abortion a difficult ethical problem.
2. She writes…
“…[A]bortion has become ever more stigmatized, creating a culture of shame that silences women who have exercised their constitutional rights. That vacuum has been filled with misperception and misinformation — including from the Supreme Court. We are told that abortion is harmful to women and that those who choose to have one come to regret it.”
Thaaat’s right, the argument is that they have come to regret it because it was harmful to them. Does MacAvoy really think all her readers are dim wits and can’t see through her manipulative rhetoric? She’s setting us up, as revealed in the ridiculous headline. “Harmful for women? Abortion is great for women! Look at me!” This is the magical and despicable dishonesty the pro-abotion activists have used forever, the Amazing Disappearing Offspring, or “Baby? What baby? Abortion has nothing to do with babies!” Abortion opponents may, as a supplemental argument, allege that abortion has psychological perils for women, but their overwhelming objection to abortion is that it is harmful, indeed terminal, for a second human life, the one being aborted. Just as the lawyer conveniently ignores her own contribution to her sudden pregnancy, she ignores that factor, and indeed never mentions a second life in the equation anywhere in her op-ed! Opponents of abortion on demand are just trying to oppress women, and that’s all there is to it. What other reason could there be?
3. She writes…
“Like me, 95 percent of women who have had an abortion say that it was the right decision for them, and even among those who expressed some regret, 89 percent state that having the abortion was still the right decision. Nearly 1 in 3 women in this country will have an abortion. That means that while no one talks about it, pretty much everyone, including the Supreme Court justices, whether they are aware of it, knows someone, works with someone and respects and cares about someone who has had an abortion — and doesn’t regret it.”
As a lawyer, I’m embarrassed by this, indeed by the entire article. The people who decide to do something overwhelmingly think it was the right thing to do…So what? This is “Everybody Does It” paired with “If it feels good, do it.” The fact that any group of people who engage in conduct endorse it afterwards has no weight whatsoever in determining whether the conduct is objectively right.
4. She writes:
“If I had been forced to raise a child 35 years ago, I could not have put myself through college and Columbia Law School. I could not have gotten a job at a prestigious law firm and risen through the ranks to become a partner. I would not have met my husband and given birth to two amazing children in my late 30s when I was financially and emotionally ready to raise them.”
- This is a classic false dichotomy. The choices weren’t abortion or forced parenthood, and are not now. She could have given her child up for adoption, and many women did and still do.
- There is no way to know whether she could have put herself through college and Columbia Law School without having the abortion. She didn’t try. Women have done the equivalent. This is the ultimate hindsight bias.
- If following the abortion, she had made a series of bad choices, married a bounder, failed at law and ended up broke, unemployed and childless, would she have similarly argued that it was all because of the abortion? Her argument is nothing but consequentialism. The abortion was the fork in the road, she says now that she is extolling abortion, but she only knows where it led after the fact, and with the involvement of hundreds, even thousands of other roads taken and not taken, myriad choices, and pure luck. Attributing all of her current success and happiness to the abortion is absurd, and assuming that a different result was certain had she not had the abortion is the product of not just flawed reasoning, but deceptive argument.
Now, finally, we reach the crux of the matter, where Mac Avoy proves that she either can’t or won’t think this issue through sufficiently, honestly, objectively or competently to be an effective advocate.
She writes that her mother wishes “that she had had the choices that were available to me.”
By Mac Avoy’s own logic, post hoc ergo propter hoc as well as consequentialism, it may have been the absence of an abortion that made her a “a successful lawyer and mother” today. Indeed, it definitely was: that fact is undeniable, while her own cause-and-effect argument is entirely speculative and biased.
The statement is worse than that, however: it demonstrates the complete rejection of the ethical principle of reciprocity by abortion activists and advocates. so much so that a woman extolling her own accomplishments in life and their intrinsic value could write, in the same article, what amounts to ‘Ah, and if only my mother could have aborted me, think what she might have accomplished!’
If a woman is glad she is alive, and grateful she was given a chance at life, why wouldn’t she also consider the most basic and ancient of all ethical systems, The Golden Rule, before eliminating the opportunity to live for her own gestating son or daughter?
Janice Mac Avoy’s entire article, with all of its rationalizations and distorted reasoning aimed at a pre-determined result, not enlightenment, explains why, and vividly. She has been programmed by a movement and a culture to reject the essential reciprocity of nature—you are given life, and pass on life to others–in favor of the most brutal of ethical systems, and the one most susceptible to abuse: the ends justify the means…even when the means involves killing.
Spark and Pointer: Washington Post letter to the editor author Ron Bishop.