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Vox’s Disingenuous Abortion Anecdote

Spot the error in these statements:

“I’ve met some unpleasant gay people, so now I am justified in believing homosexuality is wrong.”

“My former colleagues at a socialist think tank were manipulative and wrote some misleading articles, so now I am justified in believing that socialism is wrong.”

Answer: The conclusion to each statement is an utter non sequitur. The unpleasantness of some hypothetical gay people and the unethical behavior of some hypothetical former colleagues say nothing about the moral status of homosexuality and socialism, respectively.

Yet the structure of these statements is the basic structure of an anecdotal essay in Vox by Susie Meister, an independent scholar who earned a PhD in religious studies from the University of Pittsburgh.

In her article titled “How my job talking women out of abortions made me pro-choice,” Meister recounts her experience working at a pregnancy-crisis center back when she was pro-life. What she claims to have experienced — a caricature-perfect group of ignorant, judgmental pro-lifers who misled scared pregnant women about abortion in order to advance traditional gender roles — estranged her from the pro-life movement.

She writes,

We were directed to tell women that studies show they will regret an abortion for the rest of their lives, that they would inevitably be haunted by night terrors, anxiety, depression, and other physical ailments because of their decision to abort.

The “studies” were not cited, but it didn’t seem to matter to the staff, none of whom ever openly questioned the validity of the claims and, from what I saw, always stuck to the script when interacting with the pregnant women. They seemed to be focused solely on the center’s mission to prevent abortion, and were either convinced of the studies’ accuracy or were operating under an ends-justify-the-means approach.

Increasingly disaffected, Meister left her job at the pregnancy-crisis center after meeting with a girl who had been raped and asked for a pregnancy test (the girl discovered she wasn’t pregnant).

Before administering the pregnancy test, Meister

told her I understood. I told her I had been raped too.

I was a virgin when I was attacked. I remembered that feeling of fear, of hoping I wouldn’t end up pregnant. She and I shared a moment of silent connection, and we both started to cry.

I knew I could no longer do this job. I could no longer try to convince women what to do with their bodies based on anecdotal evidence, misinformation, and scare tactics.

After this experience, Meister became pro-choice. She doesn’t explicitly aver that this experience alone justifies her pro-choice stance, but that is the implication throughout. In her anecdote, the pro-lifers are the villains, and her conclusion is to become pro-choice.

This piece, filed under Vox’s “First Person” section, reads like one long non sequitur. If Meister wanted to condense this story to introduce some data-driven piece about pregnancy-crisis centers, fine. But she didn’t. She penned a long and emotional anecdote whose implied argument is roughly: “These anti-abortion folk were kind of sketchy and rape is awful, ergo abortion is not wrong.”

Someone give this woman a PhD. Oh wait, she already has one.

There’s a sense in which this approach to the abortion debate is disingenuous. A moderately informed person should know that the legal argument against abortion is not that women should be bound to the home or that abortion is women’s worst sin. (I’ve yet to meet pro-lifers in my vast circle of conservative friends who believe either of these things, but apparently Meister has.) It isn’t that abortion can be traumatic for some women. It isn’t that unborn babies develop fingernails or might feel pain, though such considerations can help us grasp their humanity. And it isn’t that no pro-life people are sketchy or dishonest (but shame on any who are).

The central, necessary, and sufficient pro-life argument is that human life begins at conception and therefore that abortion amounts to the willful killing of an innocent human being. One premise this argument relies on is that willfully killing innocent human beings is wrong. Even the rising support among Americans for physician-assisted suicide needn’t amount to support for the willful nonconsensual killing of an innocent human being, though obviously popular support doesn’t make something right anyway.

We can acknowledge that rape is hideous and scarring, that single motherhood is extremely difficult, that giving your baby up for adoption can be painful. Women who endure these things should receive support from their communities and from organizations. But none of these issues addresses the central pro-life argument. Meister utterly fails to engage with it. And since she offers no other reasons for her conversion, I’m led to believe it was driven solely by emotion.

Vox loves data until anecdotes will do.

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