Patrick Tomlinson v. Ben Shapiro, men attempt abortion logic

Charlie Rae weighs in on the conversation on abortion between Tomlinson and Shapiro.

Patrick Tomlinson, a sci-fi writer and a political conservative, posed a thought-experiment on twitter the other day to prove the point that anti-abortion campaigners do not consider an embryo equal to a child. To whittle it down, he’s asking: if you had to choose between saving one child or a thousand or even a million embryos, which would you pick? He thinks that the answer is quite simple, and human instincts tell all of us to save the child. If someone thought that an embryo was the same as a child, it would be difficult for them to even answer this question.

Ben Shapiro, an anti-abortion conservative, disagrees that it’s an open and shut case. His argument was summed up on The Daily Wire:

Shapiro, who answers directly that he would and should save the 5-year-old child’s life, lays out four reasons that Tomlinson’s supposedly original thought experiment, while “interesting,” is ultimately worthless. Shapiro argues that 1) “moral instinct does not always mean correct moral decisionmaking”; 2) the pro-abortion thought experiment “does not reveal the value of embryonic life”; 3) “most pro-lifers freely admit the supreme value of already-born human life, but that doesn’t make prenatal life valueless”; and 4) the whole thought experiment simply isn’t reality: “the case of pro-abortion advocates isn’t a choice between a five-year-old and a thousand fetuses. It’s a case of killing a fetus, by itself.”

I think this response only frustrated Tomlinson, who feels that Shapiro both proved his point but completely missed it at the same time. He chose not to respond, and I don’t blame him. Shapiro makes hearty attempts at logic, I will give him that, but he pre-empts them by calling his opponents douches and calling their thoughts worthless. But I thought I would step in and offer not only a female perspective but a more rigorously logical one as well.

I took on Shapiro’s rebuttal point by point:

  1. I agree with Shapiro that moral instinct does not determine moral decision-making. Although, I also think this is a weird argument, because he both agrees with Tomlinson that the instinct is correct and the outcome of this instinct is correct. Nonetheless, this statement is true. But this was not Tomlinson’s point. His point was to evoke a common ‘moral instinct’ to identify an underlying hypocrisy, the premise on which this thought-experiment rests: is an embryo a baby, a person, or equivalent to a baby or a person? This is the argument at stake with anti-abortionists, the legal point at which we determine personhood, or, when we consider the embryo a baby. One would assume, using the logic of ’embryo=child’, that an anti-abortionist would choose the vile of embryos, because it contains more supposed lives than the single child.
  2. Nowhere in Tomlinson’s thought experiment did he claim to be revealing the value of an embryo. In fact, he didn’t even use the word value. The point was to reveal the inner motivations of a political ideology which has told us that embryos are babies, or that personhood starts at conception. And further, that women are killing babies. It has even been likened to a holocaust. (You can watch the documentary Jesus Camp and watch how this is used in Christian Extremism to indoctrinate children.) Tomlinson’s point was to prove what significance anti-abortionsists place on a large amount of embryos: less than a baby. This goes against mainstream pro-life rhetoric.
  3. a. If “most pro-lifers freely admit the supreme value of already-born human life,” why does Ben Shapiro refuse to prioritize the ‘supreme value’ of the women who get pregnant?, and b., “but that doesn’t make prenatal life valueless” begs the question: if Shapiro would save one life over a million embryos, how little value does he actually prescribe to them? Since he has stressed value so much, I consider these fair questions. In fact, if personhood starts at conception, then Shapiro choosing to kill a million embryos could be considered its own holocaust.
  4. Shapiro’s last point baffled me the most. Thought experiments, analogies, and comparisons are used often to try and prove a point or extrapolate an understanding based on similar or differing traits. His last point is an attempt to delegitimize the efficacy of thought experiments all together, rather than attempt to truly understand the one before him. The point of a thought experiment is to try and take a hypothetical or proverbial situation and apply a kind of logic to it so we can understand a conceptual premise. Plato’s allegory of the cave “simply isn’t reality” either, and it’s not supposed to be.

Further, this argument also mirrors an egalitarian thought-experiment by Peter Singer, an Australian philosopher, which he called The Singer Solution to World Poverty. In this hypothetical situation, someone would have to choose between their expensive car (representing their life savings) or a child. The point of his moral dilemma, like Tomlinson’s embryo dilemma, is to prove that we understand the value of human life because of our physical feelings of empathy towards one another, and the way in life we get people to choose the car over the kid is to remove the human connection, which is a vital aspect to the concept of an empathetic morality. In this case, it makes sense that Shapiro wants Tomlinson to take the kid out of it. That makes it easier to connect the emotional feelings we have for babies to embryos, while not introducing an actual baby which demonstrates the true difference. This difference is fundamental to humans, who experience empathy for other humans and are biologically pack animals.

All in all, I am glad that Shapiro put forth this rebuttal so publicly and self-assured, because now we can forever claim his own words in favor of woman and abortion access: he “freely admit[s] the supreme value of already-born human life”. Further, we can try and use more rigorous logic rather than settling on calling people douches and proposed ideas worthless.
Follow Charlie Rae and The Fem Column on facebook.