“Ad hominem” literally means to “attack the man” (or person). Therefore, "to attack ad hominem is to attack the man who presents an argument rather than the argument itself." Instead of dealing with what a person is actually saying, one attacks the person. This is a bad form of reasoning because it ultimately does not refute the person's argument. Hence, when the abortion rights advocate judges, ridicules, insults, or slanders the pro-lifer as a person, he or she does not attack the arguments for the pro-life position.
One common ad hominem argument can be distilled into the following assertion: Unless the pro-life advocate is willing to help bring up the children he or she does not want aborted, he or she has no right to prevent a woman from having an abortion.
As a principle of moral action, this seems to be a rather bizarre assertion. For one reason, it begs the question by assuming that the unborn are not fully human. Wouldn't these same pro-choicers consider the murder of a couple's children unjustified even if they were approached by the parents with the following proposition: “Unless you adopt my three children by noon tomorrow, I will put them to death.”? Clearly, if these pro-choicers refused to adopt these children it would not justify their parents in killing them. Hence, it all depends on whether the unborn are fully human.
Second, think of all the unusual precepts that could be fairly derived from such a moral principle: unless I am willing to marry my neighbor's wife, I cannot prevent her husband from beating her; unless I am willing to adopt my neighbor's daughter, I cannot prevent her mother from abusing her; unless I am willing to hire ex-slaves for my business, I cannot say that the slave-owner should not own slaves.
Now, I believe that the pro-life movement as a whole does have a moral obligation to help those in need, especially unwed mothers (and there are enough organizations dedicated to this task to show that the pro-lifers do practice what they preach).
But it does not logically follow from this moral obligation that abortion automatically becomes a moral good simply because individual pro-life advocates are not currently involved in such a cause.
Author: Francis J. Beckwith. Adapted from a series in Christian Research Journal, Spring 1991. Provided with permission by Summit Ministries and the author.
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