By Grace Hemmeke, Right to Life of Michigan Events & Outreach Coordinator
Pro-abortion advocates love confusion. Confusion helps them advance their agenda. Confusion helps them sell death to people who are desperate for support, for love, for votes, for money…
One tactic the pro-abortion industry uses to create confusion is to claim that the things they are advocating for are not really those things.
Behold, the distinction without a difference fallacy: “It’s not abortion, it’s a pregnancy reduction!” Distinctions without a difference takes the form of using fancy words and good rhetoric to pretend as if there is a difference between two sentences when there is not. Here is an example of how the distinction without a difference might play out in a conversation.
Prolife person: “Abortion stops a beating heart!”
Pro abortion person: “No it doesn’t, it just terminates an unwanted pregnancy!”
There are a few ways a prolife advocate can respond. If the conversation already feels hostile, it can be a good idea to point out that there is no difference. This might not win friends and influence people, but it will make a clear statement that the prolife movement stands against terminating an unwanted pregnancy, and that it is the same thing as stopping a beating heart to end the life of an unborn child. This immediately clears away any confusion, and lets your opponent know that you will not be confused by changes in their language.
A more friendly way to answer, and a way that can help plant seeds of truth in a pro-abortion advocate’s mind, involves asking questions about their views. Now, prolife advocates know that there is no difference between abortion and a pregnancy termination, but since both people in the conversation are arguing over definitions, it is best to start by clarifying those. Try:
“What does it mean to ‘terminate an unwanted pregnancy’?”
“What do you mean by ‘terminate’?”
“If you don’t terminate a pregnancy, what is the result?”
“What is a pregnancy?” If this sounds pedantic, you can follow up with, “It sounds like abortion and terminating a pregnancy are the same thing.”
“What is the difference?”
When in doubt, clarify the argument. Try to lead them to understand that terminating a pregnancy involves the death of the unborn baby, since a pregnancy requires that there be a child growing in a mother’s womb, and a pregnancy can only end when the child exits the womb, dead or alive. To terminate that pregnancy would involve forcing the child to die in some way, and then forcing the dead child to exit the womb, which is exactly the definition of an abortion according to Merriam Webster: “The termination of a pregnancy after, accompanied by, resulting in, or closely followed by the death of the embryo or fetus.”
If your opponent starts using language that doesn’t make sense, or that you haven’t heard before, or that you think might be a distinction without a difference, start asking clarifying questions. State your own beliefs for your opponent to bounce off of. Never continue arguing if you realize that you don’t know what you are arguing against, either in terms of language or in terms of the argument. That’s how you end up repeating slogans and talking points which are too often polarizing and unconducive to real conversations.
This fallacy centers itself around the idea that words have meaning, and some words like “abortion” have heavy stigma, bad connotations, and polarizing effects when used in public. In order to make an argument more acceptable to the audience, someone might choose to use word X over word Y – however, the truth of the statement still remains, no matter how the packaging is changed. But an undiscerning crowd might mistake a different phrase for a different argument.
Distinctions without a difference can be used as a tactic to derail the conversation, to make you think you are arguing against something you are not. The solution is to remember the truth and not to deviate from it. If you are dealing with someone more hostile, you can state the truth firmly while also pointing out that there is no difference between abortion and “ending a pregnancy” or “reducing the fetuses” or “removing fetal tissue”.
The heart of the issue is that abortion stops a beating heart, ending the life of an unborn child. No amount of glittery vocabulary will disguise this. Prolife debaters should not be afraid to denounce abortion as an evil which is not necessary for any pregnancy, wanted or unwanted.