By Grace Hemmeke, Right to Life of Michigan Events & Outreach Coordinator
Over 150 vandalisms have been committed against prolife pregnancy resource centers. One slogan consistently spray painted on these vandalized centers is: “If abortion isn’t safe, neither are you.”
This is an excellent example of the ad baculum fallacy, and terrorist groups like Jane’s Revenge have a tendency to use them liberally. The argumentum ad baculum does not depend on reason, but resorts to threats of violence or bad outcomes, literally translated: “Argument to the cudgel.” People who use the ad baculum aren’t concerned with truth, only conformity. Why should we support abortion? Well, because if we don’t, there’s going to be an awful lot more vandalism.
Before examining how prolife supporters can respond to the ad baculum, it’s important to recognize that this fallacy is not reserved solely for the use of domestic terrorists. The ad baculum is used when a teacher says that writing prolife supporting essays will result in a lower grade. It is used when an employer tells you that choosing to be pregnant and have your baby will make it difficult for the company to provide as many benefits as before. It is used when someone comes out of the abortion clinic and tells the peacefully praying prolife protesters to leave or they’ll call the cops. The ad baculum can be subtle, yet the stakes it places on seemingly simple moral choices are very high. No one wants a lower grade, less pay, or to have the police show up. (Note that there is no ad baculum if someone warns a criminal to leave or they will call the cops. Breaking the law warrants a police visit. It’s one thing to threaten harm in a civil situation, but something totally different to warn someone of the natural consequences of their actions.)
Possibly the easiest form of the ad baculum to deal with is that which comes out of a previously civil debate. The conversation is going swimmingly. Then the pro-abortion supporter says, “But it’s extreme to say that abortion should be totally banned. You don’t want people to treat you like an extremist, do you?” And, suddenly, you’re being threatened in a very subtle, nonviolent way.
When the conversation was civil before, you can try to recover the debate. Try: “That’s not an argument for abortion or against the prolife position. Why shouldn’t it be totally banned?” It’s easy in our culture to abandon reason and start attacking each other. Sometimes people do it unconsciously and it’s not good to assume ill will as soon as a subtle ad baculum enters the conversation.
When there is no subtlety and the threats start flying, it’s time to take a stand. Pregnancy resource centers face terrorism because they are the front lines, the ones who physically save the lives of children as their mothers look for options. Prolife supporters spread the news about these decisions, educate, donate, volunteer, do whatever they can in whatever circumstances they may be in. Although not all of us are called to serve full time at a pregnancy resource center, we are all called to tell the truth. The worst thing that could happen to the prolife movement – and the aim of the pro-abortion industry – is for it to vanish into silence and inaction.
It was once said that “to fight and conquer is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.” If the pro-abortion movement can 1) stop prolifers from carrying out their plans to run a pregnancy resource center, protest, pray, speak, etc, 2) prevent prolifers and prolife groups from joining forces to oppose them, or 3) shut down debates when they are occurring so that the prolife message isn’t able to be spread, then the pro-abortion movement has the upper hand and the battles will all be lost.
This is why it’s useless to be personally prolife but refrain from publicly condemning abortion. The pro-abortion movement is not waging war on prolife policy. They are waging war on the idea that all humans have the right to life. Being personally prolife means you are wearing the prolife uniform. The target is on your back simply because you hold those beliefs. But by doing nothing, you’re choosing to remain immobile, while these two opposing and irreconcilable ideas war, and there is a side which will come for you, demanding your fealty or demanding your silence and your acceptance of a worldview incompatible with your own.
So in the face of angry people who want the prolife message and movement to go away permanently, say, “I’m not scared of you.” Stay where you are. Come back the next day. Know the pro-abortion goals and know your own ability and limits to stop the tactics which they use to achieve them. Anyone who has sidewalk counselled or prayed outside of an abortion clinic knows many of these tactics. Shouting. Threatening. Promises to call the police when no laws have been broken. Bringing Antifa to counter protest. All of them are ad baculums. And regardless of how scared you feel at the moment, they all deserve the same response.
“We’re not scared of you.”