Framing the abortion debate (part 1): What is the missing premise?

April 20, 2006 | By | 1 Reply More

A logical argument, known as a syllogism, looks like this:

     PREMISE 1:  All dogs have wet noses.
     PREMISE 2:  Max is a dog.
     CONCLUSION:  Max has a wet nose.

Easy, right?  Now, let’s see what happens when we remove one of the premises:

     PREMISE 1:  All dogs have wet noses.
     CONCLUSION:  Max has a wet nose. 

See how the conclusion no longer follows logically?  Regardless of whether or not the premise is true, the argument fails because it is incomplete.  Would it make sense for us to debate the argument?  No, because the missing premise makes the whole argument defective.  Would it make sense for us to even debate the premise?  No, for the same reason.  Of course, we might guess at the missing premise — that Max is a dog — but we won’t necessarily be correct.  Max might be an iguana.  Bottom line:  we can’t have a meaningful debate about whether or not Max has a wet nose until we first identify the missing premise.

OK, now, let’s look at how abortion opponents (so-called “pro-life” activists) frame their anti-abortion argument:

     PREMISE 1:  Life begins at conception.
     CONCLUSION:  Abortions should be illegal.

Do you see the problem?  The argument makes no sense, because there is a missing premise that makes the whole argument defective.  Does it make sense for us to debate the premise?  No, because even if we agree about the premise, the argument would still be incomplete.

So, what is the missing premise?  Your guess is as good as anyone’s.  The only two things we know for certain are:  1) the anti-abortion argument is defective without it; and 2) pro-choice supporters need to stop wasting their time debating the premise of when life begins, and start insisting that abortion opponents provide the missing premise.  No meaningful debate can occur about this argument until that happens.

The last question we might ask is why haven’t abortion opponents provided the missing premise, knowing that their argument makes no sense without it?  Could it be because the missing premise necessarily involves quoting the Bible, and they know that doing so might instantly render their argument unconstitutional according to US law?  Pro-choice folks will never know unless they ask.

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Category: American Culture, Current Events, Politics, Religion, Sex

About the Author ()

Grumpypilgrim is a writer and management consultant living in Madison, WI. He has several scientific degrees, including a recent master’s degree from MIT. He has also held several professional career positions, none of which has been in a field in which he ever took a university course. Grumps is an avid cyclist and, for many years now, has traveled more annual miles by bicycle than by car…and he wishes more people (for the health of both themselves and our planet) would do the same. Grumps is an enthusiastic advocate of life-long learning, healthy living and political awareness. He is single, and provides a loving home for abused and abandoned bicycles. Grumpy’s email: grumpypilgrim(AT)@gmail(DOT).com [Erich’s note: Grumpy asked that his email be encrypted this way to deter spam. If you want to write to him, drop out the parentheticals in the above address].

Comments (1)

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  1. Erich Vieth says:

    Isn't the anti-abortionist going to claim that the missing premise is something like: Abortion involves killing a (post-conception human) life? Then they add another premise, something like "Killing a human life is murder."

    My focus on this debate has long been the baggage that slips in with "Premise 1." It begs the question by assuming that a 2-day old zygote has the same legal rights as a 8-year old child that can walk and talk. In reality, the big part of the debate has been over what rights that zygote (or embryo or fetus) has. Life forms don't come pre-tagged showing the rights they have; society has to decide this. And on this issue, it's very difficult to get a consensus in the U.S.

    For this reason that there is such widespread disagreement, I would largely leave the decision with the woman and her doctor.

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