Emotive argument

This picture with the caption This is what we all looked like at 12 weeks in the womb. Legal to kill in all 50 states. Anyone think its not a person? Pass this along. It literally might save a life is circulating on Facebook.

Actually, that is not what a 12 week foetus looks like. This is an actual 12 week foetus: I will not copy the picture out of respect to the pro-life mother.

So the photograph here is a lie, designed to create an emotional effect. The size is wrong, the skin is wrong, both made to look more baby-like. It is an exaggeration: there is some truth there, and the liar may not even realise that they are twisting and embellishing the truth.

Snopes has a useful discussion mostly from a rationalist point of view. Chloe says, It’s a little big and a little too developed, especially in facial features and the proportions of the head. Standard pro-lie tactics involve timing the pregnancy at conception, rather than LMP, as the medical world does. For them, a 14 week fetus is considered a 12 week fetus. I suspect this is what we’re seeing here. Mmm, Rationalist- though that phrase “pro-lie” is a lovely rhetorical touch.

That photo is “preaching to the converted”. Anti-abortion campaigners will look at it, and be encouraged by it. They will not be looking at Snopes: there are other places for pro-life and pro-choice to debate. So much of the rhetoric is only for those who agree already. Talking across the divide is more difficult, and the greater the divergence in opinion the more difficult it gets.

The disgust it arouses seems a less complex and adult emotional reaction than the empathy it seeks to kill, empathy with the plight of the mother. That requires imagination and judgment. As a miscarriage is a horror, so is a termination: we all feel that disgust; but the pro-choice advocate moderates it with greater understanding of the whole situation.

We can exchange information-gobbets, dates of formation of nerve tissue or the incipient frontal lobe, but the feelings, disgust and empathy, seem stronger to me as a way of persuasion. Reducing the disgust with facts is slow, patient work.

Moving back to my more usual LGBT issue, here is suffragan bishop Alan Wilson on his correspondence after he came out as sympathetic to gay people. Ninety of his hundred letters against were mere abuse. That disgust, again, for other people; for who we are. How could that be persuasive? The writer shows his disgust, and a weaker other may take the lead from it, feeling as the dominant human feels, for feelings of solidarity. Or, if the other does not come to share the feeling, the writer feels dislocated and disconcerted, because his feeling is not confirmed as he desires. There is emotional identification with the conservative side of these arguments.

If you have changed your position in these arguments, how did that happen?

7 thoughts on “Emotive argument

  1. That’s so interesting. I don’t know why the pro-lie (love it!) movement feel the need to twist things. People that are concerned about exactly what is being removed would be equally moved by the real picture you link to. I think access to safe and legal abortion is a fundamental requirement. However, I don’t object to people receiving information (unemotional and impartial) giving them a real understanding of the process before they go ahead. It is a big decision. Also great to see that bishop publishing information on the correspondence he received – an eye opener! Nice that 80% are supportive though, it shows that ‘haters’ are in the minority … maybe not minority enough just yet.


    • Sorry, I didn’t answer the question. I can’t remember being anti-abortion, although I’m sure I was as a Christian child. Just knowing that women are desperate enough to risk killing themselves in a bid to terminate unwanted pregnancies, and do so all the time in countries where it’s illegal, makes me realise it’s necessary. But there are loads of other reasons. As for any issues of sexuality, it just took one friend telling me he was gay when I was a teenager to make a radical rethink necessary. And once I accepted sexuality wasn’t black and white, the idea of gay marriage was no problem at all.


      • Perfect. Wonderful. An actual human being, in the actual situation. Thank you. Meeting out gay people when I was at University did not completely do it for me, as I was too strongly rejecting my own queerness, but it showed me it was possible. I do not think I could be queer alone.


  2. I think the emotive argument is probably the strongest one. The pro-life/pro-lie campaigners are using strong emotive rhetoric and images in order to create a sympathy for the unborn foetus and not for the person who is carrying it. They are doing everything to make the foetus appear like an individual with a full range of rights that are taken away from it. They are creating images like this one, making the foetus look more human-like (also interesting that they almost always use a white baby and hand holding it). They also say that it “might save a life” (the unborn’s life) but not the fact that it may destroy another person’s life (the person carrying the child that clearly does not want it). I’ve seen anti-abortionists use all kinds of rhetorical devices: giving the unborn foetus a name, like “This could have been Anna, today 5 years old). They do not want us to identify with the person who is unwillingly pregnant and wishes to end the pregnancy by various reasons.

    I’ve never been anti-abortion, when I was younger (a kid) I guess I was neutral, but my mother (or was it my school?) told me about the horrific methods people were using in order to terminate their pregnancies in secret before abortion was legalized (such as hangers), so I soon realised the importance of choice. But of course, it is also relevant that I didn’t grew up in a place where pro-life/pro-lie had a lot of support, such as in some places in America. I’ve only occasionally come across an anti-abortion protest, followed by a more than twice as big pro-choice protest.


    • I think the emotional reasons move on. Pride in shooting a large animal becomes disgust: there is delight in seeing it not possessing it, and creating a photograph rather than grasping a pelt.

      I think we are lucky in the UK, where the pro-lifers come across as nutty, rather than as powerful as in some parts of the US.


  3. I did a thesis on abortion for my honours studies at Uni, so I wanted to think about this, just a bit, before diving in again, and see what in my thoughts had changed.

    The pro-lifers seem to overlook the life of the woman in question, and to value her as less than her foetus; a foetus is not certain to reach full term – a great many pregnancies abort spontaneously and no-one is any the wiser. It is foolish to equate a foetus with full term life, since coming to term is not a certainty.

    Emotive arguments have their place, but from a purely survivalist point of view, it makes sense to place the mother’s needs at the forefront, rather than at the back. After all, a mother may have many children, whereas growing to adulthood is never certain. It is the uncertainty of birth, life and death that, for me, undoes much of the power of the “pro-lifers” arguments. The uncertainty is a good thing, though. It preserves us from being too prescriptive.


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