Thursday, November 19, 2009

Affirming a Disjunct, Denying the Conjunct and the Abortion Debate

While I thought this was kicked under the carpet when the 2008 elections ended, I have seen some bloggers and commentators make use of the following reasoning:
  1. We can either oppose abortion or we can reduce the need for abortion by helping women
  2. Pro-lifers are opposing abortion
  3. Therefore they are not helping women in need
Affirming a Disjunct
This is a variant of the false dilemma fallacy known as Affirming a disjunct:
  • Either p or q
  • p
  • Therefore not q
Why is this a logical fallacy?  Because premise #1 is false in declaring we can either do p or q, but not both, or in assuming that because one has done one choice, he or she has set him or herself against the alternative.
Anyone who has seen the crisis pregnancy centers staffed by pro-lifers knows this is a false accusation which seeks to label the opponents as being insensitive.
Denying the Conjunct
Radical anti-abortion supporters (which is different from being pro-life) sometimes use the counterpart to Affirming a Disjunct, known as Denying the Conjunct:
  1. You cannot both demonstrate in front of abortion clinics (p) and support abortion (q)
  2. You are not demonstrating in front of abortion clinics (not p)
  3. Therefore you support abortion (q).
This logical fallacy is also how Randall Terry calumniated Bishop Darcy over the Notre Dame incident.  It is a similar error, assuming that there is only one solution to be labeled Pro-Life.
What is getting lost with both forms of the false dilemma  is that the first group assumes that any focus on one approach must ignore the other, while the second group assumes only their way is right.
The Catholic Church of course rejects both errors. 
When it comes to the first case, Yes indeed we need to aid mothers to be in distress, but that does not mean we must neglect the ending of legalized abortion.  The call of the Christian is to do both.
The second error false because one can be opposed to abortion without taking part in all forms of opposition.  I disagree with Terry's version of how to act, but that does not mean I want abortion to remain legal.  Rather I believe his view is imprudent at best, and most probably counterproductive (his own version tends to alienate, not encourage women to seek other options)
What Is To Be Done
Quite simply, we must do both.  We need to work to end legalized abortion, and we need to assist women in need so they can choose other options.  If a person argued that all we need to do is to end Roe v. Wade (which is in fact not argued) then yes, this would be a limitation, and a weakening of what we are obligated to do to what is "easy."
However, this also applies to the person who says we need to only focus on the aiding the woman and need and leave abortion in place as legal.  It fails to act against a very real evil, and simply works on symptoms and not the disease itself.

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