- Paul Stark
'Who decides?' Hillary Clinton's abortion sophistry
In her book What Happened, Hillary Clinton recycles a decades-old slogan in defense of abortion:
As I see it, the issue comes down to the question: Who decides? We can debate the morality of abortion forever ... but at the end of the day, who decides whether a woman gets or stays pregnant? A Congressman who has never met her? A judge who has spoken with her for maybe a few minutes? Or should the woman be able to make this momentous decision about her life, her body, her future, for herself? Someone's got to decide. I say let women decide.
Everyone agrees, though, that there are many things the law should not "let people decide" to do. It should not permit injustice, for example. Clinton would never say something like this:
As I see it, the issue of infant abandonment comes down to the question: Who decides? We can debate the morality of infanticide forever ... but at the end of the day, who decides whether parents have to keep a baby? A Congressman who has never met them? A judge who has spoken with them for maybe a few minutes? Or should the parents be able to make this momentous decision about their lives and their futures for themselves? Someone's got to decide. I say let parents decide.
Infants are valuable human beings who have a right to life. That's why society should protect them from infanticide. If human embryos and fetuses also have human rights, then justice and equality require protection for them too.
So do unborn human beings count? Is abortion unjust? That's the issue. To show that abortion should be permitted—to show that we should "let women decide"—one must show that abortion, unlike infanticide, is not the sort of act that the law should guard against. Clinton doesn't do that. She offers no justification for her view at all.
Like the more recent slogan "trust women," "who decides?" seems to purport to be a substantial argument (indeed, Clinton says it is what "the issue [of abortion] comes down to"). But an argument is a set of reasons in support of a conclusion, and asking the question "who decides?" provides no reasons. It is simply a framing of language in a way that makes a particular viewpoint more attractive than it would otherwise be.
The best term for this kind of rhetoric is sophistry.
Some ancient Greeks, called sophists, are said to have used their rhetorical skills to trick others into believing false things. As Socrates and Plato showed, these sophists' language, though superficially plausible, did not withstand rational scrutiny.
Hillary Clinton's rhetoric does not hold up either. No one should ever fall for it.
This article appears in the November 2017 issue of NRL News.