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Further Reading

Columns: Deprogram

The Coat Hanger Conundrum

Why It's a Deceptive Pro-Choice Defense

by Greg Koukl

“We're Afraid For Our Daughters," the 1998 headline read. The ad was hard to miss, filling an entire page of my local paper. "Could it really happen?" it continued. "Could our daughters be forced into back alleys and illegal abortions? We need your help. For our daughters, our wives, and our friends, please help keep abortion safe." Listed in a line down the center of the page were the flowing, handwritten signatures of Cher, Ted Danson, John Denver, Betty Ford, and Cybill Shepherd.

It was a touching appeal. One could almost see Ted Danson's little girl being dragged by her ponytail into a dark alley, or Cybill Shepherd's daughter gagged and strapped to a table while an unshaven dirtbag in coveralls readies a piece of bent wire. Surely these children didn't choose this evil fate. It was forced upon them by shortsighted and callused moralists who took away the only option available to them: abortion on demand.

This "coat hanger" argument is one of the most emotionally persuasive appeals of the abortionists. It's also among the most specious. It has little real substance and is dangerously misleading. If we're merely talking about personal, elective surgery, then the argument might be compelling. Why complicate an already perilous operation with the additional risk of a dangerous, septic environment? When the life of a human child is involved, though, the picture changes dramatically. Should the law be faulted for making it riskier for someone to kill another innocent human being? The fact that bank robbery is dangerous to the felon isn't a good reason to make grand larceny legal.

Ironically, the whole line of reasoning completely collapses when you consider the one element deified by pro-choicers: choice.

A woman has the right to choose to do whatever she wants with her own body, the argument goes. It's her business and nobody else's; it's her choice. If that's true, then she must take responsibility for those choices, even when they are self-destructive.

Yes, in the past some women chose dangerous, illegal abortions. People choose to do many foolish things when there are reasonable options available. That's just the point: people choose. Sometimes they make bad choices, but the choice is still their own. There's no coercion. A woman is no more forced into the back alley when abortion is outlawed than a young man is forced to rob banks because the state won't put him on welfare. Both have other options.

I'd like to believe that Betty Ford raised her children with respect for the laws of the country her husband served. I'd like to think that Ted Danson taught his kids enough common sense to keep them from taking the foolish route of back-alley abortion. I hope Cher has instilled in her daughter the idea that when liberated adult women make their own decisions, they also must accept the consequences of those decisions.

I believe in privacy, but privacy has its limits. I believe in choice, but choice has limits, too. Our right to privacy and our right to choose end where harm to another individual begins. That's true with every law. Every piece of legislation violates privacy and restricts choice to some degree.

In a sense, I'm pro-choice for the woman. She can choose not to conceive. If she gets pregnant against her choice, she can choose to carry the child to term and then keep her baby. Or she can choose to give the child up for adoption to a loving family. But she can't choose the quick way out of a difficult problem by taking the life of that little baby.

I'm pro-choice for the child, too. Cher, Ted, John, Betty, and Cybill—I'm not concerned for your daughters; they'll have choices to make, and if you trained them well, they'll make sensible ones. No, I'm concerned for your granddaughters and grandsons. They have no choice—and they're dying. 

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