Commentary: Abortion rights activists employ the most overused straw man in the book

(Andrew Harnik | The Associated Press) Anti-abortion activists march past the Supreme Court in Washington, Friday, Jan. 27, 2017, during the annual March for Life. Thousands of anti-abortion demonstrators gathered in Washington for an annual march to protest the Supreme Court's landmark 1973 decision that declared a constitutional right to abortion.

The term “pro-choice” is a straw man.

A straw man is a misrepresentation of an opponent’s position that is set up because it is easier to tackle than the opponent’s true argument. It is a rhetorical fallacy that dodges a direct rebuttal to an opposing view.

When a straw man is employed in a discussion, it is not usually intended to persuade the opponent, but rather targets the discussion’s spectators with an appeal rooted in emotion rather than logic. Employing this tactic can irritate an opponent more than almost anything else.

Pro-lifers are irritated. Pro-choicers too often throw out the statement “A woman can do what she wants with her own body” during abortion debates. This hackneyed phrase fails to persuade pro-lifers because it avoids their chief argument altogether.

Pro-lifers claim that an embryo isn’t part of a woman’s body but a separate, distinct and living creature. If abortion rights activists hope to coax fence-sitters to join their cause, they cannot champion the “choice” argument as their foremost rebuttal.

The term “pro-choice” came about several years after the term “pro-life.” By the time it became mainstream, the Supreme Court had already ruled abortion-prohibiting legislation unconstitutional in the landmark Roe v. Wade decision. As anti-abortionists touted the slogan “right to life,” those who supported the verdict of Roe v. Wade began to tout their own slogan as a rebuttal: “right to choose.” In my opinion, “right to choose” never should have become the slogan of the abortion-rights movement. To pro-lifers, it sounds too much like a euphemistic version of “right to kill.”

When it comes to taking someone’s life, no one has the right to choose. Of course, pro-choicers don’t see abortion as killing. But pro-lifers do. For pro-lifers who believe that terminating a pregnancy is taking someone’s life away, saying that you have the “right to choose” seems more like an attack on the “right to life” than valid reasoning for getting an abortion.

It is important to understand opponents’ perspective when formulating an argument. Pro-lifers commonly argue their point by citing that a fetus’s heart begins to beat 22 days after conception, pumping blood that may not be of the same type as the mother’s, and that brainwaves are detectable after just 40 days. The use of these supporting facts shows something important: Pro-lifers believe that aborting a pregnancy is synonymous, or at least semi-synonymous, with murder.

If abortion rights activists hope to present a persuasive argument, or one that makes them not appear to be heartless baby-killers, they need to stop heralding the mantras “It’s her body!” and “She has the right to choose!” Being pro-life doesn’t mean being anti-women’s rights; it simply means having a perspective that differs from the pro-choice perception of when life starts. The argument that needs to take center stage in the abortion rights movement is one that contends with the perception of when life starts, not one that focuses on women’s rights.

The abortion debate isn’t over and pro-choicers are losing ground. For better or for worse, the Supreme Court recently declined to hear out a case challenging a new piece of legislation in Arkansas that prohibits “the abortion pill.” Pro-choicers need a solid counterargument now more than ever, and a straw man argument just won’t do.

Tanner Davies is a sophomore at Utah State University studying computer engineering with a minor in political science. He graduated from Lehi High School in 2015 and served a two-year LDS mission in the Dominican Republic.