False Equivalence



Abortion protests in Dublin in 1992 during the X Case

Paul Cullen writing (In the Irish Times) about the increasingly inevitable repeal of the Eighth Amendment, opines that:

“…discussion is being dominated by the strident voices on the two ends of the spectrum, each group deeply attached to absolutist views on the subject”.

This all-too-common refrain suggests a false equivalence: that those who actively oppose abortion and those who actively support its availability are direct polar opposites – “absolutist views” – on a finite spectrum.

The usual conclusion of this question-begging cliché is that the most desirable or moral position may, or even must be some nebulous midpoint on the scale – a supposed “moderate centre ground” or the like.

This is the kind of fallacy that might lead one to argue that since some people are for slavery and some against, a little slavery is surely best.

Further, the anti-abortion position can be defined with some considerable measure of confident objectivity as absolutist or extreme by reference to clinically verifiable best medical practice, international human rights’ norms and opinion polling. (Support for an all-out abortion ban has hovered around 10 per cent in recent Irish polls).

The same cannot be said of the pro-choice position. It is therefore not good enough to suggest, by implying a false dichotomy, that since the anti-abortion position is absolutist, so too, ipso facto, is the pro-choice position.

John Cale,
Cork Street,
Dublin 8

‘Strident Voices In Abortion Debate (Irish Times Letters)

Has the intolerance of the 1980s pro-life brigade been transplanted to the Repeal debate? (Paul Cullen, Irish Times, November 1, 2016)


31 thoughts on “False Equivalence

      1. Neilo

        Dammit, I loved that show. Dirk Bogarde in full Death In Venice drag still cracks me up twenty years(?) on.

  1. Daisy Chainsaw

    Prochoice means being pro birth, pro contraception, pro adoption, pro abortion, pro whatever the women decides is the best choice for her.

    Prolife means anything but. It’s pro foetus, pro control, pro forced birth. They’re not very pro supporting parents in crisis once the forced birth takes place. They’re not all that pro child either when you read comments on taking in refugee children, or the 2000 homeless children in Dublin alone.

    1. Anomanomanom

      I see where your coming from but how you use those words are the problem. I don’t know a single person who is not pro life, otherwise you must be pro death. Again surely everyone is pro choice otherwise they must be pro no choice. Everyone is Hijacking words to beat the other side with is all either side does.

    2. Rob

      Where did you read comments by pro lifers saying they didn’t want to take in refugee children? Or about their views on homeless children?

      1. Niamh

        They have banded together and organised well-heeled and sophisticated lobby/interest groups against the repeal of the 8th Amendment in Ireland on the grounds that it murders children and this is, according to them, their one-and-only reason for doing so – because they strident oppose the murder and mistreatment of children.

        Meanwhile hundreds of children are being warehouse in dangerous conditions in Calais, representing an acute crisis of child welfare with direct relation to Ireland since the ‘Not On My Watch’ movement is lobbying to have more of these children brought here for asylum, and Iona/Life Institute/Youth Defence have said…nothing on the matter whatsoever. They have also said nothing whatsoever on rising child homelessness. Why vehemently fight against what you define as ONE form of acute child endangerment, but no other?

        What’s different about repealing the 8th?

        That is: they are lying. They are a conservative and reactionary, misogynist, Catholic right-wing organisation, and they do not give two hoots about children or child welfare.

        1. Rob

          Not campaigning on an issue doesn’t mean they are against it.

          The commenter wrote indicating that he/she had read comments by pro life people on the topics of homelessness and refugees. I’m just wondering where these comments are.

          I didn’t see a Repeal top on Sr Stan last night.

          1. Rob

            I thought you read them. Surely it would be easier to point to them, or even the relevant articles where commentators make these views, rather than just suggesting some websites where they might be.

          2. Rob

            Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure some pro lifers are d1+khe4ds when it comes to various issues, but the suggestion that one follows the other, or that because some are, it invalidates the position of every person who is pro life is wrong.

          3. newsjustin

            Well done Rob for calling Daisy on this. A regular ploy of trying to claim that pro-life people aren’t interested in any child that’s actually been born.

  2. Ben Redmond

    When newspapers start grouping people into moderates and extremists I ask myself: what economic and social interests do the newspapers support? Newspaper editors pretend to be neutral messengers. They are in fact players.

  3. Friscondo

    I think what Cullen was referring to is that the most vociferous voices on both sides have an irritating fanaticism about them that is very alienating, and makes them come across as oddballs you’d hate to get stuck with at a party. The 8th Will of course be repealed.

    1. Kieran NYC

      I think the vociferous voices are there to get the ball rolling. Once the referendum campaign starts, I’m sure the pro-choice side will have learned the lessons of the Marriage Ref. “I’m voting Yes, ask me why” type thing.

      Betcha the hardcore pro-life side will still be aggressive and nuts though.

      1. newsjustin

        I dunno. Its relatively straightforward to sell a middle ground on gay marriage – I mean, who doesn’t like marriage!?

        It’s not so straightforward to sell people on abortion, which, like it or not, is what repealing the 8th amendment is utterly linked to. Abortion is about deliberately ending human life. People are touchy about that.

  4. Rob

    “Further, the anti-abortion position can be defined with some considerable measure of confident objectivity as absolutist or extreme by reference to clinically verifiable best medical practice, international human rights’ norms and opinion polling. ”

    Opinion polling is not objective evidence of anything other than opinions.

    The rest of the statement is only true of the extreme anti abortion position, for example, insisting that there can be no abortion where there is a significant threat to the mother. Noting this, his argument is reduced to naught.

    1. Sheik Yahbouti

      “Rob”, I’d advise you to give it up after those remarks – do you really think people can’t see through you?

  5. Sheik Yahbouti

    A neat and well thought out summary of the situation, Mr Cale. It exposes the thinking that gave us the risible “condoms on prescription for married coupkes only, Irish solution to an Irish problem”. Same situation with divorce. Where are the Leaders who are prepared to deal with Civil rights issues comprehensively, instead of our ‘drip by drip over twenty years ‘ method?

  6. Peter Dempsey

    Iona and YD don’t speak for all pro life people. There are numerous examples of people with pro life views involved in charity work like Lions clubs, homeless shelters, meals on wheels, St V de P etc.

    1. Daisy Chainsaw

      There are also pro choice people involved in those organisations, doing charity work. Lions, Simon, Meals on Wheels etc don’t advocate an anti choice, anti abortion agenda, they just help people who ask for it. Iona claims to be pro life and pro mammy/daddy married families, but there’s been no public campaign from them about the families forced out of their homes, onto the streets and into substandard hotel/hostel accommodation.

      1. Rob

        The question here is whether all pro life people are extremists. The fact that some very good people who are pro choice do charity work in those organisations, is irrelevant to the question.

          1. Rob

            How does the fact that pro choice people work in pro life headed charities support the position that the all pro life people are extremists, properly equated with people advocating slavery (Which is the view given in the letter)?

            It doesn’t, therefore it’s irrelevant.

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