The Danger of Legislating On What Ifs

Note: this is a post from the old blog, but one that came up recently in conversation, so I wanted to bring it up again here

This is a fairly common argument that I hear against abortion. It usually goes something like this: A girl is walking along the street/in a dark room alone with her uncle/drunk and underage at a party and is raped, and as a result she gets pregnant. Well, would you allow her to get an abortion in such circumstances? Even some pro-life people falter and say yes, in such a case I would not prohibit her from getting an abortion. Punchline: well, if that girl had gotten that abortion, I would not be here today. OH MY GOD cheers all round what a twist how fascinating what if she had really had that abortion?!

Let me counter that with a what if of my own. I know someone whose mother not only wanted to terminate her pregnancy while pregnant with him, she actually had an (albeit illegal and makeshift) abortion, and yet he survived. She took it as a sign and had him, and did not regret it. That person is my boyfriend. The man I believe to be the love of my life, someone that I don’t know how I would live without, would not be here if that abortion had been successful. I should be the first to decry it and say it should never be allowed, right? Ehm no. Wrong.

While making for good rhetoric and appealing to human emotion, there are dangers to using a “what if” mentality when passing laws. What if I had crossed the street without looking five minutes earlier when that car came tearing around the corner? It is illegal to cross the street without looking! While we’re at it, no more corners on roads!

What if my boyfriend’s mother and father had not had sex in that exact instant to make up the unique genetic combination that is my boyfriend? What if, at that moment, his mother decided she was too tired or just didn’t feel like it, and therefore he ceased to be? OH NOES that’s it, it is illegal for a woman to sexually refuse her husband, because how many other lives that am I emotionally attached to would not be here if women could choose when to have sex?

Living in the past with a what if mentality is not healthy, and using it in rhetoric to tug people’s heartstrings is just plain dishonest. Life is made up of endless little decisions to make and directions to take, you can never know how many infinite number of ulterior possible realities could have come about by taking any one of those different paths, nor can you know if any of them would have been better or worse. The smugness of hindsight is not something I want to use when restricting a person’s freedom.

So if you ever hear this line of reasoning in the abortion debate call it out for what it really is, an emotional appeal to cover up the utter lack of logic it possesses as an argument


  1. Siobhan says

    What if we spent all our time answering every “what if” question with another “what if” question?!?! (Joking. Don’t answer that.)

    • thoughtsofcrys says

      I’m confused. Do you often encounter people shaming women for having children in your life? In my experience, it is usually the opposite that happens

      • dannorth says

        It seems to be the reason why in many places in the US there is a need for escorts to enter abortion clinics. There are hordes of anti-abortion activists trying to stop the patients.

  2. sonofrojblake says

    ” if that girl had gotten that abortion, I would not be here today.”

    “… and the world would be a slightly more honest and rational place as a result. I see your point – abortion should be available free and on demand, for all women. I totally agree. Wait – that was what you meant, right?”

  3. Loren Petrich says

    A related argument against abortion is “Look who would get aborted”, citing notables who had lots of brothers and sisters. If their mothers had gotten abortions because of having had too many children, then those notables would never have existed, and we would be much worse off because of it. But that argument can be turned around. Consider all these women who had been pregnant on these dates. If they got abortions, who would have gotten aborted?

    Julia Vipsania Agrippina in 12 CE
    Julia Augusta Agrippina in 37 CE
    Maria Alexandrovna Blank in 1869
    Ekaterina Geladze in 1878
    Sara Ann Delano in 1881
    Rosa Maltoni in 1883
    Klara Poelzl in 1888
    Franziska Tiefenbrunn in 1892
    Wen Qimei in 1893
    Marian Oldenhausen in 1897
    Anna Maria Heyder in 1899
    Maria Schefferling in 1905
    Lynetta Putnam in 1930
    Dorothy Emma Howell in 1947
    Pauline LaFon in 1947
    Dell Cassidy in 1948
    Betty Broder in 1952
    Hamida al-Attas in 1956
    Stanley Ann Dunham in 1961

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