Celebrating Intellectual Dishonesty in the Abortion Debate

Making the digital rounds this week is a Youtube clip of a precocious 12-year-old girl delivering her articulate defense of the pro-life position on abortion. Conservative bloggers immediately fell in love, not just with the content of the seventh grader’s argument, but how she passionately conveyed her perspective with eloquence and poise.

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Allahpundit proclaims her destined for Hollywood, calling her “young talent in the service of a righteous cause.” Ace finds her a “very poised public speaker.” And Robert Stacy McCain rounds up a similar smattering of praise and awe from other right-leaning blogs.

Their assessment of her performance is spot on – set her up with Obama’s teleprompters and she’ll be a surefire hit on the stump – but what about the content of her message?

Don’t worry, I’m not going to subject a 12-year-old kid to a complete ideological fisking. I have great respect for faith-based arguments against abortion, many of which she presents impressively, but there are some examples of false and dated information in her speech that detract from her case.

Most notably, her speech includes the oft repeated, scientifically unsubstantiated myth that women are “at a greater risk of developing breast cancer if they have an abortion.” Experts at The American Cancer Society, the National Cancer Institute, and The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists agree that scientific evidence does not support a link between abortion and increased breast cancer risk. The speech also includes exaggerations about the impact of abortion on women’s mental health.

I suspect the child who delivered this heartfelt speech was not aware she was citing false data. But that doesn’t mean we should pass it around without comment and hold her up as a model to which all kids should aspire. She is already gifted in the art of persuasion, and she would see even greater success if her talking points were less deceptive.

There are few aspects of the abortion debate I find more distasteful than the intentional spread of misinformation by people on either side. When pro-life activists mislead women about the harmful effects of abortion as part of a fear mongering campaign, it is just as egregious as intentionally downplaying the risks of abortion.

Whichever side of the abortion debate you favor, no matter how impressive you find this girl’s oratory skills, intellectual honesty requires us to expose arguments based on falsehoods, particularly when those falsehoods pertain to medical information. The truth is important, even it if doesn’t support our political goals.

Too bad that belief precludes me from successfully running for elected office.


4 Responses to “Celebrating Intellectual Dishonesty in the Abortion Debate”

  1. Rob Taylor on February 12th, 2009 11:09 am

    I agree that the objective scientific truth is important but since most pro-life advocates are Christians I believe it is hard for them to reconcile the rules of debate with the urgency they must feel to end what they see as a literal holocaust.

    I’m not sure if I’d respect them more if they really researched the pros and cons of abortion (which would seem feckless) or if they continue with a campaign that may be somewhat dishonestt but atleast has the urgency I’d expect from them.

  2. Jenn Q. Public on February 12th, 2009 11:16 am

    I guess it all depends on whether you think that moral ends justify morally lacking means. Although as I alluded to, even if one believes the ends justify the means, using inaccurate data to support a cause will ultimately backfire and undermine one’s goal. That’s how lefties end up with so much low hanging pro-life-mocking fodder.

  3. Dave on April 10th, 2009 10:54 pm


    I have to disagree with this as an example of intellectual dishonesty. I’m sure both those claiming an increased cancer risk, and those claiming no increased risk are both convinced their telling the truth.

    As for whose right, I wouldn’t be so sure that we know. The page you link to gives a good warning about one kind of bias that can happen in studies, but it wasn’t a thorough examination of the studies it considered to be more accurate.

    I haven’t poured over all the various studies, have you? Without doing so all we can do is choose which authority to trust over others.

    PS: Don’t use the word “myth” as a synonym for fallacy. I know it’s common, but it’s disrespectful to mythology.

  4. Jenn Q. Public on April 11th, 2009 7:36 am


    Thanks for your comment. Obviously I haven’t scoured each and every study for evidence of bias and inaccuracy. Since I’m not a scientist, that’s not a standard I have to meet, and it isn’t one I expect a 12-year-old kid to meet.

    However, I have reviewed the relevant surveys of literature and haven’t seen any compelling evidence that abortion causes breast cancer. How many people who repeat the idea can say the same? It’s a notion that fits neatly into an existing agenda, and spreading it around is like forwarding one of those ridiculous chain emails and expecting the recipients to participate.

    Regarding your postscript, one of the many dictionary definitions of the word “myth” is “an unfounded or false notion.” Mircea Eliade or Joseph Campbell might not approve of my usage, but it is a perfectly acceptable way to use the word.

    At best, you’re splitting hairs here.

    PS: Don’t use the word “their” in place of the word “they’re” and don’t substitute “whose” for “who’s.” It’s disrespectful to the English language.

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