Throughout this pandemic, we have heard the comparisons between abortion and forced masking and vaccination. Although the Venn diagram is not a complete overlap, often the pro-life side ends up being against any mandate enforcing masks or vaccines, while the pro-choice side is more closely aligned with mandates. The argument coming from both sides of this issue revolves around the notion of “body autonomy.” The Right will claim that pro-choicers only care about body autonomy when it comes to abortion, but not when it comes to vaccines and masks. The problem with this argument is that the Left will use the exact same counter-argument: that the Right only cares about body autonomy when it comes to vaccines.
The fact that the argument is so easily used to call out the hypocrisy on both sides is why it’s a bad one. The irony is that no matter which side you’re on, you read that first paragraph and knew instinctively why your side is not being hypocritical and why abortion is different from vaccinations. And that just illustrates the point: In terms of body autonomy, abortion and vaccine mandates are not comparable.
But there is an actual area where they are comparable: the death rate. No, it’s not the actual numbers or even the percentages. In fact, the argument has nothing to do with data. If you recall back to the height of COVID, the main way politicians and pro-mask-mandate individuals tried to convince others for mandates was with the “how many people have to do die” argument. The then-celebrated governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, told the press that “if everything we do saves just one life, I’ll be happy.” This sentiment was echoed throughout liberal America. “We need this because even one life is too precious to waste.”
There are many problems with the so-called “one-life fallacy.” We could make many things illegal to save just one life: swimming pools, automobiles, alcohol. We make calculated risks every day from the moment we get out of bed. That does not mean that we are to legislate every aspect of life in order to save just one.
However, if this notion were expanded, we can see the logical inconsistencies as they relate to abortion. First, if we were to expand the one-life argument as it relates to COVID, it would look something like this: “All of the policies we put in place regarding COVID are certainly restrictive and will make you uncomfortable, but at the end of the day, it will all be worth it if even one life is saved. We don’t want you to have to go through this, but it’s what it will take in order to save lives.”
It does not take any sort of logical leap to apply this logic to abortion. “All of the policies we put in place regarding abortion are certainly restrictive and will make you uncomfortable, but at the end of the day, it will all be worth it if even one life is saved. We don’t want you to have to go through this, but it’s what it will take in order to save lives.”
The pro-life side has always been arguing for the rights of the unborn child. The pro-choice side has always tried to make this about the rights of the mother. With this logical comparison, the pro-life side can acknowledge the detriment being caused to the mother by using the Left’s own logic against itself. Use their own one-life argument to force them to defend the inconsistency.
But, you ask, why would this not work the other way? The first part of this article explains why the popular comparison between abortion and mandates work both ways. Why should this argument not work both ways as well? Why can’t a pro-choicer tell a pro-lifer that you yourself do not believe in the one-life fallacy? Why is it different here? The answer is due to the ability of every individual during the pandemic to weigh his own risk. People can choose to go out in public. People can choose to wear masks, to be vaccinated, to avoid crowds; they can mitigate their own risks by choosing their behaviors. The swimmer can take lessons, have a lifeguard on hand, and wear floatation devices. The driver can wear a seatbelt, practice defensive driving techniques, and avoid driving at certain times. The drinker can have someone there to cut him off, watch him, take away his keys, and know his own limits. And in all of these cases, the decision can be made to just not do it at all. Are these decisions 100 percent effective? Obviously not, but the option is there for all of these people to mitigate against harm.
The unborn child is offered no such luxury. No decision is being made by her. She has no say in what happens to her body. Everything in this case happens to her, not by her. What makes the one-life fallacy a fallacy is that it assumes that humans do not have the capability of assessing their own risk. We all do. Well, almost all of us do. Some of us have no ability whatsoever to make decisions for ourselves.
Izzo Zwiren is the host of The Jewish Living Podcast, where he and his guests delve into any and all areas of Orthodox Judaism.