1a. Do you think it’s wrong to rob a grocery store?
1b. Do you think it’s wrong to rob a grocery store if your child is about to starve to death?
2a Is killing a man wrong?
2b Is killing a man wrong in self-defense?
Opinions are likely to split sharply between scenarios a and b. But the people who think that it may be okay to steal food to save your child’s life don’t believe that robbing grocery stores should be legal.
Nor do they believe that we should 1. Legalize robbing grocery stores or 2. legalize murder to avoid stigmatizing these extreme cases. Nor are they necessarily hypocrites for making an exception in a situation where there is something bigger at stake.
Both of these are examples of scenarios where the ‘wrong’ in question is overshadowed by a greater ‘wrong’. It’s an open debate whether that is the value judgement in abortions that occur because of rape, but that is the logic that people who otherwise oppose abortion use.
As Ed Morrissey points out, the left invariably defaults to arguing “abortion in cases of rape or incest” because it’s safe ground, even though it’s like arguing “convenience store robbery in case child is starving to death”.
Pregnancies caused by rape — which accounted for less than 1% of all abortions in 2004, according to the CDC, and 1% according to the abortion-friendly Guttmacher Institute in 2005. Cases of incest accounted for even fewer abortions in both reports.
The left keeps trolling opponents with the rape and incest argument because it keeps getting away with it, especially when it ambushes not especially bright politicians with this question.
Whether or not abortion should be legal cannot and should not be defined by an extreme scenario. Just as we wouldn’t argue the legality of convenience store robberies in general based around that “child starving to death” exception. Or the legality or marijuana based on medical marijuana. Those are outliers.
It’s always possible to create an extreme scenario in which an otherwise unacceptable act becomes acceptable to many people because of extenuating circumstances, but that’s a sophomoric argument unworthy of being taken seriously.
Principled people and ideologues think in absolutes. All black and white with no shades of grey. Most people however operate more contextually with plenty of shades of grey. They think about the situation rather than the principle. Having debates about the principle is fine, but it establishes nothing when both sides have few if any principles in common.
Having debates about the reality of the thing is far more meaningful if we want to establish what people are prepared to find acceptable and the way to do that is through an honest look at the facts.