One of the arguments common in the abortion debate is a thought experiment about male pregnancy.
The theorized scenario goes something like this:
If men could get pregnant, then [insert prochoice outcome, like . . .]
- birth-control would be given out like tic tacs
- abortion would be virtually mandatory
- there’d be 10x’s as many abortions
- the prolife movement wouldn’t exist
At the heart of this thought experiment there is some semblance of a noble motive. The abortion debate is laden with gender issues, classic and modern, political, societal, local and individual. Men don’t always understanding the plight of women in this day and age, or for that matter, at any age in the past. Perhaps men would be more caring and compassionate towards young mothers, unwed mothers, or otherwise reluctant mothers if men could get pregant. This point is valid, insofar as it goes. But the “pregnant men” objection goes further than is valid.
Some major limitations render this thought experiment an unreliable tool in the abortion debate. First, let’s rule out some of the more absurd/extreme ways this thought experiment might operate. These first two possibilities are extreme, we are addressing them here just to point out some of the logic borderlands for this thought-experiment.
(1) It could be a Hypothesis Contrary to Fact.
By using a hypothetical scenario that is very different from the known world so it’s laden with untestable conjecture thus committing a logical fallacy called “hypothesis contrary to fact.” If men could get pregnant then that could be a weird nether-world totally unlike this one. It’s not clear how that alternate reality would be ethically relevant to the question of whether abortion is ethical.
(2) It’s ad hoc, Invented On the Spot
How could a person gain knowledge of this fictional world? Since this pregnant-male world doesn’t exist, one would have to be inventing it; a fictional world. But being fiction, all logic and reason, relative to the real world, goes out the window. Once principled reasoning goes, then it becomes silly to argue about it, since one can just invent the rules for this alternate world as he or she goes along. This is a fine practice for creative writing and story-telling but it doesn’t get us very far in analyzing the ethics of abortion.
Now, I don’t think people asserting the “pregnant-men” objection are usually trying to propose a complete alternate-world, nor are they trying to fictionalize wildly about what that new world would be like. More likely, they aim simply at a small tweak on this world and use this scenario as a thought experiment. Supposing everything else is equal, what if X were the case? That’s a common argument method in philosophy, and it might have value here, in exposing a measure of empathy and compassion men might gain if they could really understand what women experience in pregnancy and childbirth.
In some cases, however, it may be useful when someone raises the pregnant-men objection, to clarify what other details might operate in this “pregnant-men” world. They might not have thought through their objection very well and they tend to assume that pregnancy is entirely separable from maternal psychology and the ethics of motherhood, or that’s it’s totally unrelated to marital and sexual conventions.
Supposing then that the objector intends this objection as a kind of thought-experiment where most everything else is presumed to be equal, and they aren’t venturing too far to explain this fictionalize world, we still have some problems to address in the pregnant-men objection.
(3) A “similar” world still leaves too many unanswered questions to justify a pro-choice outcome.
If this thought-experiment proposes a world “similar” to this world, but some features relating to pregnancy could be enough to seriously complicate this thought experiment enough to ruin it’s rheotircal force. If men could get pregnant, and we are trying to somehow stay “true” to the order and reasoning of this world, then we can’t assume that the male sex drive, or men’s approach to family, or their operations in society, or their sense of gender would go unchanged. But if those things changed in keeping with this theorized shift in child-bearing, then the anticipated pro-choice outcome wouldn’t necessarily follow either. It could be that conservative approaches to sex, marriage, and family would follow if men assume responsibility for child-bearing. But we can’t really know one way or another because this scenario is invented on the spot, and the parameters still all seem arbitrary at this point.
(4) An “almost identical” world still generates a Non-sequitur.
For the sake of argument, if male pregnancy was the only thing to change, somehow, and let us suppose further that that tweak on the facts would generate a much higher abortion rate, or a much more liberalized abortion policy, or a proliferation of birth-control–then we are still left with the same question we started with. Is abortion ethical? That scenario would result in abortion being common, and a range of related behaviors proliferating, but none of that shows whether or not the child-in-utero has a right to life. Societies have shaped law and policy to suit gross injustice in the past, and we have no reason to assume we couldn’t do it again. If abortion numbers skyrocketed, well that could just be skyrocketing evil.
(5) Ad Populum/Consensus Gentium
In this pregnant-male scenario, where abortion is common, we cannot, from that stipulation assume that abortion would be ethical. Evil can be popular, or even universal. As such, that scenario commits a fallacious appeal to majority, that is, the Ad Populum if it argues on the basis of popularity. Or it commits the Consensus Gentium fallacy if it argues on basis of near universal agreement. Bad ideas and wicked practices can be popular and widely believed
In summary, the male-pregnancy scenario does nothing to prove that a liberal abortion policy is ethical. It does however raise an interesting consideration to help men empathize better with the plight of women.