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 married. This point is valid, insofar as it goes.
This thought experiment, however, has some major limitations which make it an unreliable tool in the abortion debate.
(1) Hypothesis Contrary to Fact.
By using a hypothetical scenario that is very different from the known world and laden with untestable conjecture, it constitutes a logical fallacy called “hypothesis contrary to fact which.” If men could get pregnant then that would be a weird nether-world totally unlike this one, and therefor ethically irrelevant to this conversation.
(2) It’s 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 go 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 or story-telling, but doesn’t get us very far in analyzing the ethics of abortion.
(3) If it’s “similar” to this world, then we can’t assume a pro-choice outcome
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 prochoice 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, of #2–this scenario is invented on the spot.
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 the Consensus Gentium–if it argues on 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 sympathize better with the plight of women.