Untangling Popular Pro-Choice Arguments: Critical Thinking about Abortion
By Hendrik van der Breggen
- Select reviews
- Replies to critics
1. Select reviews
Faith Today (magazine)
Review of Untangling Popular Pro-Choice Arguments
By Derek Melanson
Faith Today, September 10, 2021
When reading a Christian-authored book on abortion, you’d expect arguments grounded in Scripture and refrains about being made in the image of God and the prohibition against murder in the Ten Commandments.
Yet some refuse to hear appeals to a biblical world view. And so in this book we have a retired Canadian philosophy prof who intentionally stays away from theological arguments against abortion and makes no appeals to Scripture.
Instead, using logic accessible to readers of any political or religious position, he untangles the many arguments made in favour of abortion—arguments about the personhood of the unborn child (Part 1) and about the bodies of the mother and the unborn child (Part 2).
In a third section he addresses other popular pro-choice arguments. His goal is to unravel the inconsistency in pro-choice reasoning, to demonstrate that abortion is indeed the intentional killing of an innocent human life—and that arguments in favour of it hide this reality from us.
Given how quickly discussions can become emotionally charged, van der Breggen’s meticulously reasoned and methodical approach sheds much-needed light on a challenging ethical issue.
Not only does he enable readers to understand pro-choice reasoning, he equips them to respond. His book is a rare find, one that has earned kudos from many experts (www. HendrikVanDerBreggen. com).
The Carillon (newspaper)
Clear reasoning on abortion
By Michael Zwaagstra
The Carillon, November 5, 2020
“Logic! Why don’t they teach logic at these schools?”
Professor Digory Kirke asked this question in the classic children’s book, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Peter and Susan Pevensie didn’t know how to handle their sister Lucy’s claims about finding a world inside a wardrobe. So, they went to the professor for advice.
The professor quickly saw that these children needed some clear reasoning and took Peter and Susan through the logical possibilities. This gave the children a much better understanding of their problem.
It’s too bad more people don’t have a Professor Kirke in their lives today. Arguments about controversial topics such as abortion would be a lot less heated if we carefully examined the logic behind our positions.
Fortunately, southeastern Manitoba has a wise professor in its midst—Dr. Hendrik van der Breggen. Not only does van der Breggen have impeccable academic credentials, he knows how to communicate his thoughts to a popular audience.
Rumour has it that he even smokes a pipe—which fits the image many of us have when we picture an old, wise professor.
For many years, van der Breggen taught philosophy at Providence University College and helped students apply the strict principles of logical reasoning to some of the toughest issues facing our society. Untangling Popular Pro-Choice Arguments: Critical Thinking about Abortion is his latest book. It more than lives up to its name.
In this book, van der Breggen takes a critical look at some of the most commonly used arguments for the pro-choice position on abortion. Unlike some activists on both sides of this issue, van der Breggen is careful not to misrepresent his opponents. Instead, he accurately summarizes each specific pro-choice claim before deconstructing the logic behind it.
For example, a common pro-choice argument is that because the fetus is part of the woman’s body, she has the right to an abortion since she has control over her own body. However, van der Breggen points out that if the fetus is actually part of a woman’s body, then a pregnant woman technically has four feet and four hands.
Of course, this would be an absurd conclusion. That’s because there are two bodies, not one, involved in a pregnancy. As van der Breggen notes, “It’s one thing to control one’s own body—it’s quite another to kill the body of another!”
Van der Breggen also examines the pro-choice argument that the fetus is merely a potential human being. In a short, yet effective, rebuttal, van der Breggen marshals plenty of evidence from embryology, fetology, and biology that the fetus is a human being with potential, not a potential human being. He also cites survey data showing that 95 percent of academic biologists agree that human life begins at fertilization. To argue otherwise goes against overwhelming scientific evidence.
Another common pro-choice argument is that men have no right to comment on the abortion issue. Not only is this an ad hominem argument, it’s a self-refuting claim since it would mean that male politicians such as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and NDP leader Jagmeet Singh have no right to talk about this issue. Yet they talk about abortion all the time.
Logically, if it’s okay for men to express a pro-choice opinion on abortion, they should also be allowed to express a pro-life opinion. The validity of an opinion is determined by the reasoning behind it, not by the gender of the person who expresses it.
Regardless of your personal views on abortion, you owe it to yourself to read Hendrik van der Breggen’s book. We need clear reasoning on this topic.
Michael Zwaagstra is a high school teacher and a Steinbach city councillor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(List will be updated periodically.)
- Blog interview with Sean McDowell of Biola University
- Podcast interview with Clinton Wilcox & Nathan Apodaca of Life Training Institute
- Podcast interview with Aaron Perry of Wesley Seminary
- Podcast interview with Colette Aikema of Faith Beyond Belief
3. Replies to critics
(List will be updated periodically.)
- Hendrik van der Breggen’s replies to Nathan Nobis’s review (November 28, 2020) of Untangling Popular Pro-Choice Arguments
- VDB-NOBIS abortion discussion, continued: My reply to Nathan Nobis’s critique of January 1, 2021
- VDB-NOBIS abortion discussion (round 9): My reply to Nathan Nobis’s reply of January 23, 2021
“Discussions on abortion often degenerate quickly into personal attacks and our culture is quick to supply us with a set of labels to encourage those attacks: anti-choice, pro-abortion, and others. Is it possible to discuss an issue this contentious in a way that critiques viewpoints while showing kindness and respect to those who hold them? Hendrik van der Breggen has shown the way in this book. Not only is it clear and readable, it is fair to all positions. Most importantly, he avoids straw man fallacies which are so common in writings on divisive and contentious issues. If you are looking for a book both to help you understand both sides in the ongoing abortion disputes of our culture and also to develop thoughtful responses for your own discussions with others, this will be an important book for you.”
- Paul Chamberlain, PhD, Professor of Ethics and Leadership, Director of the Institute for Christian Apologetics, Trinity Western University, author of Talking About Good And Bad Without Getting Ugly: A Guide To Moral Persuasion (InterVarsity Press)
“There are events in history we now look back upon and wonder how the people at that time could possibly have let them happen ... historical moments where careful thought was trumped by what people wanted regardless of moral atrocity. We have such an event unfolding in our generation with the abortion of millions, with its pro-life/pro-choice controversy. Philosopher Hendrik van der Breggen provides an enormously valuable contribution toward this discussion for two reasons: (a) his thoughtful, philosophically sound arguments (that are first class yet accessible) and (b) the references he provides to substantiate his responses.”
- Kirk Durston, PhD (University of Guelph), Director of Research and Publications, Digital Strategies, contributing author for Everyday Apologetics (Lexham Press) and The First Gene (Longview Press Academic, Biological Research Division), author of publications in academic journals of both philosophy and science
“Professor van der Breggen tackles the arguments around abortion one at a time giving the reader the opportunity to think critically each step of the way. Untangling Popular Pro-Choice Arguments works hard to comprehensively catalogue the current questions and charges raised by supporters of abortion and this book will be helpful for those looking to understand the arguments surrounding the rights and humanity of the pre-born child.”
- Tabitha Ewert, JD, Legal Counsel, We Need a Law
“What a refreshing read! Dr. van der Breggen writes in a way that is easy to understand even for those who have never studied philosophy. The abortion debate is so tangled up in politics and slogans that reason gets left out of the discussion. This book approaches the overused and underthought arguments from a place of logic, allowing the reader to look again at what it means to be a member of the human race. I also found it refreshing that he is able to remove both politics and religion from the discussion around abortion. I highly recommend this book to anyone who thinks they already understand the abortion arguments circling through social media.”
- Roger Gingerich, MD, Family Physician, former Chairman of the Board, Providence University College and Seminary, former Executive Director of Christian Medical and Dental Association of Canada
“This is the clearest and most thorough summary of standard (plus many non-standard but important) pro-choice arguments and of sound pro-life replies to them that I have read. Van der Breggen is fair, patient, and non-abrasive to the pro-choice arguments he refutes. His counter-arguments are cogent, succinct, and intelligible. This will be a must-read for anyone seriously interested in the topic, and will make a great text for applied ethics, bioethics, or introductory ethics classes.”
- Patrick Lee, PhD, John N. and Jamie D. McAleer Professor of Philosophy, Director of the Center for Bioethics, Franciscan University of Steubenville, author of Abortion and Unborn Human Life (The Catholic University of America Press)
“I thoroughly enjoyed Untangling Popular Pro-Choice Arguments. Hendrik van der Breggen addresses the most common challenges to the pro-life position and offers brief and well-researched responses. I have been studying the issue of abortion for years and this book gave me some new insights. Whether you are new to this issue, or have been studying it for years like me, you will benefit greatly from reading and studying Dr. van der Breggen’s book.”
- Sean McDowell, PhD, Associate Professor of Apologetics, Biola University, author or co-author of twenty books including So the Next Generation Will Know: Preparing Young Christians for a Challenging World (David C. Cook)
“Sadly, our culture sometimes seems desensitized or overly used to the topic of abortion. Yet if we care not about the most vulnerable lives what does that say about us? This important work clearly and concisely addresses the popular level concerns surrounding abortion, the intentional killing of an innocent human being—a human person. In this work van der Breggen seeks to accurately represent the pro-choice position while charitably undercutting, rebutting, and refuting various claims and arguments related to the denial of personhood, the bodies of the mother and unborn, and other pertinent matters. Helpfully, since these claims and arguments made are at the popular level, the author provides a nice reading list at the end of the book for those who want more. It’s an important read for those who care and an even more important read for those who don’t.”
- Corey Miller, PhD (University of Aberdeen), President of Ratio Christi: Campus Apologetics Alliance, co-editor of Is Faith in God Reasonable? Debates in Philosophy, Science, and Rhetoric (Routledge)
“We are in a cultural moment in which a woman’s right to choose is deemed more important than a baby’s right to live. In order to fit this narrative, we are encouraged to blindly accept abortion as health care or to philosophize in such a way that the baby doesn’t qualify as a person (so it’s permissible to end its life). In Untangling Popular Pro-Choice Arguments, Hendrik van der Breggen challenges the narrative and proves that the abortion debate is far from settled.”
- Susan Penner, MBA, Business Owner, City Councillor
“In a time when communication is siloed to agreeing groups and cross-communication is all too often misunderstanding, misconstrual, or misrepresentation, it is important to have a thinker call us back to reason. Hendrik van der Breggen is just such a thinker. With clarity, compassion, and goodwill, Dr. van der Breggen does just what the title says: he untangles arguments. He does not demolish people, but gives those on all sides of this most emotional of debates calm, reasoned conclusions that invite further reflection. Whether you find your views on abortion confirmed or challenged, by the end of this book you will have thought the matter through rather than merely reacted.”
- Reverend Tim Perry, PhD, Adjunct Professor of Theology at Saint Paul University and Trinity School for Ministry, editor of The Theology of Benedict XVI: A Protestant Appreciation (Lexham Press)
“In Untangling Popular Pro-Choice Arguments, Hendrik van der Breggen offers a clear, concise, and charitable take on many applied ethical issues at the beginning of life. With his characteristically measured approach to argument, van der Breggen addresses common points of disagreement between pro-life and pro-choice thinkers regarding human personhood, agency, and social issues relevant to abortion. This book is a valuable contribution for those seeking clarity in an oftentimes complex debate. A much-needed example of the value of public philosophy on a profound and polarizing issue.”
- Zach Reimer, PhD (candidate), Department of Philosophy, University of Oklahoma
“Professor van der Breggen makes a valuable contribution to the abortion debate in systematically identifying the arguments used by pro-choice advocates to justify and promote women’s access to abortion and seeking to refute each of them. People on both sides of the debate, whether pro-life or pro-choice, will agree with some of van der Breggen’s arguments and disagree with others, but we will all be forced to analyse more precisely, whether our stance is ethical and justified. In short, whatever our position on abortion this book merits reading.”
- Margaret Somerville, AM, FRSC, DCL, Professor of Bioethics, Affiliate of the Institute for Ethics and Society, University of Notre Dame Australia, School of Medicine, author of Bird on an Ethics Wire: Battles about Values in the Culture Wars (McGill-Queen’s University Press)
“Abortion is an emotional topic. When emotions are big, we tend to lose our thinking caps. Dr. van der Breggen, however, has done the work to carefully think through common arguments and words that tangle us up. Society tries to convince us that abortion (and now euthanasia) is OK. In family medicine we see the abortion act aftermath of grief and traumatized lives. This response speaks to the fact that, for us as a species, life is considered precious and demonstrates the core belief that a fetus is indeed a live human being. Thank you for giving us language to present, represent, and defend this crucial truth.”
- Gwynneth van der Byl, MD, Family Physician
“Hendrik van der Breggen’s book, Untangling Popular Pro-Choice Arguments, is a careful, compassionate and, dare I say, witty treatment of what is the single most important ethical issue before us today. The way we answer the question of abortion will define us for generations to come. For that reason, it is essential to have more than mere popular opinions and beliefs on the subject and Hendrik provides both in a way that is equally timely and accessible.”
- Thom Van Dycke, Pastor, Southland Church (Steinbach, Manitoba), Foster Care Advocate