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Person 1: Abortion is okay as long as it’s not painful to the fetus. Person 2 (our hero): I’m glad we agree abortion is wrong when it’s painful. Let me ask a question; bear with me. Should we let a mom kill her two-year-old after anesthetizing her?

Abortion Is Wrong Even If It’s Painless

A person under general anesthesia cannot feel pain but still has the right to life.

The rhetorical technique employed in this response is called “trotting out a toddler”. The primary purpose of this technique is not to refute the other person’s argument or score debate points, so don’t pat yourself on the back when the other person agrees that we shouldn’t kill the toddler. Instead, the primary purpose of this technique is to move the conversation to the core area of disagreement, which is generally either the status of the preborn or the ethics of killing.

If the topic of pain comes up in the middle of a discussion about personhood, it may be useful to point out that animals can feel pain. On the other hand, some pro-choice people may accept that the fetus is a person but argue that killing a person is only wrong if it’s painful.

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Person 1: Yes, of course killing toddlers is wrong. But a fetus is different than a toddler. Person 2 (our hero): I’m glad we agree killing toddlers is wrong. I agree there are a lot of differences. Can we talk through the differences that you think matter?Person 1: Sometimes, abortion is in the child’s best interest. It’s better to die than to suffer. Person 2 (our hero): I want to alleviate suffering too. To be clear, if a toddler has a life full of suffering in front of her, should we should kill her?Person 1 (our hero): You and I equally deserve the right to life. So do all our friends. What do we have in common that makes us equal? Person 2: We’re all aware of our surroundings. Person 1 (our hero): Hm, but what about people who are passed out from drinking too much? They deserve the right to life too.Person 1: Even a worm is more complex than a human embryo. Person 2 (our hero): True enough. Which would you say is more “complex”: a newborn infant or an adult African elephant?
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