Given the highly controversial essence of abortion-related debate, it comes as not a particular surprise that those authors, who discuss the issue from diametrically opposite points of view, often resort to utilization of a number of rhetorical devices, in order to convince audiences in the validity of their perspectives, regarding the discussed subject matter. After all, as it was rightly pointed out by Connors (1979): “The rhetorical tradition is centrally concerned with making a point, with taking a stand, with winning an argument” (290).
Nevertheless, people’s understanding of these devices’ quintessence does not always correlate with their ability to take an advantage of ethos, pathos and logos’ oral or verbal deployment. In our paper, we will aim to explore the soundness of an earlier suggestion at length, while comparing and contrasting articles Abortion: Why it’s the Ultimate Motherly Act, by Moran, and Women Seeking Abortions in South Dakota to Get Anti-Abortion Advice, by Sulzberger.
In a nutshell, Moran’s line of argumentation can be outlined as follows: There is no rational reason to think that, after having had children, women formerly affiliated with pro-choice movement, would change their views on the issue of abortion, due to them having experienced ‘motherly love’.
The reason for this is simple – the very notion of ‘motherly love’, as something unchangeable and static, does not correspond to the essence of women’s motherly anxieties, as much as it corresponds to men’s chauvinistic perception of what should account for women’s ‘natural role’ in life.
Yet, women capable of relying on their sense of rationale, while facing life’s challenges, understand that ‘motherly love’, extrapolated in traditionally-minded women’s tendency to reject the very idea of abortion, cannot possibly be considered the source of morality, as it often results in the birth of unwanted children (especially if they happened to be physically or mentally deficient).
And, since suffering, associated with an unwanted child being brought to this world, is itself ‘immoral’ (because it could have been avoided), abortion should be thought of as perfectly ethical choice.
Sulzberger argues her point of view differently. According to the author, South Dakota’s recent legislation, which requires abortion-seeking women to attend Christian ‘counseling centers’ for three days (in an attempt to make them to change their minds), before they are qualified to have an abortion, is utterly beneficial, in a social and ethical context of this word.
Nevertheless, Sulzberger has to be given a credit for admitting that the passing of this particular State’s legislation will result in tensions, between pro-life and pro-choice activists, being brought to the whole new level: “The law appears likely to escalate the tensions between abortion providers and the pregnancy help centers… Each side regularly accuses the other of manipulating and coercing women”.
Thus, even though that formally speaking, in her article Sulzberger strived to come up with pro-life argument, this article’s rather ‘neutral’ sounding reduces its chances to win minds.
One of the foremost characteristics of Moran’s article is the fact that, in it, author had not only proven herself aware of what accounts for the effectiveness of pro-life activists’ argumentation (namely, their preoccupation with trying to appeal to people’s emotions – pathos, and to the ‘voice of authority’ – ethos), but that she was also able to reveal the inconsistency of these activists’ pathos-based and ethos-based reasoning.
For example, while addressing the argument of anti-abortionists that women, who have had children, would never be able to adopt a rational perspective on debate: “If I hadn’t (have baby), I would think of it just as a group of cells that it was OK to kill”, Moran rebuffs it with a logical contra-argument: “It’s odd, because, since I had children, I’ve found myself becoming much less troubled by the pro-life argument”.
By stating this, Moran had effectively exposed the fallaciousness of Sawyer’s (the woman whom she had quoted at article’s beginning) ethos-based assumption. Apparently, there are many women, who despite having been pregnant, had not lost their capacity to access life’s challenges rationally – Moran was able to prove it rather effectively.
There are instances in Sulzberger’s article of author utilizing rhetorical ethos, as well. For example, while trying to expose South Dakota’s new law as perfectly legitimate, she states: “Many states require counseling from doctors or other clinic staff members before an abortion to cover topics like health risks”.
In other words, Sulzberger implies that, under no circumstances, may this law be considered as such that violates women’s civil rights. Unfortunately, the effectiveness of author’s rhetoric, in this respect, is being diminished by the following sentence: “What makes the new South Dakota law different is that the mandated counseling will come from people whose central qualification is that they are opposed to abortion”.
What it means is that, unlike what article’s ethos-invoking name implies, while being ‘counseled’ by Bible-thumpers, abortion-seeking women will not be getting much of an ‘advice’ per se, but that they would simply be subjected to religious brainwashing.
As we are well aware of, in the eyes of pro-life activists, women’s decision to have an abortion is being usually discussed within the context of how the sheer extent of their ‘evil-mindedness’ prompts them to chose in favor of ending an unborn child’s ‘life’.
Yet, as the example of Moran’s article indicates, such claims can be brushed off with an apparent ease by application of logical reasoning: “Given that both science and philosophy continue to struggle to define what the beginning of ‘life’ is, wouldn’t it be better to come at the debate from a different angle entirely?”.
By stating that, Moran had shown the premise of pro-life argumentation as being essentially anti-scientific. After all, science operates with facts and not with the specifics of people’s wishful thinking.
This is exactly the reason why, in order for a particular author to be able to prove its efficiency in utilizing this rhetorical device (logos), he or she must be well educated. As Cole (1991) had put it: “Logos itself – more ability than art and more external force, perhaps, than indwelling talent” (148). After having pointed out to the fact that ‘life’ is rather vaguely defined category, Moran had knocked ‘argumentative chair’ from under the feet of pro-life moralists.
What appears to be especially ironic, in this respect is that, according to Sulzberger, it is not only self-appointed ‘experts on morality’, who never cease complaining about the fact that abortion violates the ‘sanctity of life’, but South Dakota’s governmental officials, as well.
According to the author, State’s bureaucrats motivated their decision to legitimize the waste of taxpayers’ money, so that ‘anti-abortion counseling centers’ would be set up across South Dakota, in the following manner: “[Abortion] will terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique living human being”. The conceptual context of this statement reveals an undeniable fact that those who came with it simply do not understand difference between making rhetorical appeals to pathos and logos.
Had State’s legislators bothered to educate themselves on the basis of biology, they would know that the ‘unique human being’ can only be referred to as such after he or she had attained individuality. And, it is namely during person’s first few years of life that such an individuality is being attained, which is why it is utterly fallacious to refer to an unborn fetus as an ‘individual’.
Another remarkable example of how Moran was able to deal with pro-life activists’ moralistic stance, based upon their irrational belief in the ‘sanctity of life’, is her following ethos-invoking sentence: “I don’t understand anti-abortion arguments that center on the sanctity of life.
As a species, we’ve fairly comprehensively demonstrated that we don’t believe in the sanctity of life”. If anything, ‘life’ is the cheapest thing on Earth, simply because, unlike what it the case with planet’s natural resources is, life never ceases to reproduce itself. In fact, it does this so feverishly that, as of today, most African countries suffer from the acute problem of overpopulation.
Given the fact that in her article, Sulzberger had made a point in trying to justify South Dakota’s new anti-abortion law, one would expect Women Seeking Abortions in South Dakota to Get Anti-Abortion Advice to contain solely pathos and ethos invoking rhetoric.
After all, there can be no logical explanation as to why should pregnant women’s ability to exercise their constitutionally guaranteed rights and freedoms be limited. As Moran had rightly pointed out to: “I don’t understand why pregnant women… should be subject to more pressure about preserving life than, say, Vladimir Putin”.
Nevertheless, Sulzberger still made a pathetic attempt to prove the logical validity of her line of argumentation by quoting Roger Hunt – a ‘great expert’ on women’s needs and simultaneously Republican legislator, who was behind passing earlier mentioned anti-abortion law: “There’s greater assurance that a woman considering an abortion is going to be fully informed about all the risks and about all the options”.
It is needless to mention, of course, that Hunt never came up with the criteria as to how the extent of such ‘greater assurance’ could be measured. In its turn, this undermines the effectiveness of Sulzberger’s rhetorical appeal to logos.
Even though, earlier conducted comparative analysis suggest that, while working on their articles, both: Moran and Sulzberger, never ceased being aware of what accounts for the effectiveness of rhetorical argumentation, in regards to people’s ability to utilize necessary appeals to pathos, ethos and logos, there is a striking difference between these two articles.
This difference is being clearly visible even to an untrained eye – unlike what it is being the case with Moran’s Abortion: Why it’s the Ultimate Motherly Act, Sulzberger’s article features a complete absence of rhetorical ironies and rhetorical questions.
Moran’s article, on the other hand, is being filled with these utterly effective rhetorical devices: “I’m not advocating stoving in the heads of children, or encouraging late abortions – but then, no one is”, “If a pregnant woman has dominion over life, why should she not also have dominion over not-life?”, etc.
This is exactly the reason why, while being exposed to Moran’s line of argumentation, readers do not solely grow into accepting author’s opinions as their own, but they also derive an aesthetical pleasure out of the process, which in its turn, causes readers to become not only cognitively but also emotionally comfortable with what author had to say.
Apparently, Moran understands a simple fact that, while debating an opponent (in her case, pro-life activists), one can achieve a desired effect by simply exposing the opinions of an opposing party as self-evidently ridiculous. As Swearingen (1991) had put it: “The rhetorician is advised to use an ironic tone of understatement and deference when debating an opponent” (129).
And, as we had mentioned earlier, there is not even a single instance of deployment of these rhetorical devices in Sulzberger’s article. This is exactly the reason why, even though Sulzberger strived to make her pro-life arguments sounding reasonable, they ended up sounding outright moralistic and boring.
In all probability, it never occurred to her that, it is namely author’s ability to treat sensitive issues in intellectually flexible manner, while taking the full advantage of its sense of humor, which wins such author the respect of openly minded readers: “What do you think should be the cut-off point for terminations?… I dunno. Secondary school?” (Moran).
And, unlike what it is the case in such ideologically oppressed countries as Iran or North Korea, American reading audiences (for which both articles were written) are best referred to as rather intellectually advanced. Therefore, it will not be much of an exaggeration, on our part, to conclude that, when compared to the rhetorical value of Sulzberger’s article, the rhetorical value of Moran’s article appears being much higher.
We believe that earlier conducted comparative analysis of both articles, substantiates the validity of paper’s initial thesis as to the fact that, in order for authors/orators to be able to prove themselves useful promoters of one or another socio-political/moral agenda, they must not only be aware of rhetorical devices’ conceptual essence but to be also aware of what defines the extent of these devices’ contextual appropriateness.
Cole, Thomas. The Origins of Rhetoric in Ancient Greece. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991.
Connors, Robert “The Differences between Speech and Writing: Ethos, Pathos, and Logos.” College Composition and Communication 30.3 (1979): 285-290.
Moran, Caitlin “Abortion: Why it’s the Ultimate Motherly Act.” The Times (2007). Web.
Schmertz, Johanna “Constructing Essences: Ethos and the Postmodern Subject of Feminism.” Rhetoric Review 18.1 (1999): 82-91.
Sulzberger, A.G. “Women Seeking Abortions in South Dakota to Get Anti-Abortion Advice.” The New York Times (2011). Web.
Swearingen, Jan. Rhetoric and Irony: Western Literacy and Western Lies. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.