Edited by Gavriel D. Rosenfeld


Edited by Gavriel D. Rosenfeld

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Rick Perry's Counterfactual Cheap Shot

In his recent attack on Texas state senator Wendy Davis following her successful filibustering of the proposed Texas state law outlawing abortions after 20 weeks, Governor Rick Perry resorted to a counterfactual low blow.


Eager to diminish Davis's credibility, Perry cited Davis's personal history as a single mother who had gone on to graduate from Harvard Law School, noting: “It’s just unfortunate that she hasn’t learned from her own example that every life must be given a chance to meet its own potential....I’m proud that she has been able to take advantage of her intellect and her hard work, but she didn’t come from particularly good circumstances....What if her mom had had said, ‘You know, I just can’t do this, I don’t want to do this?’ At that particular point and time, I think it becomes very personal for us."
Translated into English, Perry's comment is a classic example of using counterfactual reasoning to rhetorically underscore how history -- in this case the personal history of an individual -- would have turned out worse if things had been decided differently.  
Perry's goal, of course, was to underscore the immorality of abortion by implying that if Davis's mother had aborted her, then she would never have come into the world.  His remark implies that Davis is being hypocritical for supporting abortion.   
Needless to say, Perry's claim blurs the distinction between abortion as a procedure and the right to have an abortion.  No doubt Davis is grateful her mother decided to carry her pregnancy to term.  But she would surely support the right of women everywhere to have the choice available to decide otherwise. 

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