I saw this piece a couple of days ago and have been waiting to write about it because I didn't want this to just be a snarky rant, and I think that the debate deserves better. President Obama showed that you can take a middle ground of sorts on abortion and I'm going to try to follow his advice on not reducing opponents to a caricature. But when you come up with this kind of silliness as an argument, sometimes it's hard to respond with much more than a razzberry.

Here's the basic argument--people who oppose torture ought to oppose abortion because abortion is at least as bad, and could be worse. Here's the crux.

There are, of course, differences between these two events. For example, the CIA employed waterboarding – under the ludicrous and self-serving legal pretence that it was "not torture" – on only two men that we know of: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaydah. These are both people involved in a terrorist organisation committed to mass murder. By contrast, the target of abortion is a person – or pre-person – who is as innocent of harm as anyone can be. The risk such a life-form presents is only that of growing to full term, and thus being born.

There is a second difference, equally obvious. The target of the abortion is eliminated altogether, whereas the CIA deliberately chose a method which causes no visible physical damage to the sufferer, with doctors in attendance, just to make sure – as they were when the Spanish Inquisition practiced an identical method of interrogation.
There are two major factual errors in this argument. I'll take them one at a time.

Medically speaking, pregnancy is a pretty serious condition. There are all sorts of ways it can go wrong and cause not only long term damage to the mother, but can also kill both the mother and the fetus, so let's not play like pregnancy is all rainbows and unicorns and sunshine. And we're not even getting into the potential for future hardship once the baby is born--everything from postpartum depression to economic hardship and beyond. A fetus is a huge risk to the mother, and a far more real and immediate one than that of an average American citizen faces from Middle eastern terrorists.

Now, about waterboarding: it's interesting to see how Lawson focuses on the "visible" part of physical damage caused by waterboarding. No denial that it causes physical damage--just that it isn't visible. Does that somehow make it better that it's hidden? And what about the long term mental damage? I assume he concedes that waterboarding does mental damage--it would take a leap worthy of Lebron James to carry that one off.

So Lawson has done two neat things here--he's marginalized both the danger of pregnancy and the horror of waterboarding, which makes it easier for him to conflate two completely unrelated matters and make them seem relatively equal. What does that tell you about the strength of his argument, if he's having to do this just to make it close?

Well, it tells you that his argument is weak for starters, and I suspect he knows it. And it doesn't get any stronger. Here's his closing:
The most powerful argument for abortion rights is privacy – the right of the mother not to have the contents of her womb the subject of legal injunction. Dick Cheney takes an exactly similar view about what went on in Abu Ghraib.
First of all--how can two things be "exactly similar"? That seems like a bit of an oxymoron to me.

Anyway, the difference between the two is pretty obvious. The mother is an individual protecting the most personal possession she has--her body. The only way Dick Cheney is protecting his body is if you figure that by fighting to keep the story of what happened to detainees hidden he keeps his ass out of jail, but that's not what Lawson is arguing for. He's saying that personal privacy is equivalent to government secrecy about violating the human rights of people in its power, and that's just silly.

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