Joining us now in the Beethoven Fallacy is…

Nick Cannon? Really?

But last week, I heard a discussion on his show that really had me jumping out of bed–a debate over the new emergency contraceptive pill, “ella.” My flag was immediately raised because Cannon belongs to a special class of celebrity whose personal story influences their political views: that is the “my mom didn’t abort me, therefore abortion is wrong” spokespeople, with Tim Tebow the most famous and egregious example.

The Beethoven Fallacy is basically, one doctor says to another, “If you had terminated the pregnancy of [describes woman’s pathological family history], then you would have murdered Beethoven.” The way the thought experiment is phrased is in itself obnoxious, because the pregnant woman in question doesn’t seem to have any say in whether she will maintain the pregnancy. The question first assumes that abortions happen because doctors make them happen, and that women’s agency is not even up for discussion.

The implication behind the “you would have murdered Beethoven” bit is that abortion is wrong and should be considered a non-option (except maybe in fairly obvious cases of extreme medical pathology) because it prevents the existence of awesome people. We might have seen a few more Beethovens by now if so many of those damn selfish women hadn’t terminated their pregnancies. When employed in real-life debates using other prominent individuals in place of Beethoven, it is somewhat more interesting when the real person was born before abortion was legal. It’s still repulsive, but the act of “not terminating a pregnancy” in an environment where abortion is physically and legally dangerous is a different matter from not terminating a pregnancy where it’s a decision she could make without having to worry about dodging the police after the procedure by forgoing medical care for complications.

You know what also prevents the existence of people who might turn out to be awesome? Using effective birth control! Should daily birth control pills be taken off the market because of all the brilliant musical composers who are never conceived? What about women who don’t need to worry about pregnancy because they simply don’t have sex (or at least not with men) for years at a time? Am I killing a genius every month that I don’t let a cock up my vadge? Did I commit a murder that night in 2006 when I was attacked by some man who may have been trying to rape me…and I walked away uninjured? Where do we draw the line? How many children does a woman need to birth in order to give life a chance? What responsibilities do men have in making sure every exceptional individual gets a chance at life? Should men be denied vasectomies because they should be using those sperm? Should all men with infertile wives leave those women for partners who can establish and maintain pregnancies? Should gay men be assigned fertile female partners, ripe for insemination?

In real-life, 21st-century terms, the Beethoven example is appropriated now by celebrities like Tim Tebow and now Nick Cannon. Aside from the fact that I’m pretty sure both these guys were born well after the legalization of abortion in Roe v. Wade, and therefore their existence implies that their mothers possibly, just maybe, chose to keep them, the Tebow example is especially obnoxious because his mother wasn’t merely suffering from “I’m not ready for a(nother) baby” syndrome. Her doctor advised her to terminate her fifth pregnancy for the sake of her own life and health, so now the implication of Tim Tebow spreading the pro-quantity gospel is that abortion shouldn’t even be offered to women whose lives are in danger from their pregnancies because his mother raised a son who’s really good at playing football. All this is not to say I criticize Pam Tebow for continuing her pregnancy; doctors are just as human as the rest of us, they’re not always right, and I’m glad it worked out for her. Their family doesn’t seem very interested, however, in the question of what would have happened if her doctor had been right. How much farther into the pregnancy would Pam have lived, would she have survived long enough to deliver Tim with good chances at survival, and if she had died, who would have raised her older children? These are not frivolous questions. It is not anti-family to suggest another woman with a similar diagnosis might have her family’s interests in mind when she decides to terminate.

The function of the Beethoven Club celebs like Tebow and now Nick Cannon (who is a decent comedic actor, but…him? Really?) is to connect the phantom of the Baby Who Could Have Saved the World to the Aren’t You Glad Your Mom Didn’t Abort You? idea. Behind this line of reasoning is the assumption that the avoidance of abortion is everything that goes into the making of a functional human being. I am not interested in wringing my hands over the possibility that my mom could have aborted me, and what an awful, terrible thing that would have been. The reason why I exist is not that my mom was pro-life in early 1980. You see, my mother and father decided they wanted children, so they had two. My mom didn’t just decide against abortion, she actually wanted a baby. If she hadn’t wanted a baby when she became pregnant, then she might not have taken care of me as well as she did, and I wouldn’t be the same person I am today. If she hadn’t wanted a baby and had terminated her pregnancy, then I wouldn’t be here, so I wouldn’t care, and while I like to think I’m going to make a major impression on this world before I leave it: life would have easily gone on without me. If my parents had waited an extra month to conceive—or even just an extra night—they might have created a different child who would have decided to do something useful with her life and would have become a nurse or a social worker by now instead of wasting valuable resources on writing novels that no one is going to buy. I am not going to answer a question of reproductive freedom based on the idea that there could be a world without me in it. I am offended at the idea that I owe my life to my mom having no choice in the matter. My mom deserves better than that. Perhaps Nick Cannon’s mother spent a little bit too much of her son’s childhood telling him she could have had an abortion, and now he thinks ella (the new emergency contraception pill) is a bad thing because it might allow other women to avoid having kids like him. I guess it might allow them to do just that. If he wants to settle the question of reproductive freedom differently, though, we’ll need something more substantial than his existential crisis.