Argumentum Ad Baculum, Aristotelian Civic Fear, or Praeteritio: Threats in Anti-Choice Letters

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This essay investigates the rhetorical choices in archived letters to providers at a local abortion clinic through argumentum ad baculum and other fear appeal frames. Analysis of three types of threat—spiritual, physical, and professional—contained in the correspondence suggests that only the professional fear appeals correspond to true theat. The essay contends that while some of the letters contain either true threats (argumentum ad baculum) or Aristotelian civic fear appeals, the writers more often make arguments that align with a new category I name sideways threats. Sideways threats include praeteritio or apophasis, whereby the writer renounces something like violence in order to invoke it, as well as fear appeals to negative outcomes which c(w)ould be carried out by a deity rather than the writer. Rather than fitting neatly into the rhetorical categories of ad baculum or civic fear, these artifacts that included multiple rhetorical approaches which open the way for new understanding of fear appeals and their persuasive qualities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)667-685
Number of pages19
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • Abortion rhetoric
  • Apophosis
  • Argumentum ad baculum
  • Civic fear
  • Praeteritio
  • Threats

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy
  • Linguistics and Language


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