Why We Need Male Sidewalk Counselors

Jacob Nels is the Operations Coordinator at Equal Rights Institute. One of the most important things Jacob brings to the table at ERI is his expertise in gracious dialogue, particularly with people who are post-abortive and abortion-minded. In addition to putting those skills to good use at college campus outreaches, Jacob has a regular presence outside an abortion clinic as a sidewalk counselor and has had the joy of helping many women, men, and children leave the clinic alive and whole.

Jacob Nels sidewalk counselor men

Jacob Nels sidewalk counseling in Georgia

A few years ago I watched a black sedan pull into the parking lot of an abortion clinic. A man and a woman got out and walked up to the clinic, ignoring my attempts to engage them. After the man walked her into the clinic, he came back to his car for something. Raising my voice to carry across the parking lot separating us, I tried again to start a conversation with him. I said,

Jacob: Hey, man! I know this is a hard day. No one really wants to be here. I’m here if you want to talk.

Ross: I’m not for this. I don’t like it.

Jacob: What do you mean? Would you tell me your story?

To show my respect and friendship, I did something that almost always works with other men. There is a white line painted on the sidewalk that I cannot legally cross. Pressing my toes to the line, I extended my hand to the man and said,

Jacob: My name’s Jacob.

Dialogue Story: Rachel and Chloe at Aquinas College

I want to share one more dialogue story from our outreach last month at Aquinas College. Two fantastic students from the Students for Life club at University of Michigan, Rachel Crawford and Chloe Alberta, spoke to several pro-choice girls. This is what happened.

Pictured: Dialogue story - Rachel and Chloe talking to students at Aquinas College.

Rachel (left) and Chloe (right) talking to students at Aquinas College.

Chloe begins the story this way:

Towards the end of our day of outreach, Rachel and I had a conversation with two girls, who I’ll call Amber and Linda. Initially they were very hesitant to participate in the poll, because, as Amber informed us, they didn’t really like to think about the issue of abortion and didn’t really have an opinion on it.

Grabbing my handy fetal development chart from the ERI outreach brochure, I asked: “Would you mind if I tell you why it is extremely important to me that people think about abortion?” I showed them the fetal development chart and told them that I believe that human life begins at the moment of fertilization, and that that human life deserves to be protected.

I asked them in the name of having ALL the information possible, in order to make the MOST informed decision, would they be willing to look at a picture that shows what an abortion looks like? They declined because, “It’s probably really disturbing.” “You’re right,” I said. “It’s extremely disturbing and I really have trouble looking at them too.” I explained to them that I see that horrible image of the death of an unborn child, and I see one of the biggest human rights violations of our time. And I cannot be silent about that, and I think that is why it is so important to have an opinion about abortion and not let those human lives be looked over.

Bodily Rights Arguments Necessitate Extremism

Bodily rights arguments for abortion are always extremist arguments, at least in the way people present them. No bodily rights argument that I have ever seen (or even heard of any pro-choice advocate making) leaves room for abortion exceptions.

Not all pro-choice people are extremists.

A 2013 Gallup poll found that 80% of Americans believe abortion should be illegal in the third trimester. A 2012 Lozier Institute poll found that 77% of their respondents believed sex-selective abortions should be against the law. Most people, even pro-choice people, believe there are circumstances when abortion should not be legal.

But almost all pro-choice people use extremist arguments.

What is an extremist argument?

By “extremist arguments,” I don’t mean “arguments that extremists often use;” I mean arguments that necessarily lead to an extremist position. I am not saying that having an extremist position means you must take extremist or violent action. I am just saying if you make an argument that logically requires an extremist position and you don’t take that extremist position, you’re being inconsistent.

For instance, suppose someone said, “Having dark skin makes you a non-person, but I really like lots of people with dark skin and I think people ought to be nice to them.” They’re advocating for being nice, but “having dark skin makes you a non-person” is an extremist argument. The logical conclusion of that argument is that anyone who has dark skin should not be legally protected, that it is morally justified to enslave or kill such people. It doesn’t matter how kind, compassionate, or well-meaning the person is who says it; the argument is extremist.

People are welcome to try to justify abortion with extremist arguments, but they should expect to be gently challenged to hold a consistent view. If you’re making an extremist argument, you should be consistent and hold the extremist view that comes with it.

Responding to the Question of Rape with Wisdom and Compassion

This article is an expanded version of my first “Life Lessons with Josh” column in Life Matters Journal, in which I answer questions from LMJ’s readers. This reader asked for help responding to the question of rape:

One of the most common questions I get about being pro-life is “But what if the mother was raped?” I stand for all life, even life that was created through rape or any other difficult situation. How can I explain that to a pro-choicer in such a way that I don’t come across as callous or uncaring about the mother’s situation?

~ Troubled in Tuscaloosa

I love the way this question is worded. You clearly care about showing that you don’t only care about the child, but that you rightly care for the survivor of rape as well. Many pro-life people don’t communicate that very well when they talk about rape. They come across as if they have something we call Fetus Tunnel Vision.” I think the question of rape is the most common example of this. Immediately we say, “The child’s right to life shouldn’t be dependent on how it was conceived!” I agree with that, but who does this skip? The mother.

My friend Steve Wagner at Justice For All has made a huge impact on the way I think about how pro-life people should respond to rape. He says:

When a pro-choice person brings up the issue of rape, they’re not terribly concerned at that point if the unborn is human. They want to find out whether you’re human.

Can you see how horrible rape is? If not, please don’t tell people you’re pro-life. I’ve trained people before who understood the definition of rape, but they didn’t understand what rape is. There are other pro-lifers who cannot hear the word “rape” and let themselves acknowledge how horrible rape is because they feel like they’re losing debate points or time. There’s too much of that out there and it’s hurting our movement.

So, here’s what we should do instead. We should first acknowledge the horror of rape.

Six Ways I’ve Seen Pro-Choice People Try to Censor Pro-Lifers

Abortion is not merely immoral, it is obviously immoral.

This is why I’m so dedicated to helping pro-life people learn to dialogue well. I want all pro-life people to use the most persuasive arguments and learn to communicate graciously, relationally, and clearly. Those components in combination are an incredible recipe for the kind of environment where pro-choice people change their minds about abortion.

That abortion is obviously immoral is also why I’m open-minded. Some people think that being open-minded means being wishy-washy, and that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Being pro-life and open-minded means being pro-life because it’s rational, not because it’s comfortable. I’m pro-life because rationally it’s what I have to be, not because it’s what I want to be. If somehow my arguments against abortion were defeated and a stronger argument for abortion was presented to me, then I would change my mind.

Any open-minded person should be disgusted whenever people try to silence their political opposition.[Tweet that] I’m almost never disgusted with pro-choice people. I honestly think most of them mean well, but suffer from a combination of self-deception, flawed reasoning, and difficult emotional experiences. But I become truly angry when anyone attempts to shield himself and others from hearing arguments against his view by preventing his opposition from speaking.

I want to defeat pro-choice arguments by presenting better arguments, but I want the opposing arguments to be made. Sometimes I even help pro-choice people make their arguments stronger before I present my own. I believe the more light that is cast on both views, the more clearly the pro-life side comes out the victor.

Censorship attempts to prevent one of the sides from being visible. Censorship doesn’t want people to choose the more compelling view, it wants to force people into only having one view to choose from. Censorship is an incredibly powerful weapon for anyone cowardly enough to use it.[Tweet that]

Honest dialogue is aimed at truth, which makes it the greatest friend of the truth-seeker. It is created by two people being willing to acknowledge that they have been wrong before and that they want to believe true things, no matter how uncomfortable. Censorship, on the other hand, is the greatest enemy of the truth-seeker.

Censorship is at its strongest when it is hidden in the shadows, so out of a desire to make it as weak as possible and make it easier to recognize in the future, I am going to briefly share six experiences (or types of experiences) where I have seen attempts to censor pro-life people.

Unfortunately the attempts at censorship are getting more and more common. I’m not afraid of pro-choice arguments, but I am afraid of a political climate that trains people to refuse to even listen to pro-life arguments. If enough people are brainwashed to only listen to people that agree with them, we will not be able to stop abortion.

All six of these experiences are of pro-choice people doing the censoring. I’m not saying that censorship doesn’t exist on the other side, but I do think it is significantly less common. I formally renounce all attempts pro-life people have ever made to censor pro-choice people. Let them speak. If the truth is on our side, what have we to fear?