Some people will agree with many of your pro-life facts, but they won’t want to become fully pro-life because that would mean condemning their post-abortive friends. How can you dialogue with them?
I recently lead a conference call with Steve Wagner from Justice For All, training some local pro-life leaders. During the Q&A time, my friend Greg asked about a situation he encountered while talking with somebody about abortion at the College of the Sequoias in Visalia. He said that she was pretty much pro-life, or at least, she wanted to be. She knew a few people who had had abortions though, and she didn’t feel like she could cross the line of believing that they did something that should be illegal. Eventually, they ended up going in circles, and Greg wanted to know what he could have done differently.
The following tips are what Steve and I offered to Greg in the ensuing discussion.
#1: Don’t forget to be relational.
Show some genuine concern for them. I find that sometimes this is the easiest thing for pro-life advocates to forget. There’s such a big part of us (understandably) that wants to focus all attention on the unborn, especially after hearing a story of one or more being killed. Fight that urge, and show some concern for women who have had abortions.
Frankly, there will be some cases where you shouldn’t even move to step two. (Although this is probably more true when the issue of rape comes up.) That’s okay. If you’re a Christian you can believe that just as God brought this person in your life for a short while, He can bring other pro-life advocates in her future that will water the seed you planted.
Your friends who had the abortions, how are they doing?
#2: Ask to feed back to her what you hear her saying.
You’ve shown this person that you care for women who have had abortions, and you decide that it is appropriate to transition to the intellectual challenge in front of you.
First you want to make sure that you’re understanding her view accurately, and not simply a dumbed-down version. I like to actually ask permission to state back what I hear her saying, making it clear that my goal at this point is clarity.
Let me feed back to you how I understand your view, so you can correct me if I’m off.
#3: Restate the common ground.
This is part of narrating the debate. If the conversation has been going well, you can sometimes skip this step, but I’ve found it helpful to remind the person in front of me of what we have in common before focusing the conversation on what precisely we disagree on.
It seems like we have a lot of common ground. For example, we agree that the unborn is a living, human organism. It seems like you might even agree that the unborn is a valuable child that should be treated equally, at least in an ideal world.
#4: Attempt to accurately state why this person doesn’t want abortion to be illegal.
While I have spent a lot of personal time discussing abortion with pro-choice advocates who’ve thought about this issue a lot, that doesn’t describe the average pro-choice person I speak to on a college campus. Some people think that gives me an unfair advantage. Perhaps that would be true if this were a debate, but I want to have a dialogue. I’ve discovered that I can use my knowledge and experience to help the person understand both sides of the issue better.
This can also help me do what Greg Koukl at Stand to Reason calls “narrating the debate,” and I also might have a good guess at what’s going on under the surface for someone who’s already shared some personal things with me. I’m not going to tell the person what she’s feeling, but I might try to give her words for what may be going on with her internally, and then ask her if I got it right.
In this case I have a reason to think that this person doesn’t want to go as far as saying abortion should be illegal because she doesn’t want to condemn her friends. It’s so risky and courageous to tell your friend that you think they did something that was seriously immoral. We live in a culture that preaches “Never judge” to everybody, and misquotes Matthew 7 to us in very judgmental tones when we do make moral judgments.
I want to discover if an aversion to being judgmental is actually the mental roadblock the person in front of me is experiencing.
But there’s this concern for you, it seems like, because of your friends’ experiences, very personal experiences. You don’t want to go the extra step of saying, ‘Yeah, this is very wrong, but it should also be illegal.’ It seems like your friends’ experiences are kind of a part of that for you, that maybe you feel like if you say that abortion should be illegal, that would make you disloyal, or a bad friend; that you’d be condemning them. Is that your concern?
#5: Admit that there’s an inherent awkwardness to this conversation.
Let’s say she responds, “You know, I’m not sure. I never really thought of that. I mean, why would that matter?”
Great question. But before I answer it, I just want to point out something that’s just, kind of intrinsically awkward about our conversation.
I have this view that abortion is a human rights injustice, but it’s kind of a weird topic to talk about because it’s legal, somewhat socially accepted, and it’s happening a lot, more than 3,000 times a day. That means I talk to a lot of people who have had this experience. It’s not like talking about something like human trafficking. That’s illegal, almost everyone agrees it’s wrong and almost no one I talk to is actually guilty of purchasing time with a sex slave.
In the case of abortion, it’s legal and it happens all the time so I’ve talked to a lot of people who have had this experience. If I believe that somebody – assuming he or she wasn’t forced into this – actually had some part in killing their child, that seems like such a strong and harsh statement.
All that to say that even I feel a little bit awkward, and I imagine you do, too.
#6: Argue that sometimes good friends will gently admonish their friends.
Let’s say she responds by saying something like, “Yeah, I do feel that awkwardness. I’m glad it’s not just me and I think I understand a little about what you’re feeling. I think I do feel like I’d be a bad friend to condemn my friends though. I can’t imagine someone telling their best friend that she killed her child. That’s not what good friends say to one another!”
Yeah, I hear you. I think I can see a way to say abortion should not be legal, and still be a really good friend and care for people that you know may be in conflict with that.
For example, they might personally have broken what you’re saying is a moral rule or should be a legal rule. And I don’t feel like that stating that is necessarily condemning them.
I have lots of friends who have done wrong things and I don’t think they expect me to then say that those things are right, just because they did them. If my friend yells at his kids and he gets on the phone with me and he says, ‘Yeah, I yelled at my kids,’ I don’t think he feels like I’ve been a bad friend to him if I say, ‘Dude, don’t do that. What you did was wrong. Would you like me to help you develop a strategy so you’re not yelling at your kids this week.’ He’s going to actually feel like I’m a better friend.
I don’t see any inherent conflict in saying ‘abortion is wrong’ or ‘abortion should not be legal even though my friend had an abortion,’ in terms of whether you’re being a good friend.
#7: Ask whether or not our moral beliefs should be based on our friends’ past actions.
Let’s say she responds favorably to that, but she’s still not convinced. That leads me to my most important argument, which I will start with a question:
Should you make your assessments of morality based on the actions of your friends?
There’s a reason I had her do some introspective thinking in step #4. I want to give her freedom. I want to give her the freedom to state, “Yeah, I really want to say I don’t think it should be legal, but I really have this conflict that I’m not sure how to resolve.”
Because then, maybe I can help her resolve it.
It seems to me that what should matter most as we try to figure out whether or not abortion should still be legal, that it shouldn’t be based on the experiences of our friends, but other things that are more relevant, like ‘what is the moral status of the child?’
There’s probably a lot of other similar situations where we would see that really clearly. For example, I don’t want to compare women that have abortions to plantation owners or anything like that, but just as an analogy, I imagine that if I were an abolitionist in the 1800s, I might have awkward conversations with people who are friends with plantation owners, where this is a connection to them personally. It’s not just something that they do or something that they think is right, but it’s also the way they feed their kids! That’s awkward.
Obviously we would hope that none of the plantation owners starve to death. No one would want that. But it seems like it’s more relevant to try to figure out, ‘Are Africans actually people or should they be treated as property?’
There are probably other examples. If you want to go farther back into history, we could do that, but it seems like one of the more relevant things in this debate is the moral status of the unborn and whether a woman’s bodily autonomy should trump the rights of the unborn. Those seem like more important questions for us to consider than, is your friend happy that she chose abortion and what are the reasons that she chose to have an abortion, as difficult as they might have been
At this point, I’m going to want to give the person a chance to respond, and I’ll see if I can make some progress.
If she seems to agree with what I’m saying, I will probably want to revisit the Equal Rights Argument and see if she can agree with it now. I’ve talked to people where I needed to make the Equal Rights Argument three or four times before they really understood it. Sometimes you just need to help them clear the hurdles that are in their mind before they can cross the finish line of believing the pro-life position.
There’s another mental roadblock someone could have if her friends have had abortions. She might be concerned about the concept of her friend being punished if she had an abortion during a time when abortion was illegal. If you’re interested in what I think pro-lifers should say about that, watch a roundtable discussion I led below or download the audio version.
The post 7 Tips For Talking to Someone Who Has Post-Abortive Friends originally appeared at JoshBrahm.com. Subscribe to our email list with the form below and get a FREE gift. Click here to learn more about our pro-life apologetics course, “Equipped for Life: A Fresh Approach to Conversations About Abortion.”
Question: Do you have any tips for talking to people about abortion who have post-abortive friends? Post them in the comments!