How to Avoid Two Extremes of Pro-Life Advocacy

Mastering the art of pro-life advocacy requires a delicate balance of candor and affability.

We should not be so afraid of making people uncomfortable that we are unwilling to share the truth. I have seen this happen in some Christian churches when leaders want to be welcoming but are so focused on building community that they either willingly or unintentionally sacrifice the richness of the faith for the sake of attracting new people. Their idea of evangelism is to make Jesus “cool” by selling people a shallow, feel-good message that isn’t different in kind from a motivational speaker.

In response to this culture of misplaced compassion, some Christians take the opposite approach and overcorrect. They want to dive into advanced theology immediately, and call out sinful behavior of people seeking Christ without bothering to build relationships first. This cart-before-the-horse method can be just as unhelpful as the feel-good-religion approach.

I have seen the same two extremes arise during abortion dialogues, and I would like to make a case for the balanced approach to pro-life activism: we need to be both winsome and truthful when we talk about abortion.

If you want to see a clear example of an unbalanced abortion conversation, go onto Twitter and search for “pro-life” or “abortion.” You will see two main types of people:

  1. Those who tweet about abortion without any careful consideration of how their words will be perceived by pro-choice people, and
  2. People who are throwing insults at individual pro-choice accounts and organizations like Planned Parenthood or NARAL.

If advocates are both winsome and truthful when they talk about abortion they will see more people come join the efforts of the pro-life movement.

It is an ugly, unproductive place. Often, I will scroll through and wonder why these people even bother. I suspect for many of them it is because they honestly don’t know of a better way.

Six Abortion Conversation Starters

Image: Coffee cups, great additions to a relational apologetics environment when talking about abortion.

Do you want to discuss abortion with your pro-choice friends, but can’t figure out where to start? Abortion is an uncomfortable subject, so most people are reluctant to initiate a conversation about it. If you want to have a productive dialogue, then you don’t want to bring up abortion in a way that either feels unnecessarily confrontational or awkwardly puts your friends on the spot.

If you’ve never talked about abortion with your pro-choice friends before, then your goal for that first conversation should be modest—you simply want to build some rapport and lay the groundwork for future conversations. People are much more likely to change their minds slowly over time than all at once in one epic conversation.[Tweet that!] When you have pro-choice friends, you have the unique opportunity to give them the time to process your arguments and work through the details with you. The first conversation about abortion is the foundation of everything that is to follow. It is like a first impression, even if you have been friends for a decade. Viewing it as one piece of a much bigger picture will help you set realistic expectations.

Here are six ways to bring up abortion with your friends:

Don’t Come Across Like You’ve Taken an Apologetics Course

Picture: Students taking an apologetics course.

Imagine there is an eager pro-life high school student named Jared. He has spent hours talking with his pro-choice friends on Facebook, but their conversations never seem to go anywhere. Although he sometimes thinks that his friends make good points, he doesn’t always know how to respond to them. In order to be the best pro-life advocate possible, Jared decides that he needs to gain a better understanding of people who disagree with him and learn how to defend his own beliefs more persuasively. He reads abortion philosophy books, attends pro-life conferences, and listens to podcasts. After all this studying, he feels eager to discuss abortion with his friends—except this time he decides to talk with them in person during lunch instead of online. Afraid of forgetting any of the important arguments he has learned, he decides to bring a notebook outlining his talking points. Although his intentions are well-meaning, his delivery is noticeably awkward. Every time his pro-choice friends ask a question or make a comment, he refers to his notes before responding. Not only do his friends feel a little uncomfortable, but they also begin to think that the conversation isn’t genuine.

When you talk with pro-choice people, you probably don’t commit faux pas as flagrant as Jared’s notebook, but you may be making similar mistakes. If we come across in conversations as though we have spent time studying how to persuade people, they may feel uncomfortable and misinterpret our intentions. We don’t want people to think that we are reading from a script or that we have been coached on what to say. If we are making people feel this way, then our preparation is working against us instead of improving our advocacy. We don’t want to be deceptive; if someone asked me if I’ve spent time preparing for abortion conversations, I’d say yes. But I’m trying to not make that fact obvious because, when it’s obvious, it’s usually off-putting. Here are some easily overlooked mistakes that could prevent your dialogues from feeling relaxed and natural:

PODCAST: Five Lessons for Pro-Lifers from the Women’s March

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When the first Women’s March happened in 2017, I was a senior in College. I was taking women’s studies classes, so I was surrounded by people who were promoting, organizing, and going to the Women’s March. I felt immersed in that culture, and it was a really interesting experience for me.

This post, inspired by that experience, takes that Women’s March and pro-choice activism and looks at what pro-life advocates can learn from what they did right and discusses what we should do differently.

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Matt Walsh and Bodily Autonomy Arguments

If pro-life advocates want to help pro-choice people change their minds about abortion, then they must understand arguments about bodily autonomy and how to respond to them in a persuasive way. In his recent video, How To Destroy The “Best” Reproductive Rights Argument, Matt Walsh draws attention to these types of arguments, explains that they are critical to the modern pro-choice position, and then lists his five problems with how bodily autonomy arguments attempt to justify abortion.

At Equal Rights Institute our staff has collectively had thousands and thousands of conversations with lay pro-choice people on college campuses in the United States, and these experiences have helped us understand what typical pro-choice people actually mean by when they make easily misunderstood statements. While Walsh is right to respond to bodily rights arguments directly and he makes some good responses, he also gives responses that are based on the same understandable mistakes that most pro-life people make.

Screenshot from Matt Walsh YouTube video response to bodily autonomy arguments

Image source: YouTube

Bodily Autonomy Misconceptions

Pro-choice arguments from bodily autonomy are extremely confusing for many pro-life advocates because there is a profound cultural gap between pro-life and pro-choice people. We don’t just disagree about premises in our arguments; our whole mindset on the issue is radically different. Pro-life people are naturally inclined to focus the conversation on the baby while pro-choice people focus their attention to the woman. Sometimes this causes pro-life people to misunderstand pro-choice arguments and assume that everything comes down to the personhood of the unborn. Walsh correctly explains that this is a problem because that is not the only piece of the debate. He wants pro-life advocates to understand that there is another way to defend the pro-choice position in the abortion debate, and he wants us to understand how to refute it. He explains that personhood, while critical to understanding the immorality of abortion, is not what is driving many abortion conversations when we talk with pro-choice people. When pro-choice people bring up bodily autonomy, they are not attempting to refute the pro-life personhood argument.

Walsh goes on to describe an argument that personhood begins when the mother decides. In other words, the argument claims that because a woman has bodily autonomy she should be allowed to decide if and when her unborn child should be considered a valuable person. He goes on to explain the metaphysical absurdity of an argument like this because it claims that the mother has some “supernatural ability to grant and resend humanity to or from her child.” This argument is so bizarre and fringe that it does not play a role in ordinary bodily rights conversations. The vast majority of pro-choice people do not actual use arguments like this one. While our staff has seen this type of reasoning on very rare occasions, it is confusing and unhelpful to pro-life people to tell them that it is a major part of the bodily rights debate. I fear it will cause them to expect to find it and wrongfully interpret other, more reasonable pro-choice statements as being indicative of the weird, fringe argument.

Pro-lifers, this is a strawman. Click here to understand why.

In his first of five points, Walsh responds to the pro-choice slogan “My Body, My Choice” by saying, “It’s not your body, your body is not the body at issue here. The issue is the child’s body, not yours.” This incredibly common pro-life response to bodily rights arguments is based on a critical misunderstanding of what most pro-choice people mean when they use that slogan. They are not saying that the child’s body is the same as the woman’s body, nor are they saying that the human fetus is somehow biologically part of the woman’s body. They are saying that the human fetus’ body affects and is inside what is indisputably the woman’s body. By “my body,” they are referring to cells with the mother’s DNA, not cells with the human fetus’ DNA. This misunderstanding often causes well meaning pro-life people to unintentionally strawman pro-choice people. Read this article for a more thorough explanation of this common problem.