Rachel is a speaker, writer, and trainer with Equal Rights Institute. Rachel graduated in 2017 from the University of Michigan with a Biopsychology, Cognition, and Neuroscience major and Women’s Studies: Gender and Health minor. She was the president of the Students for Life club at the University of Michigan, leading their efforts to educate students on pro-life topics and to advocate for pregnant and parenting students.
Rachel is also a former staff member of the pregnancy medical center, ArborWoman. She formerly served on their Operations Committee and participated as a volunteer in their ministry.
Rachel wants the pro-life movement to be known for its love. “I want us to be courageous enough to speak with charity about abortion. Having a loving approach when presenting a good argument is a sign of strength, not weakness. We cannot allow our anger towards abortion to be directed at those who support its legality. Pro-life people care not just about the unborn, but about all people, and we need them to know that.”
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:
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.
Click here for the Washington Post article about the Women’s March removing New Wave Feminists from the list of official sponsors
Click here for the list of Women’s March partners and sponsors
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.
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.
I don’t mean just a world where abortion has become illegal or unthinkable. I want you to imagine a world where abortion doesn’t exist at all, because it’s not possible. In this alternate universe of Fantasia, the uterus is different than in our world. Women have “super uteruses” that can withstand a great deal of external interference while protecting the baby inside. This means miscarriages almost never happen and women can drink and smoke during pregnancy without harming the baby. However, doctors in Fantasia are limited in what they can do during a pregnancy. They cannot perform an amniocentesis, fetal surgery, or use ultrasounds to see into the uterus because of the reinforced structure. Abortions are not able to be performed because the procedure is literally impossible to carry out without also killing the pregnant woman. Hence, in this world, if a woman becomes pregnant, she only has two options: parent the child or place the child with an adoptive family.
Imagine you were talking to someone about child abuse, and they said, “You know, I understand that you’re personally against it, but I think we should trust parents to make the right decisions for their families.” Would you feel like their comment about trust was a meaningful contribution to the discussion or a bizarre red herring?
When abortion-choice advocates speak about abortion they often say we need to trust women to make their own decisions. They say that abortion is an especially personal choice that we should trust women to make for themselves because they are the experts of their own lives.
This rhetoric is an unfair representation of the pro-life position because it implies that pro-life people do not trust women. It insinuates that people oppose legal abortion because they think women are inadequate and unable to make choices about their lives. This is a common and false accusation of pro-life people.
Pro-life people are not opposed to abortion because they distrust women. Implying that misogyny is influencing their position on abortion is a misleading sidestep of the real issue. Pro-life people think that a woman should be able to make her own decisions about which doctor she wants, what clothing she wears, her career, her education and many other choices which men have as well. There are some choices, however, which are dangerous or violent in some way. These choices deserve careful examination by the public to determine if they should be against the law. Examples of these choices would be drinking and driving, vandalism, or assault. The choice to kill people should clearly be against the law. Pro-lifers argue that human embryos are people, so you can’t kill them.