The abortion-choice lobby has moved on from just dehumanizing unborn persons. They’ve now shifted their primary focus to dehumanizing pro-life people.
It sounds ridiculous for me to say that pro-choice leaders are less concerned about arguing that the unborn aren’t valuable persons. Here’s the thing: unborn humans aren’t visible, and planting doubt or apathy is quite often enough to get pro-choice people to empathize with the visible woman rather than the invisible child. If someone doesn’t seem to be present, if they can’t or don’t speak up for themselves, it is no major challenge to ignore them.
Estimated reading time: 9 minutes
Why We Must Be Openly Pro-Life
Pro-life people have a pesky tendency to be visible and audible. The most effective way to counter this “problem” is to render pro-life people as something other than persons. If pro-choice leaders are successfully able to “other” pro-life people, then the public can ignore us because we are made into something noxious, detestable, beneath consideration. In short, pro-choice leaders are attacking the character and credibility of the pro-life movement in order to force pro-life people into hiding.
This is why pro-life people are so frequently painted as religious crazies or terrorists. Take the recent AKA Jane Roe documentary: a clinic worker refers to pro-life people as “terrorists” because they yell at people and block clinic entrances (things which…aren’t terroristic), but this claim is made out to be respectable because the director displays a clip of actual anti-abortion violence—a person bombing an abortion facility. People don’t listen to what a terrorist has to say because a terrorist’s message is automatically considered violent and evil. If to be pro-life is to be an “anti-choice terrorist”, to use the term my colleague Rachel heard used during women’s studies classes, then it doesn’t matter if we say that pro-choice people are supporting a massive human-rights violation, because good people should avoid being contaminated even by hearing us.
If this strategy succeeds, the pro-life position will be a thought crime. Pro-life people will become political untouchables. We can’t convince people who won’t listen to us; even though we have better arguments, pro-choice leaders won’t have to give an answer if they can silence those who question their position.
The best way to combat this is to be visible as pro-life people in our relationships with friends, colleagues, and acquaintances. If someone knows you, and they know you’re pro-life, it becomes much more difficult to buy into the rhetoric of “othering.” It becomes easier for people in the middle to respond, “Well, you might say pro-life people are terrorists, but that isn’t like my experience of them, even though I don’t agree with them about abortion.”
There’s a reason the language of this article mirrors language usually associated with a different movement. Those advocating for a right to same-sex marriage achieved their greatest success by humanizing non-heterosexual people in everyday relationships and public media. The ability to control who is in the out-group and who is acceptable—to decide who is “like us” and who is “other”—has been used to great success, and we should learn from those successes so we can get people to put pro-life people and unborn humans in the in-group.
How to “Out” Ourselves
So far, we’ve established the need to be pro-life in a public-facing way. But how exactly can we do that?
I want to confess: I get nervous about how random people will think of me when they find out I’m pro-life, and I do this professionally! Some of this comes from past experience; I made myself a lightning rod when I outed myself in college, so I know what it looks like for this to go badly. But the upshot is, fear is normal. You’re not weird to be afraid of how others will react (frankly, it’s probably worse if you’re not worried about it at all). When we look at what we’re afraid of (rejection, loss of income/degree/professional credentials, etc.), it’s reasonable to be afraid. But we have so much to gain (saving individual lives through sidewalk counseling and personal interaction with abortion-minded friends as well as saving many lives by altering a faulty political framework). We have to ask ourselves if the risk is worth the reward. I think it is. We overcome fear, not because the fear is unreasonable, but because it is inconsequential compared to what can be gained by overcoming it. [Tweet that!]
So, here are a few strategies for success in coming out as pro-life:
1. Don’t Be Weird
We use this phrase a lot, and it’s especially important for this. If your goal is to be relatable, you don’t want to do things that will be instantly off-putting to people. Some of the things you want to avoid are basic: no Holocaust comparisons, no Beethoven arguments, no Fetus Tunnel Vision, don’t say things that make it seem like you don’t care about women. Don’t feel the need to defend wrongdoing by organizations or politicians just because they’ve done something beneficial for the pro-life cause in the past.
Aside from that, even though you want to be willing to talk about abortion openly, don’t make it the only thing you talk about with people. Your relationships with people need to exist in their own right, not just as a means of changing their mind on abortion. People have a sense of when you’re just looking at them as a potential convert.
2. Engage More in Person than on Social Media
Surprise, surprise: you’re going to be more relatable if you’re not having a flame war in someone’s comment section. Social media has the tendency to bring out the worst in people. People are less likely to have their guard up if they don’t feel like they need to defend their image publicly.
And, as our survey recently showed, you’re more likely to have longer conversations if you’re talking to people in person (including video chats and phone calls). Longer conversations, all other things held equal, have a higher chance of changing someone’s mind on abortion. You don’t need to share pro-life memes on Facebook and fight angry commenters to have a publicly pro-life presence. Start by talking with friends and family.
That’s not to say there’s no place for pro-life posts on social media. At the very minimum, it’s encouraging to other pro-life people to know they’re not alone. But social media is a more dangerous and acrimonious environment for talking about deep issues than a local coffee shop, so I’d start with the latter.
3. Be Bold, but Prudent
You won’t be able to be openly pro-life unless you’re willing to publicly affirm an unpopular position. There’s an extent to which you need to commit to taking actions which can result in real costs to you.
However, you shouldn’t take needless or foolish risks. Talking about abortion at work is probably a bad idea, especially without building rapport (disturbing the office environment is too good an excuse to fire you). In a previous job, I worked with people for several months before I began testing to see how they would respond to my pro-life views. Instead, bring up abortion during social times outside of work once in a while using a conversation starter that won’t seem jarring and out of nowhere. Rather than focusing on changing their mind on abortion you can simply start by opening up about your own views. Comment on how you think it is weird that people seem to have lost the ability to talk with those who disagree and still be friends. Ask your coworkers if they feel the same way.
If you go to church, I would encourage you more strongly to open up about being pro-life within your religious community. Meet with your pastor, explain how important the issue of abortion is to you, and ask how you can help (also, get them to sign the Pastor Pledge). I would even go as far as to confront, in love, those in your small groups who hold to an inaccurate view of the unborn (because, if we can’t expect churches to be consistently pro-life, we’re in trouble).
4. Talk to Your Pro-Choice Friends
You may know (or think) that most of your friend group is pro-choice. This can be really intimidating, especially if they’re just assuming you’re pro-choice too. You might feel like, if your friends really knew what you thought, they’d reject you.
The bad news is, that might be true. It is possible that your friends don’t know or respect you enough as a person to be able to have constructive disagreement about important issues. But if that’s the case, it probably isn’t a healthy friendship in the first place.
The good news is, it’s more likely that, while you’ll introduce some tension into the relationship, your friends will still accept you for who you are. They may have already suspected that you were pro-life, or you may have incorrectly pegged them as pro-choice.
When you open the conversation, you should start by sharing how you feel. If you’re afraid they will reject you, tell them that. If you’re afraid that they will think you’re a bad person or judgemental, share that too. This will put you in a vulnerable emotional position, but it will also bring down their walls and help them hear you as a friend (if they’re a real friend worth having).
5. Open Up to Your Family
This could be the hardest one of all. I’m fortunate that, whatever else my family disagrees on, we basically agree about abortion. But what if your parents are pro-choice? Or, harder still, you know your mother or sister had an abortion?
As Josh explains in this article, power dynamics can make dialogues about cultural issues more complicated in your family than you will experience with your friends. But if you’re talking to family members who treat you like a peer, many of the same guidelines apply as when talking to your friends. Lead with how you’re feeling, and make sure your family knows you love and care about them.
If you’re “coming out” to someone who had an abortion, double-down on emotionally relating to them. Explicitly say that you aren’t judging them and that this doesn’t change how you feel about them. Keep in mind that even though you’re sharing something about you it is human nature for the other person to assume you’re actually trying to say something about them. Spend some time before the conversation imagining yourself in their shoes to try and better understand how they might feel while learning this about you. It may bring up memories and difficult emotions from their abortion. Give them space to think and react; remember, you’re not trying to convince them to be pro-life, you’re just telling them that you are.
You may notice that the strategies laid out in this article don’t actually convince people to become pro-life. It might feel weird to be playing defense, rather than offense, but, by being visibly pro-life in a public-facing way, we’re preserving the necessary conditions to change minds about abortion. What’s more, humanizing your own pro-life identity lays a necessary foundation for future (persuasive) conversations.
Pro-life people have the better argument on abortion; we’re going to change people’s minds, as long as we can keep them listening.
Please tweet this article!
- Tweet: Humanize the Pro-Life Position—“Come Out” as Pro-Life
- Tweet: If pro-choice leaders are successfully able to “other” pro-life people, then the public can ignore us because we are made into something noxious, detestable, beneath consideration.
- Tweet: We overcome fear, not because the fear is unreasonable, but because it is inconsequential compared to what can be gained by overcoming it.
The post Humanize the Pro-Life Position—“Come Out” as Pro-Life originally appeared at the Equal Rights Institute blog. 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.”