Estimated reading time: 11 minutes.
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 further 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?
#1: Censoring Abortion Images
Warning: For this example, I will show a picture of protesters in front of a pro-life exhibit, and abortion images can be seen on the exhibit.
On a very cold day at the University of Georgia, I stood in front of the Justice For All (JFA) Exhibit and tried to dialogue with pro-choice students. Most of the panels on the JFA Exhibit include an image of an abortion victim. Every day I’ve ever used a public display with abortion images, I’ve seen angry students vocalize their outrage at the images. That’s okay, because I’d rather people be open with their emotions so we can talk about them, and if JFA has the free speech to show the pictures, angry students should have the free speech to express their anger at them. This day in Georgia was unusual because it was the first time I ever saw a group of students attempt to block the abortion images by lining up together and holding up bedsheets. This particular attempt was not very successful because the JFA Exhibit is almost two stories tall.
I honestly admire those pro-choice students’ dedication. They took it in turns to stand in the cold with their arms raised over their heads for a long time. That’s more discomfort than many pro-life people are willing to endure for their beliefs. But I don’t admire the students’ attempt to cover up the abortion images. If you really think abortion is justified, you shouldn’t be afraid of true images of what abortion does to babies. You don’t have to like looking at them, but if you’re so confident that your view is right, you shouldn’t try to prevent people from being able to consider all of the evidence about abortion. (To learn more about how ERI uses abortion images and why, go here).
#2: Censoring Dialogue with Noise
This is the only example on this list I didn’t witness personally, but I’ve heard about it from several people that were there that day, including my colleague Jacob Nels, and it is too remarkable an example to not include.
In fall of 2010 at University of Oklahoma, the Justice For All staff had set up their Exhibit and were trying to create good dialogues. Unfortunately, the pro-choice students on campus made that extremely difficult by using a rather unusual form of protest. They came with kazoos, tambourines, and other noise-makers and went around making so much noise that it impeded JFA’s attempts to get into dialogues.
Jacob Nels recounts that my friends Stephen Wagner (still of Justice For All) and Trent Horn (now of Catholic Answers) tried to stage a loud debate out of desperation, with Trent pretending to be pro-choice. When one of the protestors noticed and called him out as actually being pro-life, Trent frustratedly exclaimed, “I’m trying to get some information out there, and all you’re doing is blowing kazoos, and kazoos have very low informational value!”
Most attempts at censorship are more subtle than this. I wish I could have asked one of those students, “Does it make you uncomfortable that your best solution to stop pro-life people from being persuasive is blowing kazoos instead of trying to counter their arguments?”
#3: Censoring by Claiming to be Offended
The ratio of the number of times people on college campuses these days say they are offended versus actually offensive statements that are made is frighteningly high. People have told me that I have offended them by saying abortion is wrong, by saying abortion hurts women, by saying the unborn deserves the same protection born children do, and even for saying it’s wrong to murder newborns. None of these statements are actually offensive. If you disagree with them, then just say so and make your case. Saying “I’m offended” as a response to one of these statements is just another way of saying “Shut up, I don’t want to listen to you!”
The worldview that you have the moral right to a safe space where you don’t have to hear anything that could possibly offend you is despicable. Honest truth-seeking is necessarily painful because it means challenging even the beliefs that you love the most. Honest truth-seeking means intentionally avoiding confirmation bias by seeking to understand the strongest arguments of people that disagree with you. Believing in a moral right to a safe space from anything offensive means believing confirmation bias is a virtue.
We have a duty to treat people with dignity. I think that makes certain kinds of trigger warnings appropriate, such as material that could be traumatizing for a rape survivor.
Prudence dictates that we not offend needlessly. If you want to be persuasive, you should remember that irritated people tend to be less likely to change their minds. But we do not have a duty to protect people from the possibility of ever being offended.
#4: Censoring on the Basis of Gender
Literally every day I have ever spent on a college campus doing pro-life outreach, I have been told I am not allowed to speak or even have an opinion about abortion because I’m a man. If you want to learn an incredibly effective and persuasive way to respond, read here.
Objecting to the right of a human being to make a moral argument on the basis of his gender is sexism, plain and simple. It is discrimination against men for the simple purpose of silencing as many pro-life people as possible.
To be fair, I think some people that object to my gender don’t understand that they are engaging in censorship. They wrongly believe that someone’s opinion is not legitimate if he cannot completely understand a person’s emotional state. That’s a silly thing to believe, but if that’s honestly what is driving their objection to my gender, they aren’t exactly trying to censor me. But for other pro-choice people, it is a calculated, intentional, shameful effort to shut down their opposition from being able to speak.
#5: Censoring on the Basis of Race (and Gender)
I was having a great conversation at a Justice For All event at the University of North Texas in spring of 2014. The student was asking fair questions about the implications of believing abortion is wrong, and between answering her questions, I was making a positive case for the value of the unborn. Then I noticed one of the pro-choice protestors from earlier in my peripheral vision, listening to our conversation. Instead of ignoring her, I wanted to welcome her to be a part of our conversation, so I smiled, reached out my hand, and said, “Hi, I’m Tim.” She squinted her eyes and just glared at me, motionless. I asked, “You don’t want to shake my hand?” Her verbatim response, loaded with venom, was, “I don’t trust white men.” Then she did her very best to shut down my productive conversation by interjecting every couple of minutes to rant about how racist and sexist I was simply for being a white male in America.
Do our cultures affect our views dramatically? Yes. Do I as a white person fully understand what it’s like to experience serious racial discrimination? No, I really don’t. But the increasingly common claim that white people are racist simply for being white in America is itself racist. How about judging people based on the content of their character instead of the color of their skin? I think some smart guy with a dream said something like that.
The belief that only white people can be racist is not just wrong, it is both evil and stupid. It is evil because it rationalizes the racial hatred that many non-white people have, and it is stupid because it is so obviously wrong, no truth-oriented person could possibly believe it. Using this evil, stupid belief to try to intimidate people that disagree with you into silence is unconscionable.
#6: Censoring by Accusing Us of Inciting Violence
I already wrote at length why pro-life advocates are not responsible for the recent Planned Parenthood shooting, contrary to the claims of thousands of pro-choice people, including a presidential candidate. I won’t repeat myself here. But I would like to point out the intended effect of this massive attempt to blame pro-life advocates for this shooting. These pro-choice people were not trying to convince pro-life people to be more loving or gracious as they advocate on behalf of the unborn. They were trying to force pro-life people to stop advocating on behalf of the unborn. In essence, these pro-choice people were saying, “Shut up about abortion, or we’ll accuse you of being responsible for murder.”
The police officer who was murdered while heroically defending the Planned Parenthood staff and patients was a pro-life Christian named Garrett Swasey. The logical conclusion of the argument of many pro-choice people is that Swasey was responsible for his own murder. They had the gall to use sympathy for Swasey’s death to censor anyone who agrees with him from speaking on behalf of the unborn.
It is very difficult for anyone to take the opinions of a close-minded person seriously, whether they are pro-life, pro-choice, Christian, atheist, or anything else. If you aren’t willing to reconsider your own views, then it’s hypocritical for you to think other people should reconsider theirs. If you haven’t seriously tested your own ideas in the fire of genuine truth-seeking, then honestly you probably have shallow ideas. You might have some true beliefs, but not likely for good reasons. If you genuinely want to be a truth-seeker, the first thing you should do is ask questions of intelligent people you disagree with. The last thing you should do is demand that people who disagree with you not speak at all.
Note: We welcome comments on our blog from all sides of the abortion debate, but we moderate them carefully to encourage gracious and productive dialogue. Deleting trollish comments on our blog is not censorship, just like it is not censorship to remove an offensive flyer from one’s personal property. We will not discourage people from expressing their honest opinions, but if they’re being rude or creating a caustic atmosphere, we might demand that they express their honest opinions at a more appropriate place, such as his or her own blog or other personal property. Read our comments policy for a more thorough explanation of the rules.
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- Tweet: Any open-minded person should be disgusted whenever people try to silence their political opposition.
- Tweet: I want to defeat pro-choice arguments by presenting better arguments, but I want the opposing arguments to be made.
- Tweet: Censorship is an incredibly powerful weapon for anyone cowardly enough to use it.
- Tweet: Honest dialogue is aimed at truth, which makes it the greatest friend of the truth-seeker.
- Tweet: Censorship is the greatest enemy of the truth-seeker.
- Tweet: Believing in a moral right to a safe space from anything offensive means believing confirmation bias is a virtue.
The post “Six Ways I’ve Seen Pro-Choice People Try to Censor Pro-Lifers” originally appeared at the Equal Rights Institute blog. Click here to subscribe via email and get exclusive access to a FREE MP3 of Josh Brahm’s speech, “Nine Faulty Pro-Life Arguments and Tactics.”