My Speech at the 2014 Students for Life Conference: “I’m Pro-Life, But…”

I was asked to give an apologetics speech at the Students for Life of America 2014 West Coast National Conference. I was given a title, “I’m Pro-Life, But…” that I was allowed to do anything I wanted with, so I chose to respond to these four common statements and questions:

  1. “I’m pro-life, but people tell me I come across like a jerk. What can I do about that?”
  2. “I’m pro-life, but I don’t know how to convince people that abortion is wrong.”
  3. “I’m pro-life, but I think it should be legal.”
  4. “I’m pro-life, but what about rape?”

Download Audio MP3 | 00:49:02

Thanks to Secular Pro-Life for providing their video to me.


Josh Brahm is the President of Equal Rights Institute, an organization that trains pro-life advocates to think clearly, reason honestly and argue persuasively.

Josh uses speaking, writing and campus outreach to emphasize practical dialogue tips, pro-life philosophy, and relational apologetics.

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  • Deanna Young

    I really liked the part where you talked about how you want the other person to think about and answer your questions themselves instead of the PL person assuming they know what the other persons answer will be. It’s like inception!

    • Steve Wagner has this awesome story about watching his toddler put together a puzzle. He said he offered her advice like, “Find the corner pieces, now the edges,” but didn’t physically help her. And it was really difficult! He sat and coached her as she put together the puzzle for over an hour.

      Steve thinks that should be how we dialogue. Let the other person put the puzzle together for themselves, which will be more persuasive in the long-term then if they just watch someone else make their own case.

      • Deanna Young

        That is a really good analogy! I actually have found that I’m not doing that enough when I talk to PL people. I’ll start by giving a version of Thomsons violinist thought experiment and at the end I’ll ask the person if they think it should be legal to unplug from the violinist and I’d just assume they would say yes. That’s led me to some pragmatic issues because I’d be completely thrown off by their answer because it screws up the debate that I was reciting in my head while I was supposed to be listening to them. Plus, I was treating them just as a mind to be changed which is objectifying and, I think, immoral.

        • Deanna Young

          Such a good speech Josh. I really hope we get the opportunity to talk to people together about this stuff soon. I kind of want to be able to reach my side with the relational stuff as well. PC people can be really mean to people who disagree with them as well.

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  • Purple Slurpy

    Though I disagree with you, you are a highly entertaining speaker, a great observer of human behavior, intelligent and sincere.

    That being said, I think I see why I disagree with you. I’m an atheist who donates blood, cares about my fellow human being, the earth, the trees, the whales, and LGBT rights (me not gay). I love my children and family, and babies in general. I think that much we could agree with, well, don’t know if you support LGBT marriage equality, but anyway, I think the fundamental disagreement I have with you is your human exceptionalism. I don’t see humans as particularly special in the grand scheme of things. I care about humanity and hate watching injustice and suffering, but I don’t put animals above humans. I suspect that if your dog (if you own one) and a stranger were trapped in a burning building and you could only save one, you would save the stranger because he is human. I would save my dog. (If it were any old dog and a human, I might save the human.)

    Your points on abortion, yes, I also disagree with late term abortions when fetuses begin to actually feel pain, but when they’re very small, I just don’t care. They are “human”, but unfeeling, clumps of cells. I don’t think I could really care about them ever unless I accept Jesus and start believing we are made in the image of God, which I can’t because I am incapable of having faith in the religious sense because I think religious faith is actually a mental disorder. No offense. I suspect a lot of people are like me, and these people are probably completely incapable of understanding your pro-life rationale.

    • Guest

      I can’t speak for Josh, though I don’t necessarily agree with him on animal rights or human exceptionalism. However, there are plenty of pro-lifers that are non-religious or atheists. Judging by your comment history, it looks like you’ve encountered some of them. Conversely, there are Christians and other religious people that support abortion or otherwise have a hard time with the pro-life position. I don’t think it’s particularly unreasonable to hold that early fetuses have moral worth and basic rights, especially given that an individual in a temporary coma still has moral worth and basic rights despite being incapable of feeling pain or caring whether or not he is killed. But those are problems for another day.

      My main contention is with what you said about rape. The purpose of that part of Josh’s speech was not to convince his audience that rape is wrong. I think he would probably agree with you that someone who needs to be told that “rape is bad” is not a moral person. Josh actually has encountered pro-choice people (mostly cranks and hardcore moral relativists) who don’t think rape is inherently wrong, and would say that after a certain point it’s best to politely end the conversation. Rather, his purpose was to help young pro-lifers raise the level of dialogue and answer a hard question in a way that’s sincere and compassionate as well as logically sound. Josh has spent the better part of a decade conversing with people on all sides of the abortion debate. When pro-lifers are asked about rape, all too often they jump straight into the logical answer. A good analogy is with Michael Dukakis in the 1988 presidential election. When asked in a debate whether or not he would support the death penality if Kitty Dukakis (his wife) were raped and murdered (which, to be fair, is a gotcha question that’s probably inappropriate for a presidential debate), he simply stated his case against the death penalty – seemingly oblivious to the fact that his wife had just been raped and murdered:

      Clearly, even opponents of the death penalty can see that there’s something wrong with his answer. One Youtube commenter said it well:

      Even though I’m against the death penalty, and I like Dukakis from what
      I’ve observed, it IS important for people to feel like you can
      personally relate to them, and his answer was a little cold and sterile.
      I wish he would’ve won, but he didn’t have the charisma and quick
      thinking that Clinton does.

      He SHOULD have said something like,
      “Yes, I sure would personally want to get back at the killer, but that
      still doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do in a civilized society,
      and we don’t put grieving family members in charge of the justice system
      for that very reason!”

      He wouldn’t have had to compromise his
      position at all, but an answer like that would’ve shown more empathy and
      emotion. His huge mistake here is exactly why every president since has
      been at least somewhat pro-death penalty, Clinton & Obama

      Similarly, Justice for All (one of Josh’s favourite organizations) has a video showing (male) pro-life volunteers confronted by a pro-choice rape survivor. When she describes what she went through, the pro-lifers simply state their case for the humanity of the fetus – seemingly oblivious to the horrors suffered by the person they’re talking to. Even opponents of abortion can see that there’s something wrong with that kind of answer. Had they actually shown some empathy and established a personal connection, the dialogue could have gone much better. Josh’s favourite slogan, “don’t be weird”, comes to mind.

      Personally, I think it shouldn’t be necessary to emphasize the horror of rape. People on both sides should interpret arguments in the most charitable way possible and assume the best about each other’s motivations (that would include assuming the other person has compassion for victims of sexual assault). But in debates about difficult emotionally charged issues like abortion and capital punishment, it’s quite easy to forget that the person right in front of you is human (especially online, but also in person sometimes) even for the most patient. So it’s critical to demonstrate that, and to establish genuine common ground. And encouraging pro-lifers to do so isn’t “spinning the case for pro-life” or evidence that it’s not a just cause. Pro-choicers often feel compelled to do the same thing when they stress that they don’t hate children or disabled people, that they don’t have contempt for women who choose to carry their pregnancies to term, that they don’t support forced abortion, or even that they think abortion is a necessary evil rather than a moral good. But I wouldn’t dismiss their position as lacking a rational basis.

      • Purple Slurpy

        Hi Guest.
        >> I don’t think it’s particularly unreasonable to hold that early
        fetuses have moral worth and basic rights, especially given that an
        individual in a temporary coma still has moral worth and basic rights
        despite being incapable of feeling pain or caring whether or not he is

        Yeah, I agree with you. Its not unreasonable to believe that, but its also not unreasonable to believe that early fetuses are not really persons yet. I think it goes back to whether you believe that humans, just for being humans, have an inherent worth. For me, they don’t, but I can see how some people would see inherent worth in a human being. I don’t think my view is evil or nihilistic, its just how I see the world. This is not really a question of science, or whether fetuses have human DNA.

        But your main issue about being compassionate to rape victims before telling them that they still need to keep deliver their rapist’s baby, to me that’s all political spin. I really think Josh’s “don’t be weird” bit is extremely insightful. I think he could do very well for himself at a public relations firm. But “finding common ground” first so you can manipulate their emotions and possibly cause them to make a wrong decision is I think borderline evil.

        I don’t doubt that Josh is a compassionate person, and I’m sure his intentions are good. But one person’s good intentions can still end up causing harm to another. (I know you could say that about a woman’s choice to abort to save her kid from a life of poverty, perhaps, but to me a fetus is a potential person, a zero, neither innocent nor guilty. Such a being is fundamentally different that someone in a coma, I say.) Josh’s good intentions I think are geared more toward pleasing his god and saving a fetus that neither cares nor asked to be saved, at the expense of the woman who has knows deep down she hates this rape baby inside her.

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