The Anatomy of a Pro-Life Conversation

I have decided to share with you a transcript of an email exchange I had over the course of a few weeks with a woman from Canada; the emails have been lightly edited for clarity. At different points, I’ll be sharing my thought process about what’s going on in the conversation. The goal is to provide an illustration of how to implement some of the dialogue skills and arguments we talk about on the blog and in the Equipped for Life Course. Sometimes the pro-life advocates we train ask for us to demonstrate how our dialogue tips and arguments fit together in a real-time conversation. With permission from the woman who reached out to me, I am sharing this example so that it may be helpful to others.

The Anatomy of a Pro-Life Conversation

Hello Andrew,

I am Christian, and pro-life, for myself. Jesus died for my sins, I am ready to die for others. I am not sure if we can impose that kind of requirement on everybody though. I have been thinking over and over about the ethical arguments on abortion since the birth of my son and I was brought to be ambivalent if we can outlaw abortion in all circumstances. And what happens if the foetus has all the same legal rights than the mother, especially during the birth process?

My questioning goes in two levels:

1) An ethical questioning of self-sacrifice versus self-preservation

2) The legal rights of a mother over her own body during childbirth versus the right of the foetus to have their lives protected.

Would you care to give me a bit of your time to help me rest my thinking and solidify my pro-life thinking?

Thanks,

Jane*

To be honest, my first thought on reading this was, why are you emailing me? This is the first time I’ve ever been contacted by someone whom I don’t know to talk about abortion. Everyone else at ERI has a lot more campus outreach experience than me, and, frankly, I find interpersonal interactions and dialogues a lot more challenging than philosophy. But sometimes you’re the person who needs to give an answer, whether or not you feel completely qualified.

Hello Jane,

Thank you for your message! You’re right in thinking that the moral requirements of Christianity are more than what the state can demand from its citizens. However, it’s reasonable for the government to demand that we don’t kill other people; if we take seriously the idea that the fetus is a human person, then abortion would be an act of killing against an innocent person, and it would make sense to outlaw it.

There is definitely self-sacrifice required in pregnancy, but that sacrifice almost never entails a need to die for the child in the womb. Even in the United States, where we have a higher maternal mortality rate than is typical, that rate is 18 deaths per 100,000 live births. That’s unacceptably high, but it’s also .018 percent of all cases, so while it’s concerning and could be a justification for abortion in those specific cases (a “life of the mother” exception), it wouldn’t be a good justification for abortion in the other 99.982 percent of cases.

So, let’s assume the state can’t reasonably require people to die for their children; what amount of sacrifice can the state demand from parents, and mothers in particular? This is where the question of whether or not the fetus is a person becomes very important. If we believe that fetal humans are persons, then we have a duty not to kill them. Pregnancy is often difficult, and labor is usually extremely painful (my wife’s labor was quite rough); outlawing abortion means women are required to go through a lot of pain and bodily changes, which is a sacrifice. However, I don’t think that the challenges of a relatively normal pregnancy are sufficient to justify killing the child in the womb. Financial challenges, stress, and most health difficulties aren’t good reasons to kill another person. There are certain serious complications which might justify it, but those go back to the “life of the mother” exception.

As far as what happens if the fetal human has all the same legal rights as the mother, I think that this is nothing but beneficial during the birth process. There are at least two patients in the room who need to be treated with care, and I’m not aware of a situation in a developed country which would require care for one party to require death or foregoing treatment for the other. Just as throughout pregnancy, all that would be required is not making treatment decisions that pose unnecessary harm to the child. Even in cases of severe pre-eclampsia requiring very early delivery, the goal of the medical staff should be to ensure the health of both mother and child.

I hope this was helpful. Please let me know if you have any other questions.

Sincerely,

Andrew Kaake

Refuting Pro-Choice Memes

Responding to Snark with a Winning Argument

Your social media has probably been flooded in the past few weeks with memes and people talking about the recent state bills restricting or banning abortion. Usually I discourage pro-life advocates from spending a great deal of time talking about abortion online because I think that pro-life conversations are incredibly more productive in person. However, the amount of misinformation on social media about these bills and pro-life efforts is currently so widespread that I think it has tipped the scales far enough that pro-lifers have a greater than usual responsibility to publicly refute arguments.

Image: Man banging head on laptop. He probably just saw some memes.

Last week, Josh Brahm and I hosted a webinar where we reacted to some of the most popular pro-choice memes, but there was just too much to cover in 60 minutes before we jumped into a Q&A session. Since there is some overlap in the images circulating, I have sorted the messages into 12 main categories and provided a few sample memes from each. To make your life as a pro-life advocate easier, I have provided example responses in blue font showing how I would reply if my friend posted a meme from that category.

I recommend you use my example responses as a template to work from rather than copying the response word for word. (If you do copy and paste them, you may need to use “shift+enter” to create the paragraph breaks where I have them in my examples.) You should also say something like “Hey, first name of person” before you comment because it is polite and it softens the response in a more personal way. People are people, even if they are behind a screen. In my opinion, “they say, you say” soundbite-style apologetics are usually not very persuasive, hence why we don’t teach pro-life advocates to dialogue like this way. However, when you are scrolling through social media, responding to every pro-choice meme from scratch can be utterly exhausting. Moreover, these responses are not written with the purpose of persuading the original poster; rather, they’re designed to respond to the online snark with a winning pro-life argument for the sake of other readers, so that the pro-choice position is not the only one being seen.

Click on any of the hyperlinks below to skip to that section:

  1. Hypocrisy Memes
  2. Distracting From the Issue
  3. You’re a Man/This is None of Your Business
  4. Biology 101
  5. Ways to Reduce Abortion Rates
  6. Prosecuting Women for Illegal Abortions
  7. The Case of Rape
  8. Common Ground: Memes That Misunderstand Pro-lifers
  9. Handmaid’s Tale Imagery
  10. Back Alley Abortion Arguments
  11. Bodily Rights Arguments
  12. Savita Halappanavar’s Death in Ireland

1: Hypocrisy Memes

These memes seek to point out the apparent hypocrisy of the pro-life movement. They can focus on anything from accusing pro-life people of only caring about children until birth to policing the term “pro-life” to stretch beyond the abortion debate to another issue, saying that if you were really pro-life then you would agree with them about X issue.

Image: One of 25 pro-choice memes in this article.

Image: One of 25 pro-choice memes in this article.

I want to share a thought from the pro-life perspective because I think it is important for people to consider the argument from all angles. If the pro-life philosophical arguments are true, then abortion takes the life of an innocent person. Since we are convinced of those arguments, we think that the life of the unborn child should be protected, regardless of their predicted outcome in life, just the same as we think the homeless, impoverished, or any other group of marginalized people have value and should be protected. The reason we focus on abortion is because we see it as legal killing, and, if our arguments are true, then it would be the most egregious, widespread act of violence in the history of the human race. We see it as that, and that’s why it’s our priority.

On another note, I want to push back on the charge that the pro-life position is primarily one of convenience because I don’t think it is true, especially since it is not socially popular to be pro-life. The pro-life movement has invested so much to care for pregnant mothers with counseling, free medical care, providing resources for the first few years after birth, and setting up networks that will connect them to other existing resources that will assist them, if needed, in the longer term. So, we do actually care for the child who is born beyond when it is “convenient” to do so, if it ever was. If I thought pro-life people didn’t do so, I’d be mad as well! There is also the unsettling idea that is present in the subtexts of posts like this: that if you’re not fighting for every cause then your work isn’t worth doing. I don’t see this accusation as legitimate, because if we do not have different organizations that specialize in different focus areas and everyone tries to do everything at once, we would never get anything done! The Red Cross shouldn’t focus staff time and resources to breast cancer research, and the Breast Cancer Research Foundation shouldn’t focus staff time and resources on help for people devastated by hurricanes and earthquakes.

Again, it all comes back to the basis of the pro-life view, which is that abortion is the killing of innocent people with the same worth as you and I. I think that it is important for people to interact with the philosophical claims on both sides of this issue, so I would love to talk more about that. Let me know if you’d like to continue this conversation. I’d love to keep talking so feel free to message me.

Roe’s Savior: The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA)

The Equal Rights Amendment is one of the most polarizing topics in American politics. Ostensibly, the purpose of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) is to ensure that men and women are guaranteed the same rights by law. The core text of the ERA is short and simple:

Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.

Picture: The United States Senate chamber where the ERA will be debated.

United States Senate chamber. Public domain image.

The text alone doesn’t seem harmful. If interpreted properly, it could be helpful, as it is obviously wrong to unfairly discriminate against women. Unfortunately, rather than addressing legitimate discrimination grievances, this clause has instead been interpreted as granting a right to abortion. Pro-choice advocates are using the ERA as a Trojan horse to sneak the right to abortion into the U.S. Constitution under the guise of “gender equality.” [Tweet that!]

Adding an amendment to the U.S. Constitution requires two things: Congress must pass the amendment, and 38 states must ratify (pass) it. After Congress passed the ERA in 1972, the states had 10 years to meet this ratification quota. 35 states ratified the ERA within five years, and the amendment was initially very popular. However, this popularity was present because many states did not believe abortion to be a “right’ protected in the ERA, as Roe v. Wade had not been decided yet when the ERA passed. Consequently, five states rescinded their ratification in the years following Roe. The Constitution does not specify whether a state may rescind its ratification of an amendment, and the Supreme Court will likely have to make a ruling on this, which could be a long and controversial process.

As of now, 37 states have ratified the ERA at some point in time. The initial ten-year ratification deadline has expired; however, if one more state ratifies the ERA, the amendment could still be added to the U.S. Constitution if it is passed by Congress again. While the current Republican majority in the Senate would likely block the ERA, this is not a long-term solution. Pro-choice Democrats who support the ERA will almost certainly regain both chambers of Congress eventually, so if a 38th state ratifies it and the Supreme Court determines all of those ratifications to be valid, it will only be a matter of time until the ERA becomes the next amendment in the U.S. Constitution.

California Reintroduces Campus Abortion Bill

Picture: California State Senate Chambers

California State Senate Chambers

Last year, California Governor Jerry Brown vetoed SB 320, a bill that would have required every public university in the state to provide abortion pills. Unfortunately, California is trying to pass this legislation once again, and it has been reintroduced in the new legislative session as SB 24. Advocates of the bill have also called it the “College Student Right to Access Act.”

In his veto, Gov. Brown briefly explained why he opposed the bill, stating abortion was a “long-protected right” in California but that forcing universities to offer abortion pills was “not necessary” because there are already abortion clinics within five to seven miles of most campuses.

While I am thankful that Gov. Brown vetoed this bill, I certainly don’t agree with his logic for doing so. The ability to kill human life should never be referred to as a right, and turning campus health centers into abortion providers is a terrible idea regardless of whether an abortion clinic is near campus or not. Brown essentially states that women should have an abortion center within a certain radius of their place of living, and he only vetoed the bill because that circumstance already exists. Brown expressed no concern in his veto for how campus abortions would be dangerous for pregnant mothers or lethal for innocent unborn babies.

According to NPR, implementing SB 320 would have cost an estimated $14 million and several pro-choice organizations agreed to cover this cost. However, the bill is written to allow the expenses to be covered by other means as well, and nothing in the bill restricts student health fees from being allocated towards medical abortion procedures. This loophole has the potential to allow the state to force pro-life college students to pay for the abortions of other students on campus through obligatory student fees. This subsidized system, if put in place, would violate the consciences of students opposed to abortion.

Pro-Choice Doesn’t Have to Mean Pro-Roe

American abortion laws are among the most radical in the world. Unfortunately, though almost everyone knows that Roe v. Wade made abortion legal at the federal level, few people understand exactly how the case changed the country’s abortion laws. This gives me the opportunity to educate people when dialoguing about abortion at Arizona State University, and I’ve found that many pro-choice people change their attitude about Roe when they understand it better.

Photo: Supreme Court Building. "Pro-Choice Doesn’t Have to Mean Pro-Roe"

Picture Credit: Duncan Lock, Dflock – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

One Way to Dialogue about Roe

Many people label themselves as “pro-choice,” but this label doesn’t tell us much. People’s views on abortion restrictions can vary greatly, from wanting no restrictions whatsoever, to only having legal abortion available in the first trimester in the case of rape. However, the majority of people I’ve spoken to on college campuses will vaguely agree that they don’t support late-term abortion. After providing them with a few simple facts about late-term abortion, almost everyone will agree such procedures should be illegal. The example dialogue below illustrates how a pro-life advocate can help a pro-choice person realize that they disagree with the extremism of Roe because of their existing beliefs about late-term abortion: