The Anonymous Pro-Life Volunteer Who Changed My Life

CBR’s GAP display at UGA. Used with permission.

In 2004 an arrogant pro-life high school student attended a pro-life outreach at the University of Georgia. When he learned that the Center for Bioethical Reform was going to set up large signs with abortion images that day, the arrogant student saw it as an opportunity for him to put his studying to good use.

That morning he totally out-debated any pro-choice people willing to talk to him. The arrogant student wasn’t too obnoxious, because he was intelligent enough to know that he had to come across as sympathetic in order to accomplish his very clear objective: winning the arguments.

At lunchtime the arrogant student sat down with a few volunteers he hadn’t met before and they made light conversation about their experiences. The arrogant student commented that he couldn’t believe some of the things these “crazies” said. A wise volunteer very gently responded, “If you’re thinking of them as crazies, haven’t you already kind of lost?”

How to Turn the Tables on Four Pro-Choice Arguments

Imagine you and a good friend decide to play a game of chess. As you sit down, your friend takes your queen off the board and puts it back in the box with no explanation. You say, “Uh, what are you doing?” Your friend replies, completely unironically, “Only I’m allowed to have a queen. You’re playing white, I’m playing black, so you get to go first. It basically evens out.” Inexplicably, he genuinely believes that giving his side of the board an extremely unfair advantage is actually fair, and he has managed to rationalize to himself that it’s fair.

Turn the Tables

How would you convince him that it gives the black side too much advantage? I’d just rotate the board 180 degrees and tell him, “Okay, if you think it’s really fair to both sides that whoever gets to go first doesn’t get a queen, I’ll just play black now. Your move.”

I think of this as forced empathy. In the analogy, your friend isn’t doing a good job of fairly evaluating the relative advantages of going first and having a queen. By turning the tables, you force him to get into your shoes and respond to his own arguments. You could tell him, “Hey, I know it might seem tough to not have a queen, but you get to go first, you get all the initiative, so just make good use of it and you’ll overcome the problem of not having a queen.”

Forcing someone to argue against their own unfair arguments is the most efficient way to help someone to realize that their arguments are actually unfair.

Many, many pro-choice arguments are actually unfair arguments. They’re cheating. They’re giving the pro-choice person an unfair advantage in the conversation. The problem is that oftentimes they don’t know they’re cheating. These arguments are often driven by unfair rhetoric that the pro-choice person has actually bought into.

People become emotionally attached to rhetoric. They hear a vacuous phrase and it just clicks. It feels so right to them. In order for them to change their minds, they need more than just a counter-argument. They need to understand that their rhetoric is empty. The best way to do this is to rotate the table 180 degrees and make them get into your shoes.

Here are four examples of unfair pro-choice rhetoric, and the ways I turn the tables.

Dialogue Story: Nicole at the University of Michigan

We just got this great outreach story from Nicole at Students for Life at the University of Michigan!

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A young man came up to our Students for Life table where we were asking people where they stood on abortion from “Illegal in All Cases” to “Legal in All Cases” He was going to put the sticker where it said abortion should be “legal in all cases.” My friend Elise and I started asking him what that meant to him. We later specified and asked about sex-selective abortions, abortions based on handicaps, and other such situations. He seemed to be surprised, as if no one had ever brought these up to him before. He then put down his sticker. I asked more clarification questions to understand his viewpoint. We discussed a variety of concerns, such as his right to speak being a man, and a woman’s right to her own choices. I used the tool of “Trotting Out a Toddler” several times and he was very interested in the questions I was asking.

I then brought out the Equal Rights Argument, which was my first time using it since taking the online ERI course. I was probably a little confusing for a bit, but we discovered his personhood argument, which depended on the organism’s ability to think. I then explained the difference between capacity/potential and its actualization, which he seemed to enjoy (I hope I’m using the right terms, I’m not a philosophy major!). He kept going back to women having choices, and so we discussed what that entailed and what should be legal and what should not be. It was a great, fruitful conversation. He was very kind and open-minded. It ended with him writing down the name of our club, and hopefully he contacts us. If you see this, it was great talking to you, and I’d love to again!

I would also like to add one thing I learned today while doing dialogue. Whenever someone came up to us and put their sticker on “legal in all cases,” I would get scared. They couldn’t tell, but I was sweating! I knew that most of the time they didn’t actually mean all cases, but I usually get nervous before conversations (although I hide it very well, I must say). And once I started talking to this man, I was so impressed with his open-mindedness and kindness, and realized that I had had a stereotype for what a pro-choicer was. It was a nice thing to be reminded not to stereotype the people who come up and assume who they will be and what they will be like.  

I’m so grateful for the opportunity to have discussions and impressed with how many people want to talk with us. I’m also glad to feel more equipped thanks to ERI and my club.

VIDEO: Dialogue Tips Speech and Mock Dialogue at Students for Life Conference

I asked Rebecca Haschke from Justice For All to join me for a practical dialogue tips session at the 2017 Students for Life of America conference in D.C. so that we could spend the last part of the session doing a mock dialogue!

Outline:

  • Josh Brahm – Tip 1: Ask Lots of Clarification Questions – 00:00
  • Josh Brahm – Tip 2: Don’t Make Arguments with Question Marks  – 05:25
  • Rebecca Haschke – Tip 3: Listen to Understand – 08:03
  • Rebecca Haschke – Tip 4: Find Genuine Common Ground When Possible – 22:51
  • Josh Brahm and Rebecca Haschke – Mock Dialogue – 28:05

Why We Need Male Sidewalk Counselors

Jacob Nels is the Operations Coordinator at Equal Rights Institute. One of the most important things Jacob brings to the table at ERI is his expertise in gracious dialogue, particularly with people who are post-abortive and abortion-minded. In addition to putting those skills to good use at college campus outreaches, Jacob has a regular presence outside an abortion clinic as a sidewalk counselor and has had the joy of helping many women, men, and children leave the clinic alive and whole.

Jacob Nels sidewalk counselor men

Jacob Nels sidewalk counseling in Georgia

A few years ago I watched a black sedan pull into the parking lot of an abortion clinic. A man and a woman got out and walked up to the clinic, ignoring my attempts to engage them. After the man walked her into the clinic, he came back to his car for something. Raising my voice to carry across the parking lot separating us, I tried again to start a conversation with him. I said,

Jacob: Hey, man! I know this is a hard day. No one really wants to be here. I’m here if you want to talk.

Ross: I’m not for this. I don’t like it.

Jacob: What do you mean? Would you tell me your story?

To show my respect and friendship, I did something that almost always works with other men. There is a white line painted on the sidewalk that I cannot legally cross. Pressing my toes to the line, I extended my hand to the man and said,

Jacob: My name’s Jacob.