I noticed John Paul, one of our volunteers, looked nervous in his conversation with a student in front of our poll table. I walked up and started listening so he could get help if he needed it. John Paul quickly asked me for my take, and I started asking questions to try to figure out what the other student’s view was. “Brent” had signed “Yes” to the question “Should 20-Week Abortions Remain Legal?” I asked:
Tim: Why do you think 20-week abortions should be legal?
Brent: It’s a woman’s right to live her life the way she wants to.
Tim: Do you think there should be any restrictions on abortion at all? What do you think of, say, a 35-week abortion?
Brent: Oh I’m definitely opposed to 35-week abortions.
Tim: You are? Aren’t you restricting women’s rights to live their lives the way they want to?
Practical Dialogue Tip #1: Turn the Tables on Pro-Choice Rhetoric
A great deal of pro-choice rhetoric uses the kind of language that does not very naturally allow room for any restrictions on abortion. For example, any bodily rights rhetoric is going to suffer from this problem. For instance, you can’t say “my body, my choice” to only justify early abortions, because late-term fetuses are still located in her body. In order to justify early abortion without justifying late abortion, you need to argue that the late-term fetus is more valuable than the early-term fetus.
When I notice these kinds of rhetorical mistakes, I will frequently “turn the tables” on them in a gracious way. This is often an extremely weird experience for the pro-choice person because they’re used to the rhetorical power of “my body, my choice” working in their favor, and all of a sudden they find themselves having to argue against it. This tactic would work very well in debates, but that isn’t how I use it. Rather than merely trying to score rhetorical points, I’m hoping to accomplish two things:
- I want to help the pro-choice person learn to think more clearly about their rhetoric. It often is not nearly as powerful as they feel like it is, and making them answer the same rhetoric can help them to understand this.
- I want to force them to clarify their position. Dialogues only improve when arguments become more clear, and encountering this kind of inconsistency in their position forces people to either shift to an argument with more substance or clarify why they think their rhetoric doesn’t work against their own view.
Brent: No, because before 20 weeks, the fetus isn’t viable.
Tim: You’re right about that. I’m trying to understand your view so help me out here. Why do you think viability is important?