Editor’s Note 12/15/20: We’ve now published an in-depth explanation of how to make the Equal Rights Argument, entitled “Arguing from Equality: The Personhood of Human Embryos.” It has a few important revisions based on how we’ve updated the argument over the years, but it also does a better job of teaching people how to use the argument. The new article is the best way to introduce someone to the Equal Rights Argument, but everything we wrote in this original post about how effective the argument is still holds true. For an even fuller treatment of the Equal Rights Argument, as well as many other arguments and skills for pro-life outreach, visit our Equipped for Life Course.
UPDATE 6/25/2015: This is one of the most widely-read posts I’ve ever written, in which I gave a basic introduction to the Equal Rights Argument. It isn’t a thorough explanation of how my colleagues and I use this argument in dialogue, but at the time I was planning on giving a more thorough explanation soon after. While I’ve been teaching the argument in more depth to live audiences, I’ve refrained from blogging about it for a variety of practical reasons. Before the end of the year, we will finally post a more detailed analysis of how we respond to personhood arguments.
In the meantime, there is a place you can find the same basic argument in written form, and that is in chapter 2 of Charles Camosy’s book Beyond the Abortion Wars. We explain it differently and we use our terms a bit differently, but substantively, it’s the same argument. We were really pleased when we read it, because we think it is the most persuasive way to respond to personhood arguments.
Whether or not you are struggling with how to respond to personhood arguments, you really should read Beyond the Abortion Wars. We don’t always agree with his conclusions, but even the places where we disagree are well-researched, well-argued, and well-explained, and they help me to think more clearly about my own beliefs. Charles Camosy is a very unusual, very interesting voice in the pro-life movement and any pro-life advocate would benefit from wrestling with him.
The JFA philosophy team has been utilizing an argument that should be used by the entire prolife movement because the results have been amazing.
One of the best parts of my job is the work I do partnering with Justice For All. I’ve spent four years being trained by Steve Wagner to do many of the things he does for JFA in Wichita, from facilitating seminars and outreaches to coaching mentors.
Steve shared an argument with my brother Tim last year that he heard from J.P. Moreland and is featured on page 67 of Scott Klusendorf’s book, “The Case for Life” that I haven’t seen very many pro-life advocates utilize. So the three of us have been emphasizing it in campus dialogue, and over the last year we’ve been discussing how we might train our volunteers to use it.
The results have been amazing. Equal Rights Institute and Justice For All are now teaching this argument in all of our seminars.
It’s called the Equal Rights Argument.
We’re asking pro-choice people if they agree that all human adults have an equal right to life.
When they say yes, we ask them, “Do you think that means there is something the same about us?”
In other words, if we all have an equal right to life, then we must all have something in common that demands that we treat each other equally, and we must have that property equally. It can’t be something (like size or intelligence) that comes in degrees, or it wouldn’t explain our equal right to life.
When the pro-choice person agrees with that conclusion, we simply ask them what is the same about us.
I think the natural temptation for a pro-life advocate who is ready with an answer to this question is to share that answer at this point. But we’d rather let the pro-choice person consider the question for themselves, and only offer our answer when they ask for it.
In my experience people aren’t annoyed by the Equal Rights Argument questions. They tend to see the value of the questions, but need to take some time to think about it. We wait patiently, and if they give an answer, we engage it. But if they have no idea, we then ask if they would like to hear our answer. Nearly everybody says yes.
Our answer is that we all have humanness in common. That’s something that doesn’t come in degrees. It’s an all-or-nothing kind of thing.
And if being human is what gives us intrinsic value, then that explains a lot of data. It explains why all the adult humans have an equal right to life, even though we have so many differences. It also explains why things like racism and sexism are wrong. Those things focus on a surface difference that doesn’t morally matter, and ignores the thing we have in common, which IS what morally matters!
Some philosophers have alternative explanations for our equal right to life. It’s my view that all of these alternative explanations have major consequences, in that they either entail an equal right to life for a bunch of animals, or they deny a right to life to human infants. I’ll explain this more fully in a follow-up post.
I’ve been using this argument on campuses this year and the results have been incredible. I’ve never seen an argument persuade so many people that abortion is wrong.
I’m going to start regularly posting stories of actual dialogues where I used this argument, so you can see how this works in a real-time conversation.
This material has been heavily influenced by Steve Wagner and Tim Brahm from Justice For All. One of our primary focuses this year has been working on testing this argument and learning how to teach it to others.
The post “The Most Undervalued Argument in the Prolife Movement” originally appeared at JoshBrahm.com. 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.”