We’ve been talking about language in the abortion debate a lot lately. It’s a subject I’ve written on several times before as well. If we want to be as persuasive as possible, it’s not only our arguments that matter, but the words we use that matter as well.
It’s not always easy for a pro-life person to go from using the label they’ve always preferred to a different one though. When we talk to people we form habits, and getting out of habits is always difficult.
I want to tell you the brief story of a woman named Rhonda who decided to change one of the labels she used to favor.
Although she and I had emailed back and forth a bit a few years ago, I didn’t meet her until she showed up at Iowa Right to Life’s annual conference that I spoke at this year. She came and found me and told me the rest of her story, which was so encouraging to me that I asked her permission to share it with you.
Rhonda is wary of moral relativism, so she errs on the side of being very firm on what the truth is. This is why she challenged my use of the term “pro-choice” last year in an email:
One thing I’ve learned is that we must take back the language. I noted your use of the word, ‘pro-choice’. I kindly suggest we refrain from using ‘their’ words to describe what is a barbarous act perpetrated upon an innocent baby. Using terms such as pro-abortion and anti-life are not only appropriate but accurate.
I replied as follows:
Thanks for getting in touch with me, Rhonda. I think the question of what we should call people on the pro-abortion side is complicated. I think there are some people who could accurately be called “pro-abortion” like some of the politicians and activists that have been in Texas the last few weeks. [This was during the debate on a Texas bill banning late-term abortions.] But a lot of people I know and talk to on a regular basis are not pro-abortion. They’re pro-the-choice-of-abortion-being-available or pro-abortion-choice. I wrote a few thoughts about that here and here.
After reading my blog posts, she wrote back:
Please excuse my delay in responding. I wanted to give some serious thought to your articles. First of all, I am coming from a position of standing against all abortion. This is a radical stance to many but, by no means do I feel the right to life should ever be an issue with which we compromise given that the very lives of the unborn are at stake. That said I can appreciate the reasoning you applied to the term pro-choice vs. pro-abortion. Galling as it is, in the sense that the issue is so black and white to me, I agree that in order to win friends and influence people we must be ever mindful that we do not brutally poke the bear we wish to tame.
I happily responded:
I really appreciate this email from you. I’d rather someone take some time and give an idea some thought as opposed to feeling like they need to react right away. It takes me a while to change my mind on something.
I’m completely with you. I’m against all abortions and I hate compromise. I think of this as calling them by a name that isn’t immediately offensive, and defining what I mean by it, so we can talk about the real issue: abortion kills a valuable human being.
We are then, precisely, on the same page.
Rhonda gave me a big hug in Iowa and reminded me of this exchange. She said it completely changed her thinking about how to talk to pro-choice people, and is helping her to have better dialogues.
I told Rhonda that I’m always fascinated in understanding what precisely changes people’s minds about things like this. After reflecting on it for a few weeks, she emailed me to tell me what she had to realize for her mind to be changed:
Through your teachings and others who’ve come alongside I have learned that we must meet people where they are. It’s not enough to be right. We can have Truth on our side but if we beat the unenlightened over the head with it, can we blame them if they ignore our message, or worse, run away?
This concept has been an important theme for us this year. It is possible to navigate the fine line of sharing truth in a loving way that won’t drive people away. You can read more of our thoughts on how to do that here.
Students for Life of America used one of the essential lines from the article to create a meme:
Feel free to share it! We think it’s an important message for any person who wants to persuade others.
Question: What do you think? Does using the label “pro-choice” give up too much rhetorical ground?
The post Why Rhonda Changed Her Mind About Whether to Use the Word “Pro-Choice” originally appeared at the Equal Rights Institute blog. 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.”