A pro-life conversation guide for the holidays
By Paul Stark
Editor’s note. Yes, it is amazing. Thanksgiving is this Thursday, yet you already see Christmas decorations and ideas for presents. The following remains my favorite advice how to promote the cause of life in an effective and non-offensive manner. My only suggestion might be to move (7) up to (1).
The holiday dinner table offers a natural forum for congenial (hopefully!) conversation about current events and issues. Defenders of unborn human life should be prepared to take advantage of opportunities when they arise. Here are some suggestions to help you effectively discuss abortion with family members and friends who may not share the pro-life view.
(1) Know how to clarify the issue
When faced with an argument or reason for abortion, ask yourself whether it works to justify killing obvious examples of rights-bearing human beings, such as newborn babies, toddlers, teenagers and adults. If not, it assumes that the being killed by abortion, the unborn (i.e., the human embryo or “fetus”), is not an intrinsically valuable human being, like toddlers and teenagers–that is, it simply assumes the very conclusion it must defend.
For example, a woman should not have a “right to choose” to drown her toddler in the bathtub. The question at hand is whether the unborn, like a toddler, deserves full moral respect and ought not to be killed for the convenience or benefit of others. If so, killing the unborn by abortion, like killing a toddler for the same reasons, is a serious moral wrong.
(2) Know how to articulate the pro-life argument
The pro-life position is that elective abortion unjustly takes the life of an innocent human being. This position is supported by modern science (showing that what abortion kills is a human being, a member of our species) together with a foundational moral principle (the equal fundamental dignity and right to life of every member of the human family).
The science of embryology tells us that the unborn from conception is a distinct, living and whole human organism–a member of the species Homo sapiens, the same kind of being as each of us, only at a much earlier stage of development. This fact is uniformly affirmed by embryology textbooks and leading experts.
Morally, no relevant difference exists between human beings before and after birth. Unborn humans differ from older humans, such as newborns, in their size, level of development, environment and degree of dependency–remember the helpful acronym SLED–but none of those differences are significant in a way that would justify killing the former. For example, a five-year-old child lacks the physical and mental abilities of a 10-year-old, but she is no less valuable and deserving of respect and protection.
Each of us has a right to life by virtue of what (i.e., the kind of being) we are, rather than because of acquired characteristics or abilities that only some human beings have and others do not. So all human beings, including the unborn, are equal in having basic dignity and a right not to be killed without just cause.
(3) Know how to respond to common objections
Claims by abortion advocates about the number of women who died from illegal abortions are wildly overstated, as NARAL co-founder Dr. Bernard Nathanson frankly admitted. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 39 women died from illegal abortion in 1972, the year before Roe v. Wade, while 24 died from legal abortion (abortion had been legalized in some circumstances in some states). Maternal mortality improved in the decades preceding Roe as a result of advances in modern medicine having nothing to do with legal abortion.
If you cannot answer a challenge, don’t let it fluster you. Be honest and say you will get back to the challenger after thinking and reading more about the issue.
(4) Know facts about fetal development
In addition to knowing that the life of a human organism, a human being, begins at conception (see above), it is useful to know some details about the development of human beings in the womb. These facts bring home for many people the humanity of the unborn child. For example, the heart begins to beat about three weeks after conception, before many women even know they are pregnant. At about six weeks, brain waves can be detected. By 20 weeks, a wealth of evidence indicates that unborn children can experience excruciating pain.
The stunning complexity of prenatal human development is “beyond any comprehension of any existing mathematics today,” says renowned medical imaging expert and mathematician Alexander Tsiaras.
(5) Know how abortion can hurt women
The health risks of abortion, both physical and psychological, are very well documented. Familiarize yourself with a few facts.
For example, many studies suggest that abortion can increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer. Moreover, while no one ultimately regrets not having an abortion, many, many (though of course not all) women now deeply regret their decision in favor of abortion. A 2011 meta-analysis published in the prestigious British Journal of Psychiatry–“the largest quantitative estimate of mental health risks associated with abortion available in the world literature”–found an 81 percent increased risk of mental health problems among women who have had abortions.
(6) Know about alternatives to abortion and compassionate support for women
Both motherhood and adoption are ethical, life-affirming options. Some 3,000 pro-life pregnancy care centers across the United States stand ready to help pregnant women in need. Many programs are available to help women and others deal with the aftermath of abortion.
(7) Be winsome
Pro-lifers must be kind, respectful, fair-minded and willing to listen and respond thoughtfully to those who disagree. Don’t call someone “pro-abortion” in conversation, since it is usually inconsistent with how he sees his position and can turn him off to productive dialogue. Show compassion toward pregnant women facing difficult circumstances and women who have undergone abortions.
(8) Ask questions
Instead of relying just on blunt assertions–and putting the burden of proof on yourself–ask strategic questions to poke holes in someone’s position and get him thinking. Make him defend his claims. For example, if he says a baby becomes a person after birth, ask how a mere trip through the birth canal, a shift in location, can change who/what someone is or whether or not she has a right to life. If a pro-choice advocate says he is personally opposed to abortion but thinks it should remain legal, ask why he is opposed; note that the reason for personal opposition (abortion kills a human being) is precisely the reason abortion should not be permitted under law. (I recommend the “tactical approach” developed by Greg Koukl and used in Ch. 9 of Scott Klusendorf’s The Case for Life.)
You probably won’t change someone’s mind on the spot. But you can have a friendly conversation and give him or her something to think about. That should be your goal.
This appeared on the blog of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL), National Right to Life’s state affiliate. Paul Stark is MCCL communications associate.