Lesson 11: How to Effectively Dialogue About Abortion

It is one thing to know the arguments for the pro-life perspective. It is another thing to be able to articulate them to others in a conversation. To share your views in a manner that will be more likely to persuade people, employ these approaches:

1. Make more statements that end in question marks than end in periods.

Asking questions is important for several reasons: it shows you care and are willing to hear what the other person has to say; it keeps the other person in the conversation; and it forces the individual to explain his or her beliefs.

Take this sample dialogue where the pro-life person (PL) teaches the abortion advocate (AA) by asking questions:

PL: "What do you think about abortion?"
AA: "I believe in a woman's right to choose."
PL: "Why?"
AA: "I believe women have a right to control their own bodies."
PL: "So you think it's wrong for an individual to control someone else's body?"
AA: "Yes."
PL: "Well, if that's the case, how can you support abortion? Doesn't abortion involve someone (the woman) controlling another person’s body (the pre-born child's)?"
AA: "No, because the pre-born aren't persons."
PL: "Well, what are the pre-born then?"
AA: "Potential persons."
PL: "When does a potential person become an actual person?"
AA: "At birth."
PL: "What changes at birth to make the being suddenly a person?"
AA: "It’s no longer in the woman’s body."
PL: "So you support all abortions up to the moment of birth?"
AA: "Of course not! I think abortions should only be done in the first trimester."
PL: "But you just said the pre-born are potential persons until birth. I believe that that view can be refuted, but we’ll deal with that later. The point is, if in your mind the pre-born are not persons at any point during the nine months of pregnancy, and, in fact, are in the woman’s body for 9 months, how can you oppose any abortions? Wouldn’t you have to support all abortions at any point because, according to your perspective, the pre-born are a) not yet persons and b) in the woman's body?"

The dialogue could go on but this sample conversation demonstrates this point: asking questions which force the abortion advocate to justify her views can reveal problems in her way of thinking.

2. If the "pro-choice" individual opposes abortion in some circumstances, ask for the reasons he or she uses to defend that perspective.

The average person does not support all abortions, nor does she oppose all abortions. When an individual identifies what circumstances she supports abortion and what ones she opposes, it is helpful to focus on the ones she opposes.

By making use of the first approach (asking questions) and applying it to the circumstances where the individual opposes abortion, that individual will be, to some extent, expressing a pro-life view. Once the individual has revealed her reasons for why abortion is sometimes wrong, you then take her reasons, or refine them (if needed) to show why abortion is always wrong.

Take this sample dialogue where the pro-life person (PL) discovers the abortion advocate’s (AA) reasons for opposing some abortions.

PL: "I heard of a woman who had an abortion because she had a trip planned to Hawaii and the pregnancy interfered with that. Do you believe that is wrong?"
AA: "That’s awful! Of course I do. If a woman has been raped or can’t afford another child, then she should be allowed to have an abortion. But if it’s just a matter of the inconvenience of being pregnant while on vacation, that’s just selfish and wrong."
PL: "Why is it wrong?"
AA: "It just is. It should be obvious."
PL: "But there must be reasons behind what appears to be obvious to you. Please help me understand why."
AA: "You can’t kill just because you’re going on vacation."
PL: "Well, if abortion is killing, as you just admitted, when would it ever be okay to directly and intentionally kill an innocent and vulnerable human being?"

3. Tell a story.

Stories are a good way to communicate a point because they take something familiar—something that the listener understands and can relate to—and build the lesson into it. By communicating a principle within a story that the listener would agree with, you can then show how it relates to abortion.

Here is a story that responds to the question of illegal abortion, and which incorporates this principle: You don’t legalize an act that harms an innocent person just because the person committing the injustice is going to get hurt:

In 1994, Susan Smith killed her two toddlers in South Carolina by putting them in the backseat of her car and rolling it into a lake. Imagine that more women do what Smith did. Whether they are stressed out with their children, or are dating men who do not want children, or have some other reason, they, in mass numbers, drown their offspring.

But, unlike Smith, imagine that woman after woman drives her car into the lake with the plan of escaping out an open window. If many women fail in their efforts to get out of the cars before they sink, thereby dying when killing their children, should society make drowning one’s children legal? In fact, should society even facilitate the process by helping women kill their children in a manner that doesn’t threaten their own lives?

Such a situation may seem absurd but it illustrates this point: you don’t change a law which protects the innocent simply because someone will break that law and get harmed in the process. The same goes for abortion.

4. Demonstrate your point.

When things are acted out or illustrated, they are retained more easily. For example, an important principle to communicate is that although the pre-born child's appearance and abilities changes during the pregnancy, her value as a human being does not.

To illustrate that point, pull a $5 bill out of your wallet and ask the abortion advocate if she recognizes its value and, in fact, would take it if you offered. Then fold the corners, form it into a ball, and stomp on it. Ask the abortion advocate if she still recognizes its value and would still take it if you offered. Although this is not a perfect comparison, it illustrates the point that one’s value is independent of changing features.

5. Transform a challenging or critical remark into a thought-provoking one. Go from a reactive position to a proactive one.

Abortion advocates may ask a question that is designed to make the pro-lifer defend herself. It is important for the pro-lifer to remember the abortion advocate supports killing innocent children and that’s the position that should be challenged.

For example, a pro-lifer who uses graphic visuals may hear this complaint: "I tend to agree with you that abortion is wrong, but I don’t agree with your tactics. In fact, it’s disgusting that you’re parading these images in public and you should stop it."

Although the pro-lifer could defend her approach of using pictures—a reactive position—she could move to a proactive position by saying, "I appreciate that you’re outspoken with your concerns. And since you tend to agree that abortion is wrong, have you also called the local abortion clinic to complain that they’re killing babies and to tell them to stop?"

Here are other examples:

AA: "You’re probably like all the other crazy anti-abortionists and support the death penalty."
Reactive response:
PL: "I actually don’t support the death penalty." Or "Even though I support the death penalty it is different because..."
Proactive response:
PL: [avoids getting sidetracked on the death penalty]: "Are you against the death penalty?"
AA: "Absolutely."
PL: "That’s very merciful of you to oppose killing guilty people. But I’m confused about how you can, in good conscience, support killing innocent people?"
AA: "Are you willing to adopt the children you don’t want aborted?"
Reactive response:
PL: "I actually have adopted children." Or "I know people who have adopted children." Or "I’m not in a position to adopt."
Proactive response:
PL: "You probably think that I’m not willing to adopt children, so let’s assume for the sake of discussion that that’s the case. How does my supposed unwillingness to adopt children justify other people killing them?"

6. Find common ground.

With every subject of debate, there usually are some elements of common ground between opposing sides. Whether both parties are equally passionate or are motivated by similar values, there is a way to highlight these similarities in order to advance the pro-life perspective.

For example, both pro-lifers and abortion advocates care about women. The pro-lifer should highlight this, and then explain how the abortion advocate’s concern is not addressed through abortion:

You seem to care a lot about women. So do I; in fact, that’s a reason why I’m pro-life. I think abortion is a sign that our society has failed women, because it’s telling women they need to kill their children in order to be equal with men. It’s communicating to women that they need to kill their children in order to deal with difficult life circumstances.

Another example is with freedom. Abortion advocates frequently define abortion in terms of freedom. The pro-lifer believes in the importance of freedom as well. That’s the common ground. The challenge for the pro-lifer is to define what true freedom is and to show how the abortion advocate’s goal—freedom—is actually part of the pro-life view, not the pro-"choice" view:

You seem to be concerned with freedom. I am too. But what is freedom? As international speaker and author Matthew Kelly insightfully points out, Freedom is not simply the circumstances that allow you to do whatever you want. Freedom is not only the opportunity to choose. Freedom is the strength of character to choose and to do what is right.'1