Pro-Lifers Need to Defend Their Views Too

Don’t you hate it when pro-choice advocates refuse to defend their views past one or two levels of argument?  This has happened to me many times, and it’s aggravating because the topic of abortion is so serious.  Lives are literally on the line, yet some people are too intellectually lazy to spend more than two minutes attempting to ground their views in something deeper than bumper sticker slogans.

Yet for some reason, I’m more annoyed when pro-lifers do the same thing.

This happened to me recently in a debate that was bizarre on several levels, and there’s a few lessons I’d like to draw from it for the benefit of my friends and colleagues.  Even though this debate took place publicly on Facebook, I’m going to protect the person’s identity and just refer to her as “J.”  Her comments are only adjusted for spelling and grammatical accuracy. I’ll tell the story and end with a few lessons of application.

Some acquaintances of mine were encouraging pro-lifers to post pro-life fliers around their towns on January 1st, 2012.  Their hope was that a bunch of college students will see pro-life fliers appear on bulletin boards around campus and begin to rethink their position.  Whether or not they got enough people to participate, I applaud them for their passion and creativity.

As I perused the Facebook event page, I noticed a wall post by J that said,

I will be putting pictures ON Planned Parenthoods. :)”

I responded that this would actually be illegal, and J countered:

“You are allowed to go to a Planned Parenthood public clinic.  Anyone is. I have put pro-life stickers that come off easily on their property before.  They called the cops, and the cops said I did NOT break the law. :)  The only way they can keep me off is a no trespassing order since they are a public clinic that is tax funded.  mwoahahhaha till then!”

I began a dialogue with her about the issue.  I won’t post the entire thread, (J ended up deleting the entire thing when she promptly ended all debate,) but I will sum up the main arguments J made for her position:

  1. My parents are officers, my dad is the town’s Chief of Police and they confirmed what the other local officers said about me being allowed to put stickers on PP property.
  2. I’m not saying everyone has to do this, but I’m going to do it. “To each their own.”

I responded that I’m not just worried about her getting in trouble but her harming other pro-life activities in her area.  “Bubble zone laws” have been passed in some cities without any pro-life infractions, as in the case of Walter Hoye.  Imagine how much easier it would be to pass a bubble zone law in a city where the abortion facility has video tape of a pro-lifer purposefully defacing the property!  J just repeated her “to each their own” mantra.

Do you see the irony here?  One of the most common pro-choice arguments dismissive statements is “don‘t like abortion, don‘t have one,” but that statement completely misses the point of our pro-life case.  We don’t merely believe elective abortion is wrong for us individually.  We believe elective abortion is wrong for everyone.

It’s not like choosing a favorite ice cream flavor.  I like chocolate peanut butter, you like vanilla.  (For some mysterious reason.)  “Don’t like chocolate peanut butter, don’t eat chocolate peanut butter.”  No, we believe that elective abortion is wrong for virtually everybody because it kills a living, distinct, whole human being.  The statement “don’t like abortion, don’t have one” tries to transform our objective claim to a merely subjective one that is easy to dismiss.

Imagine if someone told William Wilberforce, “Don’t like slavery, don’t own a slave.”  They would have been missing the abolitionists’ point.  They didn’t just not like slavery; they thought slavery was objectively wrong because it dehumanized a whole community of human beings.

I explained to J that my argument is: her action may (as a matter of objective fact) actually harm pro-life activities in her area.  Thus, her “don’t like it, don’t do it” argument is comparable to dismissing my objective claim with a statement similar to “don’t like abortion, don’t have one.”  Unfortunately, she just reacted by being upset that I was comparing what she said to “a pro-abort statement.”

At this point I attempted to simply clarify the facts of what her Dad/Police Chief told her, and asked if her father could call me and explain why J’s actions would be legal. Her response?

“Thanks :) that is all. God Bless. ♥”

Instead of offering evidence, she simply ended the conversation. She added:

“I will also say if sidewalk counseling makes you uneasy then find something else that works for you.”

I responded:

I’m not at all uneasy about sidewalk counseling. I created the Fresno sidewalk counseling training ministry. I’m concerned about your actions because I think it could result in LESS sidewalk counseling in your area.

I respect your passion for pro-life. I’m just trying to learn why this action would be legal.

She responded that she’s done talking about it, so in a last ditch effort, I said:

I will respect your request to not continue debating it. Would you please ask your dad to contact me and inform me why my understanding of the law is inaccurate? He can email me at Josh@RightToLifeCA.org or call my office at 559-229-BABY (2229)

She refused to ask her dad to contact me and she also refused to find one legal expert that would agree with her legal assessment.

She was later encouraged by an admin of that event to not do anything that would get her in trouble, yet she responded with her boldest statement yet:

“I have done this before, both my parents are cops, my best friend is a cop, I WORK with cops (fire dept) … I am not breaking the damned law.  [I’m] seriously not okay with people whining on this.”

End of story. Here’s the point: be willing to defend your views. Give a reason for the claim you are making or explain it in different terms so that you extend the conversation instead of simply shutting it down.  It’s what we want pro-choice people to do (or attempt to do) when we talk with them.

Why do we sometimes get this attitude like we’re above that?  Probably because we aren’t open-minded.  If you truly think that right now even one of the millions of beliefs you have is false and that you’re on a journey to learn more true things and fewer false ones, then you will embrace dialogues like this, to test your ideas as well as other peoples ideas.

Are there some dialogues that are not worth having?  Yes.  Here are a few examples where that is the case:

You’re talking to a bully.  If I was bullying J or showed that I didn’t really care to know why she believes what she believes and was just trying to vomit my opinion on her, I think it would be more defensible for J to politely bow out of the conversation after a while.  As Scott Klusendorf said on Life Report last year, “There are Learners and there are Crusaders.”  You should spend most of your time with the Learners. You should also make it your goal to be a Learner yourself.

You’ve already answered all the questions.  There are some issues where you can debate every layer of it and still disagree on much of it.  At some point, both people are going to be ready to call it a day, but that usually comes when both parties know they’ve run out of questions and challenges for the other, and can then resign themselves to the fact that they just disagree right now.  At least one of them is still wrong about the subject, but today’s debate was not enough to persuade either of them.  It happens.

Photo Credit: JFAweb.org

There’s a time-sensitive issue at play. In the Spring of 2011 Justice For All came to Fresno State, and there was some down-time right after lunch where almost no one was hanging around to talk about abortion, except the guy in the picture on the right.  I continued to talk with him for 45 minutes because 1) he wanted to talk, and 2) even though he didn’t seem open-minded, I didn’t have others to talk to, so trusting God to work through this conversation He was making available, I continued.  However, when it was clear that there were others to talk to, I politely ended the conversation, trusting that God would use the time I had spent with this gentleman in whatever way He deemed appropriate.

The difficult thing about decisions like this is that it’s hard to know which conversations are actually productive.  I had a 75-minute conversationwith a pro-choice woman at Fresno State that same weekend that didn’t seem to be going anywhere until the last 5 minutes when she said, “I hadn’t thought of that before. I guess I won’t have an abortion if I get pregnant now.”

As Steve Wagner, the Director of Training at Justice For All, says,

“Because we don’t know what’s actually going on in the mind of the person we’re talking with, we should prayerfully make decisions on which conversations seem to be most productive.  Here are some of the factors I consider in making those decisions:  Is the person I’m talking to open to rethinking?  Is she open to discarding false views, working through her questions, or considering the arguments I’m presenting?  Is God working through the conversation to help me rethink?  If the answer is yes to any of these questions, I tends to think the conversation is worth having.”

Feel free to add more examples in the comments.

Pro-life advocates ought to be known as thoughtful people, and part of being thoughtful means thinking carefully about your views, and then when alternative ideas are offered, defending your view, or if the other person’s arguments are superior to yours, being willing to change your mind.

  • Jackie Mitchell

    Good article, Josh.  It’s always challenging to know when or how to end a debate.  My guess would be that this person was not confident enough in her views to continue discussing it with you. 

    I  have noticed that as I get better at defending the pro-life position, I am able to accept that the debate may not end with the person changing their mind. But you plant the seeds and let the person know that there is not a consensus in America on baby-killing.  When I was a less seasoned activist, I would put a lot more ego and emotion into the debate and might take it personally if I didn’t feel like the person was accepting my arguments.  I think this same phenomenon could happen in strategy debates among Pro–Lifers as well. 

    • http://www.facebook.com/josh.brahm Josh Brahm

      Well said, Jackie.

    • Oedipa

       “let the person know that there is not a consensus in America on baby-killing.”

      Very correct. There is not a consensus. That is why we are where we are today, that it’s available to women to follow their own values. Mr. Brahm may despise the glib “Don’t like abortion? Don’t have one” axiom, but it’s actually a concise description of the law of the land. Precisely because there is no consensus.

      • JoAnna Wahlund

         Just curious, but do you also support the decriminalization of, say, rape and murder, so that people are free to follow their own values in that regard as well?

  • Jordan Elizabeth

    I know! That’s so sad– I hate when people injure the pro-life movement by using false arguments. Actually, I don’t think there would be any argument if we got rid of those arguments, only constructive discussion ending in conversion to pro-life values or silence. Please, PLEASE, guys, no ad hominem arguments and read up on pro-life defense like crazy. Neil Mammen’s online paper “How to Respond to Abortion Arguments without Using the Bible” is a good start.

    The ad hominem ones are the WORST! I had a pro-HHS-mandate aquaintance tell me that I’d understand the importance of reproductive freedom when I got older. It’s so frustrating.

    • Guest

      I don’t think pro-lifers use ad hominem arguments that often.  From what I’ve observed, abortion proponents tend to use them more.  With that being said, there are definitely some common pro-life arguments that we should avoid altogether, as well as some that should be used sparingly in select situations. 

      This is a good place to start:

      http://prolifepodcast.net/2012/02/josh-brahm-live-9-faulty-pro-life-arguments-tactics/

  • Catherine

    Excellent post, I’ve been wondering if the arguments I have with pro”choice” acquaintances and friends have any real impact. I’ve come to the same conclusions as you about how it’s fruitless to spend a lot of time trying to engage a friend who is completely closed off to considering the other side. I’ve discovered that when people post pro-abortion/contraceptive articles or any controversial subject on Facebook, that in no way confirms that they are open to having a dialog about it other than with people who agree with them and will “like” their post many times over. They may either get defensive and offended immediately regardless of how benign and respectful my comment is, or begin a dialog but as soon as they lose the upper hand, they tell me not to comment on their posts anymore because I’m not respecting their views and they don’t comment on mine so I should also ignore theirs. It’s frustrating but I think in those situations prayer is much more fruitful than spinning one’s wheels in a dead-end argument. I especially avoid commenting on “rants.”

  • Arual

    Great article! I think it’s really important that pro-lifers realize that we need to be the ones to rise above pro-aborts who only stick to their rhetoric. We have to lead them to the truth, and in a kind way. Never stoop to their level. Know your stuff to back it up, people!

  • Wade Felty

    Give me a break. You guys are ALWAYS attacking pro-choice people, you aren’t the ones being attacked, women and pro-choice citizens are. We are always subjected to your propaganda and evangelizing, and in case you haven’t noticed, no one wants to hear your views on what others should do with their bodies. Get a life, and do something more fulfilling than being being a surrogate Catholic priest. 

    • Janicemsherwood

      I believe in free choice as well if it a choice to benefit all.  When a womens free choice takes away anothers free choice it destroys the whole concept.  The value of free choice is when it gives freedom to all.  When you say it’s their body, you’re correct.  Their child’s body is their own as well.  Because, his or her home is in her mothers womb, like we once were, should they be denied the choice to live or die.  I know they can’t speak for themselves yet, so others have to be their voice.  If that were you, wouldn’t you want someone to help you?

      • Wade Felty

        I’ve thought about that for a long time, but come to the conclusion that no, I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t be here, so how would I care? A child when attached to a mother, is at best a parasitic organism, a thing that needs a host to live, not an independent being of its own and in the end, the more important consideration is the already alive and functioning being and society as a whole. A child will add costs and burdens to society, the woman, and the environment. I would rather not have more and more people around gobbling up resources. It would make no difference to me if I didn’t exist.

        • Janicemsherwood

          Fortunately Wade, we do exist and have the freedom to experience life.  A newborn baby also needs a host to live, so should a mother have free choice there as well?  I notice you said child would be a burden.  So you also recognize this is a child.  This child could also be a benefit and joy to society.  He or she is a person whose life is as precious as ours.

          As people, we all depend on each other, so in many ways, we all depend on hosts to live on.  Should we all have free choice to end each others lives, because we feel like a host? 

          • Wade Felty

            You asked if I would want someone to help me, and I answered as honestly as possible. It’s not an issue because I couldn’t want someone to help me because I would not exist, therefore, why would I care? A child is by definition a burden, a drain on resources, whether its money, time, food, or shelter. So that child’s life is as precious as the mothers? So what happens when their rights are in conflict? I wish people like you could devote yourself to bettering the world and yourself instead of obsessing about abortion. 

          • Guest

            I wish people like you would devote yourself to bettering the world and yourself rather then spending all day on pro-life websites bashing pro-lifers. Seriously?! And remember, you were born a “burden”, too.

          • Helper

            I do volunteer w/women and children. I live what I believe. There are few resources for young mothers. I do not understand why pro-lifers do not spend time and money creating resources so that pregnant women dont NEED to go have an abortion.
            Many given the resources most would not consider an abortion.

          • Guest

            Are you not familiar with pro-life pregnancy resource centres (which greatly outnumber abortion clinics across North America)?

            http://apassiontoserve.org/

    • Guest

      Pro-lifers are forced to fund the biggest abortion chain through their tax money, are constantly subjected to pro-abortion messages, face frequent censorship on campuses, and are often ignored or marginalized by the mass media.  Pro-lifers have also faced vandalism, death threats, and actual violent attacks.  An elected senator even recently said that pro-lifers don’t deserve civil rights.  But despite all this, I agree that pro-lifers are not the ones being attacked.  The victims are the millions of defenseless babies being killed every year, not the people that try to advocate for them.

      Not all women support legal abortion.  In case you haven’t noticed, the pro-life movement is primarily led by women.  All of them are at least honest enough to realize that a fetus with a different genome, a separate heartbeat, and (in many cases) a different gender and blood type, isn’t part of their body but a separate person with equal rights.

      If nobody wanted to hear our case, I doubt Live Action would have over 300000 Facebook fans (again, most of them women).  I doubt the public opinion polls would keep trending away from the pro-choice position.  I doubt that one of the Catholic Church’s most vehement critics would publicly state that the pro-life position has its merits (http://www.jillstanek.com/2011/12/rip-christopher-hitchens-abortion-survivor-post-abortive-father-cognitive-pro-lifer/).

      What’s does “getting a life” mean to you?  Is it repeatedly posting insulting comments on blogs we disagree with?

      • Wade Felty

        Good question, and I thought about, and since you guys say that the argument of “don’t like abortion don’t get one” is wrong because the life of the fetus/zygote is more important than the mother and therefore you have the right to make the rules on how women can live, since you are obviously always correct, then I also have the right to criticize you, since you do claim authority over everyone. 

        • Guest

          You indeed have every right to criticize us, if not the obligation to do so.  You can and should challenge us to think critically about our position and revise it if necessary.  Conversely, I have the right and responsibility to do the same to you.  But surely you can do it without insulting people?  I think you can, and I think you should.  We’re not as weird as we look.

          You’ve made a series of rather unusual claims.  The remark “don’t like abortion don’t get one” (which, by the way, isn’t an argument at all but a command) is wrong because it confuses an objective claim with a preferential one.  The objective claim is that abortion is a violent act that unjustly kills a human being, which means that it should not remain a legal choice.  This is certainly a controversial claim that can be debated, but it’s either true or it’s not.  It’s not a preference that pro-lifers “like” or “dislike”.  I don’t like the idea of getting a Yoshi tattoo on my back, and I would therefore never get one.  But I wouldn’t stop someone else from doing so.  If someone wanted to rob a bank, on the other hand, I would hope that the law would prevent them from doing so.  Whether or not I personally like the bank that they’re trying to rob is irrelevant.

          Next, you said that we value the life of the fetus over the life of the mother.  This is incorrect.  I value all humans equally, including pregnant women and unborn children.  In almost all cases, abortion is not done to save the life of either.  We oppose abortion because the life of the baby should have priority over a woman’s right to avoid the burdens of pregnancy and childbirth.  Abortion is acceptable in the very rare cases where it’s necessary to save the mother’s life.

          I am obviously always correct?  Everyone thinks that they are always correct.  If I thought any of my beliefs were wrong, I wouldn’t hold those beliefs.  Surely you feel the same way about yourself?  Democracy gives the people the authority to make rules about how people can live.  It allows the pro-life position to compete in the marketplace of ideas, and allows people to elect representatives that share their views on issues that matter to them.  Finally, people are required to defend their position and convince others to think the same way.

          • Wade Felty

            One day, we will legislate how you can live every aspect of your life, and see how you like it. I’m surprised all anti-choice women aren’t pregnant all the time. 

          • Guest

            Apparently not then.  It was worth a shot…

          • Wade Felty

            Are you saying that’s not what you do? 

          • Wade Felty

            And yes, you are as weird as you look,  and if you take your arguments to their logical extreme, all women who are anti-choice should always be pregnant, as long as they are of child bearing age. In fact maybe we should observe them to find out what they are doing at all times to make sure that if they have sexual relations they are doing it for the proper reason, pro-creation (however I’m sure most of them don’t have that problem). And I’m sure if you are a man, you are doing your utmost to adopt all the unwanted children in society that your cause is responsible for. If you are going to be responsible for 50 million extra people, you’d better be prepared to face the consequences, unless of course, you are just a hypocrite – give us babies lots of babies but don’t expect me to pay for it !!!! (you say to yourself). And it’s hilarious that so many of you snobby, white upper middle class Christian evangelicals claim to care so much about black people, when people like you vote for candidates who hate black people and most of you probably won’t associate with black people. You’re obsession with women’s bodies is as astounding as it is sick and perverted. Why don’t you move to Afghanistan or Iran, where you can control “your woman” as much as you wish you could here. I can’t believe that people like you come from the same Western civilization that I do, because I always thought that the Enlightenment, equality and secularism were our inheritance, not religious extremism and misogyny which is much more suitable to Iran.  

          • Meredith071

            There are many people who would be thrilled to adopt a child from a mother who feels she cannot raise it (even ones who are ill and/or disabled) and as for the ones who choose to keep their babies and do need help, yes, I would rather have my taxes go to that rather than have them pay for the babies to be murdered!

          • Wade Felty

            A white adopted child. 

          • Meredith071

            Color honestly wouldn’t matter to me if I was adopting a child.

            In a message dated 3/6/2012 11:15:56 P.M. Eastern Standard Time, writes:

            (http://disqus.com/)

            Wade Felty wrote, in response to Meredith071:
            A white adopted child.

            _Link to comment_ (h ttp://disq.us/5uguch?imp=fa0baa34-4cd7-4337-83ca-9b7e70a90926&thread=595056238&zone=email_notification&event=shortener_click)

          • Meredith071

            Oh, and I do know a white couple who adopted FOUR black children.

            In a message dated 3/6/2012 11:15:56 P.M. Eastern Standard Time, writes:

            (http://disqus.com/)

            Wade Felty wrote, in response to Meredith071:
            A white adopted child.

            _Link to comment_ (http://disq.us/5uguch?imp=fa0baa34-4cd7-4337-83ca-9b7e70a90926&thread=595056238&zone=email_notification&event=shortener_click)

          • Helper

            yr taxes will be used to support these unwanted children on welfare, medicare, foster care, prison, link cards…

          • Meredith071

            Because some of us make the CHOICE to not want children, and many of us are even on (gasp!) BIRTH CONTROL because of that! lol
            P.S. Which candidates in particular “hate” black people?

      • Guest
        • Wade Felty

          Lovely, I read it, and Jill Stanek, that odious woman, HATES him because he isn’t religious or Christian. You don’t even value your anti-choice allies! You use them to buttress your arguments and use them as window-dressing. The Anti-Choice movement is a Christian movement and anyone that thinks otherwise is hopelessly deluded. 

          • Guest

            I don’t see how hoping that Hitchens didn’t end up in Hell is a hateful thing to write.  He wrote far nastier stuff himself, at one point remarking that “it’s a shame that there is no hell for [Jerry] Falwell to go to”.  Jill Stanek is a Christian, and Christians believe that people who reject God and refuse to repent do go to Hell.  I don’t necessarily agree with everything she writes, and I don’t expect you to either.  I linked there simply because it provided a good summary of his views on abortion.  I value and will work with any “anti-choice allies”, regardless of whether or not they’re religious.

            Even if the pro-life movement was strictly Christian, that wouldn’t matter.  Remember that Martin Luther King Jr. and William Wilberforce were both very devout Christians.  The case against abortion stands or falls on its own merits.  A rational person would consider the arguments, not the people that make them.

  • http://www.facebook.com/elaineshomepage Elaine Sultana Micallef Valenz

    I agree with you.  Abortion is wrong in itself, not just because we and many others believe that it is.  Unfortunately people have used other means of reinforcing this argument, such as the fact that a potentially great person might lose their chance at life.  That is NOT the argument.  EVERYONE has a right to life. 

    If the mother-to-be is unable to face the responsibility of raising the child, then a childless couple or childless person should raise the child.  What saddens me, too, is that so many women are even keen to run the risk of HIV by resorting to certain fertility treatments.  Instead of running this risk, they could adopt a child.