We’ve all had it happen.
As soon as you finish explaining your pro-life views to a person or group of people, that’s when the trouble starts. The snarky questions immediately and endlessly start flowing:
“Oh, you’re pro-life? So what are you doing about gun violence? Or war? Or racism?”
“Oh, so you’re pro-life? You can’t get pregnant, so who are you to tell me what to do with my body?”
“Oh, so you’re pro-life? So you would force me to be pregnant against my will?”
“Oh, so you’re pro-life? You don’t care if women die from illegal abortions, do you?”
“Oh, so you’re pro-life? So you think it’s fine to force a woman who has been raped to give birth to a baby she doesn’t want?”
The list is endless, with critics demanding all sorts of explanations of the pro-life advocate. As soon as you begin giving your responses to the questions, they change the subject, and grow even more smug as they pepper you with questions.
In every controversial issue up for debate, there are generally two types of people: Those seeking explanations, and those seeking excuses. In order to be an effective pro-life advocate, you must learn to differentiate between the two. As I have written in an earlier piece, these types of individuals usually fall into one of two groups: Inquirers, and Crusaders. (1) You must recognize and respond to each one differently.
An Inquirer is someone seeking an explanation. Generally, they are interested in pursuing dialogue, even if they disagree with you. They may want to poke holes in your view, but generally it’s not done out of malice, but instead to change your mind. Inquirers genuinely want to engage the argument. Their goal is noble, even if wrong-headed.
Crusaders, who may also be called Steamrollers (to borrow a term from Greg Koukl), are different. They don’t care how nice you are. They aren’t interested in productive conversation; they want to beat you up. The Crusader is not looking for explanations; he’s looking for excuses to dismiss what you have to say. In their mind, the abortion issue is already settled in their favor, and the only reason a person could oppose abortion is because they are just a horrible human being — and it is the Crusader’s job to make you aware of it. It’s a way of persuading a person by shaming them into accepting one’s viewpoint, instead of providing rational reasons to accept their point of view.
I have seen this happen countless times both to others and myself. The questions asked by Crusaders are often rhetorical and geared toward making you look like the worst person on the planet. You get asked the questions one after another in rapid succession without being given time to properly answer, and by the time you do, the conversation shifts once again.
Fortunately, there is a simple way to get around this tactic:
Call their bluff
Let’s revisit the questions above. Whenever I tell a critic I am pro-life, I don’t have to guess what the first response will be: “Oh, you say you’re ‘pro-life’? What are you doing about (insert any social justice issue here)? You say you’re pro-life, but what are you doing for people who are already born?”
Very often well-meaning pro-lifers will point to the litany of resources provided by pro-life advocates to women who choose life and their children.
That’s the wrong answer. While it is true that pro-lifers do provide these resources (and our critics do owe an explanation for why they seem to hate pro-lifers who do so), the question is most often being asked by Crusaders so they can weasel out from having their views called into question. He wants to shut you up by shaming you for being (in his eyes) a hypocrite and moral monster.
I recently observed a conversation had by a fellow pro-life advocate which illustrates this.
After offering a resource pamphlet to a passerby containing free information about where a woman considering abortion could find help so she wouldn’t have to get an abortion, the following exchange occurred:
Passerby: “Oh, so you’re pro-life? So what do you do for the baby after birth? Do you provide housing, clothing or food?”
Pro-lifer: “Some of the places listed in that brochure do those things”
Passerby: “Oh, but what about months or years later? Do you provide women with free housing and resources for all eighteen years until the child leaves home? See, I didn’t think so, which means you really don’t care about the child after all.”
Notice what is going on here. The critic got an answer to her question: Yes, pro-lifers do provide resources after the baby is born. And she didn’t care. She wasn’t looking for an explanation; she wanted an excuse to dismiss anything the pro-lifer said. This is blatant intellectual dishonesty. And the Crusader needs to be called on it.
Here’s a better way to respond:
“Tell me, if pro-lifers like me did more to address those issues you mentioned, would you join me in opposing abortion?” When asked, the answer is almost always a resounding “No!” To which one should reply “Then why did you bring it up, given you just told me that it’s not the reason you support abortion? If you have a good reason for thinking abortion is okay, then why don’t you share that with me instead of calling me a hypocrite? Is that fair?”
What you’re doing is getting your critic to be honest with you. Is your perceived lack of engagement on behalf of born people really what’s keeping him from accepting the pro-life position? Probably not. So he needs to explain what he thinks the problem is with the pro-life view, instead of taking cheap character shots.
Suppose your critic bites the bullet. During a recent conversation with a student at a university campus, she told me “Well, I’d have more respect for you if you did more for born people.” I responded “Maybe so. But you shouldn’t accept my views on this topic just because you think I’m a nice guy. I could still very well be wrong. You should only accept my position if there are good reasons to do so, not because you happen to like me as a person.” Even the nicest people in the world can still be wrong about issues that matter. Ideas and arguments stand or fall on the substance which supports them, not the personal character attributes of the people who make the arguments.
Incidentally, it’s worth noting objections about inconsistency tend to be selectively applied to those who oppose abortion. As Scott Klusendorf notes, no one faults the American Cancer society for exclusively focusing on fighting cancer and not fighting heart disease. No one seems to have a problem with a group such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD for short) focusing exclusively on reducing DUI crash fatalities while not spending time talking about gun violence or deaths from fentanyl. So why are pro-lifers expected to fix the world’s problems in order to be taken seriously? No one finds fault with the exclusive interests of a social interest group unless they are looking for an excuse to ignore or reject the messaging of the group in the first place.
Let’s look at another question. Suppose a critic asks “Well if you’re so pro-life, what about women dying from illegal abortions?”
First, again, pro-lifers should ask a clarifying question:
“Let’s suppose we passed a law prohibiting abortions, but it also included measures to prevent women from ever having to obtain dangerous illegal abortions in the first place. Suppose we guaranteed no woman would die from illegal abortion. Would you support such a measure?”
An Inquirer, if they are being honest, would have to say “yes.” For a Crusader, the answer is almost always “no.” Very few people support keeping abortion legal because they believe it protects women from dangerous back-alley procedures (the number of which is usually dishonestly overstated). They believe abortion should be legal because it doesn’t kill another human being. Fair enough. Maybe the pro-choice position is correct on this matter. They still need to argue for their point, instead of hiding behind the emotional appeal of dangerous illegal abortions. Issues of statistics aside, most often the back-alley abortion argument is just a way to sidestep having to defend elective abortion as a practice.
Let’s look at a few more ways this tactic can be applied to some common questions.
Pro-Choice: “So you want to force a woman to carry a dangerous pregnancy that could end her life? What is pro-life about that?”
Pro-life: “That’s an important question, but first, before I tell you what I think, can you answer a question for me? If pro-lifers put forward a bill that banned all abortions except for those needed for clearly life-threatening complications, would you support it? If not, then why even bring it up? If there’s a reason for keeping abortion legal under all circumstances, then why don’t you tell me what you believe that reason is?”
Pro-Choice: “You do know that if you ban abortion, women won’t be able to access needed medical care if they have a miscarriage. That can kill a woman! And you call yourself pro-life?”
Pro-life: “That is an important issue, and I would like to share what I think, but first, can you answer a question for me? Would you support a measure to amend the law in such a way that it still restricts abortion, but allows for women to get treatment in clear cases where they have suffered a miscarriage? If not, then why bring it up?”
Pro-Choice: “You’re a man. You can’t get pregnant. How dare you tell me what I can and cannot do with my body?!”
Pro-life: “Hold on a moment. What if I were a woman? Would you listen to what I had to say at that point, even if it’s the very same thing I’m saying right now as a man? Why is my view only valid or invalid because of my gender? Suppose I told you that men and only men should be allowed to talk about abortion, the reason being since we can’t get pregnant and have no personal stake in the matter, we can view the issue more objectively? You’d say that is a pretty sexist idea, and you’d be right. Women are more than capable of thinking clearly about this issue regardless of their personal connections to it, which means men are capable of clear thinking about abortion as well. If I’m wrong, as you seem to believe, why don’t you show me why you think my view of the issue is wrong? Is that fair?”
Pro-Choice: “Your opposition to abortion is rooted in white supremacy, and is just Christian Nationalism.”
Pro-Life: “Those are some pretty loaded terms, and I’d appreciate it if you explained exactly what you mean by them if you’re going to label me as such. But first, would you give me a fair hearing if I was of a different skin color? Why does my skin color matter more to you than the substance of my argument? What do you think about pro-lifers who are people of color, or who live in places outside North America, such as Africa or South America? Would you give their views a fair hearing, or dismiss them as being “white supremacists”? Third, what do you think of people who cite the Bible to defend abortion? Why don’t they get to be labeled as “Christian Nationalists” for supporting abortion, but I do for opposing abortion?”
Pro-Choice: “You anti-abortion people are so cruel. You wanted to force a ten year old rape victim to give birth.”
Pro-Life: “You’re absolutely right about that being a horrific situation. However, if we passed a law which allows for abortion in such a scenario, but that made all other abortions illegal, would you support it?”
If your critic says “No” (and there are people who will) you should follow up with “Then why did you bring it up? Can we at least agree the girl in this case has suffered enough without having to be used as an example to justify doing whatever we want? Isn’t that being cruel and insensitive to her?”
One last point on the matter. Critics who hide behind the pain of other people in order to justify their own desires or behaviors are not being compassionate. Many of the scenarios raised by critics, such as rape and life threatening medical complications involve real people in real life dilemmas, and pro-lifers should be prepared to engage these topics with sensitivity. However, many of our critics will use these topics callously just to win the argument. Hiding behind the pain of another person to justify your own behavior is inexcusable, and pro-lifers shouldn’t hesitate to call out critics who are just using victims of things such as sexual assault as a smokescreen to avoid having to deal with deeper issues.
The point of this article is not to give an end-all solution to objections. Instead, this should serve as a framework for pro-life advocates to build on in order to more efficiently deal with bad-faith actors.
In addition, the point of calling a Crusader’s bluff isn’t to demean or ostracize him as a person. Instead, the point is simply to put him in his place, and bring him to a point where he is willing to honestly engage the issue. If that doesn’t happen, and he continues to insist on behaving badly, it’s time to move on. Not everyone will allow themselves to be convinced, and there are some people are just looking for a reason to justify doing whatever they want, regardless of right or wrong. As Frank Turek notes, some people are on a happiness quest rather than a truth quest, and will do whatever they can to justify their pursuit of happiness even through immoral means.
This does not mean we are wasting our time by engaging people who are hostile to us. Minds are rarely changed on the spot, and even the hardest critic can have their heart softened by truth. We simply need to do what is right, and let God do the rest.
(1). Thanks to Scott Klusendorf, who originally came up with this concept