Welcome back students!
Now that the summer is almost behind us and school is days away from starting, you may find yourself asking how you, as a pro-life high school or college student, can have an impact in your immediate community on behalf of the unborn. With the overturning of Roe last year, the abortion issue is now of greater importance than ever. You might be wondering where you fit into the mix.
Thankfully, one doesn’t have to look very far to find answers. Here are some practical suggestions for how to flourish and make a difference as a pro-life student:
One of the best ways to start making a difference as a pro-life student is to seek out and build connections with like-minded individuals. If there is a club at your school or university that is already engaged in pro-life work, become a member, and build relationships with fellow students and club advisors.
However, more often than not there won’t be a club on campus engaged in pro-life work. If that happens to be the case, there is a simple solution: start one.
Doing so can seem daunting or even scary, but getting past the anxiety of stepping up is often the hardest part of the process. What often happens is that when a student takes initiative to start a pro-life club at their campus, other students with similar values are encouraged to be bolder and get involved themselves. Boldness is a key virtue in being an effective pro-life advocate, and especially as a student.
If you are in the process of starting a club, get to know your school policies on club activities and funding, to give you an understanding of how to best accomplish your goals of engaging the student body on the abortion issue. Additionally, it’s helpful to have a working knowledge of the legal issues associated with special interest student clubs. Groups such as The FIRE, Alliance Defending Freedom, and the Leadership Institute are great sources of information on how to build your club and thrive on campus, while navigating policies pertaining to your exercise of free speech on campus.
Now that you’ve started your club and are connecting with like-minded students, it’s time to get equipped to engage. Pick up a book that teaches you to master the moral logic of the pro-life view, such as Scott Klusendorf’s The Case For Life. School can be a busy time, but if you are intentional in your reading, it can be easy to gain a working understanding of the pro-life position. Additionally, you will be able to think through and answer the common claims against it.
The moral logic of the pro-life position is simple: It’s wrong to intentionally kill innocent human beings. Abortion does that. Therefore, abortion is wrong.
We know the unborn entity targeted in abortion is a distinct, living, whole member of the human family because it is produced by human parents and is growing and developing itself from within towards maturity; something random cell growths and non-living entities are unable to do. And we know the unborn human is valuable because, as a member of the human family, differences in size, level of development, environment, and degree of dependency, are not good reasons for saying we could be killed then but not now. It should be remembered that the unborn are not an alien entity foreign to our understanding of humanity; like we all were at the beginning of our lives, it is a human being we have yet to meet who simply needs time and space to grow and mature.
Grasping that essential pro-life argument and the reasons to support it will put you far ahead many of your peers who think abortion is no more morally problematic than having a tooth pulled, and being able to comfortably explain why abortion is wrong based on objective reasons will make you a well-equipped pro-life advocate in your immediate community.
Once you have connected with like-minded individuals at your school or university, and once you have learned how to present your pro-life views, it is now time to go out and engage your peers on the topic.
This can be a nerve-wracking experience if you’re just starting out, but it’s helpful to keep in mind the anxiety that precedes getting involved is often worse than the actual experience will be. Everyone gets nervous, including professional pro-life advocates, before going into the field to engage the broader culture. Finding and connecting with like-minded pro-life students can be a good way to overcome this anxiety. In addition, it would be wise to find a mentor who has done pro-life work or ministry for a decent length of time, as they can provide the personal encouragement that is highly necessary when just starting out.
One of the most important aspects of the “Get Involved” steps is learning how to engage your critics, who will inevitably pop-up to challenge you.
Typically, there are two types of critics: Those seeking explanations, and those seeking excuses. You would do well to tell the difference, and address their objections accordingly.
Most challenges to the pro-life position make one of several mistakes. First, and most common, challenges to the pro-life position simply assume the unborn are not human. You will hear all sorts of justifications for abortion, such as how we need abortion to prevent children from suffering in the foster care system, or how poor women need access to abortions for financial reasons, or any other number of circumstances.
It’s helpful at this point to ask a clarification question: Would we even think about killing born human beings for any of these reasons? No. So why think about killing the yet-to-be-born for the same exact reason? Most likely, it’s because we’re assuming that abortion is not the killing of a fellow human being.
Here’s a way to frame the question to get your critic back on track: “Suppose I have a toddler here, one who may end up in the foster care system. Would it also be okay to kill him so that he won’t have to experience being put into foster care?”
Your critics will usually balk at this point, and some may even get angry, as I’ve seen happen. Stick to your guns. Your job is only halfway done at this point. When your critic responds with “Well that’s different”, respond with “Now what’s the difference?” When your critic replies with something along the lines of “Well the toddler is a human being, the unborn is not” then remind your critic that this revelation is actually what the abortion issue is all about. Yes, you agree with your critic, we may kill the unborn…if, the unborn are not human. This now opens the door to explain to your critic that the unborn is a distinct, whole living member of the human family, who simply has yet to grow and mature.
Your critic probably won’t agree with you on the first go-around, and that’s fine. It’s rare for someone to change their mind on the spot. Instead, your goal in any encounter should be to give the person you are talking to something to think about. Be direct, but be respectful and caring to the person you are talking to.
Sometimes, you will encounter critics who aren’t interested in honest conversation. Instead, they want to challenge you by making you look bad. In their mind, you aren’t pro-life simply because you are mistaken; you must be pro-life because of an evil reason lurking underneath the surface, and they are going to make sure you know it. Common objections are usually framed in a way to make you look bad. The following is one of the most common objections you will hear: “Oh, so you’re pro-life? What are you doing about poverty? Or homelessness? Or racism? You’re not really pro-life, just pro-birth.”
With this sort of critic, it’s important to be firm. When engaging a critic who is just trying to dismiss what you are saying with an excuse, it’s helpful to call their bluff with a simple question: “Tell me, if I did everything you said was really ‘Pro-life’, would you be willing to oppose abortion?” The answer is going to be no, to which it is helpful to respond “Then why bring it up? If you believe I am wrong, why don’t you explain to me why you think I’m wrong, instead of just trying to make me look like a horrible person?”
At this point, it’s also helpful to give your critic the benefit of the doubt. Remind them that even if you were the nicest person in the whole world and agreed with your critic on everything they believed, you could still be mistaken about abortion. Decent, sincere people can still be mistaken, even deeply mistaken. Critics of the pro-life position should only accept our position if they have good reasons to do so. On the other hand, how we treat people matters, because people matter. Everyone we engage with should be treated with respect and dignity. As George Thompson points out in his book Verbal Judo, people respond better when they are treated as human beings when their desires or ideas are being challenged.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to show abortion for what it is. Graphic imagery of abortion is the most powerful tool pro-life advocates have in efforts to change minds as well as hearts. For many people, abortion is a mere abstract political issue with no real impact on their lives. When pro-life advocates firmly but tactfully show the broader culture what abortion looks like in conjunction with solid reasoning, sensitivity and compassion, we can reach far greater numbers of people than in any other method. Remember, we oppose abortion because it unjustly ends the life of innocent human beings, a reality that far too many of our colleagues are comfortable ignoring.
Finally, we have come to our last step:
After every engagement on the issue of abortion, write down the conversation you had, and find ways to learn how to improve your ability to communicate on the issue. If your club or student group held a campus outreach event, debrief on it. Share what you learned and what you were challenged by, and ways you can improve on what you accomplished. At the same time, focus on what you did well, and how that may be improved upon.
Then get to studying. Go back to the books on the issue, and re-read over what you had previously learned so you can be better prepared for your next event. If there were objections you heard that you were confused by, research them, and try to find answers. The best way to learn is through experience.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to accept criticism or input from colleagues and more experienced pro-life advocates. They have often made many of the same mistakes and gone through similar experiences to your own, and can help you find ways to improve your ability to engage the broader culture on behalf of unborn children.
This is a list of books essential for becoming a well-rounded pro-life advocate, from which much of the above material is drawn.
Tactics by Greg Koukl
The Case for Life by Scott Klusendorf
The Unaborted Socrates by Peter Kreeft
The Ethics of Abortion by Christopher Kaczor
Defending Life by Francis Beckwith
Seeing is Believing: Why Our Culture Must Face the Victims of Abortion by Jonathan Van Maren
Persuasive Pro-life by Trent Horn