Students, congratulations on making it through another semester! You are now one year closer to your educational goals.
With the Summer break about to kick into motion, you may be finding yourself wondering how you can make the most of your downtime as a pro-life student, be it in high school or college. Fortunately, I have a list of books that can help you increase your knowledge and become a better thinker when it comes to the abortion issue. You do not need to become an expert overnight, but digesting one or more book-length treatments of the abortion issue will make you more effective at changing minds and reaching people on the issue. An effective pro-life advocate is a confident pro-life advocate, and a confident pro-life advocate is a well-informed one.
If you are just starting out, there are several books which will help you gain a quick grasp of the moral logic of the pro-life position, as well as learning the critical thinking skills necessary to navigate discussions over abortion.
The Case for Life by Scott Klusendorf
Probably the most important book a pro-life advocate will read, The Case For Life provides the moral foundation for assessing the abortion issue, by highlighting the central question at the heart of the debate: “What are the unborn?” Clarity on this question is key, especially as the culture does not think of abortion itself as a moral matter. Sure, we get soundbites regarding choice, privacy, women’s rights, and a host of other topics, but rarely do we see people interact with the moral logic of the pro-life position: Can we kill the unborn? That depends, what are the unborn?
Additionally, you will learn how to address the most common objections pro-lifers tend to hear, from the “I don’t like you” complaints to the smarter arguments, such as appeals to Bodily Autonomy as a means of defending abortion.
The Unaborted Socrates by Peter Kreeft
Once you grasp the moral logic of the pro-life position, it’s time to put it into play and see how it stands up to scrutiny. The next book in our list, written by philosopher Peter Kreeft shows what a good conversation about the nature of abortion can look like by an informed pro-life advocate, and how pro-life advocates can respectfully yet clearly respond when challenged.
Contenders by Marc Newman
Now that you have grasped the logic of the pro-life position, and have seen it in play, it’s time to start putting it into practice yourself. That takes us to Marc Newman’s book. As a speech and debate team coach, and well renowned pro-life speaking trainer, Marc brings a unique perspective to the table by training pro-lifers to speak boldly and clearly on behalf of the unborn. With personal anecdotes and practical suggestions for pro-life advocates, Newman’s book is essential reading, especially for pastors and church ministry leaders who want a game plan for discussing the issue with their churches. Conversely, Marc’s academic public speaking experience is a godsend for pro-life students. As a student, it is very likely you will be called on at some point to give a public accounting of your views. It pays to be ready. Confidence in one’s material and message is a great antidote to stage fright.
Tactics by Greg Koukl
Another essential book in the pro-life advocate’s library, Tactics will teach you how to think clearly and respond effectively in your everyday dialogue. Pro-lifers are routinely challenged with pithy soundbites which are rarely thought out very deeply, and to be effective, you must know how to respond when challenged. As Greg shows, three simple questions, “What do you mean by that?”, “How did you come to that conclusion?” and “Have you ever considered…” can help civilize dialogue and make an opponent(and yourself) think clearly about the issue at hand.
Once you have gotten the foundations of the pro-life position and can articulate the moral logic of the pro-life argument, it is time to move on to the next step, and begin studying the more challenging arguments.
The Big Thinkers
Spend any time talking about abortion online or at your school and you will soon find yourself running into complex arguments for the practice. It’s essential to have a working understanding of the big thinkers on the issue.
The Ethics of Abortion(3rd ed.) By Christopher Kaczor
By far the best book-length treatment of the pro-life position, Kaczor’s book is the one academic level book any advocate should have, and is endorsed by both pro-life and pro-choice thinkers for this reason. Tackling all the major ethical arguments pertaining to the issue found in the literature, starting with arguments for infanticide and working backwards to arguments about the moral status of human embryos, Kaczor surveys and responds to the key thinkers on the matter, such as Micahel Tooley, Peter Singer, Jeff McMahan, Mary Anne Warren, Judith Jarvis Thomson, and David Boonin, among others.
Defending Life by Francis Beckwith
Continuing the trend of surveying and responding to the big thinkers, Beckwith’s book is also a must read, as he approaches the abortion issue from both a legal as well as philosophical basis. Providing a legal argument for why Roe v. Wade was flawed, Beckwith’s book addresses the issue of abortion jurisprudence before the Dobbs decision in 2022. He then goes on to respond to both popular level as well as scholarly arguments for abortion, such as from Mary Anne Warren and David Boonin, turning the book into an academic level defense of the pro-life position.
The Ethics of Pregnancy, Abortion, and Childbearing by Helen Watt
Adding to the academic literature in defense of the pro-life position, Helen Watt’s book takes a slightly different bent in addressing arguments by suggesting we think of pregnancy in terms of the relationships it involves, primarily between mother and child, and using this as a framework to address the ethical issues which arise in pregnancy, particularly in relation to abortion. She then takes this framework and assesses both popular as well as scholarly work on the issue of abortion.
Abortion and Unborn Human Life by Patrick Lee
One last book on our brief list of academic level defenses of the pro-life position, Lee’s book is a staple in pro-life academic work, as he addresses many of the popular and scholarly arguments related to abortion, while providing a robust pro-life argument.
The Big Ideas
Once you have mastered both the logical foundation of the pro-life position, and possess a working understanding of the big thinkers at play in the abortion issue, it’s time to address the big ideas behind abortion. For many people in our culture, abortion just makes sense, and the pro-life position can seem ridiculous, even insane. Many pro-lifers are stumped when it comes to interactions with people who think support for abortion is reasonable.
What is often lurking in the background of these discussions are several worldviews: Postmodernism, Expressive Individualism, and Body-Self Dualism. Pro-life advocates need to have a robust philosophical anthropology of the worldviews which provide the foundations of the pro-choice view.
These words may seem big and scary, but in reality they end up being more simple than complex. People tend to adopt worldview philosophies without much of a second thought, and often don’t see the simple mistakes such worldviews make.
Here are a few helpful books for assessing and responding to the worldview issues at play:
Love Thy Body by Nancy Pearcey
One of the foremost experts on the idea of worldview, Nancy Pearcey’s book is a fantastic introduction to the Worldviews at play in debates over abortion, as well as sexuality and gender issues. Pearcey focuses on how the worldviews behind debates over abortion and sexuality rely on understandings of the body as less meaningful than the internal self(the mind), and argues that it is a Christian worldview which can help show us what it means to “love our bodies”.
What It Means to Be Human by O. Carter Snead
Expanding on many of the ideas touched on in Nancy Pearcey’s book, Snead takes things a step further, and looks at how a dominant worldview, Expressive Individualism, has shaped the way we think about issues such as abortion, reproductive technology, and euthanasia. According to the arguments Snead focuses on, it is the focus on the internal individual and the expression of that individual’s desires which has created a worldview according to which abortion makes sense, as this individual’s autonomy is the basis for ethical decision making, not merely ethical decision making based on the dignity of the whole person(body and mind). Snead critiques and responds to many of the ideas inherent in Expressive Individualism
Strange New World by Carl Trueman
Also focusing on Expressive Individualism, Trueman’s book is a scaled down version of his larger work The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, written aimed at a lay-audience who may or may not be familiar with the deep philosophical ideas pertaining to Expressive Individualism. Engaging in a philosophical anthropology, Trueman traces the development of the ideas pertaining to Expressive Individualism and shows how those ideas became dominant in the culture today, especially pertaining to issues of sexuality and gender. While not focusing on abortion or other bioethical issues as Snead’s book does, it is nevertheless a helpful resource for understanding the culture.
Body-Self Dualism In Contemporary Ethics and Politics by Robert George and Patrick Lee
A more technical read, Body-Self Dualism focuses on ideas related to Expressive Individualism by addressing the way the philosophy of mind has impacted contemporary issues. It could be said Expressive Individualism is more the social component of Body-Self Dualism in that Expressive Individualism impacts society, whereas Body-Self Dualism as an idea is more concerned with the nature of the person in particular. Put differently, body-self dualism affirms a belief that the “person” is the internal agent inhabiting the body, be it in material form(such as the developed brain) or in immaterial form(such as a spirit inhabiting a body). Because of this understanding, many people tend to think of abortion as destroying a human body that is not inhabited by a person in the same way you or I might be. Because the mental capacities which provide for the “inner self” as the subject of experiences are not existent yet, abortion doesn’t actually kill a valuable human person because there is no valuable human person present to be killed yet. While this may sound complicated, it’s flawed, as both George and Lee show in their book
Other titles could easily be mentioned in this list, but for the time being, my goal here is to provide a helpful starting point for pro-lifers to begin studying the issue more intently.
Pro-lifers need not fear the big ideas of our day. A bit of motivation to learn and think carefully about deeper ideas is all it takes to become an effective advocate on behalf of the unborn.