Navigating the “Hard Questions” By Reframing the Issue

During a recent sidewalk counseling outreach at our local Planned Parenthood, a young woman stepped outside the clinic to offer her thoughts on why we shouldn’t be there. Over the course of the conversation, she mentioned numerous issues related to abortion and many common talking points, but in particular she brought up two issues that often stun pro-life advocates into silence: The issue of rape, and the issue of a woman who has a life-threatening pregnancy.

During the conversation we were initially caught off guard, but after the fact I started thinking about a way to navigate the “tough issues” while still showing empathy to the person asking the question.

Given that very often these questions are asked by people who have a personal connection to the scenarios of pregnancy from rape, and life-threatening pregnancy, pro-life advocates need a way to navigate the conversation by keeping focus on the one question that drives the abortion debate: What are the unborn?

As Greg Koukl puts it, when receiving a challenge that brings with it a lot of emotional and rhetorical baggage, the best thing to do is simply ask a question.

Here’s a way for pro-lifers to reframe the issue in a way that shows empathy, while at the same time remaining focused on the central question: What are the unborn?

“Those are tough issues you brought up, and they do deserve a careful response. We should be empathetic to people in those sorts of situations, and people who have gone through them. I completely agree. But before I give you my thoughts, could you answer a question for me first? If the unborn child in question is a human being with value like you and me, what do you think our answer should be to the situations you brought up?”

Asking an open-ended question such as this will help refocus the conversation back on the central issue: What are the unborn? Are the unborn human beings, just as the born are? The answer to that question will tailor how we respond to the hard cases people propose. It also gets people to think more closely about the issue of the unborn’s humanity. Many people are motivated by their life circumstances, stories, or the experiences of others to simply bypass the question altogether. Bringing the issue back to the unborn will alleviate this, and provide an opportunity to show people how they can genuinely care about not just one, but two human beings.

Additionally, this question can also help stop a “Crusader” in their tracks. A “Crusader” is the sort of person who brings up tough questions, not out of genuine concern for the people involved in the situation, but to score rhetorical points and to shame a pro-life person by painting them as cruel, insensitive, or bigoted. Their goal is to ask a loaded question such that in any way a pro-life person responds, they automatically lose.

This came to my attention a couple of years ago while I was deployed. I was standing outside my vehicle before going “outside the wire”(outside the base) on a mission, talking with several other soldiers in my platoon, when one of them immediately blurted out, “So, you oppose abortion, don’t you? What about when a 13 year old girl is raped and is pregnant?”
My response at the time was unsatisfactory, but suppose I had responded this way:

“First, I oppose abortion because abortion intentionally kills an innocent human being. If abortion unjustly kills a human being, who is human like the rest of us, what do you think our answer to that situation should be?”

A follow up question could also be helpful here. As Jay Heinrichs points out, sometimes personalizing a view which ultimately denies the dignity of a fellow human being is a great way to bring this denial to light. We do this through “trotting out the toddler”, but it can be done with other human beings as well:

“You bring up a really great point, and it is one worth carefully considering. But suppose I am the victim of horrific evil and trauma, on par with the situation you proposed, and one way of alleviating that trauma would be for me to kill you. Would it be fair for me to ask you to sacrifice your life on my behalf?”

The answer will of course be no. Which means, if the unborn child in question is a human being, is it any more fair for us to ask them to give up their life in order to alleviate(very real) trauma and suffering? What is the difference between the unborn and the born that allows us to justly kill the unborn? We are now brought back to the question we need to resolve: what are the unborn?

We must show empathy, compassion, and justice to victims of evil such as sexual assault. At the same time, however, we shouldn’t let our good intentions on behalf of a victim turn around and lead us to inflict evil on another innocent human being, who is just as much a victim of sexual violence by being concieved through evil instead of through the loving bond between mother and father. If the unborn are human beings, and there can be little doubt they are, we shouldn’t intentionally kill them to make our lives more bearable.