How to have a pro-life conversation

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by Greg Jackson

Perhaps you’ve spoken with your friends about abortion before. Perhaps you’ve tried persuading them that abortion is immoral because it kills an innocent human being. Perhaps you’ve tried to discuss the discriminatory nature of abortion, particularly sex-selective abortion or abortion for foetal disability. Perhaps, as it often the case, you’ve had little success and you’ve both left the conversation hot under the collar and a little less fond of one another than you were before you had the conversation.

For pro-life students, this type of scenario is disappointingly common, although this conversation format is not restricted to pro-life issues. Any subject which we take seriously, which we see as touching us or someone we love on a personal level, is likely to proceed in a similar manner. And this is so with abortion too. Perhaps the person we are speaking to has had an abortion, perhaps he or she has a friend or family member who has had an abortion. When you speak about abortion therefore, and try to explain why you think that it is wrong, what they might hear is not ‘abortion is wrong’ but ‘you (or your family member or friend) is an evil person for having an abortion’. This might be the case with other subjects. Perhaps you don’t believe in God and you tell your friend who does believe in God as much. In addition to what you said, they might infer that ‘I don’t believe in God and you are an idiot for doing so’. This is not necessarily the case of course, but in matters which affect us so personally, hurt and confusion abounds. All that might be meant is for the person to express their belief and in no way think that others who have opposing views are therefore idiots.

Think back, two or three months about a time when you had a difficult conversation with someone on some ‘hot button’ issue (abortion, euthanasia, immigration, the war in Syria, terrorism, religion etc.) Now think of how many substantive points you remember from that conversation. Do you think you could lay out the points which were made? “Well I made point A, then he countered with point B, to which I argued that B did not apply to A because of C.”

The answer is almost always no. If you really had to, you might remember one or two of the points which they made. You won’t remember most of the conversation and neither will they. What do you remember? You remember the tone, the delivery, you remember how you felt about the topic, you remember the way you felt about them and you remember the way you thought they felt about you. You remember if they were angry, if they were upset (or if you thought they were upset). If this is what you remember from the conversation, this is what they will remember as well.

Is there anything we can do about it? Is there anything we can do to make these difficult conversations more productive? Try the following…

  1.       Your tone, delivery, attitude during the conversation are as important as any substantive points which you make. If you’re able to speak about these issues with a cheerful confidence, this will have a great impact on the quality of the conversation. If you’re able to do this, you’re inviting people into a discussion which can shift a person’s tone from dismissal to genuine curiosity. Like most things worth doing, this can be difficult and it comes with practice. With abortion in particular, you should try to make clear that your pro-life view has nothing to do with hating women, or saying that people who have had abortions are evil. Our argument is about the action of abortion and we do not seek to make judgements about the character of any particular person who has done it.
  2.       In a culture such as our own, being pro-life can be difficult. There might be a reluctance to engage in this kind of conversation with a friend because of fear – a fear that he or she will know exactly what you’re going to say and will already have a response to it. The only way to find out that that is almost always not true is to do it. After you’ve had three or four of these conversations, you’ll realise that they keep saying the same kind of thing, and you’ll be all the better prepared for it.
  3.       These emotive issues are made even more difficult when the other person ‘personalises’ the debate; when they claim or insinuate that it is a personal attack on them or someone close to them. This of course is deeply unfair because it is a conversation stopper, and you should point this out. It is a conversation stopper because you are probably a decent person and do not want to insult the other person. Rather than opening up debate it closes down debate, and this is not something which they have a monopoly on. You could probably just as easily tell a personal story which similarly closes down the debate. The best thing to do is probably to point this out, and say how you’re not making a judgement about individual person, but only a certain action.
  4.       Sometimes you should share your motivation for why you’re pro-life. Perhaps it’s because you have a friend who had an abortion and who regrets it. You heard a story about someone being forced by their family to have an abortion when they didn’t want one. Perhaps through your own story you can convey the point that you really do care about the mother, or in the case of euthanasia or assisted suicide, you really do care about the suffering person – you just don’t believe that either abortion is the solution to a crisis pregnancy nor that euthanasia or assisted suicide is the solution to suffering.

There is much more that could (and probably should) be said on this topic but for the sake of brevity we shall end it there. There is however no substitute for knowing the argument, and it is to the arguments that we shall turn next time…

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