Written by Kathy Thompson
FLI will be teaming up with Life Choice for a couple of events in Melbourne in the coming months. In preparation for this, I’ve had to refresh my memory with some basic apologetics and have realised again the importance of systematic education and training in order to dialogue meaningfully about the harm caused by abortion.
This article will summarise a method developed by Trent Horn in his book, Persuasive Pro-Life. Trent spent many years with the college-campus group, Justice for All, and observed how gracious and logical arguments are more effective in changing peoples’ minds than simply uncritically dictating facts.
Trent identifies three main categories of pro-choice people (he doesn’t use the term ‘pro-abortion’, preferring to use the same terminology as those who disagree with the pro-life position.) He further divides those categories into ten sub-groups, which will be covered below. But first, here are two useful tools for helping to facilitate a meaningful discussion:
Trot out a toddler or TOAT:
TOAT is simply applying arguments used to justify abortion to an older child, in this case, a toddler. For example, Trent Horn uses the example of a woman who feels who she must abort her child due to financial problems. An abortion advocate could be asked if they would approve of a toddler being killed because his or her mother lost her job. By contrasting abortion will infanticide or murder, the conversation usually reveals that the abortion advocate doesn’t really approve of abortion on utilitarian grounds, but because they believe that unborn children don’t really have the same rights as born ones. Such conversations can develop according to the pattern given in this second tool:
The four As
The four As correspond to Agree, Apply, Ask why and Ah! This pattern constitutes a good listening technique, rather than some kind of trick to get someone to say what you want them to say. Remember that the goal here is to really try to get to the bottom of why a person thinks that it’s ok to kill pre-born children. It is almost always the case that these are decent human beings who have some kind of flawed logic at work. They’re not monsters and should be respectfully listened to and conversed with.
Agreement is a good way to start any conversation since it acknowledges our common humanity. We don’t have to agree with anything we don’t really believe, though. We can easily agree on what we both hold to be injustices (such as rape) or hardship (such as poverty). Application is the process of comparing the pre-born child to a toddler, to see if our opponent approves of killing a child in that circumstance. Invariably, the response will be that is it not appropriate to apply the same treatment to a toddler as is applied in principal to the pre-born. The next step designates ‘Ah!’ denotes finding the real reason why this person believes abortion is acceptable – which, as stated above, is usually related to a pre-born baby not possessing the same fundamental rights as a born one.
The fundamental question which every pro-choice person must answer is: what is the unborn?
People who avoid the main issue:
Trent Horn identifies three types of people who tend to deflect from the main issue at hand: the status of the pre-born child. The Pragmatist is someone who thinks abortion is a practical means of solving the problem of unwanted pregnancy. They have a utilitarian approach and are preoccupied with practical issues such as poverty, employment and housing for pregnant women. By using the tools described above the conversation can be turned to what is most likely their underlying premise; that is, that the pre-born just don’t have the same rights as the born.
The Tolerant also avoid the main issue by believing that abortion is wrong but that they don’t want to force those views on others. This is a common stance taken by politicians and even some church leaders. However, it’s easy to point out that we can tolerate annoyances but not gravely immoral acts. Also, using their logic, if views are just subjective, then the pro-life view is just as valid as the pro-choice one, and we have the right to hold that view.
Distractors are another set who tend to avoid discussing the status of the pre-born child by arguing about irrelevant issues. This type of person might claim that abortion doesn’t cause depression or breast cancer. It can also apply to pro-life people who use irrelevant arguments such as “What if your mother had aborted you?” or “What if abortion killed someone who would have cured cancer?” In both these cases, the best approach is to use TOAT to get back to the fundamental question: What is the unborn?
People who deny that the unborn matter:
A second main category of abortion advocates are those who just don’t believe that the unborn have rights. The Skeptics don’t even believe that the foetus is a human being. When engaged in dialogue with a skeptic, it’s necessary to first compare the philosophical definition of life to the biological definition, so you are both using the same terminology. Once you can agree that it is the biological definition of human life that is being discussed, then the pro-life point of view can be clearly stated: ‘The life of an individual human being begins at conception.’ After that, it’s simply a matter of using science to show that a unique human being is created at conception/fertilisation.
The Disqualifiers are those who believe that the pre-born are human, but don’t have rights. To refute this, another tool can be employed: SLED. This refers to the fact that discrimination on the basis of size, level of development, environment, and degree of dependency is immoral in cases other than that of pre-born children, and so can be applied to the foetus as well. Additionally, the pro-lifer can show that differences such as gender and race don’t disqualify humans therefore SLED properties shouldn’t either.
Autonomists are those who admit the unborn are human but that a woman’s rights over her body are more important. This has become a very common argument in recent times, especially in Australia were secularism and feminism are part of the landscape. The refutation of this argument includes explaining that bodily autonomy isn’t unlimited, just as free speech, religious freedom etc aren’t unlimited freedoms. Also it needs to be pointed out that pre-born children also have rights. These might appear to be obvious facts but we need to remember that ideology can blind people to the truth. Many pro-abortion men and women have had a lifetime of programming which has committed them to their (wrong) position.
People with tough questions
The third major category of abortion advocates are those who condone killing babies because of rare cases. For example, the Concerned worry that banning abortion will lead to an increase of unsafe, illegal ones. To refute this, it’s helpful to point to other immoral practices such as FGM and ask whether that should be made safer or rather continue to be banned. Similarly, you can TOAT and ask if killing born children should be made easier and legal.
The Conflicted are a group who generally, don’t like abortion but worry about rape, foetal abnormality, the health of the mother etc. Trotting out the toddler is again useful here (would you condone the killing of a two-year-old who was suddenly found to be the product of rape?) But in conversations where these topics arise, it’s very important to appropriately respond to specific cases. You may be dealing with someone who was actually raped, or who aborted a child – often under great pressure from medical authorities – due to a foetal abnormality. Sincere heartfelt sympathy is an appropriate response in these cases; something which can be difficult to achieve if the conversation is an online one. We must never trample over people’s feelings in an effort to justify our own position, even though it is the true one.
Another sub-set on this group is the Fighter. This is someone who is just out for a fight and doesn’t want meaningful dialogue. This person will make ad hominem attacks and can generally be quite nasty. To refute this type of person – assuming there is anything to be gained by continuing the conversation, the pro-lifer can correct the misconceptions, try to establish common ground, admit to not being perfect (thus ad hominem attacks are justified) then steer the conversation back to the main question: ‘what is the unborn?’
The last group are a paradox: the Religious. These are ‘pro-choice Christians’ who often use Scripture to justify abortion. It isn’t difficult to find many, many Bible verses which make it obvious that God doesn’t approve of abortion. It is also possible to appeal to Christian tradition, especially Catholic teaching, in order to back this up. The pro-choice Christian can also be asked whether he or she condones other crimes such as rape if the rapist’s conscience agrees with it.
Persuasive Pro-life by Trent Horn, available at Parousia Media
Trent Horn’s conversations with pro-choice callers: