If you are pro-life and would like a simple and effective way to persuade a pro-choice person that abortion is wrong without a screaming match, read on because this is the most effective pro-life argument out there, according to Josh Brahm and his experienced staff at Equal Rights Institute (ERI). They have tried many arguments with thousands of pro-choice people and have found this one far more effective than any other. I will sprinkle in a few dialogue tips along the way too. The conversation revolves around three questions (in italics).
Start by asking your conversation partner, should we as adults all have an equal right to life? Ask with no trace of an attitude in your voice or facial expression and then let the person answer. Nearly everyone will say ‘yes’ to this, as equality is one of the most cherished values in our society—a key factor that makes this argument so effective with liberals. Affirm their answer, saying something like “I totally agree with you.”
At this point, you may want to point out the wide variety of people around you both—tall people, short people, thin people, round people, smart people, Green Bay Packers fans, musically gifted people, people who can’t carry a tune in a bucket, young people, and past-their-prime people. Yet we have both agreed that all of these different people are equally valuable. Ask, does that suggest there is something we all hold equally that gives us equal value? The person may say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ here. If no, then you can kindly (because pro-lifers are sometimes too confrontational) ask how we can be equal if we share nothing equally. It would seem that our equal value must be based on something we share equally, otherwise some people would be more valuable than others and we must abandon our belief in equality. Remember to stay conversational rather than pushy.
When the other person is inclined to think equal rights are based on something we all have in common, and in equal measure, ask, what is it that we all share equally that makes us equally valuable? Here the person may suggest a number of possibilities. The two of you can together evaluate each one by asking whether that answer would ground equal rights for all adults, infants, and animals. To ground human rights, the answer should entail equal rights for all adults and infants, but not all animals (we should care for animals because they are valuable; they’re just not as valuable as humans). In this test, you are still on common ground with most people. Here are a few possible answers to the third question, along with possible responses you should word in a non-gotcha sort of way.
- Intelligence. You might non-sarcastically respond that some people are much more intelligent than others. Argument threads on Facebook prove this point pretty clearly. If intelligence makes us valuable, that would make some people more valuable than others.
- Sentience (the basic ability to perceive the world and perceive sensations like pain and pleasure). Adults usually have this, except those in a coma or who are asleep. And animals have this as well, so we have too few people and too many animals with a right to life on this account.
- Self-awareness (the ability to think about one’s own existence). But infants cannot do this, and elephants probably can.
- Viability (the ability to survive outside the womb). But animals are generally born viable, so this answer includes too many beings. As for humans, the same fetus may be viable in New York and not viable in Myanmar due to the difference in health care technology in those two places.
- Desires. Yet animals have desires to eat, drink, mate, not be eaten by a predator, etc. And adults and infants do not have desires when they are asleep or in a coma.
Whatever it is that grounds equal rights cannot be like a dimmer switch. It cannot come in degrees, otherwise the ones with more of that attribute are more valuable than those with less. It has to be something we all share equally. It seems to us that that thing is humanness. Adults and infants are all human, and one is not more human or less human. One either is or is not human like a light is either on or off.
From here, you may point out that embryology texts and peer-reviewed scientific literature all agree that human life begins at fertilization. For that reason, pro-lifers say the unborn are human and should therefore have human rights like the right to live. You will need to kindly (without getting preachy) support this scientific claim, so here is a link to Dr. Maureen Condic’s compilation of quotes and documentation your conversation partner may want to check out: http://bdfund.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Condic-Sources-Embryology.pdf.
Racism and sexism are so wrong because they focus on a superficial difference in people and ignore what we all have in common. Atrocities against human beings of a given gender and race have been justified by trying to exclude some humans from having human rights, and the same is happening again with humans at an early stage of development. That is ageism. Pro-lifers stand for equal human rights for all humans. Framing the argument this (truthful) way will make pro-choice people who may have thought they were standing up for women’s equality realize that it is actually pro-lifers who stand for the equality of every human being. Only then will some want to join us.
[Note on the source of this argument: I heard this from Josh Brahm at the 2019 Oregon Right to Life convention in Tualatin and here at Lighthouse Assembly of God on Sunday, May 26, 2019. You can find it in Scott Klusendorf’s The Case for Life, pp. 66-67]