Friday, June 19, 2009

A need to better articulate, defend pro-life position

The following originally appeared in the May 2009 issue of MCCL News.

By Paul Stark

I attended an abortion debate at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis last month. Stephanie Gray, a young and articulate pro-life apologist, presented a careful argument for her view that abortion unjustly kills an innocent human being.

She showed that from conception the unborn is a distinct, living and whole human organism; that abortion is the killing of this young human being before he or she is born; and that differences between unborn and already-born humans are not relevant in a way that would justify killing the former for elective reasons. Her logical argument used the scientific facts of embryology coupled with basic moral reasoning about human value to arrive at the inescapable conclusion that abortion is a grave moral wrong.

Gray's opponent was Dr. David Baram, a physician, professor and long-time abortionist. Dr. Baram spent little time in his initial presentation talking about the ethics of abortion. In fact, he didn’t offer an actual argument for the moral permissibility of abortion at any time throughout the evening. What he did discuss was abortion history, his personal story and the alleged horrors of illegal abortion prior to Roe v. Wade.

But I wanted Dr. Baram to address the crux of the issue, not obfuscate it. During the question and answer period, I asked him to identity and then justify some morally significant difference between unborn humans and humans who have already been born, such that we may kill the former but not the latter for the same reasons (be they social reasons, economic, etc.).

He didn't answer my question. Instead, he repeated a line he had used throughout the night: "Abortion is a woman's decision."

This rhetoric begs the question, for it assumes the very point Dr. Baram needed to prove—namely, that the unborn is not a valuable human person. After all, murdering one’s toddler is not "a woman's decision." The question at hand is whether the unborn, like the toddler, deserves full moral respect and ought not to be killed for the convenience or benefit of another. Dr. Baram didn't argue for his position on this question, as Gray thoughtfully did; he just assumed it.

The debate, the plethora of questions asked of the two participants, and online comments following the debate (in response to a letter to the editor I wrote, published on the Minnesota Daily’s Web site) all renewed a conviction I hold more firmly than ever: that average pro-life citizens must be better equipped to articulate and defend the pro-life position in the public square and with friends, family, coworkers and neighbors.

There is an enormous amount of confusion, poor thinking and ignorance that remains prevalent in the abortion debate as it plays out among regular people. This is undeniable. And each time we engage others on this issue, we have an opportunity to set the record straight, to clarify the issue and to change minds.

"Pro-lifers could do well … to master [pro-life] arguments and [present] them in ways that are attractive and winsome and intelligent," Dr. Francis Beckwith (author of "Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice") told me in an interview published in the March issue of MCCL News.

"Most political views are changed not just over television commercials or programs but at the kitchen table. Students in colleges and universities being able to talk in their dorm rooms to their friends—that’s where I think people change their minds," Dr. Beckwith said.

Of course, many people are not reachable with facts and arguments. Dr. Baram is a good example, and so are the fiercely ideological abortion advocates who shouted at Gray from the crowd. (Some, I should note, reject the pro-life position for emotional, psychological or spiritual reasons; these individuals can be reached, but an entirely different approach is probably required.)

But there is a great "mushy middle" in this country that will likely make the difference between a darkening culture of death and one that is more respectful of human dignity. These citizens may not have thought much about the issue or about the implications of what they already believe. Often there is some intellectual obstacle preventing them from embracing the pro-life position and responding to that truth accordingly.

"Abortion may be the wrong choice, but we shouldn't force our morality on others," some say.

"An embryo looks like a clump of cells—it has no brain, no feelings and no awareness of its own existence."

"What about pregnancies that are a result of rape or incest? Surely, not allowing abortion in these cases is inhumane."

"Making abortion illegal won't stop women from getting them, but it will make abortions more dangerous—women will die, just as they did prior to Roe v. Wade."

Are pro-lifers prepared to address these claims?

Removing intellectual obstacles and eliminating confusion is integral to building a pro-life culture in which abortion is unthinkable. "People are persuaded by arguments," Dr. Beckwith said. "But it doesn’t often happen just like that. It comes from conversation, from thinking things through."

That's why every pro-lifer, I believe, must equip himself or herself with the knowledge and understanding to persuasively articulate the moral logic of the pro-life view and to demonstrate the flaws in pro-abortion rhetoric. We are all ambassadors for our cause—justice for the most vulnerable among us.