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Saturday, November 9, 2013

Why Pro-Life People Need to Become Amateur Philosophers, or Why I Don't Think the Current State of the Pro-Life Movement is as Effective as it Could Be

Today, on a very special episode of...wait, no, that doesn't work. I've decided to post an article on a special day, Saturday, because of something disturbing that I witnessed last night (and for a few weeks now). I've titled this article Why Pro-Life People Need to Become Amateur Philosophers, or Why I Don't Think the Current State of the Pro-Life Movement is as Effective as it Could Be. Longest. Title. Ever.

I want to be clear about something, first. I don't consider myself a philosopher in the academic sense. I guess you could consider me a philosophy buff, or an armchair philosopher, or philosopher nerd. Oh! Philosophy Connoisseur. At any rate, I study philosophy and logic, and am self-taught in this discipline. I consider myself a philosopher by Alvin Plantinga's definition of the term, someone who thinks deeply about important issues. And it is my contention that any pro-life person who wants to be effective in the field should become an amateur philosopher.

The major problem with the pro-life movement right now is that there is too much division. What sparked my creation of this article is that I saw two well-known pro-life individuals claiming that we can find no common ground with pro-choice people (really? none at all? Not even the fact that most pro-choice people oppose late-term abortions? that's not common ground?), and that pro-life people who take exception for rape are not pro-life, they are really "pro-abortion with exceptions" (that's an awful lot of exceptions for someone who is "pro-abortion"). Finding common ground does not mean compromising with pro-choice people. Steve Wagner has written an excellent book about this very topic. We can use common ground as a springboard to keep the conversation going. For example, if someone tells me that they oppose late-term abortion, then I can obviously agree with that. Then I can ask someone in what morally relevant way does an early embryo differ from a late-term fetus that would justify killing one but not the other? They also insinuated that we can't find common ground with pro-life people who take the rape exception. Just what, exactly, is common ground if we can't find common ground with people who agree with us about approximately 95% of all abortions?

The pro-life movement can't hope to win if we're divided. Jesus himself said as much in Matthew 12:25 when he was accused of casting out demons by Satan's power: "Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and any city or house divided against itself will not stand." How can we hope to win if we can't even agree that pro-life people who disagree with us are still welcome in the movement? Even Christians can't all agree on the same doctrines, yet that doesn't put their status as a Christian into question unless it's one of the core doctrines that they reject. The core doctrine of the pro-life movement is that all human life is equally valuable, from fertilization until natural death. Internal disagreements are just that -- disagreements, and they can't detract from our mission of seeing Roe v. Wade overturned. AHA is notorious for this. They have even decided to distance themselves from the pro-life movement altogether, but their distinction between "abolitionist" and "pro-lifer" is nothing but a distinction without a difference.

So what do I mean when I say that pro-life advocates need to become amateur philosophers? Well, there are a few aspects of philosophy that I'd like to point out. I think it would be beneficial for the pro-life movement to adopt these attitudes, especially in their interactions with pro-choice people.

Attitude #1: Philosophers think clearly about issues.

Can you defend the pro-life position? Do you know how to justify the fact that the unborn from fertilization are biological members of our species, and the philosophical position that they are equally deserving of respect as we are? It's not enough to just assert this claim; we have to be able to support it. If you take the time to read some of the best defenders of the pro-life position, like Frank Beckwith, Scott Klusendorf, and Christopher Kaczor, then you'll be able to give a robust defense of the pro-life position that most pro-choice people won't be able to adequately respond to. But pro-life people need more than just bumper sticker slogans to support our position. The science and philosophy is on our side -- don't be afraid to use it!

Attitude #2: Philosophers ask questions.

It's not a bad thing to go into a discussion admitting that you might be wrong about something. Dogmatic is one of the worst things someone can be. It stifles intellectual growth. We need to be open to investigating claims, and being open to being mistaken. So we ask questions to make sure our position is really the best one, and can withstand attacks and rebuttals from the other side.

Not just asking questions of our own position, but asking questions of the person that we're talking to. Greg Koukl wrote a great book about this. Even if they disagree with us, they might have an insight that we haven't previously considered. Keeping a humble attitude and asking questions will keep you from embarrassing yourself if someone asks you something you don't have an answer to. Saying "I don't know" is much better than making something up. Plus, by asking them questions you might be helping them to think through their own views for the first time, and you might be able to help them realize for themselves why their position doesn't hold up, rather than just telling them. It will be more effective that way.

Attitude #3: Philosophers attack ideas, not people.

One thing we really need to start doing is divorcing a person's ideas from the person, themselves. Someone is not automatically a horrible person just because they are pro-choice. A post-abortive woman is not a murderer. There are many different reasons women abort: many were coerced into it by an abusive boyfriend or parents who threatened to disown them, many were lied to by the abortion counselor or practitioner so they had no idea what was inside them was an actual human child, etc. You have no idea why a woman aborted (if she tells you that she did), so stop assuming. A major rule of philosophy is that you give your opponents the benefit of the doubt and treat them with respect. The abortionist, on the other hand, is always morally culpable for an abortion because he/she knows exactly what it is they do during an abortion.

Being hateful toward people will not change their minds. You may think you're being effective by being abrasive because you've won the argument, but it is possible to win the argument and lose the person. This is something that I constantly see from organizations like AHA. They think that just because they're speaking the truth, that they're being "loving" (while doing horrible things like calling hurting post-abortive women "murderers"). "Truth" is not synonymous with "love." You need to speak the truth in love. It is often loving to tell someone the truth, but you tell them in a loving, sensitive way.

I'll admit. I'm a relative newcomer to the pro-life movement. I've only been studying the issue extensively for about three years now. So it's not my desire to drive a wedge any further between pro-life advocates. My desire is to help pro-life people realize that we need to accept each others' differences if we're going to win the proverbial war for the lives of the unborn. Working side-by-side with people who disagree with us does not mean we have to accept all of their views. It just means that we're working toward the same goal of seeing legal abortion done away with.

So this all-or-nothing approach is not helpful. I am very much pro-life, and I believe that all human beings have equal instrinc worth as human beings. I believe that we should only have an exception open for if the woman's life is genuinely endangered and the child is not yet viable. Sure, there are those who may hold to a rape exception, but the people I've talked to hold to the rape exception due to a logical reason; it's not emotional rhetoric. I strongly disagree with them, and I do have conversations with them about it. But we can at least agree that abortions in the vast majority of cases should be abolished and we are working toward that common goal.

So we have to understand that not everyone shares our convictions. That doesn't mean everyone is right; that would violate a basic philosophical principle, the Law of Non-Contradiction. But it does mean that we can side with people who share the bulk of our convictions, and hash out disagreements amongst ourselves. Let us not be a house divided, but let us unite in our common goal to protect the lives of the innocent unborn.


  1. I think Pro-Lifers need to understand the principles of their position and be motivated by the love of life rather than the hatred of abortion. The principle of killing is a huge common ground since both sides admit that killing is not a mark of a good society, but a bad one. So since killing is 'bad' (not evil) abortion is already 'bad'. The debate then is whether the killing is an execution or a murder.

    1. Pro-life people *are* motivated by love of life rather than hatred of abortion. The thing is that the two are inclusive. If you love life, then by extension you will hate abortion, just like if you love life, then you will by extension hate murder.

      Also, I'm not sure what the distinction between "bad" and "evil" is that you're drawing. To my mind, they are synonyms. I use "bad" in the moral aspect, as in an act that someone concerned about living right ought not to do.

  2. I see you favor the incrementalism approach. I've often wondered what would have happened if 25 years ago the pro-life movement would have implemented an all or nothing approach, and basically said something like this:

    Either abortion will be illegal in every case, or it will be legal in every case. And by legal, we mean completely unrestricted and free. Hey if Planned Parenthood says partial birth abortion is necessary, then go for it. And if it's legal in every case, there's no reason why abortion shouldn't be funded as simply another medical procedure, so employers and the government should be required to pay for it. See how the average person reacts when they find out their tax dollars are paying for partial-birth abortion that are done at your local Walmart minute-clinic.

    Instead, we're doing the incrementalism approach, which only works up to a point. A significant percentage of the population opposes late-term abortions, but it's a different story for early-term abortions. I suspect we'll reach an equilibrium between the pro-life and "pro-choice" side where abortion is more-or-less legal, but the most egregious cases are made illegal. Advances will make late-term abortions rarer, and surgical abortions will give way to chemical abortions. Quick, efficient, and clean killing. (Copied from my post on the LTI blog -- If you have the time, I'd appreciate a response.)

    1. I'm actually doing the bulk of my blogging on the LTI blog now, so I'll respond to you there.