A few days ago on Triablogue, Paul Manata took a few abortion-rights advocates to school. Starting with the post “The Illogic of ‘Pro-Choice'” (and continuing here, here, here, here, and finally here), he debunks the pretentious sophism of the pro-murder crowd with reason, logic, and proper definitions.
This is the style of pro-life defense I prefer and which I have personally observed to be the most effective: short on emotionalism and religious argument, and long on logic. While the anti-God, pro-abortion crowd rejects the authority of Scripture, Aristotle dismantles their intellectual pretensions and lays their prejudices against the unborn bare for all to see. This is the methodology of Christian philosopher Francis J. Beckwith, whose book Politically Correct Death is a must-read for anyone wanting to debate the issue of abortion. Stand to Reason takes the same approach in its Pro-Life 101 seminar, as does former STR staffer Scott Klusendorf, who continues to teach the seminar via his newly formed Life Training Institute.
I was present when Scott gave the Pro-Life 101 seminar here in Ottawa in October 2001. One of the things he mentioned to us was that more and more pro-abortion advocates are refusing to debate him (and pro-life apologists in general). Indeed, Scott had also been in Ottawa for a debate six months previously; during the day, the University of Ottawa chapter of Ottawa Youth For Life had rented space to allow him to make a presentation on campus. Instead of trying to refute Scott with facts and arguments, the campus “Womyn’s Centre” complained to the administration about “hate crimes” (because of STR’s moral stand on homosexuality, which of course was merely a convenient excuse, as it has nothing to do with the abortion issue). OYFL representatives were also questioned by the Ottawa police, and Scott was detained and interrogated at the border for an hour before being allowed into Canada. When the time came for his presentation, one of the campus “womyn” sabotaged it by pulling the plug on a television set Scott intended to use to show a video, and refused to relinquish it while other onlookers attempted to shout him down. (Scott agreed to a change of venue when the police and campus security were called in, and the presentation continued.) Finally, his debate opponent that evening decided to back out, though she later changed her mind.
This anti-intellectual trend amongst abortion-rights activists is ongoing. Albert Mohler‘s radio program a few weeks ago pointed me to the article “Bioethical Politics,” by Jon A. Shields, in the March/April 2006 issue of Society, a sociological journal published by Rutgers University. Conventional wisdom is that the pro-abortion side of the debate is the intellectually respectable one, while the “Religious Right” attempts to impose dogma and superstition on society. Shields argues that, in fact,
it is actually the secular left that has undermined a national discussion on vital bioethical questions – such as when a human organism deserves state protection – by depicting them as fundamentally religious and therefore beyond legitimate public debate. Even more surprising, the religious right increasingly embraces sophisticated philosophical arguments in its efforts to convince Americans from across the political spectrum that embryonic stem cell research and abortion are not religious issues.1
The article continues to give an interesting on-the-ground look at apologetics work by STR and Justice for All volunteers on campuses. While the pro-life students attempted to engage critics and passers-by in discussion on a Denver campus, for example,
not all students were willing to talk to the JFA volunteers. In fact, a handful of pro-choice counter-demonstrators were especially uninterested in dialogue. . . . I spoke with two pro-choice activists with the Feminist Alliance who refused to talk to any of the JFA volunteers. They set up a booth near the pro-choice display and circulated a petition to have the exhibit removed from campus because it was “obscene” and created “a hostile environment.”2
It gets worse:
And although the students who approached the exhibit often reciprocated the kindness of pro-life activists, such behavior was less common among the counter-demonstrators themselves. In fact, when the JFA display was disassembled on the final day of the exhibit, some activists cheered and then chanted “pro-life fascits, get your asses off campus!”. . . . Yet another student wrote on JFA’s “free speech board” each morning “Get the fuck off our campus.” But the worst offender was probably a student named Channey who screamed at a few female volunteers and then walked away without giving them an opportunity to respond. . . .
[JFA staffer] Jeremy Alder informed me that a student pro-choice group at the University of Missouri worked hard to maintain the prevailing cultural image of pro-life activists. According to Alder, the group reported to the student newspaper that JFA staff and volunteers hurled aborted fetuses at students and yelled “you’re going to hell.” . . . At the University of Colorado in Boulder . . . a literature professor took his entire class out to see the JFA exhibit and then proceeded to shout invective at staffers while his students snickered in the background. Likewise, an instructor at the University of New Mexico yelled at JFA volunteers, “You are the American Taliban.”3
But the article ends on a happy note. Here’s the icing on the cake:
[Most pro-choice advocates] seem unwilling or unprepared to confront the growing philosophical sophistication of pro-life advocates. On college campuses across the country . . . pro-choice student groups refuse to debate their opponents despite the persistent efforts of pro-life students. As one student from the University of Albany put it when I asked him about the reluctance of pro-choice students to discuss abortion, “we have to beg them.” Such frustration is fueled by NARAL and Planned Parenthood where elites discourage their campus affiliates from debating or even talking to pro-life students. . . . Meanwhile, Scott Klusendorf, the former director of bioethics at STR and current director of the newly launched Life Training Institute, reports that he rarely succeeds to get pro-choice advocates to debate him. The director of the Pro-Choice Action Network recently corroborated Klusendorf’s account with the following admission: “along with most other pro-choice groups, we do not engage in debates with the anti-choice.”4
Of course not. It’s easier to retreat into emotional rhetoric and yelling F-bombs at pro-life students than to mount an intelligent defense of the indefensible. And that is why people’s minds are being changed. We are winning because we have an argument, and the pro-abortion activists have given theirs up.
1 Jon A. Shields, “Bioethical Politics,” Society 43 (March/April 2006): 19, emphasis in original.
2 Ibid., 22-23.
3 Ibid., 23.
4 Ibid., 23-24.