All posts by Josh Brahm

Josh Brahm is the Director of Education for Right to Life of Central CA and host of the globally-heard podcast: "Life Report: Pro-Life Talk. Real World Answers." Josh's primary passion is helping pro-life people to be "more persuasive and less weird" when they communicate with pro-choice people. That means ditching faulty rhetoric and tactics and embracing arguments that hold up under philosophical scrutiny.

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Students for Life’s long-term goal: Abolish abortion

This is a clip from an episode of Life Report called “Practical Resources for Highschool and College Students.” In this episode I interviewed Casey Vroman, Regional Coordinator for Students for Life of America.

In this clip, we asked Casey about Students for Life of America’s long-term goals in the pro-life movement.

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VIDEO: Responding to “I’m pro-life, but…” statements

I was asked to give an apologetics speech at the Students for Life of America 2014 West Coast National Conference. I was given a title, “I’m Pro-Life, But…,” that I was allowed to do anything I wanted with, so I chose to respond to these four common statements and questions:

1: “I’m pro-life, but people tell me I come across like a jerk. What can I do about that?”
2: “I’m pro-life, but I don’t know how to convince people that abortion is wrong.”
3: “I’m pro-life, but I think it should be legal.”
4: “I’m pro-life, but what about rape?”

Download Audio MP3 | 00:49:02

Thanks to Secular Pro-Life for providing their video to me.

Shawn Carney

Shawn Carney on the pro-life movement’s greatest victory

This is a clip from an episode of Life Report called “Shawn Carney on the State of the Pro-Life Movement.” In this clip I asked 40 Days for Life co-founder Shawn Carney what he thought the pro-life movement’s greatest victory has been so far.

Click the embedded video and it will start at the right place in the interview. This particular topic ends at 19:12.

If you don’t want to watch the 3-minute video, you can read the full transcript below.

Transcript: 

Josh: Let me ask you a few questions that I’ve asked a lot of other pro-life leaders on this show. What has been the pro-life movement’s greatest victory or victories so far?

measuring successShawn: Persistence. And it’s easy to say that after 40 years of legalized abortion. But the fact that the March for Life is still the largest gathering in Washington D.C. year in and year out after 40 years says that fundamentally this is a religious movement.

And it has to be a religious movement because we can’t face this on our own. It’s too overwhelming. And when it’s based on our faith in God it means it’s something that’s never going away. There are few things as clearly religious in our country than the pro-life movement. It is one built of people of faith. And that’s our biggest asset.

The other side doesn’t have that. Planned Parenthood doesn’t have prayer rallies, and if they do, it’s usually to mock a group like 40 Days for Life like they did in Eureka, California.

But that’s a crucial point and it’s the most important point – that this is a religious movement and that it is one made up of sinners. We are not a bunch of self-righteous Christians telling the world how to live. This movement is made up of people who have done abortions; who have had abortions; who have paid for abortions; who have encouraged friends and family to have abortions; who have supported abortion legislation.

This is a movement full of people who have been on the other side. There is a huge river that goes from the pro-choice side to the pro-life side. Most of the people I know in the movement that are working, at one point or another were  pro-choice or even post-abortive; or in Abby Johnson’s case ran an abortion facility. That’s a movement of converts.

There’s nobody that grows up and is 50 years old and has seven kids who are now grown and married and says that, “My whole life I’ve been wrong. I haven’t supported abortion and I need to start doing that.” Those people don’t exist.

A lot of the baby boomers who were pro-choice and went through all of the craziness in the 70’s are now the most powerful voices for the unborn. And that’s a sign of truth – that ultimately, no matter how far we go off track as a nation, truth will always prevail. And thank God there’s a movement here to welcome these people.

Download Full Interview (MP3) | 00:28:00

Life Report trains pro-life people to communicate their views more effectively. Through round-table discussions and interviews with the top experts on the subject, Life Report provides real-world answers to the toughest questions regarding abortion in the 21st century. Follow them on Facebook or Twitter.

Special thanks to Nate Amundson  for the transcription. Thanks to Andrea Gleiter for helping to edit this post.

weakness

Shawn Carney on the pro-life movement’s greatest weakness

This is a clip from an episode of Life Report called “Shawn Carney from 40 Days for Life on the State of the Pro-Life Movement.” In this clip, I asked 40 Days for Life co-founder Shawn Carney what he believes the pro-life movements greatest weakness is. This is a follow-up question from my last post with Shawn’s answer about the pro-life movement’s greatest victory so far.

Click the embedded video and it will start at the right place in the interview. This particular topic ends at 21:11.

If you don’t want to watch the 3-minute video, you can read the full transcript below.

Transcript: 

weaknessJosh Brahm:  What is the pro-life movement’s greatest weakness or failing?

Shawn Carney:  Division, like anything else. And that’s the weakness of any company, school, church, or anything. We’re a divided movement because we’re a family.

Josh Brahm: If you don’t believe that, go to Abby Johnson’s Facebook page because there is no more debated –

Shawn Carney: This might be a family show. I don’t know what you’re going to see on Abby’s Facebook page. I don’t even go to Abby’s Facebook page!

That’s right. It is divided. And I got asked that one time by a Canadian secular media outlet. And, in some sense, it should be divided because we’re is a family and this is a passionate issue — because these are our brothers and our sisters that are being aborted. These are our brothers and our sisters that are having the abortions. And these are our brothers and our sisters that are working in the industry.

Everybody has a strong opinion and thinks that their way is the best way. And that makes for a closer knit family, but it has provided stumbling blocks. And that’s why it has been — we feel — one of our roles as an organization at 40 Days for Life — to bring so many people into the movement so that they can get involved.

Because how many people do we know — especially the post-abortive women and the people who supported abortion who did have some kind of conversion or change of heart — they always say, “If people only knew about the humanity of the baby. If people only knew that every single abortion stops a beating heart.”

This is an education process and we can’t be so divisive that we don’t recruit all of the new people. This is the worst thing that our country has to offer. It is so horrific that we can’t show it on TV, even if we wanted to. No one would do it.

And yet, history will judge that. History is going to judge that and we want to be on the right side of history. And we have to articulate our message to get more people involved.

Download Full Interview (MP3) | 00:28:00

Life Report trains pro-life people to communicate their views more effectively. Through round-table discussions and interviews with the top experts on the subject, Life Report provides real-world answers to the toughest questions regarding abortion in the 21st century. Follow them on Facebook or Twitter.

Special thanks to Kimberly Carmany for the transcription. Thanks to Andrea Gleiter for helping to edit this post.

Shawn Carney on the best methods for a local 40 Days for Life campaign

This is a clip from an episode of Life Report called “Shawn Carney on the State of the Pro-Life Movement.” In this clip I asked 40 Days for Life co-founder Shawn Carney what the best methods are for a local 40 Days for Life campaign.

Click the embedded video and it will start at the right place in the interview. This particular topic ends at 12:54.

If you don’t want to watch the 3-minute video, you can read the full transcript below.

Transcript: 

Josh Brahm:  One of the things I loved about Abby’s book was how she talked about the difference between your attitude and the other sidewalk counselors that you had brought to that Planned Parenthood clinic — the vast difference — the juxtaposition between that with the guy with the Angel of Death thing and all of the other more nutty people that were there. There was this kind of loving attitude that Abby was drawn to.

Tell me — I know leaders from the 40 Days haven’t been super “You have to do 40 Days exactly like this.” You’ve left a lot of things open for the local leaders to choose. But you now have a lot of experience and have heard a lot of stories from outside of where you have done 40 Days — if someone is doing 40 Days for the first time, what would you say is the best way to do 40 Days for Life?

Do you hold signs or not? Where do you stand? If you could say, “Here’s the best things that we’ve seen 40 Days for Life groups do when they’re actually out there,” what does that look like to you?

Shawn Carney:  Well, the best way to do, lead, or participate in a 40 Days for Life campaign is to follow everything that we put in our official training, which is an answer that I have to give all too often.

40 days for lifeOur approach — with what you are referring to — is that it is not a cliche to say that this movement is about hearts and minds. It really is about hearts and minds. And if we are interested or at all serious about reaching hearts and changing minds, our approach matters. Our body language matters.

When a woman leaves an abortion facility, there’s no follow-up appointment. What you look like could be the image that she’ll remember in 30 years. And so, when we go out there, we have to be conscious of the fact that we’re taking on a huge responsibility. This is a day she will likely regret when she leaves this facility. And she’s going to remember you. She’s going to remember that there were people there or that there weren’t people there.

I’ve had numerous post-abortive women say, “Where were you 20 years ago or 30 years ago when I had my abortion?” So there really is that longing and that loneliness. There’s nothing more lonely than a lobby of a Planned Parenthood abortion facility.

And yet, when we go out there, we can’t be crazy. We can’t be nuts. We can’t be completely disconnected from what these women are going through.

And we also can’t be disconnected from the workers, although they — in a much different way — are choosing to be there and they are advocating for the death of these children. But we have to be there for them as well.

We have to love our enemies. And we have enemies there. There are people that don’t like us. They don’t want us there. They want you to go away. They may tell you that. They may give you the middle finger. They may do things wanting  to make you angry. And yet, your prayers, your meekness, your humility, your body language — is the witness to them. And it destroys all of their anger. And it destroys all of their thoughts. And that’s really why we’ve seen workers have a change of heart. That’s why women leave at the very last moment.

Nobody grows up wanting an abortion. If we show up, we can only ruin ourselves if we’re shouting at them or if we’re not communicating in a way that shows that we are who we say we are:  that we are people of love, that we represent the Gospel, and that we represent the mercy in the Gospel.

Download Full Interview (MP3) | 00:28:00

Life Report trains pro-life people to communicate their views more effectively. Through round-table discussions and interviews with the top experts on the subject, Life Report provides real-world answers to the toughest questions regarding abortion in the 21st century. Follow them on Facebook or Twitter.

Special thanks to Kimberly Carmany for the transcription. Thanks to Andrea Gleiter for helping to edit this post.

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Are there other social issues more important than abortion?

I was talking with a Life Report fan recently about one of her family members who claims to be pro-life, but doesn’t care very much about abortion. I suspect this is a relatively common thing and can be very confusing for pro-life people who believe that the unborn child is fully human and worthy of legal protection. I offered her four possible explanations why somebody who claims to be “pro-life” may not care about abortion very much. I suspect that you know at least one person that would fall under each of these categories, and I want you to have some tools for engaging each of them. I’ll cover the second reason in today’s post.

  1. She is pro-life, but falsely thinks that all social issues are equal.
  2. She is pro-life but thinks that other social issues are more important than abortion.
  3. She only thinks the unborn are semi-valuable, like a golden retriever.
  4. She believes that while the unborn are fully human, abortion shouldn’t be made illegal because of women’s bodily autonomy rights.

2. She is pro-life but thinks that other social issues are more important than abortion.

Again, when I use the term “pro-life” here, I mean that this person truly believes that the unborn is a valuable human being, and thinks that the unborn should be legally protected.

I don’t need to defend the fact that there a lot of issues out there that involve innocent people being hurt. Human trafficking, teen bullying, and racism are just a few of them. As I briefly argued in part one (and there’s much more that could be said about this), not all issues deserve equal amounts of resources.

Brass scales isolatedI told a story where, because of the situation (debating capital punishment as a lone Protestant speaker in front of a large Catholic audience in a Catholic church), I chose to make a purely quantitative argument about the number of people killed in abortion far outweighing the numbers killed with capital punishment. But there are more aspects to consider when weighing the moral gravity of a harmful act, and many of them would fall under a qualitative category of how much harm is being done to the victim or victims.

When weighing two issues, start by assessing the harm done to the victim in each case. Throw away the numbers and just consider the two single cases. For example, an act of rape is clearly more harmful than an act of mild teen bullying. I just made a qualitative assessment, and if rape also happens more often or to more people, then it seems like that’s a pretty open-and-shut case about which issue should be fought by more people and/or resources.

I could imagine hypothetical scenarios where somebody learns about teen bullying and finds that there are 50 organizations fighting rape and zero fighting teen bullying. Maybe that person should start the first organization to fight teen bullying. I think some work should go to fight all of these issues. I simply don’t think they are all equal.

How would I defend my view that abortion is easily in the top three issues as far as where the most resources should go? I think there are certain things about abortion that make it uniquely evil. For example, but not limited to this list:

  1. the age and vulnerability of the victim class being killed;
  2. the method by which most of the victims are killed (dismemberment or shredding);
  3. the fact that one or more of the victim’s parents is usually complicit in the act (I qualified this point with “usually” because of cases where the mother is forced into the abortion by somebody other than the father.);
  4. the sheer number of those killed.

Again, I’m not saying that 100% of resources should go to one issue. I merely think that some issues should be fought by more people and resources than others.  

Scott Klusendorf makes a good point in his 2008 post, War Worse Than Abortion?

Of course abortion isn’t the only issue—anymore than the treatment of slaves wasn’t the only issue in the 1850’s or the treatment of Jews the only issue in the 1940s. But both were the dominant issues of their day. Thoughtful Christians attribute different importance to different issues, and give greater weight to fundamental moral questions. [Emphasis added.]

Generally speaking, I think abortion and sex slavery are the two worst things that I know about. I’m really glad that there are lot of organizations activating people to fight sex slavery, partially because I had to learn a lot about it last year while creating a new campus outreach dialogue tool, and the more disgusting things I learned about what actually goes on, even in my own city, the more a deep part of me becomes angry at the rapists and pimps and sad for the victims.

Here’s the point. If I’m right about the unique evil of abortion and sex slavery, it shouldn’t be that hard to defend that view to somebody who thinks deforestation is more evil.

Dialogue Tip: If your friend cares more about a certain issue than abortion, ask her about that issue she cares about. Ask her some questions about why she feels so strongly about it, and with her permission, compare and contrast that issue with abortion. Help her to understand why you think abortion is more evil than most Americans think it is. Then join her at an event related to the issue she cares most about, and invite her to a local pro-life event as well. I think you’ll both learn a lot about both issues, and become closer friends as well.

Question: Do you have a friend who believes that some social issues are more evil than abortion? How have you responded to him or her? What are some other arguments that might convince him or her that abortion is more evil than some other social issues? Leave your response or story in the comments below!

Shawn Carney

Do people transition from participation in 40 Days for Life to other pro-life activities?

This is a clip from an episode of Life Report called “Shawn Carney on the State of the Pro-Life Movement.” In this episode I asked 40 Days for Life co-founder Shawn Carney about his ministry as well as the state of the pro-life movement.

In this clip, I asked Shawn Carney if people often go from participating in 40 Days for Life to doing other pro-life activities. I also asked him what he is doing to encourage that.

Click the embedded video and it will start at the right place in the interview. This particular topic ends at 9:31.

If you don’t want to watch the 3-minute video, you can read the full transcript below.

Transcript: 

40 Days for Life Pictures (Callis Family) 184Josh Brahm:  What have you seen as far as people going from doing 40 Days for Life into doing other types of pro-life activities? Have you seen that happen often? And what is it that you and the leadership have been doing to encourage that kind of thing?

Shawn Carney:  Absolutely. We’re big cheerleaders for that because the grassroots movement right now is so powerful in the pro-life movement. There are a lot of fronts in Washington, D.C. — this isn’t news to anyone — that we are losing on the life issue. And there is a lot of disappointment and frustration. And that part of the movement has to be done. We have the joy of working so closely with the Susan B. Anthony List and so many wonderful D.C. based groups.

Over half of all of the abortion facilities over the last 20 years have closed in America. And on the grassroots front, we’ve seen the number of crisis pregnancy centers triple in the last 15 years. They now outnumber abortion providers 3 to 1.

Shawn Carney
Shawn Carney.

We’ve seen 40 Days for Life spread rapidly. So this is a catalyst. When you participate in a campaign, it’s not just that you show up on day 1 and you show up on day 40, and you get your t-shirt and you walk off and that’s it.

The abortion issue doesn’t allow us to forfeit that sense of urgency that it demands of us — that no other issue in our culture demands. Because children are aborted every single day.

And so, it serves as a catalyst to enter people into the movement. It may be the political realm. It may be that most of our volunteers volunteer at a crisis pregnancy center or support their banquets. And so that’s something that we really encourage because it’s going to end at the local level with these facilities closing.

Download Full Interview (MP3) | 00:28:00

Life Report trains pro-life people to communicate their views more effectively. Through round-table discussions and interviews with the top experts on the subject, Life Report provides real-world answers to the toughest questions regarding abortion in the 21st century. Follow them on Facebook or Twitter.

Special thanks to Kimberly Carmany for the transcription. Thanks to Andrea Gleiter for helping to edit this post.

sidewalk counseling

How can pro-lifers encourage sidewalk counseling participation?

This is a clip from an episode of Life Report called “Shawn Carney on the State of the Pro-Life Movement.” In this clip I asked 40 Days for Life co-founder Shawn Carney how pro-life organizations could better persuade people to participate in sidewalk counseling.

Click the embedded video and it will start at the right place in the interview. This particular topic ends at 16:54.

If you don’t want to watch the 4-minute video, you can read the full transcript below.

Transcript: 

Josh: We’ve had a relatively easy time in Fresno getting people to come to do 40 Days for Life. We’ve had a hard time getting people to attend sidewalk counseling training as opposed to praying and maybe holding a sign.

Besides offering free training which we do occasionally, what could we do to help persuade people to kind of take this to the next, admittedly scarier, level where you’re actually interacting with the people going in?

sidewalk counselingShawn: I’m a big fan of sidewalk counseling. That was one of my focuses when I was the director of The Coalition for Life. I know I’m biased but my wife was one of the best sidewalk counselors I have ever heard.

When sidewalk counseling you will have the most important conversation in the world. This is especially true in our country. So, what else can you do with your time, besides going to medical school and learning to become a trauma surgeon, where you could literally save a life or participate in saving a life on any given Wednesday or Saturday or whenever the abortions are taking place that week? Sidewalk counseling lends you that opportunity.

Now, there’s nothing scarier either in life, which is why people say, “You can forget that! I’ll go out there and I’ll pray. If people see me, then that’s bad enough. But I’m not talking to these people. I’m not going to reach out to them. What am I going to say?”

What really helps break down the wall of the sidewalk counselor fear is that these are moms, these are young women going in for the abortion. They’re not aliens. You say, “Good morning. I know you’re having a hard time today. I know you don’t want to be here today.” And the training starts with those initial things and sidewalk counseling is something – once you do it you want to do it again.

It can be frustrating because you may converse with a woman and you feel like she went in regardless and had an abortion anyway. Some counselors blame themselves; but you may have been the only witness to our Lord to that woman, not only on that day, but in many years. You have no idea where these people come from. Just like they have no idea where you come from.

We have a lot of post-abortive women who are excellent sidewalk counselors. We have teenagers who are excellent sidewalk counselors.

That love that you can show them at that moment is crucial. Once they enter the abortion facility, the hope for the baby drops drastically. Planned Parenthood, according to their own numbers, does 120 abortions for every one adoption referral. Once the door closes and they’re in that lobby, our ability to reach them is so reduced. In fact, many Planned Parenthoods have started installing blinds in their lobbies so that they can close them. It happened in Madison, Wisconsin; it’s happened in other places. In Sacramento they built a fence because of sidewalk counselors.

It’s so crucial that we work up the courage to have that basic conversation. You don’t have to come up with anything profound. That’s why the trainings are so simple; they’re so straightforward.

Many of these women considering abortion want you to say something. Sometimes they engage you in conversation and some people become sidewalk counselors because they’re forced into it. A woman approaches them and says, “Do I have any other options?”

I really encourage people, if you are afraid to do sidewalk counseling, you’re normal. You should be terrified, because most of us won’t even talk about abortion in our families, during our political debates, in our churches sometimes. To actually talk about it to the woman who in ten minutes is going to have one, gives such a gravity that we kind of get overwhelmed and we think, “Well, I can’t do it.” But we need people to do it and women are far more responsive than most people would think.

Editors Note: Shawn said that Planned Parenthood does 120 abortions for every one adoption referral. According to Planned Parenthood’s latest report that came out after we shot this interview, those numbers are now 392 abortions for every one adoption referral!

Download Full Interview (MP3) | 00:28:00

Life Report trains pro-life people to communicate their views more effectively. Through round-table discussions and interviews with the top experts on the subject, Life Report provides real-world answers to the toughest questions regarding abortion in the 21st century. Follow them on Facebook or Twitter.

Special thanks to Nate Amundson for the transcription. Thanks to Andrea Gleiter for helping to edit this post.

josh brahm at justice for all featured

How should pro-life people interact with those who are pro-abortion-choice?

This is a clip from an episode of Life Report called “Shawn Carney on the State of the Pro-Life Movement.” In this clip, I asked 40 Days for Life co-founder Shawn Carney how pro-life people should interact with those who are pro-abortion-choice.

Click the embedded video and it will start at the right place in the interview. This particular topic ends at 27:34.

If you don’t want to watch the 3-minute video, you can read the full transcript below.

Transcript:

Josh Brahm: Not in regards to sidewalk-counseling or 40 Days for Life, but I want to ask you about interacting with people who are pro-abortion-choice. A lot of people who listen to this show, they’ll go to college campuses – or if nothing else, they’ll talk to their friends. Or maybe they’re on Facebook debating or – God forbid – on YouTube doing debates in the comment sections.

So – not sidewalk-counseling – but just people that are having a more philosophical discussion. How should pro-life people interact with people that are pro-abortion-choice? Because I see a wide spectrum of ways that people act in conversations like that.

Josh Brahm dialoguing with pro-choice people at Fresno City College.
Josh Brahm dialoguing with pro-choice people at Fresno City College.

Shawn Carney: In pro-life apologetics, especially on the abortion issue, the worst thing that you can do is discredit yourself, because then you forfeit – they may not meet another pro-life person or somebody who is willing to stand up against them in the next ten years or ever.

So when you discredit through getting mad, name-calling – just basic stuff – it’s a maturity issue. You can’t do it.

There has to be a respect in the conversation for the unborn that you are speaking on behalf of to this person. Now, they may be lost. You may be frustrated at them. You might think, “They just don’t get it” or whatever. But you have to have discipline because of what you’re speaking for.

If you’re just trying to win an argument, then pick something like sports and go on about something subjective. But when you’re debating or talking about the greatest injustice in our world, there has to be a level of discipline and respect. And so, rule number one has to be to not discredit yourself by getting angry or being a smart-aleck or anything like that.

And the other part is just ask questions, because it’s impossible to defend abortion. I was asked to speak at Cornell University two years ago. It was a great trip. Students for Life put on this conference. And there were a number of professors there. I think most of the crowd was pro-choice.

And so I started the debate – started my speech by just defending abortion as something that’s needed in a society that’s just. And, you know, it was just like 20 minutes, making every point of why abortion should be legal, and then, of course, going back and refuting all of my arguments and then opening up for Q & A.

And you have to make those points, because they’re going to make them. I mean, all of the arguments are so predictable now that it’s easy for our side to go ahead and make it for them. And then refute it because abortion – you cannot defend it. And so question it, ask questions about it, and then show our points, and people will then decide.

I think what a lot of people will find – and this is a cold, harsh reality – is that what drives abortion is the hardness of heart. That we can know that it’s a baby intellectually and not care. And through our will and through our power and through our political system, we can force our will on that child who we know to be human. That’s how holocausts are built, is that we know they’re human, but we will them out of our society.

Most people who support abortion aren’t there yet, but you’ll just discover that as you’re talking. Yes, it’s a baby, but the woman has the choice. That’s a common end to most arguments. We have to allow them to arrive at that, not tell it to them on the front-end.

Download Full Interview (MP3) | 00:28:00

Life Report trains pro-life people to communicate their views more effectively. Through round-table discussions and interviews with the top experts on the subject, Life Report provides real-world answers to the toughest questions regarding abortion in the 21st century. Follow them on Facebook or Twitter.

Special thanks to Kimberly Carmany for the transcription. Thanks to Andrea Gleiter for helping to edit this post.

justice

Are all social issues equal?

I was talking with a Life Report fan recently about one of her family members who claims to be pro-life but doesn’t care very much about abortion. I suspect this is a relatively common thing and can be very confusing for pro-life people who believe that the unborn child is fully human and worthy of legal protection. I offered her four possible explanations why somebody who claims to be “pro-life” may not care about abortion very much. I suspect that you know at least one person who falls under each of these categories, and I want you to have some tools for engaging each of them.

Here’s the full list, but I’ll discuss only the first one today to keep the length of the blog post down. I’ll finish the rest in the next two weeks. Make sure you’ve subscribed to my email list or RSS feed to be alerted when new posts show up.

  1. She is pro-life, but falsely thinks that all social issues are equal.
  2. She is pro-life but thinks that other social issues are more important than abortion.
  3. She only thinks the unborn are semi-valuable, like a golden retriever.
  4. She believes that while the unborn are fully human, abortion shouldn’t be made illegal because of women’s bodily autonomy rights.

Brass scales isolated1. She is pro-life but falsely thinks that all social issues are equal.

When I use the term “pro-life” here, I mean that this person truly believes that the unborn is a valuable human being and thinks that the unborn should be legally protected.

A lot of people have bought into the lie that all social issues are equally important. I think some of this is a mutation of the “consistent life ethic” that Catholic Cardinal Joseph Bernardin wrote about and the idea of the “seamless garment” that Roman Catholic pacifist Eileen Egan first spoke of.

Their view was that pro-lifers should consistently value life, and that it was inconsistent to be against abortion but for other things like capital punishment and euthanasia. I haven’t read enough of their original writings on the subject to determine whether either of them actually thought that all life-related issues deserved equal attention, but even if they didn’t, a lot of people now believe in the idea that all issues deserve equal attention, and they frequently use the phrase “seamless garment” to defend their view.

I don’t think it takes very much reflection to realize that not all issues deserve equal attention. I remember after a pro-life speech in Georgia in 2006 being asked by a Catholic attendee why I wasn’t spending equal amounts of time fighting abortion and capital punishment.

I graciously responded, “Assuming that capital punishment is equally evil, there’s a very good reason why I wouldn’t spend 50% of my time fighting it. Do you know how many executions have taken place in Georgia since 1976?”

Him: “No, I don’t.”

Me: “39. Do you know how many abortions have taken place in Georgia since yesterday?”

Him: “No.”

Me: “83. They’re not equal. If we wanted to spend more time discussing it, we could also talk about whether it’s equally wrong for a government to use a legal system for executing the worst convicted felons in the country and for doctors to legally dismember innocent babies, but I don’t even have to go there to make my case that these two issues are not deserving of equal attention. I’m going to focus most of my effort on abortion, partially because that’s how the greatest number of people are being killed without justification.”

Notice what I’m not arguing here: I’m not saying that capital punishment is justified. I’m actually a Protestant guy who is very uncomfortable with the death penalty, albeit primarily for pragmatic reasons. I think it’s still possible to execute innocent people, and I’m very concerned about that. I also think there are some strong principled objections to the death penalty that may cause me to be even more opposed to capital punishment later, but the pragmatic arguments are enough for me until the justice system is improved.

The point is not whether capital punishment is wrong. The point is that even if capital punishment is wrong, it doesn’t necessarily deserve as much time and resources to fight it as abortion does, because the numbers matter.

Dialogue Tip: If one of your friends believes that all issues are equal, I would recommend that you ask him or her this question: “Assuming that abortion and capital punishment are equally wrong, knowing that 1.2 million abortions take place every year in this country compared to an average of 52 executions a year in the last ten years, could we agree that more energy should be spent fighting abortion than capital punishment?”

Question: Do you have a friend who believes all social issues are equal? How have you responded to him or her? What are some other arguments that might convince him or her that abortion is more evil than some other social issues? Leave your response or story in the comments below! 

Golden retriever thinking

Responding to people who think the unborn are semi-valuable like a golden retriever

I was talking with a Life Report fan recently about one of her family members who claims to be pro-life, but doesn’t care very much about abortion. I suspect this is a relatively common thing and can be very confusing for pro-life people who believe that the unborn child is fully human and worthy of legal protection. I offered her four possible explanations why somebody who claims to be “pro-life” may not care about abortion very much. I suspect that you know at least one person that would fall under each of these categories, and I want you to have some tools for engaging each of them. I’ll cover the third reason in today’s post.

  1. She is pro-life, but falsely thinks that all social issues are equal.
  2. She is pro-life but thinks that other social issues are more important than abortion.
  3. She only thinks the unborn are semi-valuable, like a golden retriever.
  4. She believes that while the unborn are fully human, abortion shouldn’t be made illegal because of women’s bodily autonomy rights.

3. She only thinks the unborn are semi-valuable, like a golden retriever.

Golden retriever thinking

When I was living in Georgia with my wife, we found a dog in our apartment complex. I think she was part golden retriever, part mutt. She was very friendly and had a license on her. We knew we couldn’t keep the dog, but wanted to return her to her owner. We called the number on the license tag, but nobody called back. A few days later I called an animal shelter who said they would try to find the owner for us, and to bring the dog to them. On my way to the shelter the dog’s previous owner finally called me! The dog is literally lying on the other seat next to me in the car, and I excitedly answer the phone only to have a confusing and frustrating conversation. It turns out the owner had purposefully let the dog run away and didn’t want her anymore. He refused to take her back. Not knowing what else to do, I finished my trip to the animal shelter only to find out they were going to euthanize her unless I kept her. We just couldn’t keep her at that time. We were living in a tiny apartment complex with a policy against pets. So I drove away, knowing that the dog wouldn’t survive the night. I actually wept as I drove home, even though this was just a dog. A dog I had only known for three days.

Last year I flew my friend Trent Horn who now works for Catholic Answers to Fresno to record some episodes of Life Report. You can watch or download them here. During one of the episodes he made the comment that some people believe that the unborn are valuable, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they think the unborn are AS valuable as other human beings. They think the unborn are more valuable than a rock, but less than a human being. They may think the unborn are about as valuable as a golden retriever.

This would make sense of some people’s view that abortion is sad, but it shouldn’t be illegal. If you actually believe that the unborn are somewhat valuable, that would make abortion a sad thing, just like a stray dog being euthanized is a sad thing. But even most animal rights activists agree that sometimes it is necessary to euthanize animals. Few think that animal euthanasia should be illegal.

I’m sometimes privileged to have very logical conversations about abortion with bright pro-choice people who don’t want to bring a lot of emotion into the debate, but primarily want to discuss the philosophical arguments. I LOVE talking with these people, and many of them are still friends. When I begin these conversations, I like to order our conversation this way:

  1. Discuss the biology first: can we agree that the unborn is a living, human organism?
  2. Discuss the personhood question next: is this human organism a full human being, or person?
  3. Discuss bodily rights arguments. No philosophical debate about abortion is complete without getting into this part of the debate, and it’s by far the most complex.

I’ve had a few experiences where my new pro-choice friend begins by saying she already thinks the unborn is a living, human organism, so we don’t need to debate that. Then we’ll get into the personhood question and my friend will immediately say that she thinks the unborn are persons, and she thinks pro-choice anti-personhood arguments are weak. Before getting to bodily rights, I’m going to ask a few clarification questions to make sure we’re on the same page. The last time this happened to me, the exchange went something like this:

Her: I think the unborn are persons. I can’t believe some pro-choice don’t understand that.

Me: Wow, that’s awesome. In my experience, some pro-choice people say they think that the unborn are persons, because their primary argument is based on bodily rights. But I’ve noticed the vast majority of pro-choice believe BOTH that the unborn aren’t full persons AND that bodily rights trump the right to live of her offspring. Do you really think that the unborn are full persons?

Her: Yes, I think there is no morally relevant difference between an unborn baby and a toddler.

EHD.org
EHD.org

Me: Let me challenge you on that one more time. What about very early embryos, like this embryo at 3- days since fertilization. Do you think this entity is just as valuable as a toddler, even though they don’t look alike?

Her: Yes, I absolutely think that both are equally valuable persons.

Me: Okay, let’s talk about bodily rights!

*wonderful dialogue continues*

If my friend had responded that the 3-day embryo is NOT a full person, we would have discussed that before getting into bodily rights. Pro-choice people don’t NEED bodily rights arguments if the unborn isn’t a full human being.

There are different directions that a conversation about the personhood of 3-day embryos can go, because there are lot of different reasons that some pro-choice people don’t think a 3-day embryo is a person. You want to respond to their argument, so ask some questions and listen to them before offering a question that challenges their view.

Joseph Merrick, who was called “The Elephant Man.”

For example, if the person thinks 3-day embryos aren’t valuable because they look so weird, I’m going to ask whether there are other really weird looking persons. (Notice I’m not debating whether or not the 3-day embryo looks weird. I know all human beings look like that at 3-days, but most people see that picture and only see a cluster of stem cells instead of a cute baby.) My go-to illustration is Joseph Merrick, who was called “The Elephant Man.” He looked weird, but he was absolutely a human being. If you haven’t seen the movie based on his story, watch this famous scene where he’s chased by an angry mob and finally cries out, “I AM NOT AN ANIMAL! I AM A HUMAN BEING!”

Whether or not I talk to my pro-choice friend about how appearances should not determine value, I will ultimately want to make the equal human rights argument that I summarized here.

Question: Do you have a friend who believes that unborn fetuses are semi-valuable like golden retrievers? How have you responded to him or her? What are some other arguments that might convince him or her that the unborn are as valuable as newborn children? Leave your response or story in the comments below!

Shawn-Carney2

How has 40 Days for Life changed the pro-life movement?

This is a clip from an episode of Life Report called “Shawn Carney on the State of the Pro-Life Movement.” In this clip I asked 40 Days for Life co-founder Shawn Carney how 40 Days for Life has changed the pro-life movement.

Click the embedded video and it will start at the right place in the interview. This particular topic ends at 6:16.

If you don’t want to watch the 3-minute video, you can read the full transcript below.

Transcript: 

Josh Brahm:  So looking back, besides Abby Johnson’s story, how do you feel like 40 Days for Life has changed the pro-life movement?

40dfl_logo_verticalShawn Carney:  The pro-life movement is the greatest cause of our lifetime and the greatest cause in America. Abortion is the greatest injustice that has ever come to American soil. And if the pro-life movement is like coffee, then 40 Days for Life is like espresso. It just adds something to it. It doesn’t replace it by any means.

But it adds to it and it really has served like a shot in the arm for so many people. We’ve seen 550,000 people participate in 40 Days for Life. Our surveys tell us that over 25% of the participants — this is their first pro-life activity. It’s the first thing they’ve ever done in the pro-life movement and that’s really one of the goals of 40 Days for Life.

Before David [Bereit] and I launched this nationally in the fall of ’07, we spoke to a number of pro-life leaders. The first person to support 40 Days for Life was Fr. Frank Pavone. So that helped convince us that maybe we weren’t completely crazy because he thought it would be a good idea.

So as we saw it grow, he and so many others said, “This will be a point of entry for so many people who are on the sidelines or who want nothing to do with this cause, which is so dear to our hearts.” And it has certainly served in that capacity.

The joy of participating in 40 Days for Life is that you get to enter into something. You are entering into a time period, a holy season to pray, to reflect upon yourself, your own spiritual life. To reflect on your community and ultimately, our nation and our world when it comes to the crisis of abortion.

And so, it’s not something that you get to view and then get a wristband or a bumper sticker or a t-shirt — although you can get those things. But it’s something to enter into to participate in.

The greatest stories we’ve seen through 40 Days for Life — yes, we’ve mentioned the 75 abortion clinic workers who have had conversions, the nearly 7,000 babies who have been spared — but it’s the participants. It’s the leaders who have said, “I would have run from the hills from some crazy thing like this.” And yet, they’re the ones that are having a huge impact in their community.

There was a 19-year-old home schooled high school student who got Planned Parenthood thrown out of a business strip in Memphis, Tennessee. There are so many leaders that stepped up, thinking, “Well, I just kind of want to lead a prayer vigil.” And they literally end up transforming their community. In the midst of that, God is transforming their hearts.

Download Full Interview (MP3) | 00:28:00

Life Report trains pro-life people to communicate their views more effectively. Through round-table discussions and interviews with the top experts on the subject, Life Report provides real-world answers to the toughest questions regarding abortion in the 21st century. Follow them on Facebook or Twitter.

Special thanks to Kimberly Carmany for the transcription. Thanks to Andrea Gleiter for helping to edit this post.