The Case for Life
- Saturday, May 09, 2009
Men and women, I agree completely with everything Nadine just said. She’s right that abortion is a personal, private matter that should not be restricted in any way. She’s right that we shouldn’t interfere with personal choices. She’s right that pro-lifers should stay out of this decision. Yes, I agree completely if. If what? If the unborn are not human beings. And if Nadine can demonstrate that the unborn are not members of the human family, I will concede this exchange, and so should everyone else who is pro-life.
Contrary to what some may think, the issue that divides Nadine and me is not that she is pro-choice and I am anti-choice. Truth is, I am vigorously “pro-choice” when it comes to women choosing a number of moral goods. I support a woman’s right to choose her own health care provider, to choose her own school, to choose her own husband, to choose her own job, to choose her own religion, and to choose her own career, to name a few. These are among the many choices that I fully support for the women of our country. But some choices are wrong, like killing innocent human beings simply because they are in the way and cannot defend themselves. No, we shouldn’t be allowed to choose that. So, again, the issue that separates Nadine and me is not that she is pro-choice and I am anti-choice. The issue that divides us is just one question: What is the unborn? Let me be clear: If the unborn is a human being, killing him or her to benefit others is a serious moral wrong. It treats the distinct human being, with his or her own inherent moral worth, as nothing more than a disposable instrument. Conversely, if the unborn are not human, killing them through elective abortion requires no more justification than having your tooth pulled.
In short, I was willing to buy her argument for freedom and self-determination, but only if she could demonstrate that the unborn are not human beings. I then argued scientifically that the unborn are distinct, living, and whole human beings, a case we’ll take up in the next chapter.
Framing the exchange around the status of the unborn set the tone for the entire evening and allowed me to ask good questions later in the debate. For example, during cross-examination I asked Nadine why the high number of abortions troubled her. After all, if abortion does not take the life of a defenseless human being, why worry about reducing it?
Notice that I made my case in two steps. First, I simplified the debate by focusing public attention on just one question: What is the unborn? Second, I argued for my pro-life view.
This two-part strategy is the same whether your audience has one person or a thousand. Consider Pam’s objection to Emily’s pro-life stance: “You certainly don’t want the government getting involved in Sarah’s personal life, do you?” Suppose Emily replied as follows: “Pam, if Sarah were talking about killing her toddler to solve a difficult life problem, would you object to the government telling her she can’t do that?” There’s no way Pam’s going to say yes. Instead, she’ll likely say, “Well, that’s different—it’s not the same thing.”
Oh, really? Not the same? How so? As you can see, Pam is assuming that the unborn are not human. Emily’s question exposed that assumption and refocused the discussion on the status of the unborn. The strategy is clear: first simplify, then argue. Let’s examine those two steps in more detail.
STEP #1: SIMPLIFY THE ISSUE
If you think a particular argument for elective abortion begs the question regarding the status of the unborn, here’s how to clarify things: Ask if this particular justification for abortion also works as a justification for killing toddlers. If not, the argument assumes that the unborn are not fully human. I call this tactic “Trot out the Toddler,” and it’s illustrated in the dialogue below. The purpose is not to argue for the humanity of the unborn (you’ll do that later) but to frame the debate around one question: What is the unborn?
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