Christian Book Reviews, Author Interviews, Excerpts

The Case for Life

  • Scott Klusendorf Author
  • 2009 9 May
The Case for Life

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is an excerpt from

The Case for Life: Equipping Christians to Engage the Culture by Scott Klusendorf (Crossway).

Chapter One: What’s the Issue?

The abortion controversy is not a debate between those who are pro-choice and those who are anti-choice. It’s not about privacy. It’s not about trusting women to decide. It’s not about forcing one’s morality. It’s about one question that trumps all others.

Emily never saw it coming. A fifteen-year friendship was on the brink of disaster over one word. Abortion.

She met Pam at a Christian college, and the relationship paid off immediately. Emily excelled at language and history, while Pam was a math and science whiz. Together they could tackle any required course, and they did. Both graduated with honors a semester ahead of their classmates. Within a year they both married their college sweethearts. Later, when kids came along and budgets got tight, they swapped baby clothes and enjoyed occasional sack lunches together. Even when a job change forced Pam to move fifty miles away, they still managed to meet for coffee at least once a month. Emily looked forward to her times with Pam. She needed escape from the kids, not to mention the endless grind of household chores. Pam was easy to talk to, optimistic, and always lifted Emily’s spirits. Sometimes they shared prayer requests.

Now Emily wondered if they would ever feel connected again. For the hundredth time that night, she replayed the conversation that started it all.

Pam: Emily, did I tell you that my niece, Sarah, is pregnant?

Emily: What? You mean the one in California? We’ve never met, but you talk about her a lot.

Pam: Yes, that’s the one. You’d love her. She’s nineteen and a freshman at college. Sweet, sweet girl. Smart as a whip and drop-dead gorgeous. I would have never thought…

Emily: Did her parents have any clue she was in trouble?

Pam: None. Sarah attends church religiously and never had a serious boyfriend before Jack. They met over the summer and attend the same university. He swept her right off her feet.

Emily: What about his parents?

Pam: Seldom home and very liberal. Sarah told Jack she wanted to wait, but with no adults around, well, you can guess the rest.

Emily: I don’t have to. Have they talked to their pastor?

Pam: Well, Sarah has one, but Jack’s not the churchgoing type. He’s very liberal, like his parents. Says Christianity is a bunch of fairy tales, a crutch for the weak.

Emily: You mean she’s romantically involved with a non-Christian?

Pam: Yep. I tried to warn her, but she insisted she could change him. Even now, she thinks he’ll change if given enough time.

Emily: Oh dear. Since when has that ever worked? We used to call that missionary dating.

Pam: Yeah, only in this case, the “missionary” is pregnant. And her mission “project” wants out. He’ll pay for the abortion, but that’s it.

Emily: But what if she doesn’t want one? What if she keeps the child?

Pam: I guess he won’t stick around to find out.

Emily: What a loser! He’s going to bolt no matter what she does. What’s she thinking?

Pam: Right now, only about keeping him, whatever it takes.

Emily: How about her parents?

Pam: Funny you ask. They’re supportive but think Jack has a point.

Emily: What? You mean they think abortion might be an option?

Pam: Jack told Sarah that if she has this baby, she’ll never finish college and won’t make enough money to support herself. She’ll also forfeit a promising modeling career and cause her parents untold embarrassment in the community. Her dad’s a deacon, you know. Maybe Jack’s on to something.

Emily: What did you say?

Pam: Only that Sarah stands to lose a lot and needs to think about what Jack said.

Emily: What do you mean by that? You aren’t saying you buy what Jack’s telling her, are you?

Pam: Personally, no. I oppose abortion and would never have one. But if Sarah thinks it’s the right decision for her at this time, it’s not my place to judge. I’ve never walked in her shoes.

Emily: Pam, I’m shocked. How could killing an innocent human being ever be the right call?

Pam: I personally don’t think it is. Like I said, I don’t like abortion one bit. I hope she keeps the baby. But it’s not my decision. If you and I don’t like abortion, we shouldn’t have one. But Sarah may feel differently, and we shouldn’t force our views on her.

Emily: I still don’t understand. How can a Christian ever say abortion is okay just because it would solve a difficult life problem?

Pam: No, no, you’ve got me all wrong. I hate abortion. Like I said, I personally think she should keep the baby. That’s what my preference would be. But she has to decide for herself what’s best in this situation. It’s not my place to say what’s right or wrong. None of us are in a position to judge. And you certainly don’t want the government getting involved in her personal life, do you?

Emily: Pam, it’s not about that.

Pam: Consider the consequences, Emily. If abortion is made illegal, Sarah and girls like her will be forced to get dangerous illegal abortions. They’ll get thrown in jail if caught. I can’t even imagine that. And if they’re raped, they’ll be forced to give birth to a child that will forever remind them of that terrible event.

Emily: I still don’t understand. How does any of that make abortion right?

Pam: Think about it, Emily. If your daughter gets in a tough spot, do you want her going to some guy with a rusty coat hanger in a back alley? You never know—she could get pregnant, like Sarah.

Emily: Let’s hope not, but even if she does, right and wrong don’t change just because we dislike the consequences of our choices. God might have something to say about this, you know.

Pam: Emily, don’t think it can’t happen to your kids or mine. I seem to remember both of us getting into some tough spots in college.

Emily: Yes, but . . .

Pam: So why should it be any different with our daughters? Besides, the Bible never says abortion is wrong. It doesn’t even mention the word. I’m sure that’s why my pastor never talks about it.

Emily: Wait . . . Are you saying the Bible is okay with abortion?

Pam: Again, I just don’t think we should force our morals on others, and you aren’t going to change my mind about that. Sarah has a right to make her own private decisions. Besides, how’s she going to care for this baby anyway? There are so many abused and abandoned kids out there. Who’s going to pay for them all? Besides, Sarah could become dirt-poor trying to raise this kid on her own. She needs to think about all this. It’s not our place to judge her.

Emily: Pam, let’s talk about this later. Nothing I say right now will convince you.

Although the above conversation is contrived, the content of the exchange is very real. When it comes to abortion, many pro-life Christians don’t know what to say. They’re caught completely off-guard just like Emily was. Sure, they have pro-life convictions, but defending those convictions with friends and co-workers is another matter altogether. Better to stay silent and avoid embarrassment. Who wants to stir up a hornet’s nest the way Emily did?

The good news is, you don’t have to surrender in silence. There’s a better way. Simplify the debate by focusing on the one question that truly matters: What is the unborn?


Emily didn’t realize it, but Pam was cheating. Not that Pam meant to—she was just repeating what she’d heard abortion-choice advocates say in the popular media. Nevertheless, she was cheating by assuming the very thing she was trying to prove.

Put simply, each of her objections assumed that the unborn are not human beings. However, instead of proving that conclusion with facts and arguments, she merely assumed it within the course of her rhetoric. We call this begging the question, and as Francis J. Beckwith points out, it’s a logical fallacy that lurks behind many arguments for abortion.2 For example, consider Pam’s claim that we shouldn’t force our views on others. Do you think she would say such a thing if someone wanted the right to choose to kill toddlers? There’s no way. Only by assuming the unborn aren’t human can she make such a claim. Or take her objection that government shouldn’t get involved in our personal decisions. Can you imagine, even for a moment, Pam arguing this way if the topic were child abuse? Again her objection only flies if she assumes the unborn isn’t already a child. If he is one, abortion is the worst kind of child abuse imaginable. Pam also asserts that if we restrict abortion, women will be forced to get dangerous back-alley abortions. We’ll take up that specific objection in a later chapter, but notice that it, too, assumes that the unborn are not human. Otherwise she is claiming that because some people will die attempting to kill others, the state should make it safe and legal for them to do so.


Nadine Strossen is the former president of the ACLU, and I consider her a friend. She is pleasant, and I enjoy her company each time we debate. I wish more of my opponents were like her.

During a January 2008 Worldview Forum at Malone College (in Canton, Ohio), Nadine and I debated abortion in front of a full house of a thousand students, faculty, and others. The ACLU of Ohio even reserved one hundred seats in advance. This was our second debate in the course of a year. The theme of our exchange was “Abortion: Legal Right or Moral Wrong?”

The coin toss went to Nadine, which meant she got to speak first. She tried to frame the debate with an appeal to reproductive freedom. To paraphrase her case, reproductive freedom means the ability to choose whether or not to have children according to one’s own personal religious beliefs. That freedom is necessary if all persons are to lead lives of self-determination, opportunity, and human dignity. She repeatedly stressed our need to work together to reduce the high number of abortions, by which she meant pro-lifers should support tax-funded birth control programs.

Notice the question-begging nature of her claim. She simply assumed that the unborn are not human beings. Would she make this same claim for human freedom and self-determination if the debate were about killing toddlers instead of fetuses?

To help the audience see the problem, I began my own opening speech by saying the following (paraphrased for brevity):

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.


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?

Let’s revisit the exchange between Pam and Emily. Pam justified abortion with an appeal to privacy. She also said that poor women can’t afford any additional children. Again, only by assuming that the unborn are not human do these appeals have any force whatsoever. Here’s how Emily might have clarified the issue and exposed Pam’s hidden assumptions about the unborn:3

Emily: Pam, you say that privacy is the issue. Pretend that I have a two-year-old in front of me. (She holds out her hand at waist level to illustrate this.) May I kill him as long as I do it in the privacy of the bedroom?

Pam: That’s silly—of course not!

Emily: Why not?

Pam: Because he’s a human being.

Emily: Ah. If the unborn are human, like the toddler, we shouldn’t kill the unborn in the name of privacy any more than we’d kill a toddler for that reason.

Pam: You’re comparing apples with oranges, two things that are completely unrelated. Look, killing toddlers is one thing. Killing a fetus that is not a human being is quite another.

Emily: Ah. That’s the issue, isn’t it? Are the unborn human beings, like toddlers? That is the one issue that matters.

Pam: But many poor women cannot afford to raise another child.

Emily: When human beings get expensive, may we kill them? Getting back to my toddler example, suppose a large family collectively decides to quietly dispose of its three youngest children to help ease the family budget. Would this be okay?

Pam: Well, no, but aborting a fetus is not the same as killing children.

Emily: So once again the issue is, what is the unborn? Is the fetus the same as a human being? We can’t escape that question, can we?

Again, notice that Emily has not yet argued for the humanity of the unborn or made any case for the pro-life view whatsoever. She’ll do that later. For now all she’s doing is framing the issue around one question: What is the unborn? That is the crux of the debate, and it clarifies many of the toughest questions, including the rape objection.

Pam: But what about a woman who’s been raped? Every time she looks at that kid she’s going to remember what happened to her. If that’s not hardship, what is?

Emily: I agree that we should provide compassionate care for the victim, and it should be the best care possible. That’s not at issue here. It’s your proposed solution I’m struggling to understand. Tell me, how should a civil society treat innocent human beings who remind us of a painful event? (She pauses and lets the question sink in.) Is it okay to kill them so we can feel better? Can we, for example, kill a toddler who reminds her mother of a rape?

Pam: No, I wouldn’t do that.

Emily: I wouldn’t either. But again, isn’t that because you and I both agree that it’s wrong to kill innocent human beings, even if they do remind us of a painful event?

Pam: But you don’t understand how much this woman has suffered. Put yourself in her shoes. How would you feel?

Emily: You’re right. I don’t understand her feelings. How could I? How could anyone? I’m just asking if hardship justifies homicide. Can we, for instance, kill toddlers who remind us of painful events? Again my claim here is really quite modest. If the unborn are members of the human family, like toddlers, we should not kill them to make someone else feel better. It’s better to suffer evil rather than to inflict it.4 Personally, I wish I could give a different answer, but I can’t without trashing the principle that my right to life shouldn’t depend on how others feel about me. In the end, sometimes the right thing to do is not the easy thing to do. And what’s right depends on the question, what is the unborn? We can’t get around it.

In this revised dialogue, Emily stays focused like a laser beam on the status of the unborn. She graciously yet incisively exposes the hidden assumptions in Pam’s rhetoric, forcing each objection back to the question, what is the unborn? She doesn’t let Pam distract her with appeals to privacy, economic hardship, or rape, all of which assume that the unborn are not human beings. She sticks to just one issue.

Until you clarify what’s really at stake—namely, that we can’t answer the question, can we kill the unborn? until we answer the question, what is the unborn?—there’s no point advancing your case. Gregg Cunningham is correct. For too long the pro-life movement has been shouting conclusions rather than establishing facts.5 Staying focused on the status of the unborn brings moral clarity to the abortion debate. It allows you to engage friends and critics in conversation so that you do not talk past each other.

Admittedly, trotting out a toddler won’t persuade everyone there’s only one issue to resolve. Some abortion-choice advocates bite the bullet and concede the humanity of the unborn but justify elective abortion with an appeal to bodily autonomy. Judith Jarvis Thomson’s famous violinist argument is a prime example of those who argue this way. I’ll take up that particular objection later in chapter 15, but you won’t hear it often outside academic circles. Most people on the street simply assume that the unborn are not human beings.


Once you’ve framed the discussion around the status of the unborn, you can present a basic case for the pro-life position. We’ll explore that case in more detail in the next two chapters, but for now here’s a summary of what that case looks like.

Pro-life advocates contend that elective abortion unjustly takes the life of a defenseless human being. This simplifies the abortion controversy by focusing public attention on just one question: Is the unborn a member of the human family? If so, 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, elective abortion requires no more justification than having a tooth pulled.

Pro-life advocates defend their case using science and philosophy. Scientifically, they argue that from the earliest stages of development, the unborn are distinct, living, and whole human beings. True, they have yet to grow and mature, but they are whole human beings nonetheless. Leading embryology textbooks affirm this.6 For example, Keith L. Moore and T. V. N. Persaud write, “A zygote is the beginning of a new human being.”7

Philosophically, there is no morally significant difference between the embryo you once were and the adult you are today. As Stephen Schwarz points out using the acronym SLED, differences of size, level of development, environment, and degree of dependency are not relevant in the way that abortion advocates need them to be:8

Size: Yes, embryos are smaller than newborns and adults, but why is that relevant? Do we really want to say that large people are more human than small ones? Men are generally larger than women, but that doesn’t mean they deserve more rights. Size doesn’t equal value.

Level of development: True, embryos and fetuses are less developed than you and I. But again, why is this relevant? Four-year-old girls are less developed than fourteen-year-old ones. Should older children have more rights than their younger siblings? Some people say that self-awareness makes one human. But if that is true, newborns do not qualify as valuable human beings. Remember, six-week-old infants lack the immediate capacity for performing human mental functions, as do the reversibly comatose, the sleeping, and those with Alzheimer’s disease.

Environment: Where you are has no bearing on who you are. Does your value change when you cross the street or roll over in bed? If not, how can a journey of eight inches down the birth canal suddenly change the essential nature of the unborn from non-human to human? If the unborn are not already human, merely changing their location can’t make them valuable.

Degree of dependency: If viability makes us valuable human beings, then all those who depend on insulin or kidney medication are not valuable, and we may kill them. Conjoined twins who share blood type and bodily systems also have no right to life.

In short, pro-life advocates contend that although humans differ immensely with respect to talents, accomplishments, and degrees of development, they are nonetheless equal because they share a common human nature.


Let me clarify two points. First, the pro-life view is not that it’s always wrong to take human life, a position only a strict pacifist would hold. Our view is that it’s always wrong to take human life without proper justification, and we believe (for reasons we’ll discuss in this book) that elective abortion does just that.

Francis J. Beckwith outlines a basic pro-life syllogism as follows:

1. The unborn entity, from the moment of conception, is a full-fledged member of the human community.

2. It is prima facie morally wrong to kill any member of that community.

3. Every successful abortion kills an unborn entity, a full-fledged member of the human community.

4. Therefore, every successful abortion is prima facie morally wrong.9

By “full-fledged member of the human community” (premise #1), Beckwith means that the unborn are the same kind of being as you and I and thus have the same basic rights we do. True, they differ from us in terms of size, level of development, environment, and degree of dependency, but these differences are not morally relevant to their status as human beings. Thus, depriving them of life requires the same strict justification needed for killing a ten-year-old or any other human being. Note again that he is not arguing we can never take human life, only that it’s prima facie wrong to do so, meaning that under normal circumstances we are not justified in killing another human being. That last point is a key distinction, one often missed by some abortion-choice advocates who insist that pro-lifers are inconsistent for opposing elective abortion but not opposing the death penalty, the killing of animals, or war. In this case, the abortion-choice advocate is attacking a straw man. As stated above, most pro-lifers do not say it’s always wrong to take life, but that it’s always wrong to take human life without justification.

We believe elective abortion takes human life without justification, and thus we oppose it.

Second, by elective abortion I mean those abortions not medically necessary to save the mother’s physical life. As reported in the journal International Family Planning Perspectives, the vast majority of abortions worldwide are not done for medical necessity but to delay giving birth:

[T]he most commonly reported reason women cite for having an abortion is to postpone or stop childbearing. The second most common reason—socioeconomic concerns—includes disruption of education or employment; lack of support from the father; desire to provide schooling for existing children; and poverty, unemployment or inability to afford additional children. In addition, relationship problems with a husband or partner and a woman’s perception that she is too young constitute other important categories of reasons. Women’s characteristics are associated with their reasons for having an abortion: With few exceptions, older women and married women are the most likely to identify limiting childbearing as their main reason for abortion.10

Abortion clinic workers have acknowledged the “elective” nature of their trade for years. Dr. Warren Hern, whose 1984 book Abortion Practice is the standard medical teaching text on late-term abortion procedures, writes:

A study of motivations for abortion has found that the majority are sought for socioeconomic reasons. Women seeking abortions seldom give the real reason for doing so to investigators studying the issue. The impression from clinical practice is that all but a few women seek abortions for reasons that can broadly be defined as socioeconomic, and many cite strictly economic reasons. . . . As a rule, women do not make decisions about pregnancy prevention or treatment on the basis of statistical evaluations and medical advice but rather on the basis of personal attitudes and necessities. At times medical considerations enter into the picture, but decisions are usually made on the basis of such factors as desire or lack of desire for parenthood, stability of relationships, educational status, emotional status, or economic status, among others.11

Suppose, however, that the pregnancy does in fact pose a grave threat to the mother’s life. What is the morally correct way to proceed?

Ectopic pregnancy (EP) is a clear case in point. With EP, the developing human embryo implants somewhere other than the uterus, usually on the inner wall of the fallopian tube. This is an extremely dangerous situation for the mother. When the EP outgrows the limits of the narrow fallopian tube enclosing it, the tube bursts, resulting in massive internal hemorrhaging. In fact, EP is the leading cause of pregnancy-related death during the first trimester.12 The accepted medical protocols in this case are to end the pregnancy through chemical (Methotrexate) or surgical intervention.13 There is no way the developing human can survive EP. If the mother dies from internal bleeding, the embryo dies also, given he’s too young to survive on his own. At the same time, the limits of current medical technology do not allow transfer to a more suitable environment. Despite our best intentions, we simply can’t save the child.

What is the greatest moral good we can achieve in this situation? Is it best to do nothing and let two humans (likely) die, or is it best to act in such a way that we save one life even though the unintended and unavoidable consequence of acting is the death of the human embryo?

Pro-life advocates almost universally agree we should do the latter. It is better to save one life than lose two. Notice, however, that the intent of the physician is not to directly kill the embryo but to save the mother’s life. The unintended and unavoidable consequence of that lifesaving act is the death of the embryo. Perhaps in the future we can transplant the embryo to a more desirable location. If that day comes, we should do that. But for now, ending the pregnancy is our only course of action. If we do nothing, both mother and child die. It’s best that one should live. But again, notice that the intent in ending the pregnancy is to save the mother, not directly and purposefully to kill the child.14

As for other alleged threats to the mother’s life, few are truly life-threatening. Most can be managed with proper physician oversight. Dr. Thomas Murphy Goodwin oversees the largest high-risk pregnancy clinic in the United States, averaging between fifteen thousand to sixteen thousand births annually. Excluding cases diagnosed late in pregnancy, only one or two cases a year pose an immediate lethal threat to the mother’s life. Goodwin writes that even women suffering from cancer can often be treated with chemotherapy, and the fetus tolerates the treatment.15


Again, whenever you hear an argument for elective abortion, stop and ask this question: Would this justification for killing the unborn work for killing a toddler? If not, your critic is assuming that the unborn aren’t human, a point for which he needs to argue. Trot out your toddler to expose the hidden (and perhaps unrecognized) assumptions in the argument.

You may need to do this more than once. Your critic may toss numerous objections your way, none of which address the status of the unborn. You’ll hear about rape, severely disabled kids, economic hardship, foster care problems, child abuse, and every other hard-case scenario imaginable. Be gracious, but don’t fall for it. Keep trotting out your toddler. Stay focused on the one question that really matters: What is the unborn? Until that question is answered, everything else is a distraction.

Finally, remember that arguments are seldom won on the spot. Even after you make a compelling case for the pro-life view, critics—even intelligent ones—may balk. That shouldn’t surprise us. Let’s be honest: How many of us upon hearing a powerful rejoinder to one of our most cherished beliefs immediately concedes the point? To the contrary, we typically fight on. Thus, if the argument is won, it’s won later when your critic is alone with his thoughts and quietly abandons his former position.

Conservative columnist and expert debater William Rusher writes that a genuine change of mind on a subject important to us can be painful:

Nobody, when confronted with a really devastating argument against something in which he has hitherto deeply believed, slaps himself on the thigh and shouts, “By gosh, I never thought of that!” On the contrary, the blow will be resented. Very often it will be sustained in obstinate silence. The ego needs time to marshal its defenses—either to try to restore the toppled idol, or to come to terms with the toppling, or (at the very least) to regain its own shattered composure.

It is precisely then, however—in the silent weeks or months after the argument, when perhaps no one else is present and the defeated arguer confronts only himself in the recollection of his defeat—that the argument may truly be said to be “won.” Because then, if ever, is when the loser of the argument will tacitly abandon his former position. He may never admit to having changed his mind at all; but at the very least he will have rearranged his mental furniture, to insure that he does not hereafter sit, so often or so heavily, on that all too demonstrably fragile chair.16

Don’t worry that you can’t change everyone’s mind. Truth is, hard-core abortion-choicers are not your primary customers. You’re after the 60 percent of Americans in the mushy middle who think of themselves as “prochoice” because they’ve never thought seriously about the choice they’re advocating. Your job is to bring clarification and get them thinking. Just keep trotting out your toddler.


1. What do pro-lifers contend about abortion? How does this help simplify the debate?

2. Why is the pro-choice/anti-choice distinction misleading?

3. In what ways are pro-lifers pro-choice? When it comes to choosing abortion, what makes that choice right or wrong?

4. Why do appeals to privacy and choice miss the point in the abortion debate?

5. What does begging the question mean? Why is this a logical fallacy?

6. What assumption seems to lurk behind many of the typical defenses for abortion?

7. How does “trotting out the toddler” help simplify the debate? What is its primary purpose?

8. A friend says, “Poor women cannot afford another child and should therefore have a right to an abortion.” What is she assuming about the unborn? Use a trot out the toddler example to show that the status of the unborn is the real issue in the debate, not the poverty of the mother.

9. When abortion advocates argue for abortion in cases of rape, what are they assuming about the unborn? What question can you ask to expose that assumption?

10. When pro-life advocates say it’s a prima facie wrong to take human life, what do they mean?

11. What does William Rusher say about winning arguments?


Randy Alcorn. Why Pro-Life?: Caring for the Unborn and Their Mothers. Colorado Springs: Multnomah, 2004.

Scott Klusendorf. Pro-Life 101: A Step by Step Guide to Making Your Case Persuasively. Signal Hill, CA: Stand to Reason Press, 2002.

Gregory Koukl. Precious Unborn Human Persons. Signal Hill, CA: Stand to Reason Press, 1997. (Call 1-800-2-REASON to order, or visit

Gregory Koukl and Scott Klusendorf. Making Abortion Unthinkable: The Art of Pro-Life Persuasion. Signal Hill, CA: Stand to Reason Press, 2001.

Peter Kreeft. The Unaborted Socrates: A Dramatic Debate on the Issues Surrounding Abortion. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983.

The Case for Life: Equipping Christians to Engage the Culture

Copyright 2009 by Scott Klusendorf
Published by Crossway Books, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers
1300 Crescent Street Wheaton, Illinois 60187

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2. Francis J. Beckwith, Politically Correct Death: Answering Arguments for Abortion Rights (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1993), 59.

3. Portions of this dialogue, with some modification, first appeared in Gregory Koukl and Scott Klusendorf, “The Vanishing Pro-Life Apologist,” Clear Thinking, Spring 1999.

4. See Peter Kreeft, The Unaborted Socrates (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983).

5. Gregg Cunningham, the executive director of The Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, has said this in various public presentations;

6. See T. W. Sadler, Langman’s Embryology, 5th ed. (Philadelphia: W. B. Saunders, 1993), 3; Keith L. Moore and T. V. N. Persaud, The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology (Philadelphia: W. B. Saunders Company, 1998), 2–18; Ronan O’Rahilly and Fabiola Müller, Human Embryology and Teratology, 2nd ed. (New York: Wiley-Liss, 1996), 8, 29.

7. Moore and Persaud, The Developing Human, 2.

8. Stephen Schwarz, The Moral Question of Abortion (Chicag Loyola University Press, 1990), 18. The SLED test was initially suggested by Schwarz but is modified and explained here by me.

9. Francis J. Beckwith, Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007), xii. In using the term “successful” abortion, Beckwith is not saying unsuccessful abortions are morally permissible.

10. Akinrinola Bankole, Susheela Singh, and Taylor Haas, “Reasons Why Women Have Induced Abortions: Evidence from 27 Countries,” International Family Planning Perspectives, Vol. 24, No. 3, September 1998.

11. Warren Hern, Abortion Practice (Boulder, CO: Alpenglo Graphics, 1990), 10, 39. During the 1995 Congressional debate over partial-birth abortion (clinically termed “Intact D&X abortion”), opponents of a proposed ban on the procedure asserted it was rarely performed and was used only in extreme cases when a woman’s life was at risk or the fetus suffered from severe anomalies. However, Ron Fitzsimmons, executive director of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, later admitted that not only was the actual number of partial-birth procedures much higher than he originally stated but that his own contacts with many of the physicians performing these procedures indicated that the vast majority were done on healthy mothers carrying healthy fetuses. Diane Gianelli, “Abortion Rights Leader Urges End to ‘Half Truths,’” American Medical News, March 3, 1997.

12. T. E. Goldner, H. W. Lawson, Z. Xia, H. K. Atrash, “Surveillance for Ectopic Pregnancy—United States, 1970–1989,” MMWR CDC Surveillance Summaries 42 (6) (December 1993): 73–85.

13. Eric Daiter, MD, “Ectopic Pregnancy: Overview,”,

14. As a result, some pro-life advocates think we should avoid the term abortion in this case because the intent is radically different from abortions performed for socioeconomic reasons.

15. Thomas Murphy Goodwin, “Medicalizing Abortion Decisions,” First Things, March 1996;

16. William Rusher, How to Win Arguments More Often than Not (New York: Doubleday, 1981), 44–45.