Underneath our society’s ongoing debate over abortion, we find a fundamental clash of worldviews—strong beliefs, feelings, and affections that flow from one’s overall outlook on life. The debate is clouded by assumptions about freedom, sanctity, and what constitutes human rights. Hidden assumptions make conversation difficult, which is why you often find activists appalled at whatever they hear from the other side.
Occasionally, someone breaks through the divide. Stephanie Gray’s talk at Google, “Abortion: From Controversy to Civility,” combines solid reasoning and winsome presentation skills in order to make a compelling case for the pro-life position. As I listened to the analogies and questions she used for her talk at Google, I listed three takeaways for those of us who want to make a coherent, compelling case for life.
1. Appeal to the heroic narrative of putting others ahead of oneself.
Many pro-choice arguments hinge on compassion toward the unwed mother as a victim dealing with unwanted pregnancy. Pro-life pregnancy centers demonstrate compassion when they assist vulnerable women facing a life-changing event. No one on either side of the debate should deny or downplay the difficulties in these situations.
But Stephanie Gray flips the narrative, moving us away from the idea of the woman as victim and toward the vision of a woman who chooses virtue. By asking what inspires us, and by upholding as an example the woman who takes on challenges in order to put others ahead of herself, Gray appeals to our deepest aspirations.
What kind of people do we want to be? What kind of society do we want to be? What examples of selflessness inspire us?
Gray emphasizes the responsibility that we as a society have to the vulnerable (not only the pregnant mother, but also the unborn child), and she makes the case that the greater a human’s vulnerability, the greater others’ responsibility. But virtuous, self-giving love is what inspires.
Ironically, Gray’s speech has gone viral at a time when the pro-choice movement has launched the “Shout Your Abortion” social media campaign in order to remove stigma from the abortion procedure. Through these efforts, the pro-choice movement wants to cast the woman as a fearless, unashamed defender of an essential woman’s right. But right to do what? Hence the second fresh approach . . .
2. Press into the language of abortion through the use of good questions.
One of the challenges of pro-life debate is the use of slippery and euphemistic language on the pro-choice side. “Reproductive health,” for example, is a term that actually refers to “stopping the reproductive process by killing and expelling the fetus.”
At various points in her presentation, Gray pushes on some of this language. What is the woman’s “right”? The right to choose. Okay, Gray would ask, “The right to choose what?” To stop the pregnancy by ending a human life. No one agrees with a right to choose anything in any circumstance. The nature of the choice must be brought to the forefront and made clear in these conversations.
Gray also clarifies what is at stake when she answers objections like “the fetus isn’t alive” (“Why then would abortion be necessary?”), or “the fetus isn’t human” (“What other species could it be?”). When confronted with the objection that a fetus is not a person, she distinguishes between the scientific definition of human life and the philosophical debate over what constitutes human personhood. With analogies and questions, she wants her audience to think, to work out the complexities in their minds, and then follow her to the same conclusions.
3. Tell stories that provide inspiration and perspective.
Another helpful element in Gray’s presentation is how she appeals to the imagination. She wants you to ask “what if?” not just “what is?” She uses inspirational stories of people like Nick Vujicic, who was born without arms and legs. Is his life not worth living? How do we increase our perspective?
Gray’s presentation implies that it is narrow-minded to choose abortion. She implies that pro-choice advocates lack the imagination to fully see the possibilities of inspiring others through difficulty and challenge. For this reason, she does not shy away from the hard cases (rape, incest, genetic abnormality, and so on). Instead, she runs toward them, because she is confident that she can widen the lens of her audience’s perspective until they begin to see abortion as unfortunate and unnecessary.
On the Lookout
Always be on the lookout for new ways to make the case for life. Stephanie Gray’s talk at Google is a great example of how to ask questions, probe deeper into people’s assumptions, and lead people to understand why you uphold the dignity and worth of every human life.