Don’t Get Defensive; Clarify the Issue
Don’t Get Defensive; Clarify the Issue
by Beau Langford
“Without abortion, many women would die in back alleys from unsafe, botched abortions.”
“It’s wrong to force your morality on others by making abortion illegal.”
“How many kids are you willing to adopt if you’re so against abortion?”
For those on the pro-life side, these common arguments from pity, tolerance, and ad-hominem statements can easily cause our defenses to rise and meaningful dialog to instantly shut down. Often our first instinct when we hear such arguments for abortion is to immediately defend ourselves from any personal attacks that are levied, or to try to refute talking points that are irrelevant to the central issue of what is driving our pro-life convictions. When this happens we miss an important opportunity to clarify the discussion and frame it around the central issue: What is the unborn?
Many (but certainly not all) of the common arguments for abortion are quickly refuted by simply bringing the conversation back to this key moral question. As Greg Koukl points out, “If the unborn is not a human person, no justification for abortion is necessary. However, if the unborn is a human person no justification is adequate.”
So as pro-life advocates how can we become better at bringing conversations about abortion back to the morally imperative question of what the unborn is in a non-defensive, understandable way? Two ways this can be accomplished are to define the pro-life position, and to use a technique called “trotting out the toddler.”
Defining The Pro-Life Position
Often pro-life advocates struggle to express their pro-life convictions because they do not have a concise definition of the pro-life position. Since Christian pro-life advocates will have to engage with people who do not share their worldview, the pro-life position must be expressed by premises that do not rely on (but are most definitely shared by) the Christian worldview. The pro-life position can be expressed in the following syllogism summarized by Scott Klusendorf:
- It is wrong to intentionally kill an innocent human being.
- Elective abortion intentionally kills an innocent human being.
- Elective abortion is wrong.
Having these simple premises memorized will help you know with confidence and precision the pro-life position and keep you from going down rabbit trails when dialoging with others. If the objections they present in favor of abortion do not refute these premises, then the pro-life position is still logically sound.
Trotting Out The Toddler
“Trotting out the toddler” is a useful technique for bringing the abortion conversation back to the question of the unborn. The technique is used to show that if the reason for abortion given isn’t a morally sufficient enough reason to allow the killing of a toddler, it is not a morally sufficient enough reason to allow the killing of the unborn if the unborn are human.
To give an example of this, let’s say someone is advocating for abortion and says, “If abortion is outlawed, many children will be born into poverty and could even starve if the mother is unable to care for them.” Instead of going down many different rabbit trails that one could go down in this situation or getting defensive, you can simply respond by saying something akin to: ”Well, let’s say I have a toddler. His mother just lost her job and she’s no longer able to afford to take care of him, and unless there’s intervention he’ll be left in poverty. Do you think it would be okay if the mother decides to have the child killed so that he’ll be spared from poverty?” Obviously, most people will respond “no.” At this point, you can ask the person why they think it’s not okay for the mother to eliminate the toddler, and again, most of the time they will respond by affirming that since the toddler is a human being poverty is not a justification for killing them.
At this point, when the humanity of the toddler is recognized, you can then ask, “so would you agree that if the unborn are human and have the same intrinsic value as the toddler, it would not be okay to abort the unborn because of poverty?” Obviously, these types of conversations aren’t always this linear, and there are different responses you might encounter, but if you ask yourself anytime you hear an objection, “would this be a good enough reason to kill a toddler?” many times you can use the “trotting out the toddler” technique to illustrate that the question of what the unborn is must first be answered. Since the humanity and intrinsic value of the unborn is assumed in the “trotting out the toddler” technique, it is imperative that pro-life advocates be prepared to defend this view since there are many who would argue that the unborn aren’t human, or don’t have intrinsic value, but that is another line of debate entirely.
Clarifying what the abortion debate is about is essential if we are to make any headway against the tide of common arguments that divert attention away from the central moral issue of abortion. Christians must be able to do this in a gracious, winsome, and practical way. Knowing what the pro-life position is and using the “trot out the toddler“ technique will help you do just that. Next time you hear an objection from someone advocating for abortion, don’t get defensive, just clarify.
“Defending Life: A Moral And Legal Case Against Abortion Choice” – Francis J. Beckwith, 2007
“Precious Unborn Human Persons” — Gregory Koukl, 1999
“Clear Thinking When They Throw The Book At You” – Scott Klusendorf
An apologetics geek and passionate advocate for the pro-life movement, Beau Langford lives in Michigan with his wife, their son, and their mischievous dog, Angel.