We all have that one member of the family who is rude and obnoxious. You’re kind of embarrassed to have him around the dinner table. He’ll bring up inappropriate topics. He might make offensive jokes. People forget to invite him to family gatherings. You get the idea. Basically, this family member and polite company are mutually exclusive.
I like to think of the pro-life movement as a family. We are a group of people of all ages and backgrounds, united in a common goal to see abortion ended and the lives of the unborn protected. And like any family, we have some… how do I say this delicately… jerks in the movement.
I am reminded of a scene in the movie Unplanned when Abby Johnson is driving up to the Planned Parenthood clinic and she sees one group of pro-lifers standing at the fence. They are screaming obscenities at the women going into the clinic. One man is even dressed like the Grim Reaper. She is understandably incensed. Of course, this obnoxious group overpowers a much quieter, reserved group of pro-lifers on the other side of the clinic.
Later, she is approached by Marilisa, one of the latter group’s leaders. Despite Marilisa’s friendly approach, the conversation is strained by Abby’s experience with the other group. Finally, she snaps, “Why would any woman want to run to someone dressed like the Grim Reaper?” Marilisa assures her that their group is not like that, and eventually, a foundation is set for a good relationship that would change Abby’s life. (But that’s another story. See the movie).
It’s groups like Grim Reaper Group that I think the band Everlast had in mind when they penned the lyrics:
“And then she heads for the clinic and she gets some static walking through the door
They call her a killer, and they call her a sinner and they call her a whore
God forbid you ever had to walk a mile in her shoes
‘Cause then you really might know what it’s like to have to choose”
Clearly, they’ve either had negative experiences with pro-life groups or heard the stories of what women experience. They are calling us to have empathy for the choice this woman is making, rather than belittling her.
This article is going to answer the question of what we can learn from Everlast about discussing abortion with people. Maybe we don’t all dress up like grim reapers or verbally assault women but let’s face it — we’re all sinful people. We all mess up. But I think the song teaches us three lessons. First, we need to apologize for the way we’ve mistreated those seeking abortions in the past. Second, we need to seek to understand where these women are coming from. And third, we need to show support. In each of these steps, there are points of agreement and convergence with this song. I will try to demonstrate how I think we should walk that line through a dialogue between two fictional characters, Christi and Shirley.
Step 1: Apologize
(Shirley and Christi stand on opposite sides of the fence outside Planned Parenthood. Shirley is a young pregnant woman who is scheduled for an abortion. Christi is in the pro-life group standing outside the fence, praying for the lives of the unborn and talking to whoever will listen.)
Shirley: So, are you going to call me a slut and baby killer too?
Christi: No. I promise.
Shirley: You don’t think this is happening to me because I didn’t keep my legs closed?
Christi: Look, regardless of what I think of your choices, I should never resort to name-calling and verbal abuse. If Christians have done that, I apologize. We are called to give a defense of our faith, and stand up for truth, but we are to do it with gentleness and respect.1
Let’s look at what Christi has done here. She has acknowledged the wrong that Christians have done, apologized for it, and repented of it. This can go a long way towards softening people up to hear what you have to say. It shows them that you care about them as people. In that way, we can agree with Everlast.
What she does not do is condone either action of pre-marital sex or abortion which is where we and Everlast part company. Of course, some pro-lifers are not Christian so they may feel differently on that matter. This can be adapted as necessary.
Step 2: Seek to Understand
Shirley: Well, I appreciate that, but you’re still going to try and impose your morality on me aren’t you?
Christi: What do you mean by impose?
Shirley: You’re going to try to force me not to get an abortion.
Christi: It’s legal. I can’t force you not to.2 I was hoping to discuss it with you, though. Maybe help you see why I think it’s a bad idea.
Shirley: I doubt that’ll happen. You have no idea what I’m going through.
Christi: Tell me. I really want to know.
Shirley: (sighs in frustration) My boyfriend just lost his job. We’re struggling to make ends meet. We already have three kids. Having one more mouth to feed is just going to put us deeper into poverty.
Christi: I see. So the reason you want an abortion is to avoid another financial burden.
Shirley: Yes. Also, I don’t think it’s fair to bring a child into poverty.
Christi: I have a question for you. Please bear with me as it may sound a bit strange at first.
Christi: You love your born children, right?
Shirley: Of course.
Christi: And you want them to have a good life, right?
Christi: Okay, would you ever consider killing your born children so that you and your partner would not go deeper into debt?
Shirley: (Looks visibly horrified and offended) No, of course not! See, there you go insinuating I’m a murderer again.
Christi: I’m glad to hear that you wouldn’t. And I think it shows that you are not interested in murdering people. But I have to ask why you think it’s okay to kill your unborn baby in similar circumstances?
Shirley: Anti-Choicers always use such emotional language. It’s not my baby It’s a fetus.
Christi: Fetus is merely the unborn offspring of a mammal, in this case, a human baby. And have you ever noticed that when a fetus is wanted, women still call it their baby? It seems like referring to it as a fetus is a way of trying to distance yourself from him or her.
Shirley: I see what you’re doing there. I’m not sure it helps your overall point, but… I understand. And maybe I can even grant that it’s human. But it’s still only a clump of cells.
Christi: How far along are you?
Shirley: 8 weeks.
Christi Then it definitely is not just a clump of cells. Your child is roughly 56 days old. It has a beating heart and a circulatory system that can pump blood throughout its body. It has brain waves that can be recorded. It has a skeleton. It has arms, legs, hands, and feet.3 To call it just a clump of cells is misleading.
You should be aware that they will likely give you a medical abortion. They will give you drugs which “cause an embryo to detach from the uterus and be miscarried.”4 But again, I want to emphasize, it is not just a clump of cells you are miscarrying.
Shirley: (Visibly disturbed and upset) That’s gruesome. Why are you telling me this?
Christi: Because I want you to be able to make the most informed decision you can. They won’t give it to you. In fact, the Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional to tell you about the stages of development. “This is not medical information that is always relevant to the woman’s decision, and it may serve only to confuse and punish her and to heighten her anxiety, contrary to accepted medical practice.”5
Shirley: That’s… a bit condescending.
Christi: Right? It all but says, “Don’t tell women the whole truth; they can’t handle it.”6
Shirley: Still… to be so graphic about it seems to be in bad taste.
Christi: Is it possible it seems like it’s in bad taste because the act itself is so distasteful?
Shirley:… I guess.
Christi: Women are being so desensitized to abortion by the misinformation they are handed about it. Sometimes a shock to the system is needed. Does it help you understand why we see it as murder?
Shirley: I’m still not sure I agree it is, but I can see how you got there.
Again, let’s look at what Christi has done here. First, she has removed the personal attacks that Shirley leveled at her by showing that she can’t force Shirley to do anything. She is simply sharing her views, which is allowed. Next, she has gotten to know Shirley’s situation. Stephanie Gray even recommends thinking through “your past to a time when you felt utterly overwhelmed and afraid. Think about what it’s like to feel panic—to feel trapped—and how that affects your decision.”7 In doing this, we follow Everlast’s directive to try and walk a mile in a woman’s shoes.
However, where we diverge from Everlast is in thinking that just because someone’s actions are understandable does not mean that they are justified. Christi then compares the case of killing an unborn child with killing a born child to get out of poverty. By Shirley saying no, it indicates a widely accepted principle that hardship does not justify homicide.
It is common for pro-choicers to respond to this by trying to disqualify the unborn from this consideration though by either attacking their status as a human or a person. They repeat often heard slogans like “It’s just a clump of cells” or “it’s not even alive.” Christi though uses simple scientific facts about the stages of fetal development to show it is more than just a clump of cells. The hope is not to cause confusion of conflict within women as the Supreme Court fears. Rather it’s to help “her bond with her child” which “is key. Two other ways to do this is through giving her a fetal model to hold, which helps her visualize her baby and encouraging her to give a nickname to her child, for it’s harder to kill someone we’ve named and connected with.”8
People may recoil as Shirley did from the graphicness we have to go into. But sometimes loving people does involve having them face up to the action they want to “choose to do.” Or to put it another way, shouldn’t killing our children make us uncomfortable? As Jonathon Van Marren writes,
“If we trigger an emotional reaction because we are being uncharitable, then we must immediately cease what we are doing and rethink our strategy. But if people are angry because they do not want to see evidence of what is going on behind closed doors, we are dealing with something entirely different.“9
Step 3: Show Support
Shirley: Let’s say I do decide to keep the kid. That doesn’t solve our financial problems.
Christi: What do you need most?
Shirley: Food. Clothes. Diapers. Rides to doctor’s appointments while my boyfriend looks for work. I find pro-lifers only care about the baby before they’re born. They’re not so hot on caring for them afterward.
Christi: I would love to help out by giving you rides. My organization also loves to provide food, clothes, and diapers. You can also check out websites like Choice 42. They regularly organize Amazon Gift registries where people can buy gifts for expecting mothers. The Human Defense Initiative is another site. Sometimes pro-lifers do drop the ball. But there are more resources out there for women than the pro-choice movement would like you to think there are.
Shirley: Maybe I will give it a chance then. Thank you for taking the time to talk to me.
Christi: You’re welcome.
Christi is doing the most pivotal thing pro-lifers can do in this situation: demonstrate in tangible ways she cares about Shirley and her unborn child through the whole pregnancy and beyond. This is what Everlast is ultimately calling us to do. But unlike the message of the song which equates support with just accepting their choice, we have a third alternative which is to give her what she needs to raise a healthy child. Stephanie Gray suggests a few other ways.
1. Accompany her for difficult conversations with family and boyfriends.
2. Be willing to miss school or work.
3. Go with her to a pregnancy help center.
4. Remember you’re not a professional.
5. But also remember professionals aren’t friends. She needs both.
6. Make sure the people you send her to are 100 % pro-life.
7. Get to know local pro-life doctors and local pregnancy centre care staff.
8. Help her see the future is not as bad as she is afraid it is. There might be temporary pain and darkness but the reward is worth it.10
Part 4: Post Script
Sadly, I will close with one potential situation that none of us like to think about. Christi might do all the right things and give all the right arguments. But Shirley might still decide at a later date that abortion is the right decision for her. There is one thing we should not do to show our support. Imagine it’s a couple of weeks later and they are at a coffee shop.
Christi: Are you sure I can’t talk you out of it?
Shirley: Yes. It’s just not working. Will you take me
Christi: (Crying): No. I can’t.
Shirley: You want me to go by myself?
Christi: I don’t want you to go at all. I’ve told you; this is murder in my opinion. I would not drive a friend to murder a born child. Why I would drive her to murder her unborn child?
Shirley: That’s harsh.
Christi: As I said, sometimes we have to just be willing to face up to what it is we’re considering doing. When human life is on the line, I don’t think flowery language helps.
Shirley: I guess our friendship is over then?
Christi: (Shakes head emphatically.) No, I will always love you and care about you. But it’s because I love you and care about you that I won’t drive you. I want what’s best for you. Stephanie Gray said it best,
“I can’t erase what I know about abortion and I know it won’t be good for you or the baby. If I go with you, if I help you get there, then I’d be betraying you. I’ll no longer be guided by what’s best for you, but what’s best for me (namely just making sure you aren’t mad at me.) I love you enough that I’ll endure you being mad at me—even feeling hate towards me—rather than help you do something I fear you’ll regret in the future.”11
Who knows? Maybe by not driving Shirley, Christi will create a situation where Shirley does not feel safe enough to go. Or maybe she’ll find another means of support. At this point, all we can do for people like Shirley is pray and entrust them to God. And when they come out the other side, we need to be there to support and love them and help in the healing process. Again, this would be a good time to point them to counselors who can help them process their decision. In that way, I feel we will be obeying the spirit of Everlast’s calling, if not the letter.
- 1 Peter 3:15
- Paul Chamberlain, Talking about Good and Bad Without Getting Ugly: A Guide to Moral Persuasion Without Getting Ugly, (Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 2005), 85.
- Randy Alcorn, Pro-Life Answers to Pro-Choice Arguments (New York: Penguin Random House, 2000), 65-66.
- Trent Horn, Persuasive Pro-Life: How to Talk about Culture’s Toughest Issue (El Cajun, CA: Catholic Answers Press, 32.
- Found in https://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-supreme-court/476/747.html (Accessed July 4th, 2021).
- Alcorn, Pro-life Answers to Pro Choice Arguments, 127.
- Stephanie Gray, Love Unleashes Life: Abortion and the Art of Communicating Truth (Toronto, ON: Life Cycle Books, 114.
- Gray, Love Unleashes Life, 119.
- Jonathon Van Marren, Seeing is Believing: Why Our Culture Must Face the Victims of Abortion (Toronto, ON: Life Cycle Books, 2017), 88.
- Gray, Love Unleashes Life, 117-118.
- Gray, Love Unleashes Life, 123.