With the United States and the world at large entering a period of never-before-seen social shutdown, many pro-life advocates are left wondering how they can best make a difference while staying at home for the period of social distancing.
Many pro-life activism organizations, such as Students for Life, Protect Life Michigan, and others have all released lists and strategies for how to effectively stay in the game and continue engaging on the issue of abortion from home.
In addition, pro-life advocates now have a period in which they can devote their time to studying the issue in depth, so that when normal everyday life resumes, they can be well-prepared for the ideas and arguments regarding abortion they will encounter, be it among family, on the college campus, or even at church.
Unfortunately, in a world saturated by social media, it is all too easy to rely upon soundbite answers and knee-jerk responses to critics’ challenges. While this may be satisfactory for the pro-life advocate just starting out, it makes our position look weak and reactionary. However, when pro-life advocates are able to answer even the toughest or vilest challenges with grace and clarity, those who are “on the fence” regarding abortion are left with something to think about.
There are three steps in learning the moral logic of the pro-life view and they can be taken in any order, but this is how many pro-life advocates, myself included, were trained to engage on the issue.
Step 1: The Basics
The abortion debate, while being psychologically and emotionally vexing, is not morally complex. It boils down to how we resolve one simple question: “What are the preborn?” As Dr. Mike Adams says, the abortion debate is not about what sort of human beings we are; it’s about whether the preborn are fully human enough to count.
With this question in mind, many of the most common objections to the pro-life position will simply fall away. As Scott Klusendorf puts it, the abortion debate is not a debate over who loves women more; it’s about whether or not the preborn are members of the human family. This will, in turn, shift our efforts in assisting women and children in the most ethically just way possible.
The following titles are essential to understanding the basics:
- The Case for Life by Scott Klusendorf
The Case for Life is an essential item for any pro-life advocate’s bookshelf. If there was one book on the topic to read to fully understand the pro-life position, it would be this one.
Klusendorf takes the question “What are the preborn?” and demonstrates how the answers to this one question are what drive the entire abortion debate. In addition to arguing for the pro-life position, he then takes the most sophisticated academic arguments and presents them in a way that is easy for the average person to respond to and understand.
2. Persuasive Pro-Life by Trent Horn
Following the style established by Scott Klusendorf, Trent Horn’s Persuasive Pro-Life takes the moral logic of the pro-life view and puts it into a form that could be understood and articulated by the average pro-life advocate. Relying on hundreds of hours of street-level engagement with Justice for All, Horn gives pro-lifers tools for understanding a variety of arguments made by abortion proponents.
3. Stuck by Justina Van Manen
Taking the best training materials from the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform, Stuck crafts pro-life outreach training into book form in a manner that is easy to read (the book can be read in one or two sittings). Not only does Stuck deliver on content, it also brings “boots on the ground” experiences from CCBR’s team of activists, and how they graciously directed their discussions in a meaningful direction.
4. The Unaborted Socrates by Peter Kreeft
Since learning the basics of the abortion debate should inevitably lead to better dialogue, no basic reading list is complete without an example of what direction a discussion of abortion will inevitably focus on: What are the preborn? Peter Kreeft takes readers through a series of three fictional dialogues between Socrates and several fictional modern day thinkers. Inspired by the classic Socratic Dialogues, Kreeft’s book is also an entertaining and easy-to-digest treatment of the issue.
Once pro-lifers have read (and hopefully mastered) the basics, they should move on to the academic-level defenses.
Step 2: The Sophisticated Arguments
- The Ethics of Abortion by Christopher Kaczor
If there was only one book on the issue that you could read, The Ethics of Abortion would be the most worthwhile. Taking on “the smart guys,” Kaczor begins by addressing the arguments of the philosophers who not only defend abortion, but also infanticide, and then begins working backward through various philosophical arguments, such as those made by David Boonin, Jeff McMahan, Judith Jarvis Thompson, Eileen McDonagh, and other influential defenders of abortion. The book has received positive reviews from thinkers on both sides of the issue. David Boonin, author of A Defense of Abortion, writes,
"This is one of the very best book-length defenses of the claim that abortion is morally impermissible. It is clear, thorough, thoughtful and carefully argued. I would strongly encourage anyone who is interested in the subject to read it and to study it."
2. Defending Life by Francis Beckwith
Another expertly-argued academic defense of the pro-life position, Francis Beckwith’s Defending Life is a must-have for any pro-life library. Not only does he address the academic-level arguments from the field of philosophy, but Beckwith also gives one of the best legal critiques of the US Supreme Court abortion decisions: Roe v. Wade, Doe v. Bolton, and Planned Parenthood v. Casey. He surveys the arguments made on the street, from Ad Hominem assertions to appeals to pity, as well as addressing the scholarly arguments from bodily autonomy and psychological functioning (such as David Boonin’s “Desire to live” argument)
3. The Ethics of Pregnancy, Abortion, and Childbearing by Helen Watt
By far one of my personal favorite books on the issue, Helen Watt’s book brings both heartfelt insight with carefully constructed arguments and clarity. Watt takes on the academic and lay-level justifications for abortion, as well as provides a helpful discussion over other key ethical issues in childbearing such as surrogacy and IVF. Taking a slightly different approach, Watt addresses the arguments in the context of our relationship to both the human being in the womb, her mother, and the relationship between husband and wife in relation to the ethical issues related to pregnancy. Watt’s book is another must-read for effective pro-life advocates.
4. Untangling Twinning by Maureen Condic
Taking a more scientific approach to the issue of prenatal human life while still addressing many of the relevant philosophical issues involved, Untangling Twinning is the most recent book on this list. Published in February of 2020, the book is a somewhat condensed version of Condic’s earlier book Human Embryos, Human Beings she co-authored with her brother and professor Samuel Condic. Untangling Twinning presents probably the best defense of the claim that a new human individual comes into existence at conception. The first half of the book is spent arguing that point, while the second half focuses on what Maureen Condic argues is the best challenge to the claim that new human beings begin to exist at conception: Monozygotic Twinning. Condic takes us through an overview of the science of twinning, and then goes on to argue that twinning, or even the fusion of two embryos into a single embryo, does not undermine the claim that even human zygotes are members of the human family, albeit small and immature ones.
Other phenomenal academic works could be added to this list as well, written by thinkers such as Robert George and Christopher Tollefson, Patrick Lee, Stephen Napier, Hadley Arkes, and many others. However, space simply does not allow for the vast amount of academic literature devoted to defending prenatal human life.
Once one has a better grasp of the more sophisticated academic arguments, there is a final step one can take, getting to the heart of the matter.
Step 3: The Heart of the Matter
In addition to the aforementioned titles, several other books are helpful for pro-life advocates to understand what may be the driving reason for a person’s behavior towards them, or more specifically, what a woman (or man) in the midst of a crisis may be thinking or feeling. In addition, these books are helpful in learning to listen to another person’s story when we come into contact with them.
- Love Unleashes Life by Stephanie Grey
While this book could easily fit into the “Basics” category, Grey’s short book is unique in that she gets deeper into the emotional side of the issue, in a way that is both thought-out yet gracious. Relying on stories from her own time as a street-level pro-life advocate with Justice for All, Grey uses storytelling to drive forward the moral logic of the pro-life position, as well as giving practical tips for navigating the tough questions pro-lifers often hear.
2. Choose Zoe by Laura Hughes
While many books have been written detailing the stories of those who have experienced crisis, Choose Zoe is one that especially stands out. Hughes tells not only her own story, but the story of her loved ones who also walked through a time of crisis pregnancy, and shows that even with the world seemingly caving in around oneself, there is still hope. She also details the thoughts and emotions that often go along with the discovery of an unplanned pregnancy, which is something pro-life advocates engaged in street-level advocacy would be wise to understand.
3. Pregnancy Crisis Intervention by John Ensor
The “first-aid” manual of pro-life work, Pregnancy Crisis Intervention is another must-read for pro-lifers, regardless of their field of work. While some may think the book is more appropriate for a crisis pregnancy center or sidewalk counseling setting, in reality the book can be easily read and understood by anyone in the pro-life movement. Given that many times our friends, family, and peers will trust someone who is familiar to them in a time of crisis more than a stranger, the book belongs on every pro-lifer’s bookshelf. Ensor expertly lays out the psychological aspects of a crisis mindset and gives practical tips for engaging someone in the midst of a crisis in a way that will assist them. Just as basic first-aid techniques should be learned so we can help those around us in times of medical need until a professional can step in, this book can help the friends, family, and peers of a young woman render effective assistance in the midst of a crisis pregnancy.
4. The Cost of Choice by Erika Bachiochi
Since abortion is regularly labeled as a mere “women’s issue,” it is helpful to bring to the fore the pro-life women whose voices are often ignored. With contributions from female pro-life scholars such as Serrin Foster of Feminists for Life of America, Mary Ann Glendon of Harvard University Law School, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese of Emory University and many others, The Cost of Choice addresses many of the issues surrounding abortion that specifically pertain to women. Topics include: medical and mental health problems stemming from elective abortion, the feminist case against abortion, and the way legal abortion and not the pro-life movement has been the greatest war on women in recent history.
Many other books can be added to the lists above; however, the books already listed can give anyone a robust understanding of the issue of abortion, approaching both the heart of the matter and the intellectual aspects of the debate.
It is high time for pro-life advocates, especially college students and young adults, to stop relying upon snappy catchphrases and pithy social media soundbites. The world is watching how we advocate on behalf of the preborn, and with lives on the line, doing one’s homework is no longer a mere option.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Human Defense Initiative.