A lesson in pro-life apologetics

Q&A | Scott Klusendorf has practical advice for talking to friends—and the media—about protecting the unborn
by Warren Cole Smith
Posted 7/23/15, 03:43 pm

Scott Klusendorf is the founder and president of Life Training Institute, an organization that helps pro-life advocates define their views in the public square. Klusendorf has traveled the world making the pro-life case, sometimes by debating people in the abortion industry. We had this conversation at Summit Ministries, a Christian worldview training center in Manitou Springs, Colo., where Klusendorf is a regular speaker. 

Your basic argument is the syllogism, that a fetus is really a human being and really a baby. If so, and it is wrong to kill a human being, then therefore it’s wrong to abort. Just to tighten that up a little bit, we’re not claiming that it’s always wrong to kill a human being. We’re saying it’s wrong to intentionally kill an innocent human being, and elective abortion does that. We’re not making the claim you can never kill a human being, just for clarity’s sake. 

Let’s talk about how you answer some of the tough questions. What’s your position on rape, incest, or the life of the mother? Two types of people are going to bring up rape: The inquirer and the crusader. The inquirer wants an honest answer. She has heard a case for the pro-life view. She’s persuaded by it, but she’s just having trouble worrying about what would happen to a friend of hers that was raped, and emotionally, she just is struggling with this idea of saying you’ve got to continue the pregnancy. The crusader, on the other hand, does not want an honest answer. He just wants to make you look bad. How can you as a pro-lifer who claim to be compassionate and caring about a woman force her to carry a child that will always remind her of what she went through. 

Here’s how you deal with the inquirer. I ask a very simple question. I say, “You know what? You and I agree that a woman who has been sexually assaulted and pregnant may indeed suffer painful memories every time she looks at her child. We agree on that. We agree that she’s going to suffer, and it’s a terrible injustice that she has suffered. My question becomes this: How should a civil society treat innocent human beings that remind us of a painful event? Is it okay to kill them so we can feel better?” We’re not denying the woman has suffered. Absolutely she has. What I’m asking is, how should we treat innocent human beings that remind us of a painful event. Now, that question is going to bring us back to the question, what is the unborn? 

If a woman has a 2-year-old that reminds her of a painful event, no one says you can kill that 2-year-old. The reason they say you can kill the fetus … is they’re assuming the fetus is not human like the 2-year-old, but that’s the question we need to resolve. That’s the core issue. Even though this appears like a side question, it gets us back to the core issue.

What do you do with the crusader? I treat him differently. He doesn’t want an answer. He’s just trying to make steam. I’m going to call his bluff. I’m going to say, “Okay, for the sake of argument, I’m going to grant that we allow abortion in cases of rape. It’s not my position, but I’m going to grant it. Will you then join me in opposing all other abortions that have nothing to do with rape?” He’s going to say, “No, women have a fundamental right to an abortion for any reason they want.” Okay, fair enough. Defend that position. Don’t hide behind the hard cases of rape. Trying to justify all abortions by appealing to rape is kind of like trying to justify getting rid of all traffic laws because you might have to run a red light rushing a loved one to the hospital. You can’t hide behind the hard case to disguise what you truly believe.

There are women who will say, “my body; my right to choose.” How do you answer that? There are two ways that argument is made. On the street level, it is, “A woman has a right to control her own body, and it’s my body; my choice.” First of all, we know that the unborn is not part of her body. If it were, it would mean the pregnant woman has four arms, four eyes, four ears, and if she’s carrying a male child, she also has something else. So we know conclusively it’s not part of the woman’s body. There’s a more sophisticated argument that goes like this, though. It says that even if we grant that the unborn are human, it does not follow that they have the right to use their mother’s body against the mother’s will. The mother can choose to withhold that support. Judith Jarvis Thomson was famous for making this argument. 

The problem is that abortion is much more than merely withholding support. It’s intentionally killing an innocent human being through dismemberment, through poisoning. Francis Beckwith puts it really well: Calling abortion merely the withholding of support is kind of like suffocating someone with a pillow and calling it the withdrawing of oxygen. 

I know you have been training politicians. What do you tell politicians when they’re trying to answer those questions? I first train them to understand the worldview issues in play to get a firm foundation under them. I teach them the apologetics, the rational basis for our view. Other people train them on sound-bite messaging. I’m not the guy who does that, but I do tell politicians this: There is nothing wrong with punting in the heat of the moment. You’re asked a question, and you’re not ready to give the answer you want to give. Run to the safe zone, give a non-answer. A headline about a non-answer is not going to sink your career that day. A bad answer may. If I’m Todd Akin, and I’m asked about abortion and rape, and I’m not prepared to give an answer because I haven’t researched it, I would probably just punt and say, “You know what, I think we can all agree that a woman who has been raped has suffered a terrible injustice, and we should all be committed to giving her the finest support we can for her and her child,” and I would have just left it at that and not press the issue any further. What really sunk Akin was he talked about things he really had no knowledge of. He went into studies that don’t exist, really.

What he said is that women who are raped don’t get pregnant or rarely get pregnant. Yeah, and even if you’re right on that, you should know that in a hostile media, you don’t say that kind of thing. He would just have been better to show the compassion and say, “You know, you’re right. Women who’ve been raped have suffered. I don’t want to see women who have been raped not have the compassion of the culture around them for them and their children,” and just left it at that.

If Akin had given that answer, he might have risked some of his fellow pro-lifers saying he wasn’t strong enough on the question. That’s correct, but see, you have to then weigh the greater good at this point. Sink my career by giving an answer that pleases the pro-lifers out there, or give an answer that is a little less committed at this point in order to live to fight another day? What I’m saying is a politician shouldn’t force an answer he’s not ready to give. Go ahead and run to the safe zone for that day. Now, don’t give an answer that’s opposite your view. Don’t advocate something you don’t believe. … Answer it more fully another time when you’re ready. 

Listen to Warren Smith’s full conversation with Scott Klusendorf on Listening In.

Warren Cole Smith

Warren is president of MinistryWatch and the host of WORLD Radio’s Listening In. Follow Warren on Twitter @WarrenColeSmith.

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