How to Talk About Abortion: 3 Ways to Frame the Debate

July 26, 2019

Recently, I’ve seen a lot of social media posts from both ends of the political spectrum about whether or not we should be friends with people on the “other side.” Because abortion is one of the most divisive issues of our generation, this question has particularly intrigued me as I have navigated both academic and personal relationships as a pro-life college student.

At one point, I started to scale back my visibility within the pro-life movement on campus because it clearly wasn’t a glamorous opinion to have. To my delight, avoiding hot topics like abortion made my life a lot easier. But as Christians, we are not called to shy away from the abortion debate. We are called to be witnesses to the truth of the gospel.

As I have begun to be more visible online and on campus within the pro-life movement, the biggest obstacle that I have encountered when discussing the issue is that more often than not, pro-lifers and pro-choicers are operating from completely different worldviews. This means we must frame the debate in an effective manner and carefully define our terms. This will help us to have real conversations with those we disagree with rather than having contests to see who can better regurgitate jargon from either side of the debate.

Here are three important ways for pro-lifers to frame the debate:

1. Judging actions and judging people are not the same thing.

You’ll often hear pro-choice rhetoric that claims that Christian pro-lifers are judgmental, when the Bible says not to judge. The passage they’re talking about comes from Matthew 7:1, “Stop judging, that you may not be judged.” As with most pro-choicers who quote Scripture to make a point, this passage is taken out of context.

When Jesus says this famous line in Matthew 7:1, he does not prohibit people from judging the actions of others. If you keep reading, he says, “You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye” (Mt 7:5). The entire point of the passage is that Christians should not judge arrogantly, with sin in their hearts, but rather with pure hearts in order to compassionately and effectively bring others closer to a life of authentic joy in Christ Jesus.

Even though this is hard to swallow, it’s the truth: we are called to judge. The critical distinction is that we are called to judge actions, not people. There is a difference between judging the moral quality of an act and judging a person’s character (i.e. “killing an unborn child is wrong” versus “you are a bad person for thinking that abortion is permissible”).

What does this look like in the abortion debate? I know that abortion is evil, but I don’t think that women who have had abortions are evil. I know that the abortion industry’s rhetoric and agenda are manipulative and wrong, but I don’t have personal hatred for the people who work in the industry. I understand that having an abortion is never an easy decision. I understand that abortion is a physically and emotionally devastating thing to go through. I understand that abortion workers feel like they are helping women. But understanding these things does not cloud my ability to say with clear conviction that abortion takes the life of an innocent child, and that this should not be legal.

2. There is no “neutral” position in this debate.

Pro-choice advocates often respond to pro-lifers by saying, “You don’t like abortion? Don’t have one. But don’t impose your belief on someone else.” But this misses the point. We in the pro-life movement know that the deaths of millions of human persons are being incentivized in a for-profit industry, and this cannot remain legal. The point of having laws is to establish an ordinance of reason for the common good. If abortion is contrary to reason and the common good, then it should be illegal.

There is no such thing as a truly “neutral” position in the abortion debate. Either abortion takes the life of an innocent person, or it does not. This is one of the hardest pills to swallow about the abortion debate, but one of the most crucial.

3. Those on the other side are not our enemies.

In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, the scribe asks Jesus who our neighbor is (Luke 10:29), and Jesus demonstrates that we are called to reach out in love without condition to all men as our neighbors.

In light of Christ’s new definition of “neighbor,” it seems appropriate to give a new definition of “enemy.” Returning to the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the just and the unjust’” (Matthew 5:43-45).

So, who is our enemy? Typically, a pro-lifer might define their enemy as any pro-abortion advocate, and vice versa. While there is no doubt that the tension between those with battling ideologies is inevitable, we must always remember that the pro-lifer’s enemy is abortion itself, not pro-abortion advocates. So, when we talk to someone on the opposite side of the abortion debate or any other issue, we have to straddle our duty to deliver the gospel in truth and charity.

I once wrote an online homework assignment visible to the professor and students about Audre Lorde’s comments on abortion, and no one addressed me on it. I was fuming. A friend from that class said to me afterwards, “I’m glad you wrote your assignment about abortion. I’m pro-choice and I don’t believe that a fetus is a person, but if I did, and I thought that millions of people were being systematically killed, I would speak out too.”

Delivering the truth in charity is not easy when there are so many terms and worldviews to reconcile, but if we lack charity, policy debates will get us nowhere. It’s time to cast aside our fears about others not liking us and remember, “Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8).

Bailey Zimmitti is an intern at Family Research Council.