Author Greg Koukl
Published on 11/29/2021

How to Respond to the Pro-Choice Compassion Argument

Greg and Amy answer the question “What is a winsome approach to someone who defends abortion by arguing an unwanted pregnancy may cause great suffering and/or lead to suicide?”


Greg: While killing is always immoral, compassion for the pregnant mother often stops our arguments from convincing many people that abortion is wrong. I understand the appeal to compassion. The problem is, in order to be allegedly compassionate to one person, we do something terribly evil to another person, but it seems like it isn’t so bad because we have good motives—that is, to be compassionate to the mother. So, I’m just wondering, if I were to face this, and I wanted to use a tactical approach, and I wanted to kind of strip this away layer by layer, what questions would I use?

Maybe I’d say, “I think being compassionate is really important, but how far does our commitment to compassion go? Can we do anything in virtue of compassion to one person?” Let’s just say I’m talking to somebody, and I say, there is a person who’s homeless who doesn’t have any place to stay and doesn’t even have a car to sleep in. So, what I’m going to do is, I’m going to take your car and give it to him, because I’m being compassionate to that person so he can have some place to sleep. Is that okay because I’m being compassionate?

I think sometimes, when I raise counter examples like this, people can see what I’m going to try to do, and so they rattle on and run right by it. In other words, they don’t address it. “Well, that’s not the same thing. I’m talking about something different.” That’s where you need to gently pull them back. All I want to do is just answer this simple question: Do you think it’s okay for me to take your car and give it to somebody else because I feel compassion for them? That’s a simple question. Yes or No. Well, I’m sure they’re going to say no. Well then, why is it okay for me to take somebody’s life to be compassionate to another person? It’s a fair question because I think that’s what’s going on here.

This compassion approach is difficult, because if you disagree with the person who is making the compassion appeal, then you are considered the non-compassionate person, and that’s awful. Wait a minute. I’m the one who is trying to protect the life of the innocent human being that you are suggesting ought to be sacrificed to make somebody else’s life more livable. Even if the characterization there was completely accurate, that their life will be more livable and they’d be much happier, is that a justifiable reason to kill somebody? By the way, this is what criminals do. Criminals take what isn’t their own to make their lives easier and more satisfying, but we draw the line there. They’re called criminals because what they take is not theirs to take, even though it improves their lives.

Those who are listening just heard me walk through there, and you go, oh, well, that makes sense, but you usually can’t get through that, because the minute you start making the moral case the way I’ve done, people charge you, maybe even silently in their heart, with being the non-compassionate person. “I’m just going to shrug you off. You pro-lifers, you don’t really care. Look at this woman. Look at what she’s going to have to endure.” So, they are not willing to face the moral arithmetic, which is the thing that actually determines what is the proper, compassionate thing to do.

I can think of a really extreme case. You’re in a Nazi concentration camp, and here’s a Jewish woman that’s serving food for the commandant. She’s from the camp, but she’s pressed into service in the household of the commandant. You want to free that woman who is going to serve the food for the commandant. You’re not being compassionate to the commandant. Now, this is a grotesquely extreme example, but sometimes you have to use a grotesquely extreme example in order to get people’s attention. No one would say you shouldn’t liberate this woman because it’s not compassionate to the commandant, who loses a servant or slave labor, essentially. But there is a benefit that the commandant gets that he would have to sacrifice. Obviously the weight, morally, is so much more on one side. So, now, here’s what we’re looking at. We’re not talking about a prison camp intern being freed. We are talking about a child’s life being saved. Isn’t that even more extreme?

We’re going to kill the child so mom isn’t inconvenienced, or maybe really depressed and suicidal. If you just want to do simple math on this, if she carries to term and then gets suicidal and kills herself, then you still have in the total equation one dead person. Terrible. Don’t want it. But don’t you see that there’s a difference between a woman killing herself and the woman killing the baby? And the killing of the baby is guaranteed in abortion. The woman killing herself is not guaranteed. To be honest, most women respond really well to having a child, because it’s their child. 

The point I’m making here is you can’t just assert that everything is going to be miserable for a woman who goes through an unwanted pregnancy. That’s what’s commonly asserted, but you can’t just assume that in most cases. I don’t think it’s like that. Both of our daughters are adopted from surprise pregnancies, and both of them had birth mothers who went through a lot of pain to give the baby up because of their emotional attachment to their own child. Now, they could have avoided the pain by having an abortion early on, and that wouldn’t have been without consequence, by the way, emotionally, but, even so, it would have been, in some senses, easier, because they are not taking children that they’ve given birth to and giving them away. That’s harder, probably, or at least that’s the way people will put it, but that’s a pain they endure rather than killing their own children.

My wife worked for many years in a crisis pregnancy center. She encountered woman after woman that was pregnant that wanted to get an abortion, and she said, “Why don’t you carry to term and give the baby away to someone who wants the baby?” And what they said is, “I couldn’t possibly give my baby away.” So, you’re going to kill the baby? That’s the equation. I couldn’t give my baby away—I mean emotionally—so, I’m going to kill the baby now. Do you see how twisted people’s thinking has gotten? And that’s the so-called compassion defense for abortion.

I think what I’ve done is cash this out in a very clear way. Of course, I’m presuming that the unborn is a full human being, which is scientifically true. I cashed it out a very clear way, but do not count on cashing it out in this clear way and having the person you’re talking with not dismiss you as an insensitive, unloving, non-compassionate person because you don’t want to let a mother kill her own baby to make her life easier. People’s thinking is very twisted on this issue.

Amy: I think the reason why people become so confused as soon as we start talking about this topic comes back to what we always say when you’re discussing the pro-life view, and that is, what is the unborn? Because nobody would say I should have a right to kill this woman’s child, or this woman should have a right to kill her three-year-old because the three-year-old’s making her feel suicidal. Nobody would say that, and the reason why is because they’re clear on the fact that this is a human being, but as soon as we’re talking about the unborn and that becomes unclear, you start getting all of these strange ideas, like, “I would rather my child be dead than be with someone else.” As if that’s indicating their love for the child. It doesn’t make sense, but part of it is, they aren’t seeing the unborn as a human being who’s already in existence, who’s already alive, who’s already their child.

Of course, if you’re answering this question, the way you answer is going to depend on who’s asking you. Is the person actually pregnant and feeling suicidal? Well, probably a reasoned response like this isn’t going to be where you’re going to start, because there’s a lot of emotion involved. It’s going to be hard to get to the reasoning, and, in that case, you do have to begin with just assuring them, “Yes, I think the woman is important. I don’t want anyone to feel suicidal. I’m here for you. I can help you. But let’s think about what exactly it is that you want to do. What does it mean to have an abortion? What are you doing? What is that inside of you?”

Greg: You said that it’s beholden upon us that we are sensitive to the emotional concerns and the needs of the mother. We get it. We understand that. Okay, here’s what came to me, then. This is, by the way, characteristic of pro-lifers, although we’ve been characterized as only caring about the baby and not caring about the mother. This is libel because it’s just not true. There are more crisis pregnancy centers in the country than there are abortion clinics. We are lining up. I’ve given to dozens of fundraisers for CPCs, and people are coming, deep in their pockets, in order to take care of women. Where is the other side? Where are the pro-choice organizations stepping up in compassion next to the woman who decides to carry to term, and they’re going to help her with the burdens that she’s facing? Where is it? They have nothing to say but, “Kill that baby.” That’s our compassionate response. “I know you have emotional needs. I know you have financial needs. We’re not going to do anything for that. We’re going to charge you a thousand dollars to kill the baby. That’s our answer.” Pardon me for getting emotional about this, but this is the way it lines out, and we’re the ones who are being called non-compassionate. Really, we don’t get a dime, not a dime, from saving a baby. We come out of pocket, pro-lifers do, to save the baby and to save the mom.

It’s unbelievable. Every time I speak at a CPC banquet, I always get there the day before, and the earlier part of the day from the banquet I go to the to the facility. I tour the facility. I look at every single thing they’re doing to help the mothers, all the packets of diapers and bottles and blankets, and all the things that the women get, the way they teach them crafts and ways to manage their finances. They help them with life support. So, for somebody to say, “Well, you’re just not sensitive; you’re just not compassionate,” open your eyes. You tell me how compassionate it is to say, “You either kill this baby, or we’re not going to do a thing for you.” Really? That’s the compassionate response? Please.