Bioethics

The Pro-Life Two-Step at Central Michigan University

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Author Alan Shlemon Published on 04/22/2013

Alan’s monthly letter for January 2010

Dear Friend,

Some say what I did was crazy.

I was standing alone on a stage at Central Michigan University. My job was simple: Present the pro-life view and then debate any challengers from the audience. Simple? Yes. Easy? Not entirely, but I’ll tell you how I made the engagement more manageable in a moment.

After presenting a 30 minute scientific and philosophical defense that the unborn is a human being, I invited the audience to debate me. One by one the students, professors, and medical professionals in the audience took turns attempting to debunk my view. This went on for an hour. Some students were offered extra credit by their biology department if they could refute my scientific claims.

In the end, I was able to fend off the challenges raised against the pro-life view. I used a little organizing tactic to make my job easier. I call it the pro-life two-step. Most objections against the pro-life view can be categorized into one of two groups.

  1. They assume the unborn is not a human being.
  2. They disqualify the unborn from being a valuable human being based on an arbitrary quality or characteristic.

As I heard each objection, I determined which of the two categories it fell in. Then, I responded accordingly.

The first kind of objection is very common. For example: “Many women can’t afford another child so abortion should remain legal.” Notice this objection assumes the unborn is not a human being. And if it’s not a human being, then it makes sense to have an abortion to avert a financial hardship. But if the unborn is a human being and abortion kills her, then abortion is wrong. With this kind of objection, I expose the hidden assumption and then return to the evidence for the humanity of the unborn.

The second objection is a form of unjust discrimination. Sometimes a person concedes the unborn is a human being, but still denies that she deserves human rights—namely the right to life. You can recognize this objection when someone identifies an attribute that allegedly disqualifies the unborn from being valuable. “The unborn isn’t self-aware,” or “The unborn is no bigger than the period at the end of this sentence,” or “The unborn is dependent on the mother for survival.”

I usually point to at least two flaws to this line of reason. The first is that the qualities mentioned (self-awareness, size, and dependency) are all arbitrary. There’s no reason why they are relevant to the question of value. The second is that they result in unjust discrimination. They disqualify a group of human beings from being valuable based on an arbitrary characteristic.

This is no different than other times in history when human beings have faced unjust discrimination. African-Americans were disqualified as valuable human beings because of an arbitrary characteristic, their skin color. Why? So they could be enslaved. Jews under the Third Reich were disqualified as valuable because of an arbitrary characteristic, their ethnicity. Why? So they could be experimented on and exterminated. Unborn human beings today are disqualified as valuable because of arbitrary characteristics: their ability to think, their size, or their dependency on another. Why? So they can be aborted.

With this organizing tactic in mind, I was able to handle the wide range of challenges that the university audience marshaled against my position. The event’s success caught the attention of Detroit radio talk show host Paul Edwards. He interviewed me on the day before Thanksgiving because he wanted to know about the pro-life two-step.

Even with this small success, there is much work to be done to save unborn children. This month marks the 37th year that Roe v. Wade passed, making abortion legal in all 50 states, through all nine months of pregnancy, and for virtually any reason.

My goal is to do what I can to change minds so lives can be saved. I’m already scheduled to train Christians how to defend the pro-life view in California, Oregon, and Wisconsin in 2010. Without your support, these upcoming events, and many others that will be scheduled, would not occur. And Christians would be left without the best training in the art of pro-life persuasion. So, I thank you. Pro-life Christians thank you. And many unborn children could one day thank you, too.

With many thanks,

Alan Shlemon