Reframing the Abortion Debate

A few months ago Stephanie Gray, the co-founder of the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform, presented a pro-life argument to an intelligent, socially liberal audience at Google.  The abortion debate has been a key component of the ‘culture wars’ in North America (and Europe) for the last half a century, so what contribution could a pro-lifer possibly make to the debate that hasn’t been heard before?

As it turns out, quite a lot.  And the key is not a new theory or argument, but a change in the way the existing argument is communicated.  What Gray (and others) are seeking to do is to re-frame the abortion debate by advocating a pro-life position based predominantly on the rights of the unborn child, as well as the traditional sanctity of life argument.

Commenting on Gray’s talk in The Gospel Coalition, Joe Carter says that the problem in the abortion debate is often one of language.  According to economist Arnold Kling in his book The Three Languages of Politics, conservatives, liberals and libertarians speak a different ‘political language’ based on fundamentally different visions of how the world works.  He argues that conservatives see the world as a conflict between civilization and barbarism, liberals see it as a conflict between oppressors and the oppressed, and libertarians see it as a conflict between liberty and power.

The strength of Gray’s approach is to use language and examples from the oppressor/oppressed worldview that are more likely to resonate with a socially liberal audience at Google.  In one example she compares the unborn child to a survivor of the Rwandan genocide.  Carter comments:

By subtly weaving these oppressor/oppressed comparisons throughout her talk, Gray forces the “pro-choice” advocates in the audience to consider themselves on the side of the oppressors against the oppressed unborn child. To those who believe they’re on the side of the oppressed, having to consider oneself as on the side of the oppressors can be uncomfortable and challenging.

In an increasingly secular society which holds abortion to be an unalienable right for women, it seems that there is wisdom in ‘speaking the language’ of those we are seeking to win over.  This doesn’t mean watering down the content or compromising the truthfulness of the sanctity of life argument.  But it does mean learning to communicate in a way that secular people will understand.

Read “How to Make a Pro-Life Argument” article at The Gospel Coalition

Michael Shaw is the Editor of Cornerstone Network.  He was formerly a Broadcast Journalist and Associate Producer at the BBC, and is now studying Theology at Oxford University.  You can follow him on Twitter here.


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