Winning people over by appealing to what they already know in their hearts

By Dave Andrusko

The bottom line is no woman is going to want an abortion after seeing a sonogram.”  — Francesco Angelo, medical director of the Family Planning Center in Mineola, as quoted in the New York Times.

Earlier this week, we posted a story about the impending 25th anniversary of Pope John Paul’s magnificent, “The Gospel of Life.” I did not mention it at the time, but it struck me that something that removed from us chronologically could be as contemporaneous in its message as the latest tweet.

Likewise (and this seems impossible to me), it’s been 25 years since Prof. George McKenna wrote one of the finest essays on abortion I’ve ever had the pleasure to read. Titled, “On Abortion: A Lincolnian Position,” McKenna’s message is, if anything, more relevant today, than it was when his essay first appeared in The Atlantic Magazine

With respect to the abomination of slavery, “People’s moral intuitions could not be repressed,” McKenna wrote. “[T]hey would surface in all kinds of unexpected ways: in winces and unguarded expressions, in labored euphemisms, in slips of the tongue. Lincoln was on the lookout for these, and he forced his opponents to acknowledge their significance.” 

With regard to abortion, such “moral intuitions” are alive and well, tapping on the windows of souls today just as loudly and persistently as they did in the mid-19th century when slavery was legal. Why?

Simple. In our heart of hearts almost all of us know that both are moral cancers and that neither is “rooted in the soil of American Democracy.” 

Apropos McKenna, much of our job can be encapsulated in this formulation: successfully bringing to the surface the uneasiness, the moral discomfort, that abortion elicits in people of good will. 

Note: it’s not a question of instilling this in people; it’s already there, as the quotation from the abortion clinic operator that begins this post demonstrates. Our task is to help people to recognize that this tap-tap-tapping on their hearts is not something to be ignored or repressed but acknowledged for what it is: the better angels of their nature at work. 

We’re talking here about everyday interactions, the kind of casual conversations that while most often are unplanned, offer rich possibilities. But before going any further, it’s very important that we’re clear about both what we don’t mean, and the target audience we are speaking about. 

We don’t mean placing your principles in mothballs or minimizing your pro-life education to a quick course in Sound Bites 101. Principles power this movement, and information is the fuel. 

Nor is it to suggest that what has worked can’t continue to touch the hearts and the minds of Americans. We’ve changed the contours of the debate in this nation with a multifaceted approach that is the model of effectiveness and simplicity. 

Nor are we minimizing vital role of political and legislative action, certainly not in a presidential year when pro-life President Donald Trump’s opponent will be a Democrat steeped in ultra-pro-abortion orthodoxy. While it is not the primary focus in this post, we written constantly about the critically important benefits that flow from publicly fighting for what we believe in in these arenas. 

Please understand also that when we are speaking to those who already share our perspective, much of what follows still applies only in a different way. They are already in the fold and/or merely need the tools to make them more effective. Our colleagues need information they can quickly assimilate, a local organization they can immediately join, or a primer on fetal development that they can absorb in an hour or less. 

They have invited us into their homes, so to speak. Since we’ve already passed this most important threshold, the primary barrier to overcome is the vast range of everyday activities that makes it difficult for people to carve out time to serve the cause of unborn babies and the medically dependent elderly. 

What we are talking about here, however, is how we win over people who are not currently in our Movement. Often this is completed very informally. 

Put another way, this is about how to soften the soil that may otherwise be too hard for the “seed” – – the truth about the unborn – – to take root. 

MORE WHO YOU ARE THAN WHAT YOU SAY 

Given an audience of skeptics, “arguing” the case for life is in almost all circumstances a non-starter, if by that we mean  we think we can intellectually force feed, if not browbeat people, into coming our way. If you see yourself as a salesman or saleswoman, the most important thing that I’ve learned in my four decades + involvement in this Movement is that you can’t close the deal if you can’t get in the door. 

By that I mean it’s not necessarily what you or I say (especially initially), but who we are and how we present ourselves that almost always will decide whether someone will give any consideration to the first words out of our mouths. If we come across as angry know-it-alls, why would anyone want to be in our presence one nanosecond longer than he or she has to be? 

And what is so surprising is how often abortion or a related issue comes up. I remember one time (well before the coronavirus pandemic) when we were at the doctor’s office where my wife was receiving medical treatment. I was reading the Washington Post when the nurse peeked over my shoulder and saw that I was working my way through an article on stem cell research and cloning. 

“Tough issue,” she said. She then explained how she surely would want to find cures for diseases but wouldn’t want to clone a “baby.” 

We explained (actually my wife explained; she’s much smarter than I am) that she didn’t have to choose. All the breakthroughs to date involved the use of stem cells derived from sources other than embryos (cloned or otherwise) and that, indeed, she was in the vast majority who found the idea of cloning a baby abhorrent. 

If Lesson One is be the kind of human being you’d like to be around, Lesson Number Two is to know your stuff because opportunities will occur. Indeed, something not dissimilar happens occasionally in an adult Sunday school class I teach.

Lesson Three is that with the exception of hard-core pro-abortion types, you will be utterly amazed how many people are “permeable” – – that is, how few people are locked into a thought-out, well-reasoned position in opposition to us. They have a smidgeon of information and a “well, I think…” way of looking at the issue. 

I’m not saying they will run over to our corner at the drop of a hat. What I am saying is that, approached respectfully, they will not run away, a far more important truth. 

Lesson Four is that our culture is awash in possibilities to gently, matter-of-factly, persuasively make the case for the unborn. Nowhere is that more apparent that through the conscious-raising potential of ultrasounds. 

They carry a powerful pro-life message: that there’s a creature in there who looks amazingly like a baby post-birth. 

We can and we should steep ourselves in the basics of fetal development – – the ABCs of our common developmental journey – – so that we can converse intelligently. But no words coming out of our mouths could ever match the impact of that commercial where the mom joyfully, almost reverently “watches” her unborn child. Whew! 

A final thought, one that has been brought to my attention much of late. Do not expect people who disagree with us to consider the humanity of the unborn when it’s clear we minimize, if not dismiss altogether, their humanity. 

Sure, the unborn child and the elderly woman in a nursing home are deserving of care and protection irrespective of whether you and I make their case in a winsome way. But human nature doesn’t work that way. If our audience finds us or our approach unappealing, the real loser will be the defenseless human beings for whom we are trying to recruit new defenders. 

And as we have written dozens of times, there is no more encouraging news than the surge in pro-life sentiment among young people and young adults which shows no sign of abating. While they have heard the pro-abortion mantra their entire lives, they simply aren’t buying. (While many adults will salute the Politically Correct Flag when it is run up the flag pole, it’s my experience that most kids scorn-even loathe– PC thinking.) 

They know the pain, the hurt, the disillusionment that so often accompanies an abortion. They can’t be snowed: abortion kills babies and hurts women. 

And it is the innate idealism of youth that compels them to challenge a self-centered, inverted mentality, the kind that says women and men first, children last. 

Appeal to that idealism. It will win them over and they will carry the day.