Having a productive conversation on abortion and how to start it

By Maria V. Gallagher, Legislative Director, Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation

Editor’s note. Periodically I ask people how to approach men and women who on the issue of abortion reside in what might be called the borderline (to borrow from Philip Yancey in another context). They are in neither camp but are open to persuasion. One of the people I asked was Maria.

It’s an intriguing proposition to do a little bit of mental role-playing and contemplate what I would say to an individual who has never been engaged on the abortion issue.

I suppose it’s all the more interesting since I was once that individual.

I would say the most important decision when engaging such a person is to be committed to being friendly, non-confrontational, and winsome. A smile can be one of the greatest communication tools we have.

I suppose I would begin with a definition of terms, since that is sorely missing in modern media. What is abortion? The individual might have heard it defined as a “woman’s right,” but what is it, exactly? I would explain that it is the taking of an innocent, unrepeatable human life, absolutely distinct from the mother with separate DNA.

At this point, I would entertain questions, which I would surmise would begin with, “But when does life begin?” It certainly could not be after the first trimester, I would argue, because by then the baby is fully formed. Does it begin with brain waves (43 days after conception)? A beating heart (24 days after conception)? The development of the eyes—the windows to the soul (19 days)? It is difficult to use a single developmental milestone as the starting point, so we must begin at the true beginning—conception.

I might then pose some numerical questions—without a significant amount of math being required. How many abortions does the individual think occur each year? [1] And how many since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion throughout pregnancy? [2]

It has been my experience that few people know the correct answers to these questions, because they aren’t the sort of facts you find on a network news website or in a text alert from your local TV news department. But I have seen the reactions to these numbers—and normally, they are quite startling.

I would then ask if the individual has ever seen an ultrasound picture of an unborn baby. If so, what did he or she see? Was it surprising at all? If not, knowing that pictures can often speak more eloquently than I can, I would share some ultrasound images and watch the individual’s eyes light up.

My attention would then turn to the testimony I have heard from women who have had abortions and who now regret them—the “dissatisfied customers” of the abortion industry. The heartache of losing a child and not being given permission to grieve openly. The callousness of the abortion center staff. The pain—both physical and emotional—of a procedure advertised as being as harmless as tooth removal. The grief of knowing that a life has ended when it could have been saved.

I would ask if I could follow up with some additional information that the individual could read for himself or herself—privately and pressure-free. For I think that everyone has to have time to assess and analyze the full impact of abortion—not just on their lives, but on millions of lives around the globe.

That’s the method I followed—and it led me from being a hardened pro-choice journalist to serving as a passionate defender of the right to life. If someone was able to penetrate the walls that kept me away from the abortion issue, I figure anyone can cross over to the pro-life side.

[1] 926,000 for 2014, according to the Guttmacher Institute

[2] Over 60 million