Are crisis pregnancy centers equipped to discuss the issue of abortion rationally?

I'm Scheming Unborn Baby, and I approve this study
I’m Scheming Unborn Baby, and I approve this message

Consider this article from Stand to Reason, written by Greg Koukl. The title of the article is “The Vanishing Pro-Life Apologist”. Koukl argues that crisis pregnancy centers are less interested in making the case for the right to life of the unborn child, and more interested in giving women who have already chosen life what they need, in terms of material support.

Koukl writes:

The last few years have witnessed a stunning development in the pro-life movement. More and more crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) refuse to discuss abortion. A new wave of pro-life leaders insist that victory will not be gained in the court of public opinion if the debate centers principally on the morality of abortion.

Paul Swope calls it “a failure to communicate” when right-to-lifers focus primarily on the unborn instead of on the felt needs of women. “The pro-life movement must show that abortion is actually not in a woman’s own self-interest,” he says, “and that the choice of life offers hope and a positive, expanded sense of self.” Reframing the debate in these terms will enable the movement to “regain the moral high ground in the mind of the American public.”

[…]Pro-life feminist Frederica Matthews-Green agrees. “Pro-lifers will not be able to break through this deadlock by stressing the humanity of the unborn….That is a question nobody is asking. But there is a question they are asking. It is, ‘How could we live without it?’ The problem is not moral, but practical.”

Swope and Matthews-Green are not suggesting we frame the debate in terms of the felt needs of women in the narrow context of crisis counseling. It’s certainly appropriate to inform a woman of the physical and psychological consequences of choosing abortion. Rather, they insist the pro-life movement in general must speak less of the unborn and more of the woman in order to break the alleged deadlock.

While it’s true that appealing to self-interest might dissuade some abortion-minded women from killing their babies, it’s hard to image how this could be an effective general strategy. Here’s why: It’s almost always in a woman’s short-term self-interest to abort. This is precisely why the pro-abortion side has been effective. A focus on felt needs favors death, not life.

How can we “regain the moral high ground in the mind of the public,” to use Swope’s words, if we retreat from the moral debate? The whole point of an ethical argument is to give reasons why a woman ought not pursue selfish interests. Felt needs are the problem, not the solution.

This approach completely sabotages the pro-life position. Crisis pregnancy centers do not exist to handle pregnancy. Hospitals and clinics do that. CPCs handle crisis pregnancies, those that are vulnerable to termination by abortion. In a sense, CPCs don’t exist for the woman, but for the child whose life is in danger. The idea is to dissuade women from having abortions precisely because abortion is a moral tragedy. If not, then why oppose it?

What kind of morality does this tactic leave us with? Such a posture implicitly promotes the vice of selfishness instead of the virtue of sacrificial motherhood. Ideas have consequences, and this one may have, as Frank Beckwith observes, “the unfortunate consequence of increasing the number of people who think that unless their needs are pacified they are perfectly justified in performing homicide on the most vulnerable of our population.”

I actually want to go even further than that.

I think that if CPCs refuse to speak up against abortion on on moral grounds, they are doing nothing at all to stem the flow of abortions. Today, men and women are increasingly choosing to have sex when they are not in any kind of committed relationship where a child would be welcome. There are two things we can do to stop this.

First, we can tell them about what abortion really is, and how it is morally wrong to take the life of another person without adequate moral justification. (And selfishness is not moral justification). Second, we can tell them to be more careful about who they choose for relationships, about what the goal of the relationship is (not fun, but marriage), and about making decisions that mature them as a couple so that they are ready to provide for a child. Sex should not be seen as something recreational, and sex partners should not be chosen because of the fun you can have in the moment.

Now if CPCs do not want to tell people that abortion is wrong, and that relationships should be focused on commitment and providing for children, then we will never see fewer abortions. Our job is not to let people in this society think that unless someone else pays the bills, then abortion is OK. Abortion is only OK if the life of the mother is at risk – a very rare scenario. Our job is to educate men and women so that they understand how to have relationships that do not put them in a position where they have to take the life of an unborn child in order to make the lives of the grown-ups more satisfying.

We need to make the the safety of unborn children an issue that people consider when they choose who to have a relationship with, and when to have sex. In particular, women should choose men who value marriage before sex, and who make decisions to ready themselves for the man’s role in marriage. And men should choose women who value chastity and providing above men who offer fun and thrills.

We don’t have enough money to bail everyone out. We have to teach grown-ups moral boundaries, and give them a vision for relationships that is focused on commitment, and therefore safe for unborn children.


So here are my two points about CPCs and pro-life apologetics:

  • crisis pregnancy centers should be committed to defending the right to life of the unborn child in conversations with grown-ups, so that grown-ups police themselves in their relationship and sexual decision-making.
  • crisis pregnancy centers should be working with organizations that use pro-life arguments and evidence to persuade people to value the unborn before the life decision has been made.

And for everyone else, make sure that you’re equipped to explain to others why you think that unborn children deserve full legal protection.

Here’s a good video from Scott Klusendorf to help you do that:

This is an important moral issue, and we can’t be persuasive unless we are equipped with logical arguments and evidence.

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