There are times pro-choice people (usually angry ones) approach us with this accusation: “You’re not really pro-life if [insert unrelated social issue here].” This accusation also takes the forms of, “If you were really pro-life you’d be doing [insert other activism here],” or, “You’re not pro-life, just pro-birth.”
This is classified as a hard question for pro-lifers because we tend to immediately get defensive… even though this type of personal attack is a very unsophisticated form of debate. Instead of engaging with the actual topic, the person just makes jabs at the character of the person they’re conversing with. Unfortunately, it’s usually an effective technique for distracting us because we want to justify not only what we’re doing, but who we are.
It’s Called an “Ad Hominem” Attack
Is your peer addressing the argument, or are they attacking you as a person? For example, men often get told that they are not allowed to talk about abortion because “You can’t get pregnant!” Well, this is certainly true. A man cannot bear a child. He will never know the physical and emotional burdens and joys of pregnancy. However, he does have a voice in this fight! The fight for life is not simply a women’s issue. It is a human rights issue. A person can argue from these perspectives regardless of gender.
Ryan Bomberger at The Radiance Foundation had a succinct, funny reply to this “You’re not really pro-life if…” attack:
Another “ad hominem” attack occurs when your peer challenges with you with these types of questions: “How many children have you adopted? Are you prepared to pay for this woman’s hospital bills and childcare?” Again, they are attacking you as a person and not addressing the morality or injustice of the actual argument at hand (i.e. abortion). The question is whether or not science supports the preborn as human beings and whether philosophy supports the preborn as valuable.
While certainly you can bring up all the powerful and productive adoption & other supportive agencies in the pro-life movement, this will not necessarily help your argument. It is better to bring up a counter example. Use an example like spousal abuse. “Can I say that spousal abuse is wrong without taking in the woman next door who is being abused by her husband?” Yes, it would be a great thing if we could take in every child and every abused spouse. Nevertheless, we are not all capable of doing so. This does not affect validity of the statement.
In order to defend yourself from ad hominem attacks, learn the rules of good debate so that you can point out these irrelevant issues to people. Force them to engage arguments— don’t let them attack you! Personal attacks have not undermined arguments. They are irrelevant to the questions “What is the preborn?” and “Is abortion morally wrong?” Focus on discussing these questions, and turn to science and philosophy to remain in neutral territory.
How to Respond
The most seasoned pro-life conversationalists are confident. The confident pro-lifer knows that their stance is not dictated or diluted by other social justice issues, whether or not they are an adoptive parent, or any number of other jabs. But anyone who knows abortion is wrong should be prepared to respond to this low-level type of attack.
Because it happens ALL the time. Every single Students for Life team member has been asked on campus, at one point or another: “If you’re pro-life, why aren’t you stopping human trafficking? Why aren’t you feeding the hungry? Why aren’t you banning guns?”
In this video, SFLA President Kristan Hawkins uses a quick analogy that is effective when we are accused of essentially hyper-focusing on one issue. In other words, “Why are aren’t you doing [insert thing here]?”
No other social justice cause is asked this type of question. The American Cancer Society is not asked why they aren’t battling Alzheimer’s. Black Lives Matter is not asked why they aren’t fixing the foster care system. The soup kitchen down the street is not asked why they aren’t addressing a lack of education for girls in developing countries.
Abortion has the single largest death toll of any condition, disease, genocide, or act in history. Needless to say, it is big enough to deserve its own movement. Encourage the person who has posed this question to discuss the actual topic of abortion with you.
“Pro-Life” Has a Brand Problem
Pro-choice advocates have posed this type of question so much that they have succeeded in muddying the water. Even people who hold pro-life views do not want to be labeled “pro-life.” And many pro-choice people, plus a fairly sizable portion of the pro-life movement itself, have come to believe that the term “pro-life” refers to every single social justice issue that has to do with human life.
Is it a bad thing to address all human life issues? Absolutely not. But we should not stand for it when anyone tells us that we aren’t allowed to be anti-abortion. In all of human history, when has it ever been wrong to be anti- a bad thing? The more we allow others to muddy the pro-life waters, forcing us to address every injustice in existence, the less effective we are at abolishing abortion.
It’s Okay to Focus
We believe in callings. Everyone has a unique calling; something they’re passionate about and want to do to make a difference in the world. It’s time for our culture to stop attacking those who feel called to abolish the human rights violation of abortion, suggesting that they have to spread themselves thin with other (worthy) causes. If we try to do everything – nothing will be given the attention it deserves. The people who feel called to end homelessness should absolutely pursue it – with 100% support from us. Same for poverty, hungriness, human trafficking, etc.
Every human rights cause needs activists. Don’t let people undermine yours.