Loving the Least of These / Protecting Humans and Mothers
Stephanie Gray Connors
Blackstone Phase 3, 2021
The Power of Story
I want to begin by sharing with you a story of a man by the name of Wesley Autrey who, many years ago, was at a New York subway train station with his daughters. As they were standing on the platform waiting for their train, he noticed a man was wobbling close to the edge of the platform — so close that the man fell off, down to where the train would come. Autrey ran over and looked down and saw that the man was having a seizure. He immediately jumped from the platform, down onto the tracks, and tried to lift the man. But because of his weight, as well as the fact that he was seizing, Autrey didn’t have the strength, by himself, to get the man back up on the platform.
At this point, though there was a crowd of people gathered to watch all of this play out, no one else was jumping down onto the tracks to help Autrey. As it should happen, when he looked down the tracks, he saw lights from an oncoming train. Autrey realized that nobody was going to help him and that he had a choice to make: he could jump back onto the platform or he could do what he could to rescue the seizing man.
So, very quickly, Autrey, who worked in construction and was used to small spaces, squished the seizing man in between the two tracks. He looked and saw the space beneath the oncoming train and was hoping and praying that it would be enough space for him to put his own body over the seizing man. The two of them squished between the tracks, hoping it would be just enough space for the train to clear.
Of course, the conductor of the train saw that there were people on the tracks and immediately applied the brakes. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to bring the train to a stop soon enough, and not just one, not just two, but five railcars rolled over the two men. Miraculously, they were not killed. Miraculously, they were not even hurt. It was just the top of Autrey’s blue cap that got some grease marks on it from the train.
When I think of what Wesley Autrey did, of course, the word hero comes to mind. But what also comes to mind is the word love. St. Thomas Aquinas defined love as “willing the other’s good.” There is no denying that is exactly what Autrey did in that moment when he saw the man in need. He was willing his good.
There is a short video clip by a pro-life organization called Abort 73. The video is called “Office Six” and proposes the following: “If hate is the opposite of love, what is the opposite of the greatest love?” The video goes on to say that the greatest love has long been defined as a willingness to lay down your life for another, which means that the opposite of that is laying down another’s life for yourself.
Wesley Autrey didn’t just demonstrate love. He demonstrated the greatest of love.
I wanted to begin this talk on abortion with that reflection because what is really at the heart of the pro-life message, and what we want to impart to the people with whom we speak, is the greatest love — the idea that a pregnant woman and her boyfriend or her husband and all the people around her reflect the example of someone like Wesley Autrey. And we focus on the other and have a willingness to lay down our lives for the other. It may not, in the end, be a physical laying down of our lives, as Autrey’s almost was, but it is a laying down of a lot of our conveniences.
As difficult and beautiful as Wesley Autrey’s example is, and as beautiful as that element is at the heart of the pro-life message, it is difficult to sell that to our culture. Why? Because all too often so many have already chosen the opposite of the greatest love. When we talk about rejecting abortion and condemning abortion, those who have already made that choice might feel condemned or rejected. So it is important when communicating the pro-life perspective that we communicate in a way that is sensitive and merciful.
We know this as Christians. Every morning we are in prayer and praise, thanking God for His mercy on us, that He is our Savior. And if we have a Savior, it means we have to be saved from sin. Therefore, acknowledging that there are things in our lives that have gone wrong by our choice, we know we need God’s mercy. As we communicate the pro-life message, we’ll encounter people who may have moms or sisters who have had abortions, people who may have driven friends or family members to a clinic, or people who may have had an abortion themselves. And with that, we must always remember the mercy of God. Whatever sins we have committed or sins of omission we have participated in, when we repent, God is eager, and He is willing to forgive.
Today, I want to talk about how we can be better equipped to communicate with people when imparting the importance of living out the greatest love when it comes to the pro-life message.
We see a great opportunity for there to be debate in the courtroom (as occurred in the Dobbs argument). But we need to remember that is also going to lead to debate in the public square. The more abortion is in the news, the more there will be a wealth of opportunities for us to engage people in conversation who do not share the pro-life view.
What is really important for us to remember is that if we win an argument but lose the person, we lose. It is essential that, as we prepare for the great debate that is unfolding in our society, we be winsome, gracious, and persuasive when dialoging with people on this issue. So today I want to do that. I want to talk about how we can win the argument and the person, and I’m going to cover three things in particular.
The first thing I want to talk about is the general disposition, or tactics and approach, that we need to have. The second thing I want to reflect on is how to make a strong argument and have a solid, intellectual case against abortion. The third thing I want to talk about is how we win the person we are debating with and how we reach their heart, not just their mind.
Having the Right Disposition and Tactics
Many years ago I came across some great insight by a Christian apologetics organization in California called Stand to Reason. Stand to Reason produced a great reflection on what it means to be a good ambassador. They said that when you are representing Christ, you are going to be an ambassador for Him and you need certain qualities. They distilled all of the qualities down to three things: A good ambassador who is evangelizing others needs knowledge, wisdom, and character. I would say those three things are what we as pro-lifers also need when we engage people in the debate on abortion. We need knowledge. We need wisdom. We need character.
Knowledge is having an accurately informed mind. A lot of pro-lifers can check this first point off. We do a great job with that.
Then there is wisdom. Wisdom is an artful method. Wisdom is all about ensuring that whatever we have put in our heads can actually get out of our mouths so that it gets into the heart of the person with whom we are dialoging. Sometimes we are not so good on the wisdom part. I am going to be focusing partly on that today. When it comes to this artful method, I often look to the example of Jesus. Throughout the Scriptures, when He is interacting with people, when He is having conversations, when He is having debates, what does He do? He asks questions, and He tells parables.
What happens when you ask someone a question? They do what hopefully all of you are doing right now, which is thinking, “What’s the answer?” When you ask someone a question, you engage their mind, and that is really important in the abortion debate. We want to get the other side thinking deeper than a slogan. When we ask them for reasons behind the slogan they are claiming, then they have to think deeply.
But stories or parables are also powerful because they activate our imagination, even our emotions, and they can make a principle more clear when seen lived out in a concrete set of circumstances that we can relate to or understand. So if we want the knowledge in our heads to stick in the hearts of the people with whom we speak, we need wisdom. We need the artful method of drawing on question-asking and storytelling.
And as important as knowledge and wisdom are, we also need character. St. Teresa defines character as an attractive manner. It is about ensuring that everything about who we are and how we come across in conversation complements and commends our message —instead of detracting from it.
At the end of the day, our message isn’t just about love, but it is about the greatest love. It is about seeing every single person as an image bearer, and thus we need to ensure that the way we interact with others conveys our love for them and our respect for them as a person as much as we have love and respect for preborn children. That is all about winning the person and not just winning the argument.
Winning the Mind with Sound Arguments
If we think about those three approaches — having knowledge, having wisdom, and having character — let’s look at them now in light of reaching the mind and then reaching the heart.
When it comes to engaging people intellectually, one of the things that I like to do is begin with this question: “Do you believe in human rights?” Now if you were to ask anyone on your campus if they believe in human rights, what are they likely to say? “Yes! Yes! I believe in human rights.”
So then you can follow that question with this question: “Okay. Who gets human rights?” Now some people may think, “Why would you even ask that? The answer is so obvious.” And many times in conversation, we ask questions where the answer is obvious so that it is the other party offering the information, rather than us forcing it in. The advantage we have as pro-life Christians is the realization that the truth is written on the hearts of the people with whom we are speaking. So we don’t have to force the truth in. We simply have to draw it out. Asking questions does that. When the other party is verbalizing, they are owning up to a certain point. If at any point, as the conversation proceeds, they start to get uncomfortable with where the conclusion is leading us, their issue will ultimately be with themselves because they have volunteered so much information. They have given the answers to the questions, rather than us just lecturing them.
So, we ask, “Do you believe in human rights?” They say, “Yes.” We say, “Who gets human rights?” You can even — to get the answer you want — say, “For example, if women get women’s rights, and children get children’s rights, logically who gets human rights?” And then they will say, “Well, humans.” And then you say, “Okay, when does science say a human being begins his or her life?” And that question is important couched that way because I don’t want their opinion. I don’t want your opinion. I don’t want to hear what philosophy has to say. The question is, “What does the scientific community say, biologically speaking, about when a human being begins their life?”
Then you have that conversation. If they have basic biology, they will conclude that embryology and biology textbooks teach that beings that reproduce sexually begin their lives at fertilization or sperm-egg fusion — whether we are talking about dogs, whether we are talking about cats, whether we are talking about horses. If you are a horse breeder or a veterinarian, there is a consensus that, because those beings reproduce sexually, their offspring come into existence at sperm-egg fusion, at fertilization. And so, because humans are a type of creature that reproduces sexually, it follows scientifically that our lives begin at fertilization as well.
There is a great paper that I highly recommend you look up. It is written by Dr. Maureen Condic, who teaches medicine at the University of Utah School of Medicine. She wrote an excellent white paper, called “When Does Human Life Begin?”
In this paper, she talks about the scientific case for life beginning not only during fertilization but specifically at the beginning of fertilization, because if you are familiar with the specifics, you know it is a process. The process begins at sperm-egg fusion but takes about 24 hours to complete. So some people might say, “Well, at what point in the 24 hours are you claiming that life begins?” So Dr. Condic came up with this really powerful, scientific explanation for life beginning literally in what pro-lifers will often call “an instant” — the very beginning of that 24-hour process. She says that when scientists want to distinguish whether a cell is different from another cell, they will look at two criteria: cell composition and cell behavior. In other words, what is a cell made of? And what does it do? She says if you have two cells that have the same composition and the same behavior, they are the same type of cell. But, if they have different composition and different behavior, then they are different.
Here is where this is significant: If we look at the sperm cell in contrast to the egg cell, we see they are different based on those two criteria. The composition of a sperm cell is the genetic material of a man. The composition of the egg cell is the genetic material of a woman. So, by composition, we know that they are different.
What about behavior? The behavior or function of a sperm is to swim, find an egg and penetrate it. What is the behavior of the egg? It is to sit around and wait for a sperm to come along and penetrate it. That is important because then we need to ask ourselves, “The moment one sperm penetrates an egg and you have a one-celled embryo or zygote, what is its composition and behavior? Is it the same or is it different?”
Well, we know the composition. The moment you have the sperm and the egg together, the genetic material of the mother and the father is contained in one cell. So, by composition, we know that the cell is different than before. Now, what about the behavior?
If another sperm comes along and tries to penetrate that zygote the way the first sperm tried to penetrate the egg, will the penetration be allowed to occur? Absolutely not. There is this zone, this wall that comes up, that prevents additional penetration and allows the zygote or embryo to behave differently than the previous egg cell. That literally happens in an instant, even prior to the chromosomes intermingling. When fertilization happens at the start of that 24-hour process, you have that new composition, that distinct behavior. Therefore, we can conclude biologically that something new has come into existence from what we had before. And from that point forward, that embryo is going to grow and mature and change what he or she looks like and what he or she is able to do, but the essential nature is going to remain the same. Each of us can take who we are today and trace ourselves back to that moment of sperm-egg fusion.
If we believe in human rights, and if humans get human rights, and if human beings begin their lives at fertilization, it follows that a one-celled embryo has human rights, including the right to life that you and I have.
But every now and then we are going to encounter abortion supporters who won’t be satisfied by basic biology or the fact that preborn children are of the species homo sapiens. They will want to add other criteria.
A few months ago, I debated Peter Singer from Princeton through an online debate at Harvard University. We debated this very topic of abortion. One of his points was that the question is not, “Are you human?” The question is, “Can you suffer?” And if the preborn do not suffer, then abortion is justified. Or if some type of worse suffering could be perceived in the future, then ending that life is justified. Peter Singer not only supports abortion early in pregnancy, but he also supports it through all nine months of pregnancy, including allowing some post-birth abortions or infanticide of disabled children. He argued that even at six months after birth, a child doesn’t have full moral standing yet.
So, if we encounter someone who focuses on something like suffering, the question we want to ask is this: “Is it proper to conclude that if someone does not experience suffering it is okay to harm them?” And then we want to give some examples. There is a little girl from America by the name of Gabby Gingras who has a very rare condition called “congenital insensitivity to pain.” Basically, it means that she cannot feel pain. If you have ever experienced a lot of pain, you might be tempted to be jealous of her and think, “Oh, that would be amazing to live life without pain.” But actually, a life without pain is a life with great problems. As a little girl, Gabby chewed her tongue like it was bubble gum. She bit her fingers until they bled. She poked at her eyes so much that an infection resulted in one eye. Her eye had to be removed because she never felt the pain that would have told her to stop doing this self-destructive thing that she was doing. Would it be wrong for someone to kill Gabby even if she wouldn’t feel pain at the time of her death? Absolutely. Because we recognize the wrongness of killing her is rooted in the fact that she is a member of the human family, not in how much suffering she would experience at the moment of death.
If you were, for example, having your wisdom teeth removed and are under anesthesia and someone kills you at that moment, you are not going to feel pain. That does not mean killing you is acceptable. You are not going to experience suffering; it does not mean it is acceptable. Even if you would never experience suffering, certain actions are wrong.
My mentor, Scott Klusendorf, gave me an example that I used in the debate with Peter Singer. Scott said, “If you die and at your funeral someone comes along and says a whole bunch of lies about you and absolutely tears down your character, would we all agree that they have done something wrong? Yes. Even though you won’t ever be aware of it and won’t feel suffering or feel wronged by what was said, there is still something wrong about that.”
As we debate with people who are not fully satisfied with focusing on the humanity of the preborn child, not only may they possibly focus on whether the child experiences suffering, but like Singer, they may focus on the child’s value being rooted in the feelings of others. Besides being an abortion supporter and an animal rights activist, Peter Singer is known for what he calls “effective altruism.” He talks about the need to give significant sums of our salaries to help the world’s poor and less fortunate. In one talk that he gave on that particular topic, he shared a story about a girl from China who was two years old. Her name was Wang Yu. She managed to walk away from her parents and toddle onto the street, and a van came along and hit her. Video surveillance footage shows the driver of the van did not stop to help her, and multiple people walked past while seeing this tiny little two-year-old girl slumped over before, ultimately, help came. He uses this to pull at people’s heartstrings and to say, “Isn’t it terrible that people abandoned this child in need?”
I brought that up in my debate with Peter Singer, and I said, “Well, what if she were six months old? What if she were the age where you don’t think the child has full moral standing like you and me? What if someone ran into her then? Would it have been wrong?” And he said, “Yes, because her mother wanted her.” So, the question we would want to ask someone like that is, “Is my right to life grounded in the feelings of those around me? Or is it grounded in who I am?” After all, I said, “What if her mother was dead, and what if her father had wanted a male child? In fact, what if her father was the one who was driving the van, would it have been wrong?” And the only thing that he could say was, “Well, I think sex-selective abortion is not a good idea and is not appropriate.”
By asking questions, we are drawing out the problematic perspective of the person with whom we are dialoging when their criteria for helping or not helping someone is based on the feelings of others or whether that someone suffers.
Another point that came up in the debate, and one that often comes up in abortion discussions, is animal rights. Someone like Singer is a big proponent of protecting other species. As a pro-lifer, if I am speaking with someone who supports animal rights, rather than getting brought into a big debate about whether or not animals should be equal to humans, what I like to say is that it does not mean they cannot support human rights. For example, if someone says, “Black lives matter,” is it reasonable to conclude that person is also saying, “Hispanic lives don’t matter”? No. They are just speaking specifically to one group. So, if someone wants to say, “Animal lives matter,” okay, Peter Singer, you can say that, but it does not mean human lives don’t matter.
Another point we can consider is that when people who are animal rights activists want to protect certain species, we can ask them, “Why that species but not the other species? Why the sperm whale but not the ant?”
In fact, many years ago the Readers Digest had a front-page article with the title, “Whales are people, too.” It was about this movement to give personhood status to the sperm whale, arguing that this particular type of animal seems to exhibit behaviors that are similar to humans, like child-rearing styles and communication, possibly even consciousness and a rational nature. If someone were to bring that up, I would ask them, “Those who want to give personhood status to sperm whales: Are they only giving it to the adult sperm whale? Or to the whole species?”
The reality is, people pushing for personhood status for sperm whales are pushing for the whole species — not just the adult but the itty, bitty fetal or embryonic sperm whale as well. What they are acknowledging is that there is something about that species that has an inherent capacity for certain things that other species don’t have. Even if certain members of that species cannot currently act on those capacities, inherently, those capacities are there and, yes, you can say that about the baby sperm whale compared to the adult sperm whale, but the same is true for humans.
The preborn child in my womb has the inherent capacity to be as rational, conscious, and self-aware as I am, but due to his or her age, he or she cannot yet act on that capacity. It does not mean he or she, because we haven’t found out yet, is not a person. It does not mean the child is not a human. The inherent capacity to do what humans do is there. It’s just like when we are sleeping — the inherent capacity to do what we do is there. We should value each other for who we are and the inherent capacities we have, not for what our current capacities are, because those fluctuate not only throughout our lifetime but even throughout our day.
When the issue of animal rights came up with Peter Singer, one of the other points I made is that if he wants to focus so much on animals, perhaps we could spend some time reflecting on what animals could teach humans. How many of you saw a viral video of a runner in Utah who had filmed himself being stalked by a cougar that was following him? This female cougar noticed that he was getting close to her babies, and so she freaked out and stalked him for six minutes. He thought the cougar was going to kill him. But why was the cougar doing that? Because she considered the runner a threat to her children. And so, a point we as pro-lifers can make is that the animal kingdom has a lesson to teach us humans. Mothers generally care for their offspring, and therefore, we should fight to protect our offspring the way the mother cougar did.
This brings me to another question we can ask people in conversation: “What do civil societies expect of parents, and when does parenthood begin?” If we think about the questions so far: “Do you believe in human rights? Who gets human rights? When do human beings begin their lives?” All the other criteria people like Peter Singer have are irrelevant. So now the question is, “What do civil societies expect of parents?” and “When does parenthood begin?”
If you go to Google, as I have, and you type “parents torture, kill, starve children” you will get horrifying headlines from around the world of brutal abuse that has been inflicted upon children at the hands of their mothers and fathers. I would suggest that there is universal outrage at those headlines. Even people who support abortion will be horrified by those incidents. What that tells us is that we all have this intuitive sense that civil societies expect parents to help and protect their children, not harm their children. If we can get consensus on that, which we can easily do, we then ask the question, “When does parenthood begin?”
One of my pet peeves is when you go to a baby shower, you will often see cards that say, “Congratulations, Mother-To-Be.” It is a pet peeve of mine because a pregnant woman is not a mother-to-be. For 40 years of my life, I was a mother-to-be, which meant I was never pregnant. But that very nature of being a potential mother changed a month after my wedding when I got pregnant. Suddenly I was no longer and never again would be a mother-to-be, because I was now a mother. Have I given birth to this child or the child I lost through miscarriage? No, but I am a mother because the child’s life began. So, parenthood begins when offspring’s lives begin. Since we established that offspring begin their lives at fertilization, then parenthood begins at fertilization. This means if we accept that civil societies have the standard that parents protect their children, then they should protect their children starting at fertilization.
Now the reality is that children are very vulnerable. They are very needy. And abortion supporters will often use that as grounds to say, “This is why abortion is needed, because I don’t want this entity dependent on me.” But the question is, “If a child is very dependent, vulnerable, and needy, does that lessen a parent’s responsibility? Or heighten it?” If any of you were to return home to your parents for some vacation and demand your parents feed you, and they don’t feed you, you might be hurt by the fact that they are not feeding you. But they are not going to be arrested for not feeding you. But if instead of being in college, in law school, you are five years old and you ask your parents to feed you and they refuse to feed you, this is a serious issue. If this becomes known to the authorities, your parents will be arrested. What is the difference between you in law school, who are a child of your parents, and you at the age of five, who are a child of your parents? The difference is that you are a dependent at the age of five. You are weak and vulnerable. You cannot take care of yourself. That heightens your parents’ responsibility toward you; it does not lessen it.
So the same is true when abortion supporters focus on the dependency of the preborn child on the pregnant woman and then conclude that justifies abortion. Actually, the opposite conclusion comes into play because the dependency and vulnerability of the child heighten the responsibility of the parent.
My dad, although I am Canadian-born and raised, is from Scotland. He has a Scottish accent. You see, he came over when he was in his 30s. So, something my dad always said to us was, “Like our old Scottish grandfather used to say, use their own words against them.” And when it comes to debating abortion, I think what can also be helpful in our conversation is to draw on authorities that the abortion supporter will rely on to show that that authority holds a view that aligns more with the pro-life perspective than the abortion-supporting perspective. One of those authorities is the United Nations (U.N.), which is known for being very pro-abortion, and yet at a foundational level there are several basic statements and views they have that are profoundly pro-life.
For example, the U.N. has adopted a document on the rights of the child. That document states, “The child by reason of his physical and mental immaturity has rights to special safeguards and care before, as well as after birth.” What the U.N. is acknowledging is that not only should the child get special care but it is the immaturity of the child in particular that should prompt us to give special care.
Or we can point out that the U.N. has adopted a document called “The Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,” which speaks to all kinds of things, including the existence of the death penalty in various places. And it says, in countries where the death penalty is legal, it may never be done on a pregnant woman. Fascinating. A question we can ask is, “Why? If you have two women who have committed the same crime in a country where the consequence for the crime is the death penalty but only one of the two women is going to get the death penalty because one of the women is pregnant and the other one is not, what is that telling us about their different natures?” In the one case, regardless of whether you support or oppose the death penalty, the woman who is not pregnant is the guilty party, and the death penalty will give the consequence to just the guilty party. In the other case, with the woman who is pregnant, giving her the death penalty for the crime that she is guilty of would also give the death penalty to the innocent child. Whether we oppose or support the death penalty for the guilty, there is consensus that the death penalty should never be given to the innocent. And so, if we withhold the death penalty from a pregnant woman who is guilty, that is an admission that within her body is an innocent child.
There is so much more that could be said on this, but there are just a couple of things I want to address as I segue into reaching the heart of people with whom we are speaking. There are a lot of hard cases that come up when debating abortion and, after my session, I am happy to talk about those things, like poor prenatal diagnosis, or if a woman’s life is in danger — things like that. One hard case that I want to address that often comes up in conversation is “What about rape?” Sure, the fetus might be human and might have a human right to life. And maybe the feelings of others don’t matter. And maybe parents do have a responsibility to their offspring. But what about a woman who never consented to sex? She is now pregnant. She shouldn’t have to carry that child to term. She should be allowed to have an abortion. What does a pro-lifer say?
A question I find helpful to ask is this: “Will abortion un-rape a rape victim? Will it take away all the traumas and memories that have gone on in the sexual assault?” I think the obvious answer is “no, it won’t undo that.” And then I think it is powerful not just to ask that question but to tell a story of a pro-life speaker named Lianna Rebolledo. I met her several years ago. Her story is that when she was 12 years old, growing up in Mexico City, she was kidnapped for several days and brutally and repeatedly raped. She got pregnant, and when she went to the hospital, the doctors offered her an abortion. And she asked the doctors if an abortion would take away the feelings she had that she just couldn’t get clean, no matter how many times she showered. The doctors answered that, technically, abortion wouldn’t do that. In one of her interviews, Lianna said, “Then I just didn’t see the point. All I knew was there was a life inside of me. That life needed me, and I needed her.” And so, remarkably, Lianna, at the age of 12, carried through with that pregnancy and not only gave birth to her daughter but raised her daughter, who became her best friend and the only child that she has ever had. Lianna is now in her early 40s.
It is one thing to say abortion is wrong even in cases of rape. But it is another thing to be able to share the story, not a made-up parable or analogy, but a real-life experience of someone who has been there and can say, “As much as I hate what happened to me, I am grateful for my daughter.” And Lianna can do that.
Reaching the Heart to Win the Person
When tough cases are asked in conversation, it is often because tough cases have been lived. This is where I want to end, by reflecting on reaching the heart to win the person with whom we are dialoging and not just winning an argument.
So often when people get impassioned and they are yelling, swearing, or being rude to pro-lifers, it is because the issue that is being discussed, whether it is abortion for reasons of poverty, rape, or something else, affects that individual personally. In those moments when we are facing greater hostility, it is essential that we not just focus on knowledge or even wisdom but that we remember character. Remember how important it is to show the person with whom we are dialoging that we love them as much as we love the preborn.
Knowledge is not enough. We need wisdom and character. If we are not sensitive to the pain of the person in front of us and what they are sharing, then we lose them, and we end up losing overall.
One encounter I saw on video involved a particularly aggressive pro-life man pushing logical, biological, and DNA facts upon a younger and quite upset pro-choice student.
The college student responded, “Why do you care so much about DNA?” What was she really asking but not verbalizing? It was plain to anyone who empathized: “Why don’t you care about me?”
As I said earlier, if we win the argument but lose the person, we lose. As we prepare to have perhaps some of the biggest abortion debates in society in the coming months, we need to make sure we remember St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians when he defines love. His very first two points are that love is “patient” and love is “kind.”
When we dialogue with people who are sharing personal stories of pain and are getting quite vulnerable, and perhaps even angry or emotional, that is where we want to take a different line of questioning rather than asking questions about intellectual things like “When do human rights begin?” or “Do you believe in human rights?” and so forth.
We want to ask things like “How are you doing?” or say “I’m sorry for what happened to you. Do you feel you have sufficient help, or could I help connect you to someone who could help you with all that you are carrying?” Or, if they have yet to reveal their personal story but are anxious and really angry and upset, ask, “Where does your passion come from?”
Once I was debating an angry student named Noah. I looked at him and I said, “Noah, what does someone who thinks like you want someone who thinks like me to understand?” And we do not know what that person is going to say, but it is that type of gentle disposition that is compassionately curious about where they are coming from and not just focused on what we want to say that will help build a bridge and help the person see that we care as much for the born as we do for the preborn.
I once read, in a book called Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, an exercise for the reader to imagine three buckets of water in front of them. One has cold water, another has lukewarm water, and the other has hot water. If I put my right hand in the hot water and my left hand in the cold water and take them both out and put them into the middle bucket, the hand which came from the hot water is going to think the new bucket of water is cold. The hand which came from the cold water is going to think the new bucket of water is hot. They are both wrong. The middle bucket of water is lukewarm. But the previous experience is coloring the present interpretation. When we encounter wounded people, we want to ask ourselves, “What temperature was the bucket of water they were in before I met them? Where are they coming from? And how can my compassionate curiosity about this build a bridge to therefore win them and not just the argument that we were discussing?”
There is so much more I could say about this. I want to end where I began. Think back to that story of Wesley Autrey and how he demonstrated the greatest love. I often point out to people that when we have been recipients of a blessing, the natural inclination is to be a blessing to others — to give others that positive experience that we have had.
There was once a coffee shop in Connecticut where a good Samaritan bought coffee for the person behind them, who then bought coffee for the person behind them, who bought coffee for the person behind them. It went on for 1,000 customers. If we feel good when someone has given us a free cup of coffee, how much better should we feel when someone protects our life? You can only imagine what that guy, who survived the seizure and the train roll, felt about Wesley Autrey. And as much as he can try to be respectful and compassionate back to him, there is no way he can equally return the blessing from Wesley Autrey. The best way he can honor Wesley Autrey’s heroism is to pay it forward.
I bring that up because all of us in the room today are recipients of the greatest love of our mothers. For all of our differences, all of our many variations between one human to the next, we all have a belly button. That belly button is a reminder that we were all once in the womb.
Regardless of whether or not our mothers had abortions, our mothers did not abort us. When we were in our mothers’ wombs, they were more powerful the way Wesley Autrey was more powerful. We were more vulnerable the way that seizing victim was more vulnerable. And our mothers could have ended our lives by abortion, and that act would have been our mothers declaring, “This is your body given for me.” But our moms did not do that. And we are here today because, by carrying that pregnancy to term, it is as though our mothers physically manifested the words, “This is my body given for you.” And as much as we must love and honor our mothers, there is no way we can pay back to them the love and the self-sacrifice they bestowed on us. But the way we honor them is to pay it forward — by paying it forward to our own children or other vulnerable preborn children in our midst.
So, when people debate abortion, they talk about choice. Let’s remember, being against abortion is not being against choice. We acknowledge there are two choices present. But one choice is just so ugly and repulsive because it is so self-centered, we naturally reject it, because that choice says, “This is your body given for me.” Whereas the other choice, demonstrated by Wesley Autrey and demonstrated by our mothers, says, “This is my body given for you.” It is an act of service; it is an act of the greatest love. And that is what we want to show other people.
Thank you very much.
About Stephanie Gray Connors
Stephanie Gray Connors is a seasoned and international speaker, originally from Canada, who began presenting at the age of 18. She has given over 1,000 pro-life presentations over two decades across North America as well as in Scotland, England, Ireland, Austria, Latvia, Guatemala, Mexico, and Costa Rica. She has spoken at many post-secondary institutions such as Yale University, George Washington University, and the University of California, Berkeley. In 2017, Stephanie was a presenter for the series Talks at Google, speaking on abortion at Google headquarters in Mountain View, California.