How many people have you convinced not to have an abortion? How many people have you convinced to become pro-life, and if you have, did it prevent them from having an abortion? With the exception of a small handful of people, my guess is that the answer to all of these questions is zero.
It’s extremely hard to get people to change their minds on abortion. In a journal article that looked at the willingness for people to change their views due to evidence, abortion was the issue people were least likely to change their views on (Kaplan, et al., 2016). Another article tested how well people can think about abortion by asking people to evaluate deductive syllogisms. When the syllogisms were neutral (Socrates is a man, all men are mortal, therefore, Socrates is mortal…), participants correctly evaluated whether it was valid 70% of the time. However, when syllogisms opposed their views on abortion (for either side), the participants were right only 40% of the time (Čavojová, et al., 2018).
In short, when it comes to abortion, above any other issue, people simply lack the ability and motivation to think rationally. And even if they do see the arguments rationally, they might not be convinced. In a Sam Harris podcast, his guests (a philosophy and psychology professor, 1:23:20), mentioned a pro-life argument and said it was compelling, but they still didn’t change their minds on the issue! This is a much harder issue to fight than many people realize.
The Power of Words
I did a poll on Facebook and Twitter yesterday, and nearly everyone agreed that preventing abortion is better than expressing moral outrage (52-3). You might be thinking, but isn’t this a false dichotomy? Yes it is…and no it isn’t. Expressing moral outrage with abortion (or other issues) can be neutral or even beneficial for prevention (one person in the poll said that expression is prevention). However, expressing moral outrage can also be detrimental due to psychological reactance, which leads to the backfire effect. In short, people don’t like being told what they can and cannot do, especially when it comes from the outgroup, so they react against it by strengthening their views in the opposite direction.
This means that when we speak out against abortion, the other side, and some in the middle, become invigorated to fight against the pro-life position. I am fully pro-life, but if I’m being honest, I’m sick of seeing and hearing all the pro-life arguments! If it bothers me as a pro-lifer, how much more do you think it pisses off others?
Thankfully, all is not lost. If you truly want to prevent abortion, and save lives, the best way to do it is through your actions, not your words (although there is a place for words, if done right). Here are some suggestions for very practical steps you can take to prevent abortions (all of which should go hand in hand with continual prayer).
Option 1: Adoption
I once heard someone say that there are so many kids in foster care that it doesn’t make sense to prevent abortion since many of them will end up in foster care. The problem with this argument is that it ignores the nuances of our adoption and foster care system. There are long wait lists to adopt infants, while our foster care system is filled with older children, sibling groups, and children with disabilities or other issues.
Adoption can help prevent abortion in three ways. First, it can change perceptions about the horrors that await unwanted babies. This may seem like no big deal, but this actually eliminates a major pillar of the pro-choice argument. Adoption also helps because it can change the life of someone at high-risk to have an abortion. The outcomes for kids in foster care, especially those who age out, are pretty bad as far as pregnancy, education, and marriage, all of which make them prime candidates for having an abortion. Adopting a child from foster care may change their life so they don’t get pregnant (or get someone pregnant) in the first place, and if they do get pregnant, they will have a supportive family to help them raise their child so they don’t feel like they have to have an abortion.
The third way adoption can help prevent abortion, which relates to the next point, is that is shows others you are willing to do something to make difference. When you talk to someone about abortion, you will have much more credibility and your words will carry much more weight if you are a foster parent and/or adoptive parent because it shows that you a.) know what you’re talking about and b.) you care as much as you claim to.
Finally, adoption itself can help change people’s mind as it did with this former abortion doctor. Essentially, people who have adopted are much more attuned to the idea that their child, whom they love dearly, could have very well been aborted as so many are. Adopting helps encourage others to adopt and ask questions about it, which will then have an affect on abortion.
Option 2: Serve
You’ve probably heard people complain that Christians stop caring about people after they’re born. Even though this is not true, it’s still what people think. If you want to change people’s minds, show them how much you care. I know so many Christians who passionately care about aborted babies, but outsiders can’t see that genuine love because they can’t get past all the talk.
I already mentioned how adoption can do this, but you can do this more directly by going to where the people are who might have an abortion: an abortion clinic or alternative care center. Rather than protesting and yelling at them (see psychological reactance), go and care for them. Offer to help them, even in small things, and do so without judgment. Show the mothers you care about them just as much as you care about their baby. Earn their trust and respect so that they will listen to you and allow you to help, and when they need help, don’t turn your back on them. Be willing to put in the time, effort, and money to change a mind and save a life. Practically speaking, you may be asked to adopt the baby so being licensed to foster will make that easier from a legal perspective.
Option 3: Make Disciples
I know someone who was staunchly pro-choice but is now strongly pro-life. What changed her mind? Jesus. She became a Christian and when she did, that is what changed her political views on abortion and other issues. Yes, there are pro-choice Christians, but as they become more mature in their faith and understand God and the Bible better, they will most likely change their views. As hard as it is to get someone to become a Christian, I think it might be harder to convince them to become pro-life, plus there are additional benefits to being a Christian that make it a more fruitful endeavor.
Option 4: Use Your Words
I once had a hockey coach tell our team to never criticize our opponents in the media because it gives them additional motivation to beat you. A couple years later I saw that play out first hand when one of my teammates was misquoted in the newspaper before playing the defending national champions. A buddy of mine on the other team told me how the newspaper article was hanging in their locker room all week and was their primary motivation for the game, which worked, because they smoked us. When we speak out about abortion by complaining and criticizing others, all we do is incite anger in the opposition. Sure, it rallies the base, but all it does is motivate them to anger the opposition too.
When you speak out against abortion, you have to do it in a personal and clever way, otherwise you will have the opposite effect of what you want. Draw attention to real people and the damage abortion causes to them to show that this isn’t just about making a choice between a clump of cells and personal convenience. It’s so much more than that. Take a moment to watch this video by Choice42.com. It’s the best pro-life video I’ve ever seen because it makes this a real issue with real people. Their website also has actual images of babies in the womb which again makes it a personal issue.
ConclusionAs Christians, apologists, and pro-lifers, we have the truth and stand for what is right, but we must must must realize that everyone else thinks just as strongly that they are in the right. We need more than logical arguments. I agree that we shouldn’t need more than this, but if there is one clear result from psychology, it’s that people are not nearly as rational as we think. We need more than reason to convince most people. It’s much harder, but it’s the only way we will win the battle. If you’re not willing to do the work to be effective, at the very least, donate money to or volunteer with organizations that are effective and keep silent on the issue so you don’t hamper their efforts.
– Kaplan, J. T., Gimbel, S. I., & Harris, S. (2016). Neural correlates of maintaining one’s political beliefs in the face of counterevidence. Scientific reports, 6, 39589.
– Čavojová, V., Šrol, J., & Adamus, M. (2018). My point is valid, yours is not: myside bias in reasoning about abortion. Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 30(7), 656-669.
– Sam Harris podcast (abortion argument starts around 123:00): https://samharris.org/podcasts/the-limits-of-persuasion
– Statistics for those aging out of foster care (70% females will be pregnant before age 21). https://www.nfyi.org/51-useful-aging-out-of-foster-care-statistics-social-race-media
– Foster care outcomes: https://www.casey.org/nw-youth-outcomes
– Foster care outcomes: https://www.childwelfare.gov/topics/systemwide/youth/outcomes/research
– People abort instead of giving kids up for adoption. https://www.americanadoptions.com/pregnant/deciding_between_abortion_or_adoption
– Abortion statistics.
– Abortion and race
– Who’s having abortions