Getting Out of the Hot Seat or (Keep it simple stupid)
Commentary on a recent interaction between pro-life and abortion advocates with good and bad application of the principles of argument.
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Welcome everyone. I’m Scott Klusendorf, president of Life Training Institute. Welcome to the Case for Life, where we equip you to think clearly on abortion. This last week, there was an event that has a lot of pro-life laypeople talking. There’s a lot of buzz about it. There were two pro-life leaders that went on a secular podcast with a pro-abortion host, and the buzz that’s out there in the world, in the pro-life world right now is that this was an unmitigated disaster.

For our side that our side lost the debate, and I wanna say a few things about that alleged debate because I think we’re missing some of the key points that we talked about last time. It’s principally about the need to establish ground rules and the need to make sure we’re clearly stating our case.

Because if we do those two things, we often can avoid being trapped by a host that really has no interest in talking to us, but rather just wants to make us look bad with a gotcha moment. And that’s what this was. It wasn’t that the pro-life leaders involved lost a debate. I wanna make it clear they did not.

In fact, both of these leaders, I know them both. If it were a formal one-on-one debate in front of an audience, they would destroy the host that was interviewing them. These are not bad people. They’re good people. It’s just the host blindsided them with a gotcha moment. We’re gonna talk about what happened in just a second, but before I do, I wanna remind you that we have talked previously about the need to lay down ground rules.

We’ve also made it real clear what an argument is and what an argument is not, and that’s going to play into what we talk about today. So here’s what happened. I’ll just set the stage and you can, I. Uh, maybe if you wanna research this on your own, you can. Two pro-life leaders, I’m not gonna use their names because again, I don’t think they were performing that badly.

I think a host just took advantage of a moment with them, with a gotcha question. Two, pro-life leaders were discussing abortion with this popular podcaster, and he basically threw out all kinds of junk that never really established his own case. Rather, he was just trying to set them up to trap them. And among the things he did, for example, is he talked about there can be no such thing as a person until that person is conscious, until they have self-awareness.

Over time they see themselves existing in an environment and yada, yada, yada. And the problem of course, is he never told us why those treat traits matter in the first place. He just asserted it. He just made it. As an assertion, that consciousness at what is what gives you a right not to be killed. Now, that right out of the gate made it very clear to me that this guy was not presenting a formal argument.

He was just making all kinds of assertions and then trying to shift the burden of proof on my two colleagues and put them in the chopping block when in reality, He was the one making all kinds of unfounded claims. And if I were sitting there and not, again, not to second guess, my colleagues and friends here, because again, in a formal debate, they would’ve handled this guy without any trouble.

It’s only because it was a media interaction that he got away with it. Because he controlled the mic, but when he started asserting that consciousness is what gives us value, I would’ve looked at him and said, how conscious do I have to be not to be killed? He owes me an answer to that question. In other words, why is consciousness value giving in the first place?

Is it actual count consciousness that matters? That means you can kill me when I’m sleeping. Does it mean having the immediately exer exercisable capacity for consciousness? Well, that means you can’t kill me while I’m sleeping, but you can kill me if I’m under anesthesia for surgery. Or does he mean simply having a nature from which consciousness arises?

Well, if that’s the case, I’m protected when I’m sleeping and I’m protected when I’m having surgery. But that would also protect the fetus and the unborn at all stages of development because the unborn from the very beginning has a rational nature, just like you and I. And it’s from that rational nature that consciousness springs.

So the, the guy did not define his terms. He did not go into any detail about why we should believe his assertions, but here was the gotcha moment that he threw at my, my two colleagues. He basically said to them, and I’m gonna paraphrase here, if you really believe abortion is killing, are you willing to prosecute women, put them in jail as it is, put them in prison and basically try them for murder?

And he said, I want a yes or no answer. No nuance allowed here. And he thought that by getting them over the horns of a dilemma, a, they either have to say, we want women prosecuted, which makes the host look like he scored points, uh, against the guests. Because the points then look like they, they are people who hate women or they say, no, we don’t wanna prosecute women.

And he says, well, that makes you inconsistent. Then there goes your whole argument really. How does it follow that? Because you’re inconsistent in applying your ethic that your argument itself was a bad one. For example, suppose I believe that there is murder going on right now in the Ukraine, that Soviet forces are committing acts of atrocity.

And let’s say I state that and somebody comes to me and says, well, are you willing to go pick up a gun and go stop it? If you really believe that’s murder. Why aren’t you going and stopping it? There goes your whole case against the war in the U Ukraine. Well, somebody who argued that way on that issue would immediately be exposed as being vacuous in their reasoning.

It doesn’t refute the argument that Russians are acting unjustly in the Ukraine just because I or anyone else won’t pick up a gun to go stop it. All it would prove is that I am personally inconsistent in applying my view. It doesn’t prove that my actual argument is bad. So let’s go back to our basic pro-life argument.

We argued that premise one, it was wrong to intentionally kill an innocent human being. Premise two, abortion does that. Conclusion. Therefore it’s wrong. Now, let’s go back to this host. He says, there goes your whole case. You won’t prosecute women for murder. Therefore, your answer is dumb. You basically have no case, was the gist of what he’s arguing.

Really? Okay. Suppose we’re inconsistent. We will not prosecute women for murder. Now, in a moment, I’ll tell you why. That’s not the logical outcome here, but play along for a moment. Suppose we’re as bad as this host wants us to believe. We say abortion is unjust killing, but we will not prosecute women the same way.

We’ll prosecute the doctor who does the abortion. Therefore, that makes us inconsistent. Alright, well, what have you proven with that claim at best? You’ve proven. That we are not applying our claim consistently. You have not proven that it’s okay to intentionally dismember an innocent human being in the womb, and you haven’t proven that those beings are not humans like us.

All you’ve done is kind of personally attack the pro-lifer and catch ’em at being inconsistent in his application. You haven’t refuted that pro-life syllogism, and again, this is why we’ve gotta be very. Careful that every time we enter into discussions, we state our case formally and then defy our critics to refute it, make them do the hard work of refuting our syllogism, not chase rabbit trails that they throw up trying to throw us off as being inconsistent or hating women, whatever other distractions they throw at us.

So even if my two friends were inconsistent, in a moment I’ll argue that that. Actually, I don’t believe they were. But if they were, it wouldn’t refute the argument that the unborn are distinct living and whole human beings, and that intentionally killing them is wrong. Let’s be very clear on the pro-life case.

Here it is. We argue. The abortion debate is not about choice. It’s not about privacy. It’s not about trusting women. It’s not about who loves people and who hates them. It’s about one question. What is the unborn? Let me make something vigorously clear here. I am pro-choice to the max on women choosing their own healthcare providers, their own doctors, the husbands, they wanna marry the schools they wish to attend, the wardrobes they want to purchase, the cars they wanna drive unless they’re Priuses.

I’m pro-choice on all those questions, but some choice are wrong. Like intentionally killing an innocent human being. That’s a choice A civil society should not allow. So the abortion debate is not about who loves women and who hates them. It’s about what is the unborn. And if critics like this show host can demonstrate the unborn are not human.

I’m with him. I think abortion should be unrestricted. This is not about who is a fan of women and who isn’t. It’s about the question, what is the unborn? And the host never really answers that question. He just throws out his bombs and thinking, if I can sabotage my guess. Uh, then I can win here. You know, it’s sad that our culture has come to this exactly at this point because we really do need thoughtful dialogue, thoughtful discussion, which he did not want.

He just wanted to have that gotcha moment. Well, that argument that the unborn or distinct living and whole human beings is also supported philosophically when we argue that there’s no essential difference between you the embryo. And you, the adult, that would justify killing you back then. We argue from science that we’re all distinct, living whole human beings from the very beginning, and then we argue philosophically that there’s no essential difference between us as an embryo and us as an adult that would justify killing us at that earlier stage of development.

Differences of size, level of development, environment meaning where we’re located in degree of dependency. Are not good reasons for saying we could be killed then, but not now. Here’s the thing, that argument may be mistaken. Perhaps the host is right that we’ve got our argument wrong, but he’s gotta show that the argument is wrong, not just personally attack his guess as being inconsistent and think he’s done the hard work of refuting us.

If you take away a, a key thing from this, this session today, here it is. Our critics are usually very lazy. They are lazy in that they don’t want to do the hard work of refuting our syllogism. They want to call you out for some personal trait. They don’t like you’re inconsistent. You hate women. You’re just imposing your religious views.

Alright, maybe I’m doing all those things and worse. Maybe I’m the world’s worst. Person, a bad person can still have a good argument. They’ve gotta do the work of refuting your case. And the host didn’t do this in this case, and he, and they certainly don’t do it. In the majority of encounters I have with critics, they simply launch their attack and think, if I can make you look bad, personally, I’ve carried the day.

And that’s simply lazy way to think and approach thoughtful issues. So going back to what happened on the show. He accused them that because they would not say that they would prosecute women, although one of the hosts did actually. But the one I, I should say one of the guests did. The one guest said she would, the other said she would not, I.

Let me try to unpack what’s going on here and maybe give a, a more nuanced reply to that charge that he put on them. That might help clarify here, but let’s say that they are unwilling to prosecute women. They’re unwilling for any woman to face legal prosecution. Would it still be the case that the pro-life argument could be sound invalid, even if they’re unwilling to prosecute women?

And the answer is, of course, because that argument stands or falls apart from the people making the argument. You’ve gotta judge the argument on its merits. It’s not enough to say, oh, you’re inconsistent. There goes your whole case. Alright, now what about this idea? That if we don’t prosecute women, we’re somehow inconsistent.

Here’s what I would say. If I were put on a show, I’d say something like this. The, the host comes at me and says, oh, so you willing, you think abortion is killing? It’s unjust killing? Are you willing to prosecute women who have abortions? And my answer would go something like this. What’s wrong with a law that says you can’t intentionally kill innocent human beings, and if you do, there will be consequences.

And the answer of course is there’s nothing wrong with a law that says that, but here’s the rub as to what those consequences will be is going to be turn on a number of factors and let me give you a few of those factors. Number one, In order to prove criminal conspiracy with the woman, conspiring with the doctor to kill the child in such a way that we charge her the same way we charge him with a crime, you’re going to have to prove what’s known as a meeting of the minds.

In other words, the prosecution is going to have to prove that the woman’s knowledge of the act was identically matched to the. The abortionist knowledge of the, the act that threshold is nearly impossible to reach. And pro-life lawmakers have known this for years, even before abortion became legal in this country, which is why they didn’t propose the same punishment for the woman as they do the doctor performing the abortion.

Let me give you just some examples of this. In his book Abortion Practice, Warren Hearn, the The leading abortionist in the world, arguably argues that when you do a D N E dismemberment abortion, you want to use ultrasound, but it should be visible to the operator, not the woman. He also says you should use a Doppler device to measure fetal heart rate, but that should be inaudible to the mother who’s aborting and only audible to the clinician who’s doing the abortion.

Clearly the woman does not know exactly what the doctor knows. The doctor sees the sonogram image, he sees the dismembered parts that he removes, that he then assembles in a tray outside the womb to make sure he is got everything out. The woman doesn’t have knowledge of that and therefore, A, a sharp defense attorney would easily be able to demonstrate there was not a meeting of the minds.

It’s true, the doctor and the woman meet in the sense that they agree to the procedure, but the meeting of the minds parallel breaks down after that. Then there’s another thing, and I thought the, the pro-life advocate on this particular podcast made a fair point that was dismissed as simply dumb by the host, but it’s actually not dumb for over 50 years.

Women in this culture have been told abortion is a positive. Good. It’s good for you to get one. The media has reinforced this. The legal system has reinforced this. The Supreme Court has reinforced it. The medical profession has reinforced it, and sadly, some of our more liberal pul pulpits have reinforced this.

Everywhere you turn, women have been told abortion is a positive. Good. And now all of a sudden, right now we’re, we’re going to say, No it’s not. And by the way, you’re gonna be prosecuted for murder. If you have an abortion. It’s, there’s no jury in the country, no DA in the country. That’s going to say to a woman that now goes to a state where the, where abortion’s illegal, that they’re going to step up and say, let’s just prosecute her full force for murder.

When she’s in a context of 50 years of abortion’s, permissibility, it’s not unreasonable to say we should have a more gradient approach to how we deal with legal prosecution. That you can’t just go from, Hey, abortion’s, great. Have as many as you want to by the way. You’re now committing murder and we’re gonna throw you in prison for life.

Uh, there there seems to be some cultural education that needs to be happening and you can pass a law that says abortion’s murder, and we’re gonna prosecute you that way. But it doesn’t follow. Das are going to enforce it that way and it doesn’t follow. Juries are gonna be willing to convict that way. So pro-lifers have said, wait a minute, let’s definitely have consequences.

But what those consequences should be should be a gradient. Uh, approach that deals with the culture coming to see more and more that abortion is unjust, killing, and for millions of our fellow citizens. They’ve been reinforced to believe it’s not that. So juries have erred on the side of mercy. You know, it’s ironic, this host who has been one of those who has told women that abortions a positive good now gets mad at pro-lifers who want to show some leniency and mercy here as if somehow that just makes them the worst people on the planet when he’s been part of the reason why they think abortion is good.

Silly thinking here, but that’s where he was. Another reason why juries. I should say why pro-lifers have proposed more lenient penalties for the mother than the doctor has to do with, they need the woman’s testimony to convert or to convict the doctor. And their belief is if we cut abortion off at the source, then we’re gonna do better at saving lives, then we will if we punish individual women.

And there’s not, that’s not an unreasonable thing to take into fact in consideration. Think about the war on drugs. We have many cases where, for example, we punish the drug dealer more severely than we do the end user. Think of a guy who’s caught with a couple of kilos of pot and he gets arrested and, and he is caught smoking a joint.

I. And imagine if we just threw the book at him and just let him rot in prison for, for years, and we didn’t even bother to try to go after the source, or our case against the source ended up crumbling because we couldn’t use the, the guy that we did catch. We couldn’t use his testimony to convict the the drug, Lord.

Well, we would all understand why that wasn’t a very prudent thing to do. Prudence could say, Hey, listen, we’re gonna go after the source more severely than we are the end user. And that same argument could apply here, especially when you think about this against the backdrop of 50 years. Of abortion being promoted as a positive.

Good. So what these pro-life leaders were saying on this podcast was not unreasonable. And if the host had been willing, To intelligently engage them. They could have explained their position in more detail, but he did not give them a chance to do this. And again, in a formal debate, both of these pro-life leaders would’ve destroyed this host because they would’ve had time to make their own case, and they would’ve forced him to present his, which he never bothered to do.

So. Coming back to the idea of rules, rules, rules like we, that we talked about last time, it’s important we state our case clearly so that when people wanna change the topic like this host did, we can bring them back to the actual argument we’re making. It is wrong to intentionally kill an innocent human being.

Abortion does that, therefore it’s wrong. And by the way, while we’re at it, The science of embryology is clear that you’re a distinct living and whole human being from the beginning, and there’s no essential difference between you, the embryo, and you, the adult that justifies killing you at that earlier stage of development.

Our host has to refute that argument and by stating it clearly upfront, you can always come back to it and say, timeout, you’re changing the topic on me. Maybe I am the worst person in the world because I don’t wanna prosecute women for murder. Right now, but it doesn’t follow that. You’ve refuted my argument that abortion unjustly takes the life of an innocent human being.

Gotta keep the main thing, the main thing. And we’re gonna keep hammering that theme and coming back to it again and again on this podcast. But for now, I think it’s important for us to stay focused on three key words. We gave you the first session, syllogism, syllogism, syllogism. Don’t forget your syllogism.

Stay tethered to it. And you’ll be able to keep people focused on what really matters in this debate.