We've all been there. You say something to someone who reacts in a way that was completely unexpected and, perhaps, even hostile. Then a discussion follows during which it becomes clear that the recipient's perception of what you said was different than what you intended to say and thought you had said. In fact, you may be truly mystified as to how someone could hear the words you spoke and so thoroughly misconstrue them.
This is an exasperating aspect of human communication that each of us will likely encounter many times over the course of our lives. It is also something that infects socio-political movements. In the battle against abortion, we often see it in pro-life people who unknowingly use rhetoric that actually reinforces pro-abortion positions. There is no shortage of examples of this but I will only deal with three of them here.
First, when we devote an inordinate amount of attention to the horrific and indefensible nature of late term abortion, we risk implying that earlier abortions are less horrific and, thus, more defensible. This has the potential to make it appear that we agree with the pro-choice mob that human beings can be valued differently based on age, development and size. At that point, the only functional difference between the pro-life movement and the abortion lobby is where this arbitrary line gets drawn.
This is not to say that we should not hold the abortion lobby's feet to the fire over their slaughtering of late-term babies. In doing so, however, we must always make it clear that there is no moral distinction between killing an unborn child at six-weeks after fertilization, or 24-weeks, or any other point. Never forget that the core principle under-girding the pro-life effort is that, at the moment of fertilization, a new human being is created that immediately has the same right to life as a five-year-old. If we expect to be taken seriously, we must never say anything that could be interpreted as being inconsistent with that position.
A second example of how we fall into this trap is by arguing that we may have aborted the next Beethoven, or Mother Teresa, or the doctor who would have discovered a cure for cancer. While many pro-lifers find this to be a seductive argument, what they are overlooking is that it is basically a defense for eugenics. After all, it suggests that it is a bigger tragedy to kill Baby A than Baby B if Baby A is destined to be more talented, or more productive, or make a greater contribution to society. Again, that is not a pro-life position. Remember, the right-to-life is not earned; it is inherent. That simple and unassailable fact eradicates any moral distinction between killing the unborn child who might grow up to cure cancer and killing an unborn child who might spend his life on welfare and living under bridges.
Another way we support our enemy's position is in the language we use to talk about teen pregnancy. For years, one of the abortion lobby's favorite sales pitches has been that when a teenage girl has a baby, any chance she had for a meaningful life is over. To hear them tell the story, she is doomed to be perpetually single, destitute, uneducated and on welfare. The problem is, many pro-life people tend to characterize this issue in the same foreboding manner.
What's getting lost in all of this is that many unmarried teenage girls have babies and go on to lead happy lives. Moreover, among those who don't, a significant number come from socio-economic situations where their chances for what our materialistic society considers to be a successful life are limited – whether they have babies or not. For these girls, their options are determined more by their environment than by their babies.
Now, let me make it clear that I'm not saying it's a good idea for unmarried teenage girls to be getting pregnant. What I am saying, however, is that when they do get pregnant it is not the end of the world. In fact, when an unmarried girl or woman is pregnant, the real problem is that, from a Christian perspective, she and her partner were engaged in a sinful sexual relationship. But in our modern Christian-averse culture, we dismiss that and, instead, zero in on the pregnancy. In other words, sin isn't the problem; the baby is the problem. This is a rationalization for abortion that the abortion lobby wants the public to hear and, regrettably, we often play along with it.
There are many other examples of counterproductive pro-life rhetoric, but in each case they point out the need for us to always keep one crucial warning in mind. Simply put, whenever we fire off a pro-life argument, let's try to make sure that we're not aiming at our own foot.