Autumn in the Sovereign Zone: Why “It’s My Body, I Can Do What I Want” Won’t Do


This post was first published at I wrote it while on staff with Justice For All, and it wouldn’t have been possible without JFA’s excellent staff and generous supporters.

Autumn in the Sovereign Zone[1]

Anyone who has ever heard a conversation about abortion has heard pro-choice statements like:

  • “My body, my choice.”
  • “You can’t tell another person what she can’t do with her own body.”
  • “The fetus is part of her body.”
  • “The fetus is inside her body.”

When a pro-life advocate hears statements like these, a common impulse is to respond by saying, “But it’s not her body; it’s another body!” or “If the fetus is part of her body, does she have two heads and twenty toes?” or, perhaps, “But the unborn is a human being, here’s some evidence for that…”

Not so fast.  The pro-choice statements above are ambiguous.  If the pro-choice advocate is confused about whether the unborn is a separate organism from the mother, then graciously giving him an impromptu biology lesson might be helpful.  In many cases, though, the pro-choice advocate is intending to communicate that the woman can do what she wants even if the fetus is a human being.  Many pro-choice advocates don’t know how to articulate this argument in a way that helps pro-life advocates understand.  The pro-life advocate hears, “The fetus is not human,” but the pro-choice advocate means, “It doesn’t matter if the fetus is human.”

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Relational Apologetics Tips: How to Cultivate Friendship Amidst Challenging Conversations

Equal Rights Institute is Relational Apologetics focused on teaching pro-life advocates practical dialogue tips, rigorous philosophy, and relational apologetics. When we use the phrase “relational apologetics,” we mean trying to change a person’s mind about a core belief in the context of genuine friendship.

Most people will not change their minds about a serious subject after one conversation, so an ongoing dialogue with a friend can be really helpful.

When I speak about relational apologetics, I usually illustrate with the story of my friend Deanna Unyk, who began dialoguing with me about abortion two years ago, and began self-identifying as pro-life one year ago.

Click here to read what changed Deanna’s mind about abortion. If you want to learn more about why I think guy-girl friendships can be virtuous, God-honoring friendships, and what boundaries I think should be in place, click here.

When the pro-life club at the University of Portland heard Deanna’s story, they asked Deanna and me if we would be willing to do a public discussion about relational apologetics (in addition to being a great opportunity, this was also a personal blessing because it gave us the chance to finally meet in person). We sat on stage, told our story, and encouraged the audience to cultivate friendships among people with whom they had serious disagreements. The event was a great success, with around 80 in attendance from both sides of the abortion debate. Many people came up afterwards, saying that they had never been to an event like this, and that it helped them to think about abortion and relational apologetics in a new way.

Photo Credit: Andie Jael

Photo Credit: Andie Jael

During the event, Deanna and I offered practical tips for cultivating friendships with people who disagree with you about important issues. Here are a couple of my favorites:

Our Experience at the OMSI Prenatal Exhibit Displaying Real Preserved Children

OMSI Prenatal Exhibit

Photo credit: M.O. Stevens. Creative Commons license.

Trigger warning: This post details our experience of going to a museum exhibit that featured preserved bodies of actual miscarried unborn children. None of them were aborted. Their bodies are whole and carefully preserved. Depending on your sensibilities/past experiences, the descriptions and/or pictures of the exhibit that I’ve included may be a trigger for you.

Last year during my first speaking trip in Portland somebody told me that I couldn’t leave without seeing the Prenatal Exhibit at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, or OMSI. Due to scheduling reasons I couldn’t pull it off, but I called the museum a few weeks ago to ask whether the exhibit was still there. Upon finding out that it’s there until May 6, I made sure that my staff and I had time to visit the exhibit during our recent trip to Portland where we trained the student club from Portland Community College with a seminar followed by a two-day outreach on their campus.

The exhibit was created by Dr. Gunther von Hagens, the person behind the controversial “Body Worlds” exhibit. He uses a plastination technique to preserve animal and human bodies and sets up exhibits in an effort to educate people about anatomy in a way that books can’t. The exhibit is controversial because in the case of the human bodies, these were real people who arguably should have been buried. My staff and I have unresolved concerns about that aspect of it.

In the case of the prenatal development exhibit at OMSI, they only have babies who were miscarried and then preserved, presumably with the parents permission. (This exhibit isn’t to be confused with “Bodies: The Exhibition,” which is similar but whose bodies all came from China, adding to the controversy.)

On Understanding the Baltimore Rioters

A friend of mine posted a question on Facebook asking for help understanding why people in Baltimore are rioting. Here was my attempt. Interested in additional thoughts from all over the political spectrum.


Okay, here’s my best shot. The more peaceful protesters are black people who feel like the lingering societal effects of slavery and segregation still last, resulting in it being harder for them to get good jobs, live in nice neighborhoods, etc.

There has been a lot more documented police brutality than before when cell phone videos weren’t a thing, and some police agencies aren’t responding appropriately to that. This means that they feel real physical danger when stopped by police.

They also believe that unlike white, privileged people, their voices aren’t really heard, so they do the next “louder” thing: get together and protest, *just like we do in DC every January!*

The violent rioters? I think some of them are described above but their feelings about it are so strong that it has turned to anger and even hatred of police/the government/anyone they believe is too powerful.

I think there’s a third group of people who just want to watch the world burn. They don’t care so much about racism and police violence as they do the fun of participating in a riot and burning stuff.

Two Simple Tips to Help You Master the Art of Clarity


Have you ever had a really ugly fight with someone close to you, only to realize after the fact that it was all based on a simple misunderstanding? It’s very frustrating, especially because all of the pain of that fight could have been avoided if just one of the two parties had been better at clarity.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a personal issue with a loved one, a writing assignment for a class, or a dialogue about something controversial like abortion, the ability to communicate clearly is paramount to success. While no one can become good at clarity overnight, I have two very simple, very effective tactics to offer. These are not ground-breaking, in fact I regularly notice good communicators that follow these guidelines. I just haven’t noticed anyone point these practices out as generally helpful.

While it would be nice if both parties worked equally hard at being clear and with equal skill, no one should expect that. So my attitude in any conversation is that clarity is completely my responsibility. That doesn’t mean it’s actually my fault any time there is a misunderstanding. But I should work hard to make sure I understand the ideas she is trying to express, just like I’m going to work hard to help her understand my ideas.

#1: Make sure you understand her by repeating what she said back to her in different words.

The more conversations I have about abortion, the more aware I am of the vast cultural gap between pro-life and pro-choice people. You would think two people that speak English fluently would be speaking the same language, but that really isn’t the case sometimes. Words and phrases have different connotations to different people depending on the family they grew up in, the culture they identify with, the experiences they have had in the past with those words and phrases, and who knows how many other factors. So any time I think there’s a good chance she could mean different things by something she said, I’ll say something like:

“I want to make sure I’m understanding you. Let me repeat back to you what I heard you say, so then you can correct me if I’ve gotten it wrong. It sounded to me like you said…”

When and How You Should End Unproductive Conversations

unproductive conversation title 400It is one of the questions I’m asked the most often. We’ve all experienced it. You’re talking to someone about abortion or something else and it’s just not going very well. You start doubting whether any good will come from letting the dialogue continue.

If you do decide to end the conversation, you have to figure out how to graciously bring the dialogue to a close, which can also be tricky.

How do you know? What factors should you consider?

Before ending any conversation you should ask yourself, have I used the “three essential skills of good dialogue” today? Steve Wagner at Justice For All believes the three essential skills of good dialogue are:

  1. Asking good questions.
  2. Listening to understand.
  3. Finding genuine common ground when possible.

You can hear me explain the three essential skills in the video below, from 4:41 to 17:43.

If you haven’t used the three essential skills, that very well may be why the dialogue isn’t going well. I’d encourage you to say, “Can we take a moment outside of the debate? I think it’s really important to listen well and not just be thinking of your next argument, and I haven’t done a good job of that today. I want to ask you to do two things. Forgive me for being ungracious to you and not listening to you well. Secondly, I’d like to ask you to give me another chance. Tell me what you believe, and I promise to try to really hear you.”

But what if you have used the three essential skills? Are there some dialogues that are not worth continuing?  Yes.  Is it easy to tell which conversations you should bring to an end? No. 

Meet Our Newest Staff Member!


We have a new staff member! We’re so delighted to introduce Kim Bagato to you, although if you’re in the Central California area, you may have already been blessed by Kim’s work at KRDU or Salt Magazine. Today is her first day at taking administrative tasks off of Josh Brahm’s plate so that he can focus on what he does best: growing the organization, leading the staff, speaking, writing and raising the funds we need to accomplish our goals.

Click here to learn more about Kim.

Pro-Choice Redditor Models Honest Reasoning by Exposing Media Bias Over Feticide Story

A woman in Indianapolis was jailed this week for feticide. This is the story of a pro-choice redditor who looked into the details of the conviction and discovered that many media stories about this case are withholding crucial details.

Wikipedia describes reddit as “an entertainment, social networking and news website where registered community members can submit content, such as text posts or direct links.” I can’t personally recommend it to anybody due to some of the content that you can find there, but I’ve subscribed to several of the news sub-groups (or “subreddits”) and the small pro-life subreddit has been very supportive of my work.

News stories related to the abortion debate rarely show up on the front page of reddit, a website whose average user has very liberal views on abortion. This week’s story about the Indianapolis woman jailed for feticide was an exception though. I’ll summarize that story and then tell you of the pro-choice redditors who modeled honest reasoning and exposed WNCN’s treatment of the story that leaves out critical facts.

You can read how WNCN handled the story in a piece that was shared 68,000 times on Facebook, but the gist is that a 33-year-old woman named Purvi Patel has been sentenced to 26-years in prison on charges of neglect of a dependent and feticide. In states with feticide laws, it is illegal to kill an unborn fetus without the assistance of an abortionist. In other words, for nearly all intents and purposes an unborn child is treated like a person under the law, but an exception is carved out for abortion.

Patel is accused of taking abortion-inducing drugs illegally, causing her 23-25 week fetus to die. There is contradicting evidence on whether the child was dead before birth or shortly after birth. Patel threw the child’s body into a dumpster afterwards, but eventually went to the hospital due to severe bleeding. She was eventually arrested after she admitted to lying to hospital staff and there was enough evidence that an investigation was called for.

Photo credit: St. Joseph's County, Indiana, Police Department

Photo credit: St. Joseph’s County, Indiana, Police Department

Relating to Relativists

Since I started working as a pro-life advocate in 2011, I have deeply struggled with how to have productive conversations with moral relativists.  I could “win a debate” with them, but I have a loftier goal of actually changing their minds, and I was nowhere near meeting that goal.

For a while my strategy was to ask moral relativists really uncomfortable questions, such as “Is slavery immoral?” But this strategy almost never worked.  If they believed morality is subjective to the individual, they would say, “No, I just don’t like it.” If they believed morality is subjective to the culture, they would say, “It’s wrong now, but only because our culture came to decide that.”  Strangely, no one ever seemed to be uncomfortable after giving those responses.

Next I tried pointing out the logical inconsistency of them on one hand claiming there is no objective morality, and on the other hand implying I had moral failings for disagreeing with them about something like abortion.  That also did not seem to help, either because they could not understand the logic or because they chose to ignore it.  One time I even pretended to steal a guy’s bicycle, but he found that to be more cute than persuasive.

Last fall I tried something different when I met an alternative version of me.