One of the best parts of my job is the work I do partnering with Justice For All. Right to Life of Central California has actually replicated the JFA program, so I’ve spent four years being trained by Steve Wagner to do many of the things he does for JFA in Wichita, from facilitating seminars and outreaches to coaching mentors.
Steve shared an argument with my brother Tim last year that he heard from J.P. Moreland and is featured on page 67 of Scott Klusendorf’s book, “The Case for Life” that I haven’t seen very many pro-life advocates utilize. So the three of us have been emphasizing it in campus dialogue, and over the last year we’ve been discussing how we might train our volunteers to use it.
The results have been amazing. Right to Life of Central California and Justice For All are now teaching this argument in all of our “Abortion: From Debate to Dialogue” seminars.
It’s called the Equal Rights Argument.
We’re asking pro-choice people if they agree that all human adults have an equal right to life.
When they say yes, we ask them, “Doesn’t that mean there must be something the same about us?”
In other words, if we all have an equal right to life, then we must all have something in common that demands that we treat each other equally, and we must have that property equally. It can’t be something (like size or intelligence) that comes in degrees, or it wouldn’t explain our equal right to life.
When the pro-choice person agrees with that conclusion, we simply ask them what is the same about us.
I think the natural temptation for a pro-life advocate who is ready with an answer to this question is to share that answer at this point. But we’d rather let the pro-choice person consider the question for themselves, and only offer our answer when they ask for it.
In my experience people aren’t annoyed by the Equal Rights Argument questions. They tend to see the value of the questions, but need to take some time to think about it. We wait patiently, and if they give an answer, we engage it. But if they have no idea, we then ask if they would like to hear our answer. Nearly everybody says yes.
Our answer is that we all have humanness in common. That’s something that doesn’t come in degrees. It’s an all-or-nothing kind of thing.
And if being human is what gives us intrinsic value, then that explains a lot of data. It explains why all the adult humans have an equal right to life, even though we have so many differences. It also explains why things like racism and sexism are wrong. Those things focus on a surface difference that doesn’t morally matter, and ignores the thing we have in common, which IS what morally matters!
Some philosophers have alternative explanations for our equal right to life. It’s my view that all of these alternative explanations have major consequences, in that they either entail an equal right to life for a bunch of animals, or they deny a right to life to human infants. I’ll explain this more fully in a follow-up post.
I’ve been using this argument on campuses this year and the results have been incredible. I’ve never seen an argument persuade so many people that abortion is wrong.
I’m going to start regularly posting stories of actual dialogues where I used this argument, so you can see how this works in a real-time conversation.
This material has been heavily influenced by Steve Wagner and Tim Brahm from Justice For All. One of our primary focuses this year has been working on testing this argument and learning how to teach it to others.