Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay

Convincing people that the unborn are living human beings isn’t (always) enough.

As part of my day job, I often find myself discussing things like carbon taxes and renewable energy with various people and organisations. Sometimes, I find myself discussing these issues with people who are described as “climate skeptics”. This is a term used to describe those who disagree with the need to reduce and eventually eliminate our carbon emissions. However, over the course of many conversations with many such people, I have found that those whom we collectively call “climate skeptics” actually fall into three distinct categories:

1. People who do not believe climate change is happening.

2. People who believe climate change is happening, but don’t believe that human activity or carbon emissions have anything to do with it because they believe the climate is changing naturally of its own accord.

3. People who believe climate change is happening, and who believe it is caused by human activity, but who don’t think it’s a bad thing overall, and that the good caused by climate change will outweigh the bad.

If I want to explain to someone why I think we should reduce carbon emissions, I must first understand why they’re not convinced of that in the first place. It’s no good telling them that we have to reach zero emissions by 2050 in order to limit global warming to two degrees Celsius if they already agree with that, but just don’t believe warming the planet beyond two degrees is a bad thing. Similarly, it’s no good showing them data demonstrating conclusively that the planet is getting warmer if they already agree it’s getting warmer, but just don’t think humans are causing the warming. In order to show them why I believe what I believe, I must first understand why they believe what they believe.

I have noticed a very similar thing going on in conversations between pro-life and pro-choice people. So often, a pro-life person asks the pro-choice person why they think it’s ok to kill another human being. The pro-life person demonstrates, convincingly, that a foetus is both human and alive, and it’s therefore logical that abortion kills another human being. That is the beginning and end of the case. However, the pro-choice person may, and often does, completely accept that the unborn baby is a living human. They still think abortion is an acceptable choice though, because they believe the right to bodily autonomy of the woman is more important than the right to life of the baby.

This is not to say, of course, that this is the only reason anyone is pro-choice. Just like the climate skeptics, pro-choice people fall into different categories. Some of them don’t actually think that unborn babies have the same value as human beings that have been born, and therefore do think it’s ok to kill them for that reason. They may make various philosophical arguments about how the baby is incapable of surviving independently, or they may argue that the baby is not yet conscious and the woman is, or that the total amount of happiness in the world would increase if the pregnancy ended. These are arguments that can be refuted using various pro-life arguments, and it’s definitely worth learning the most effective ways of doing so – we’ll come back to this in future posts. It’s really important first, however, to clarify which type of pro-choice person you’re talking to.

Just like my conversations with climate skeptics, it’s no good showing someone that the unborn baby is alive and is a human if they already agree with that, but just don’t think that someone else’s right to life overrides a woman’s right to decide what happens to her body. We must instead find a way of addressing the person’s concerns regarding bodily autonomy. This is an important topic and we’ll come back to it in future posts (although here’s one post to get you started). For now, however, let’s try to ask the right question before coming up with the right answer.