What might be true about abortion in one country might not be true in another. Image via Piqsels

Part of our mission at the Minimise Project is to enable constructive conversations about abortion. So from time to time we hope to share with our readers some of our top pro-life conversation tips. These tips will be presented in bitesize chunks – so you can practice them in your conversations with friends, family colleagues, or just about anyone you talk about pro-life issues with. 

We hope to briefly explain why we feel the tip is worth sharing, and then give some concrete examples of how this might work in practice. 

And as for tip in this blog – it might appear basic, but it is so important: know your context

In order to be the most effective pro-life advocates that we can be, it is important that when we observe what is happening in other countries, we take the time to contextualise what that might mean for the Irish pro-life movement (or whatever country we are based in). Strategy, facts, tone, methods of communication, effective activism, in order for them to be as effective as possible, should be contextualised.

Why should we do this? There are two primary reasons:

First, if you repeat a fact from another jurisdiction that might be true there, it could very well be misleading or even wrong in another context. Pro-lifers, like all human beings, should care about truthfulness and integrity, and this especially true when discussing an issue as sensitive as abortion.

Second, in order for us as pro-life advocates to be heard, we don’t want to give our opponents a chance to dismiss the substance of our argument because we have made a mistake in relation to a peripheral fact. When that happens, the discussion focuses on some minor dispute, causing any conversation about the injustice of abortion to be left in the rear-view mirror. 

Because the US pro-life movement is so established, it influences what other pro-life movements around the world do and say. 

Some examples of how this tip might work in practice:

1) The US pro-life movement rightly point out the horrors of the abortion industry in America. This is particularly necessary given that 95% of abortions in American occur in private abortion clinics (58% in independent clinics, and 37% in Planned Parenthood clinics). Only 3% happen in hospitals, and the remaining 1% occur in the equivalent of GP surgeries. (These statistics can be found in the “Abortion Care Network” Annual Report 2020.)

In complete contrast, in Ireland 98% of abortions occur in GP surgeries, and the remaining 2% occur in maternity hospitals. 

So in a debate about abortion in America, the abortion industry should be a legitimate target and feature of the discussion. However in the Irish context, talking about the the ‘abortion industry’ or the practices of abortion clinics will be of little relevance, given that they play almost no role in abortion here. If a pro-life person brings up the horrors of abortion clinics in a discussion about Irish abortions, a pro-choice person could dismiss the substance of the argument, and correctly assert that there are no abortion clinics in Ireland. 

Contextualising this fact might look something like saying “In America, some truly horrific practices from abortion clinics have been exposed, like the case of Kermit Gosnell. I know that whilst we don’t have specific abortion clinics in the same way that the US does, things can still go very wrong, like what happened when Baby Christopher was aborted by mistake.

2) In the United States, the specific tragedy of abortions later in a pregnancy is often discussed by the pro-life movement, with significant efforts made to restrict these kinds of abortions (for a comprehensive list of such measures see here). There is no universally accepted definition of when an abortion become a late-term abortion, but for the purposes of clarity in this blog, later abortions will be understood to mean those which occur from 21 weeks gestation (i.e. halfway through a pregnancy). These kinds of abortions are particularly gruesome because the foetus is more developed, and is more able to feel pain (which the latest academic research suggests can be felt by a baby from as early as 13 weeks gestation). Even though these later abortions “only” make up approximately 1% of all terminations there, in the abstract this statistic seems small. But considering the context of over 850,000 abortions anually in the US, that gives rise to a lot of late-term abortions. Given that at least 1% of all abortions occur after 21 weeks gestation, that represents 8500 gruesome late-term abortions. 

Furthermore, it can be helpful to accurately describe to pro-choice people how these late-term abortions actually occur e.g. dilation and evacuation (D&E), intact dilation and extraction (D&X, or partial-birth abortion) etc, given that some 8500 unborn babies die in these ways annually. Some of these late-term abortion methods are more gruesome than others, and thus are part of North American abortion dialogue, and can be a tool used by pro-lifers there to get conversations going. 

However, in the Irish context, the methods for abortions beyond 12 weeks are either early delivery (forced induction) or ‘feticide’ which kills the baby via lethal injection before being induced. (Though that may change in the future – the academic journal Contraception has reported that Irish doctors are currently being trained in D&E abortions). 

But crucially, abortion up till birth occurs solely in the Irish context of babies who have a life-limiting illness i.e. a “fatal foetal abnormality” (which we have explained is not a medical term). Given that the Irish referendum was won in part on the basis of the stories of parents of unborn babies with terminal illnesses who felt forced to travel to England for an abortion, it seems unlikely that calling for a prohibition on these kinds of abortion will win the hearts and minds of the Irish people. The discussion on foetal pain-relief is one example of a better place to start a conversation with yes voters from the 2018 referendum. 

Contextualising these facts about late-term abortions might look something like saying: “I know that while late term abortions are a massive problem in America, some late-term abortions do happen in Ireland for babies with serious disabilities, such as trisomy-18. There were 97 of these abortions in 2018. I think some common ground between pro-life and pro-choice people should be that no-one ever dies in pain, including unborn babies. Would you agree that when late-term abortions happen in Ireland, the foetus should be given pain-relief before the abortion happens?”

Knowing your context will assist in ensuring a conversation is as productive as possible. It will help prevent people from talking past each other. Now is the time to put this tip to good use!