Have you ever heard of an elevator pitch? It’s where you try to condense a topic down to a few sentences that you can get across in three minutes or less. The idea is that you have a new business or product that you’re trying to pitch to a potential investor. They’re incredibly busy and you haven’t a hope of setting up a formal meeting, but you happen to bump into them in an elevator. You have a captive audience for the amount of time you’re both in the elevator – minutes, if even. You need to make your strongest case possible in a very short space of time. What do you say?
I’ve had a “pro-life elevator pitch” for many years. I didn’t prepare one for any particular purpose, I simply thought over time about how I would quickly explain to someone why I oppose abortion. My pro-life elevator pitch used to sound something like this:
“I believe in human rights for all human beings because I think history has taught us that excluding certain groups of human beings from those who enjoy human rights has had horrific outcomes. It is clear, from science, that unborn babies are human beings. I believe of all human rights, the most fundamental right is the right to life, because in order to enjoy any other rights (the right to education, to freedom of religion, to a home, etc) you must first be alive. It’s not possible to have a right to anything without first being alive. Therefore I believe the right to life is the most fundamental human right, and therefore in order to grant any rights we must first grant the right to life to every human being. I am therefore against abortion because it denies the right to life to the youngest set of human beings”.
I think this elevator pitch is pretty typical of pro-life elevator pitches. I’ve even sat through opening speeches or entire debates given by pro-life speakers that are essentially extended versions of my pitch above. They go into more detail, and provide examples and counterexamples, but basically make all the points I made. However, over the last decade or so, I have significantly changed my pro-life elevator pitch. The reason for that is not because of anything my old pitch was saying – I still more or less agree with everything in my old pitch. The reason I updated my elevator pitch was actually because of what my old pitch was not saying. Specifically, my old pitch did not mention the woman, it did not mention bodily autonomy, and it didn’t say anything new, different or surprising.
We’ve blogged a lot about bodily autonomy at the Minimise Project. In fact, we might seem slightly obsessed with it. The reason I think bodily autonomy arguments are so important is because I realised that my elevator pitch wasn’t working precisely because it ignored bodily autonomy arguments. It’s possible to believe that the unborn are human, that life begins at conception, and even to believe that the unborn and born are equal, and still to agree with abortion. Why? Because some people believe the right to bodily autonomy outweighs the right to life. My pro-life elevator pitch did nothing to address these points.
Furthermore, pro-choice people are very often driven by intense compassion for women. They see the injustice women have faced in the past and continue to face today and they want to help women in dreadful situations. So do pro-life people, for the record. But by failing to mention women at all, my pro-life elevator pitch sounded like I was ignoring women.
Finally, if you want to grab someone’s attention in a limited amount of time, you have to make it interesting and different. If you’re at a conference that people have chosen to attend to listen to you, you can take your time, fill in the background, be a bit boring and cover all your bases. Your audience is there because they want to listen to you. However, if you’re grabbing a short chance to give two to three minutes on something, people are not going to listen to you unless they’re genuinely interested. They don’t particularly want to hear what you have to say, so you have to make them want to listen.
Given all the above, I’ve had a lot more luck with my new pitch:
“I believe abortion is a conflict of rights issue. There is a conflict between the woman’s right to bodily autonomy and the foetus’s right to life. I have been unable to find a consistent definition for what gives someone the right to life that excludes foetuses but includes every category of born person whom I also want to have the right to life, and I have also been unable to find a consistent reason to allow the right to bodily autonomy to trump the right to life in the case of pregnancy but not in the case of something like conjoined twins. So for these reasons I believe that in this particular conflict of rights, the foetus’s right to life outweighs the woman’s right to bodily autonomy.”
I find my new pitch leaves people wanting to hear more. They are interested to hear that I have considered the woman’s point of view, and that I have somehow still concluded that her right to bodily autonomy doesn’t extend to abortion rights. They feel comfortable with the fact that I’m using their language – foetus instead of baby, woman instead of mother. I don’t always use these terms, but I do in my pitch as it breaks down rather than constructing barriers.
Sometimes, people are disgusted at the fact that I explicitly say that I think a foetus’s right to life outweighs the woman’s right to bodily autonomy, but even in those cases they want to talk more and find out why I think that (usually because they want to prove me wrong), so that’s still a good thing from my perspective. More often than not though, people’s curiosity is piqued. They think that I might have a perspective they haven’t encountered before, and they want to know more.
I certainly don’t think everyone should copy my elevator pitch – in order to be fresh, different and interesting, we all need our own pitch that we came up with and believe in. I do think though that we should put a lot of thought into our pitch, and I also think it must refer equally to the woman and the baby, and explicitly address bodily autonomy.
What’s your pro-life elevator pitch? Let us know!