Every semester the pro-life anti-abortionists would come to campus. They were mostly women who displayed horrific larger-than-life images of dead babies and aborted fetuses to convince people of the horrors of abortion. Their arguments, however, were not nearly as convincing as their images.
I was in a bioethics class at the time of their last visit, and in it we were discussing theories of personhood because abortion debates ultimately hinge upon conceptions of personhood. Pro-lifers believe that personhood (i.e., “life”) begins at conception, and that abortion is therefore immoral because it is akin to killing an innocent person; pro-choicers do not believe that personhood begins at conception but instead develops later on in the prenatal cycle, and that abortion is therefore morally acceptable when it is performed before personhood develops. Pro-lifers therefore have to defend the view that conception and personhood are the same, while pro-choicers must delineate when non-person fetuses become persons. Both sides of the debate face complex issues that cannot be easily resolved, which is why abortion debates tend to run in circles.
I typically resign myself to these debates by devilishly advocating for the opposite position, and find that it is easier to exacerbate pro-life positions because these positions are more philosophically unsound than pro-choice positions.
I walked up to a young pro-lifer whose reddened face reflected the pathos with which she was attempting to convince others of her position. I do not yell or scream when debating, and instead like to use Socratic questioning to get others to develop their own arguments. Guided questioning is more effective in debating than shout-arguing because the latter style affects defensiveness that precludes engagement with rhetoric. If we are to make progress when arguing we must engage with the content of what is expressed instead of reacting solely to the ways the arguments affect us.
I think my calmness caught this young woman off guard; she seemed to be expecting me to yell at her, which makes sense because there were many others yelling at her group of pro-lifers. Abortion debates depend upon fiery sentiments to preclude deeper engagement with the philosophical issues that underlie…