Today, I am interviewing Scott Klusendorf, founder of Life Training Institute and author of the new book, The Case for Life. We will be talking about some recent developments in the USA that influence the abortion debate (including the murder of George Tiller, the recent polls showing pro-life gains, and President Obama’s speech at Notre Dame).
Trevin Wax: Some people who advocate abortion rights are blaming the death of Dr. Tiller on anyone who is pro-life. How should pro-life Christians respond to this development?
Scott Klusendorf: While pro-lifers should condemn the killing of Dr. Tiller, they must not shrink back from proclaiming their fundamental message—namely, that elective abortion unjustly takes the life of a defenseless human being.
Of course, our critics will say that by calling abortion killing, we are inciting violence against abortionists. This is nonsense.
As Andrew Coyne points out, suppose I’m an animal rights activist opposed to the sale of fur. If a deranged environmentalist firebombs a local clothing store, am I responsible?
Seriously, if people like Frank Schaeffer truly think that pro-life speech incites people to violence, they should step up and lead a campaign to ban all pro-life speech. Moreover, it does not follow that because a lone extremist kills an abortionist, the pro-life cause itself is unjust.
Dr. Martin Luther King, for example, used strong language to condemn the evil of racism during the 1960s. In response to his peaceful but confrontational tactics, racists unjustly blamed him for the violent unrest that sometimes followed his public demonstrations.
Mayor Richard Daley of Chicago argued that if Dr. King would stop exposing racial injustice, black people would be less likely to riot. The Mayor’s remarks were an outrage.
Are we to believe that a handful of rioters made Dr. King’s crusade for civil rights entirely unjust? In his Letter from the Birmingham Jail, King rebuts this dishonest attempt to change the subject:
“In your statement you asserted that our actions, though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence….[I]t is immoral to urge an individual to withdraw his efforts to gain…basic constitutional rights because the quest precipitates violence….Non-violent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and establish such a creative tension that a community…is forced to confront the issue. It seeks to dramatize the issue so it can be no longer ignored.”
Finally, if it’s extreme to call elective abortion killing, then abortion-choice advocates bear partial responsibility for the stabbing of Dr. Tiller.
The fact is that pro-lifers aren’t the only ones who call abortion killing. Abortionists and their supporters have been saying so themselves for years.
For example, late-term abortionist Warren Hern, author of the book Abortion Practice, stated in a 1978 conference:
“We have reached a point in this particular technology [D&E abortion] where there is no possibility of denial of an act of destruction by the operator. It is before one’s eyes. The sensations of dismemberment flow through the forceps like an electric current.”
Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, generally a supporter of abortion-rights, describes dismemberment abortion this way:
“The fetus, in many cases, dies just as a human adult or child would: it bleeds to death as it is torn from limb to limb. . . . The fetus can be alive at the beginning of the dismemberment process and can survive for a time while its limbs are being torn off. . . . Dr. [Leroy] Carhart [the abortionist who challenged Nebraska's partial-birth ban] has observed fetal heartbeat . . . with “extensive parts of the fetus removed,” . . . and testified that mere dismemberment of a limb does not always cause death because he knows of a physician who removed the arm of a fetus only to have the fetus go on to be born “as a living child with one arm.” . . . At the conclusion of a D&E abortion . . . the abortionist is left with “a tray full of pieces.”
Trevin Wax: Recent polls show that, for the first time since Roe v. Wade, a majority of Americans claim the label “pro-life.” What does this mean for the pro-life movement? How do you interpret these statistics?
Scott Klusendorf: First, the bad news: I’m skeptical that there’s been much real movement toward the pro-life view. In fact, if you look at a summary of polling data over the last 30 years, the numbers really haven’t changed that much. I think pro-lifers like to pick and choose the polls they site.
True, support for late-term abortion has dropped thanks largely to the debate over partial-birth abortion, but a majority of Americans still support first-trimester abortion.
Now for the good news: Based on my experience in the field (not on any empirical data I’ve compiled), people are more willing to give us a hearing. Fifteen years ago, crowds on college campuses were more hostile, even nasty at times, but not so much now. In fact, my recent debates with Nadine Strossen (President of the ACLU from the mid-1980s until last Fall) solicited insightful questions from those attending, but never nasty remarks.
Of course, you still get your occasional abortion crusader bent on shutting-up pro-lifers (rather than refuting their arguments), but they are fewer in number than they were during the late 80s and early 90s.
Thus, the objective for pro-life advocates is clear: We must become very skilled at making a gracious, yet persuasive, case for life in the public square. That is not all we must do, but it’s certainly essential if we are to win. That’s precisely why wrote my book The Case for Life.
Trevin Wax: President Obama recently made remarks at Notre Dame about abortion. What were your impressions of his speech?
Scott Klusendorf: Rhetorically, it was excellent. I also appreciated his observation that finding middle ground on abortion is difficult. He’s right about that.
Look, either you believe that each and every human being in virtue of his humanity has an equal right to life or you don’t. Sadly, the President does not believe that, as evidenced by his refusal to protect not only unborn humans, but those born alive as well.
However, what surprised me most was his complete refusal to present any argument whatsoever justifying his pro-abortion choice views. There’s not one mention of his preference for tax-funded abortions both here and abroad, his votes to keep partial-birth abortion legal, and his promise to sign the Freedom of Choice Act, which would undo virtually all limits on abortion. Indeed, many of his statements were question-begging regarding the status of the unborn.
Speaking of the abortion controversy, he used the nouns “we” and “our” when referencing our duty to understand our fellow humans but never once said whether “we” and “our” also included “them,” meaning the unborn. On embryonic stem-cell research, the President said that “those who speak out against research may be rooted in an admirable conviction about the sacredness of life, but so are the parents of a child with juvenile diabetes who are convinced that their son’s or daughter’s hardship can be relieved.”
Question: Would the President argue this way if the proposal on the table was killing two-year olds to relieve the suffering of five-year olds? Never in a million years. Only by assuming the embryos in question were not human could he argue this way.But that is precisely the point he refused to address in his speech.
If I were a thoughtful defender of abortion, Obama’s speech would leave me worried that my side had truly run out of arguments. And that, rather than inconsistent polling data, is what gives me the most hope for the future.
Trevin Wax: How does President Obama’s admission there are moral and ethical aspects of the abortion debate help the pro-life cause?
Scott Klusendorf: It exposes the vacuous logic in the President’s position. He says abortion is a “heart-wrenching decision” and we should seek to reduce it.
But why is it heart-wrenching? And why seek to reduce it? If elective abortion does not take the life of a defenseless human being, why worry about the number of abortions each year?
This is liberal doublespeak: You implicitly condemn abortion with your words, but make sure there’s not one shred of legal protection granted to unborn human beings.
True, the President did speak of moral aspects to the abortion debate, but he did so with a faulty appeal to moral equivalency. He said we should “honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion, and draft a sensible conscience clause, and make sure that all of our health-care policies are grounded not only in sound science, but also in clear ethics, as well as respect for the equality of women.”
Let’s be clear: For Obama, women can only achieve equality by trampling on the rights of their unborn offspring. That’s what he means by equality. But never once did he say why treating the unborn human this way is morally and legally permissible.
And if the President truly cares about “sound science,” how about starting with the undeniable scientific truth that from the earliest stages of development, the unborn are distinct, living, and whole human beings? In short, Obama is adept at saying one thing and doing another.
Trevin Wax: You’ve said before there are “fascist” themes that sometimes come out in the way liberals address abortion. Did you detect any such themes in the President’s speech?
Scott Klusendorf: Possibly. I define fascism in this case as an attempt by government to shut down legitimate debate on important public policy matters.
Consider Obama’s call for a “sensible conscience clause” policy for doctors opposed to abortion. The key word, of course, is “sensible.”
We already have policies leftover from the Bush Administration that protect doctors from performing or referring for abortion procedures. All indications are that Obama does not want to revise these policies; he want to revoke them, forcing pro-life doctors to either participate in abortion or go out of business. What else is that but an attempt to silence legitimate debate on abortion?
Trevin Wax: What do you hope to accomplish with your book The Case for Life?
Scott Klusendorf: In a sentence, I hope to give pro-life Christians the tools of thought needed to make a gracious and persuasive case for their views in the marketplace of ideas.
As I state in the introduction to the book, I do not pretend to have written an exhaustive defense of the pro-life view. That’s been done already by selected authors I cite throughout the text.
My purpose is different. This book will take those sophisticated pro-life defenses and put them in a form that hopefully equips and inspires lay Christians (with or without academic sophistication) to engage the debate with friends, coworkers, and fellow believers.
Admittedly, a book about pro-life apologetics may not appeal to some lay Christians. It seems many believers would rather focus on end times rather than these times. That’s a mistake. Humans who ignore questions about truth and human value may soon learn what it really means to be left behind.
For more information about Scott Klusendorf, check out his book, The Case for Life (reviewed here) and his website.