Podcast: Dealing with Difficult Pro-Lifers (Part 2)
Our executive director, Monica Snyder, recently appeared on two episodes of the Equipped for Life podcast with our friends at Equal Rights Institute. The topic: dealing with difficult pro-lifers. The episodes were recorded pre-Dobbs, but the advice is evergreen. Part 1 covered four types of pro-life debaters who can do more harm than good: (1) Bible verse guy, (2) “Keep your legs closed” guy, (3) the reductive “pregnancy is easy” guy, and (4) the person wanting to convert you to Christianity. In part 2 below, we discuss (5) the “You’re not pro-life enough” gatekeeper; (6) the person who straw-mans the bodily autonomy argument; (7) the person who disrespects pro-choice people’s intelligence; (8) the person who assumes all post-abortive mothers are evil or all post-abortive mothers are innocent victims.
[Special thanks to volunteer Axel Abbas for his transcription work. If you’d like to volunteer to transcribe or translate, please fill out our volunteer survey.]
Josh: Welcome to The Equipped For Life Podcast. We are back with three of my favourite pro-lifers in the entire universe. We have Emily Albright, we have Andrew Kaake, we have my good friend Monica Snyder from Secular Pro-Life. If you haven’t heard part one, stop. We have a whole bunch of setup in part one that we are just not going to repeat here. We’re just going to assume that you’ve heard that. This is a continuation of that podcast just because we don’t want to do a two-and-a-half-hour long podcast.
Emily: We have a lot of thoughts.
Josh: We have a lot of thoughts.
Emily: We have so many thoughts.
Josh: We’ve had a lot of experiences dealing with difficult pro-lifers, what can I say? So, let’s jump in. We want to talk about the other four types; we’ve already talked about the first four. We talked about the biblical pro-lifers: they won’t stop quoting the bible, it is their only argument against abortion. We’ve talked about the misogynistic pro-lifers: these are the “Women need to keep their legs closed” type people that just need to be called out when they show up. We’ve talked about the pro-lifers that are dismissive and just kind of reducing the effects of pregnancy as “pregnancy is a super fine thing except maybe the last two months,” “It’s not a big deal,” “Who would want to have an abortion? Like, it’s crazy.” And then we’ve talked about the Christian apologists who show up a lot with Secular Pro-Life, constantly trying to convert them to Christianity instead of reacting to their pro-life thoughts or welcoming the diversity that Secular Pro-Life brings to the pro-life movement. Now let’s talk about, there’s kind of multiple pro-lifers in this but this is like the “You’re not pro-life enough,” the gatekeepers of the pro-life movement; we’ve definitely had some experiences with that. Emily, tell us about this type.
Emily: So, these type of pro-life people tend to have an attitude that there is in their mind at least some sort of quote-unquote perfect pro-lifer out there. There is a pro-lifer that…
Josh: It probably looks like them.
Emily: Right, it looks like them, exactly. There’s a pro-lifer that fits their agenda perfectly and if you are not that pro-lifer, if you differ from them in some way, then you should probably just be doing nothing.
Emily: Like, you have to meet a certain threshold of acceptability in order for you to be doing anything in the pro-life movement that they would deem worthwhile or they don’t really want you involved if you’re not fitting their criteria.
Josh: You’re a fly in the pro-life ointment right now.
Josh: You really need to deal with that if you’re going to be part of our team, yeah.
Emily: Interestingly enough, we’ve seen this happen in a couple different kinds of pro-lifers can fall into this category, and pro-lifers who would probably disagree vehemently about a lot of things. So on one end of the spectrum we have the abolitionists, AHA, Abolish Human Abortion, type who often have an attitude of “You’re not going far enough fast enough. You’re not doing enough and if you’re not going to the absolute ultimate extreme of what we think the pro-life movement could be doing right now, you’re not really pro-life and you’re being complicit in abortion. And so “if you’re not fitting our particular agenda, you shouldn’t be doing this,” and then…
Josh: It’s also often a “You’re not using the bible enough, you’re using too much secular stuff,” and we’re not going to get into the weeds on AHA, we have two podcasts about AHA, if you want to know all about the history of AHA and some of the problems with the things that they do, we’ll link to those two podcasts in the description. What are some other types of people that do this?
Emily: Sure, so there’s, kind of on the other end of the spectrum of pro-life people, you can imagine, we have the consistent life ethic people so people who have a list of ten or thirteen different issues that they’re really, really passionate about and being pro-life is one of them, and there’s also all these other things. They’re very pro-immigration and they’re pro-LGBTQ+ rights and pro-trans rights and pro-all sorts of other things, and sometimes those people can have an attitude that “If you are pro-life but you’re not also fighting for the other ten things in this list, then you’re not pro-life enough and you shouldn’t be doing what you’re doing either” and I have a feeling that the AHA type people and the consistent life ethic people don’t agree about just about anything, like they don’t, they’ve not a lot in common.
Josh: I mean, I would pay to watch three of them and three of them in a room and then to have to talk to each other but I don’t think it would go very well.
Emily: But the thing is, they both engage in the same kind of thing of if pro-life people don’t fit on their particular agenda then maybe the pro-life work that you’re doing isn’t worth doing and you shouldn’t be doing it and I think that is highly problematic.
Josh: Yeah, and again, not all CLE people do this, but –
Emily: Yes, obviously not.
Josh: – but some people do. Have either of you had experiences of this?
Monica: Oh yeah, on both sides, but, I just want to say real quick, I don’t think they’re saying if you don’t do it my way you shouldn’t bother, I think they’re just hoping to motivate you to do it their way in addition
Josh: Yeah, I think a lot of those exist, yeah.
Monica: All the time on both sides, we have the abolitionist types that are usually… they think that we’re weakening the pro-life movement because we’re secular and so we’re taking away the core reason to care about any of this and it’s not just that they don’t like the way we’re doing it, they think we’re harming the movement. So we get that a little bit. And sometimes we don’t get the consistent life as much because people always think we’re a consistent life group. We’re not. We’re a single issue group but we work with consistent life groups a lot and so by association they assume that we are. And the people who lead our group do tend to be pretty consistent life not on every single thing but, we just sort of blend in there and they just think that we are. But sometimes people will come in and say, you know, “You never talk about this. You never talk about that,” especially, we just didn’t talk about Trump last election one way or the other we just stopped talking about Trump and people got mad about that on both sides, both sides got mad at us about that.
Monica: So we just continue to go that middle road. But I generally, honestly, I ignore them entirely. Like, if you don’t think I’m pro-life enough that’s not gonna change what I’m doing, and I don’t need you to think I’m pro-life enough. There’s nothing you have that I need, that I need you to approve of me, so, okay. I’m just gonna keep going, anyway.
Andrew: I was just gonna say I feel like we’re being a little too nice to the abolitionists in particular here, just because… it’s not even that, I’m surprised they’re not happy that you’re weakening the pro-life movement since they, you know, think the pro-life movement is like supporting abortion.
Andrew: But, like, one of the reasons these people, and I get more CLE people other than when I wrote the article on the abolitionists in their SBC [Southern Baptist Convention] coup last year. So a lot of what I do is appeal to people to be intellectually consistent and to be intellectually honest. And so, this purity test thing gets used as a cudgel to be like “Oh, well, you’re not really as consistent as you say you are, because you don’t believe this, this and this” and I’m just like, “Well, it doesn’t logically follow, I am being pretty consistent, I don’t have to oppose the death penalty to think that an innocent foetus should not be killed,” that’s not really on the table and it’s a distraction from this other thing, but like, because of the way that it operates in conjunction with our approach at ERI [Equal Rights Institute], I really find the purity test people annoying. Sometimes it’s just that they get under my skin and sometimes it’s because some of our worst commenters are these people. Our worst commenters on the pro-life side are the ones who are trying to purity test us and accuse us of hypocrisy at the same time.
Monica: It’s really unfortunate because I feel like most of the work is trying to get people more involved in pro-life work. Most people don’t do anything about this issue one way or the other. And the easiest way I think to get them involved, is to show them they can just take a little step, you start to be involved, just a small thing. But the “You’re not pro-life enough if you don’t do all these different things” people, they’re sending the opposite message. They’re sending like “You may as well not even. If you can’t do these, these many different things or these intimidating things or these aggressive things, these unpopular things, all at once, don’t bother” and they’re weakening our resources. There are people who aren’t comfortable with everything but they might be comfortable with something.
Josh: Yeah, that’s a really good point.
Emily: I think you just also mentioned another factor of the purity test person which is they often say “The reason you’re not willing to do all of these things is just because you’re trying to be popular.”
Monica: Which I find absolutely hilarious. If I was trying to be popular I wouldn’t be here. At all!
Emily: Do you think that I’m popular? Doing pro-life work? Full-time? That is my life.
Monica: Especially as an atheist. Like, we get so much flak… there’s no way, it’s just absolutely ridiculous. We have to… We have pro-life atheist activists who’ve basically torpedoed their in real life social lives once they came out as pro-life and then people are like “Oh, you don’t want to take this position because you don’t want people to yell at you.” People yell at me all the time, okay? Like, that’s part of the job.
Josh: Yeah there’s this whole… I’ve got family members, extended family members and friends that as soon as they find out what I’m doing, they’re not as interested in talking to me about my work at all. I mean, like, you and I were, you and I were both on track to be professional musicians.
Josh: Instead of doing pro-life work, and we both chose pro-life work instead. There is definitely a part of me that often misses the experiences that I’m not having on the stage playing amazing music with other amazing musicians.
Monica: I was working in a private forensics lab. I loved that job. I loved that job. And that job was the opposite of this where when you tell people you’re working in a forensics lab, even if you’re doing a relatively minimal position, they’re immediately impressed. There’s like so much social credit to that, and I switched to this. I think about that all the time!
Josh: You become the pariah. There are certain rare contexts where we can feel popular. Like, the Students For Life Conference is always kind of fun because a bunch of those students are already familiar with us so they come to the booth, it’s like “Hey Josh Brahm!” and they’re doing selfies and, and all and that’s super fun and, and lovely and I want to give those people a really good experience. But, that’s not most of my life. Most of our life we’re dealing with the people that are making us sometimes not want so much to be in the pro-life movement because they’re making our life so hard. I mean, all the times I’ve like “Man, do I want to stay in this movement?” it’s been because of pro-lifers not pro-choice people. I can handle the pro-choice people. It is the difficult pro-lifers or difficult, you know, leaders of pro-life groups even sometimes that and I’m not gonna name any names but like, those are the times it’s like, “Umm, it’s getting really tempting to maybe go and just like do something else and you guys can just have it.” You know, you can just, yeah.
Monica: You’ve kept the gate very well. I’m leaving.
Josh: Right, I’m out. Okay let’s talk about… Oh my gosh this is such an important one to talk about especially this year. The pro-lifers that constantly straw-man bodily autonomy arguments
Emily: I see it, on our social media, every single day. Okay?
Josh: Every day.
Emily: We just talked about the fact that we got a TikTok, right? We are now on TikTok, please go follow us on Tik Tok. And that means that a few minutes of my day every day, I am scrolling through the pro-life TikTok space, which is pretty tiny, and seeing what other kinds of pro-life content people are putting out on TikTok, (and ninety percent of it is people straw-manning bodily autonomy. I cannot tell you how many videos I have watched of very well-meaning pro-life people that are about my age being like “I want to make a difference in pro-life TikTok” and I’m like “Yes, please be doing that,” but you’ve got to do it better than this because making a video of yourself saying “It is not your body therefore it is not your choice,” done, mic drop. So not helpful! ([Josh] Yeah.) Like… Argh!
Andrew: Emily, don’t you know that women don’t have four hands? Four feet?
Josh: It’s painful because I’ve used that argument before, a long time ago. I used to have… One of my cool stories I used to tell people was when I debated, not really debated, I was at a fair booth, butI had a back-and-forth dialogue with… he was running as a Democrat for either Senate or House or something like that, we had a little dialogue about abortion and my mic drop moment at the end was the… oh my gosh, I can’t believe it, was the four eyes, two noses, twenty fingers thing because that’s what I had been taught to say in response to “But it’s part of her body”, and I didn’t realise that is not what hardly any pro-choice person actually means. They don’t literally think it’s like an organ, there are a few, there are some…
Monica: Yeah, this is where our experiences differ again, I think.
Josh: Yeah, okay. So I want you to jump in and talk about because we’ve had this conversation many times before; that’s part of why I invited you on. But for me, the most pro-choice people that I talk to… Because I will ask them the clarification question “When you say it’s a part of her body or whatever, do you mean X, Y or Z?” and almost none of them are making “Not a bodily autonomy argument.” They’re not saying it’s not a person because it’s dependent and they’re not saying that it’s literally part of her body like a kidney. They’re saying, because of a woman’s bodily autonomy, there would be a government overreach to say that women cannot do this thing with their body or something in their body or something that is connected to their body, something like that, there’s multiple versions of bodily rights arguments, we’ve got a whole landing page that Monica made me make by the way, the bodily autonomy page that we have was… Monica was like “Please make me a landing page of all your bodily rights stuff. I will link to it all the time.” So I was like “Okay, I will do that then”.
Monica: We link to it on our landing page! We have a section about bodily rights and we’re like, here’s Equal Rights’ part, just go look at their stuff. I do agree with you. I basically mostly agree with you on all of it. The only difference is, even in our circles it’s pretty rare that they mean it literally as a body part but sometimes they do. We talk about biology a lot so it’s probably selection bias, the people we’re bringing into the core but especially on Twitter we do have people that try to argue literally that it’s not a separate entity. They’re still the minority, for sure, but I think that when you throw them into the mix, I get that pro-lifers are straw-manning but I sympathise with them because it’s kind of a complex topic and sometimes they’re actually not. Usually they are though. But depending on who they’re responding to they might not be, so… It’s a minority case but there are definitely people out there that are saying it literally comparing it to… We have a lot of debates about what constitutes an organism versus an organ versus whatever and there’s a lot of miseducation about it so… Maybe some of them are responding to that.
Josh: I think it’s more understandable for people to be confused about the definition of an organism than the “It’s literally a part of her body,” I know when we… I think, at least in my experience and everyone jumping in if you have a different experience, but for me, when I have had dialogues with pro-choice people about the biological side of this debate, the portion of the debate that relates to science and biology, it’s usually them just confused about organism and they think that skin cells or sperm cells or whatever are also… “They have living human DNA too so aren’t they persons too?” and they just don’t understand what I’m talking about yet and I have to clarify or explain what an organism is. Like, fine. And it usually doesn’t take that long and we usually move into another thing, so definitely part of this is also that selection bias thing where if a lot of my dialogues were on college campuses where people just aren’t generally making better arguments. Philosophy 101 most students were being taught, like, the violinist argument and stuff like that so we’re hearing typically pretty good pro-choice arguments and a lot of the worse ones are just sort of getting filtered out whereas Monica’s been talking to a lot of people online.
Monica: Yeah, and I imagine the people you’re seeing on TikTok are also probably talking to a lot of people online and so you guys have a kind of work where you filter for a very specific echelon of pro-choice arguments and I don’t think it represents what most, the average pro-choice American is saying most of the time. I think it’s very important because you need to be able to address the best pro-choice arguments but I sympathise with the people where they’re not experiencing that, that’s not what they’re experiencing, especially on Twitter or wherever.
Emily: And I think a lot of times pro-choice people can be very unclear with the words that they choose, especially online. I think that most of the pro-choice people who are saying really weird things in my TikTok comments that like, come off really stupid, I’m like, “I don’t think if I actually could sit down and have a conversation with you, that that’s what you mean. I really do think you’re making a bodily autonomy argument. The problem is you don’t know how to articulate that because you’ve never thought about that much.”
Monica: You’re helping them do it better.
Emily: Right, exactly, and so they’re going to say a thing that sounds awfully like they’re confused about the biology and so I understand why a pro-life person is going to be like “Yeah well, they’re just confused about the biology.” And so the problem is, I’ve talked to enough pro-choice people that I know that’s probably not what they actually mean but I understand that it sounds like that’s what they mean because a lot of pro-choice people who maybe haven’t been through Philosophy 101 are going to say things that sound really stupid.
Monica: When you just don’t have the vernacular, yeah.
Emily: Right, they don’t have the vernacular to talk about it and so they’re going to come say things that come across like they mean not what I think they actually mean if you were to ask them questions and find out.
Josh: So a couple of key points for pro-lifers to remember, even those of you that don’t feel like you’re very philosophical, that’s totally fine, understand pro-choice people are often super vague with their rhetoric or they’re using shorthand because they’re on Twitter or whatever, and so, if you think you know what they’re saying, you very well might not. Ask more clarification questions, and if they’re saying something that sounds super stupid, there’s extra likelihood that you don’t understand them yet. I know there are people making stupid pro-choice arguments, just like there are people making stupid pro-life arguments. I’m not saying that never happens, you can ask a bunch of clarification questions and be like “Oh yeah, your argument is actually that bad.” I know, I’ve had that experience. I’m just saying a lot of the time if I… In three clarification questions I’m going to find out “Uh, okay, they mean something more nuanced, they just didn’t say it very well, I am happy to help them make their argument more clearly so that I can then respond to it more clearly.”
Monica: I think this difference in our experiences is how often they really don’t understand the biology and when you dig into it that really is where the problem is. So the philosophy is important and we need to clarify with people and make sure that we’re understanding them correctly but I’ve had… Actually my myths presentation is partly based on this. My first myth that I address is that we don’t know when life begins and I have a whole section explaining the difference between philosophy and biology and the reason I put that in there is so I could be very, very clear that that’s not what I’m talking about in this myth. In this myth, I’m talking about people using biology to misconstrue biological facts to support the pro-choice case. It’s actually not even always the lay pro-choice person’s fault because major voices on their side perpetuate lies about biology in order to shore up the pro-choice case. So they’ll obfuscate on when life begins, they’ll say embryos don’t have hearts, they’ll say the heartbeat is a propaganda from our side. You know, they’ll misconstrue fetal pain arguments. There’s all sorts of biology they will lie about specifically and then the people who trust them will parrot that and it really is a misunderstanding of biology. But again I also think you’re right that a lot of times it’s just vague wording and they are talking about a right to refuse. My only point is that the genuine actual biological miseducation is pretty common, though.
Andrew: Yeah, I think this is one of those points where… It’s kind of the double-edged nature of how we approach dialogue at ERI is, I think a lot of these arguments might actually be as bad as they seem.
Josh: The pro-choice arguments?
Andrew: I think… And that’s not just the bad biology arguments. I think this is the philosophy 101 crowd too… I don’t think philosophy 101 is as meaningful an introduction to like “Oh, you’re a philosopher now, you think philosophically”… it’s largely pretentious. And full disclosure, I never took philosophy 101. I just did ethics later on, well, well past undergrad so I didn’t, I just had to deal with them in political theory. But like, for the philosophy crowd, they’re parroting someone else’s argument because it’s like “Oh this is a good slam dunk against those dumb pro-lifers,” they don’t understand what they think any more than the person who’s like “Uh yeah, the fetus isn’t a human” or whatever. The way that we approach it, though, because we’re trying to lead people to understand their own views more clearly so that we can more clearly refute what they think and like give them the ability to think through something they haven’t before and give them the ability to fully choose the pro-life position so that it’s not just like “Oh well, you know, they out-debated me, but like, they’re not convincing me,” is we make a better pro-choice argument than they do, a lot of the time. So we’re guiding them, we’re hand-holding sometimes and like “Is this really what you mean to say? Or do you want to say this other thing that is way more intelligent or plausible?” and they’re like “Oh yeah, I want to say that thing.” And so, I’ve had conversations where I’m guiding them through the steps of the argument that they’re trying to make, and, you know, it happened where I was talking about bodily rights, going on the bodily autonomy side, and I got to the [inaudible], and the guy was visibly uncomfortable but he wasn’t… I could see that he wasn’t quite ready. He was just struggling, but he knew he was stuck in this dark alley that was [inaudible] too and so I’m like “Okay. Well here’s another way you can make your argument. Let’s talk about personhood,” and so I guide him over to personhood and we’re going through the pro-choice case for personhood and the equal rights argument. And the guy ended up taking one of our brochures with him, so like, sometimes I think it’s a good thing that we’re doing what we are, making the argument that’s better, but the original argument or what the people on TikTok are saying, considering some of the videos I’ve seen from the influencers on TikTok, they’re actually really bad arguments and they’re as bad as they seem but one of our jobs at ERI is to help pro-choice people make better arguments about abortion… Which is not the… Not the thing that I say when I’m talking to pro-life people but it’s so that we can convince pro-choice people that we haven’t played a slight of hand trick. We’ve raised you to the pro-choice mountaintop. This is as good as it gets and it still doesn’t work.
Josh: Yeah. I want to respond to a pro-lifer, a certain pro-lifer who is listening to this that is like “Why would you help pro-choice people make better arguments?” I know we’ve talked about this before so I’m going to do this quickly, but this sounds so weird to a lot of people like, “Slam dunk, man!” Like “Hey! You’ve got the opportunity! Like, come on!” Like “Bring it home! Close the deal!” That kind of thing. And first of all, it is… Here’s the significance… It is that Andrew’s story a minute ago, about the person taking our brochure with them, he wasn’t taking a brochure about like, “Hey, here’s what ERI does.” He was taking our outreach brochure which includes very, very graphic pictures of aborted children both in the first and second trimester. So that was a significant thing that he took the thing and wanted to keep looking at that and reading the arguments that were in that. But here’s just one reason why to do that and I’ve done this on planes with pro-choice people, specifically, I’ve got a very specific memory of having several hours with a pro-choice person who was struggling and failing to make a body autonomy argument and I chose to help him, I offered him like “I think maybe this is what you mean” and he’s like “Yes!” he totally grabbed on to that and I had people literally, after I told this story, “Why would you do that?” and here’s why: because I have an opportunity, I know I’ve got two more hours before we land in LA, I’ve got time to deal with this problem this hole that I’ve dug myself and if I don’t right now, I don’t know that he’s going to get the opportunity to hear the better pro-life responses to those things later, and what I don’t want to do is slam dunk and mic drop and get him even be like “Okay, I guess maybe pro-life is right,” because I was responding easily to his lame arguments. But then like, he researches it and then he finds the violinist or whatever, he’s like “Oh! That’s what I should have said. I’m still pro-choice.” Like, no. I’ve got my chance, I want to respond to the best pro-choice arguments he might ever be able to find, right there, and at the same time show him that I’m intellectually honest enough to help him make a better pro-choice argument and that’s going to make them more intrigued by “Well, why am I pro-life if I can make a better pro-choice argument than this person can?” And I still ended up on the pro-life side. Gee, there must be a reason why, those things are all happening when we help pro-choice people make better arguments.
Emily: Okay, so we’re talking about pro-life people who straw-man bodily autonomy, we think that’s really annoying but I think there’s also this other related subset of difficult pro-life people and sometimes it overlaps and sometimes it doesn’t. So if a pro-life person is straw-manning bodily autonomy, they might be doing that really innocently but they also might be doing that in a way that inherently makes it sound like they think all pro-choice people are stupid, and that’s this whole other section really of pro-life people who come across in everything that they say whether it’s two other pro-life people or it’s directly to pro-choice people, they think there are no good pro-choice arguments and anyone who is pro-choice is just obviously an idiot and they haven’t thought about this at all there couldn’t possibly be any good reasons to be pro-choice
Josh: I’m sure Monica’s dealt with this before.
Monica: Oh yeah. I think we all have, I mean…
Monica: It’s more likely to happen when you see a lot of genuinely bad pro-choice arguments that get confused I think that’s all there is. I bet it happens in our group more than yours for that reason. Actually just this morning on Twitter one of my favourite followers on Twitter, I won’t say who, tends to have very good arguments and be very funny but he made a comment about how he really is getting to the point where he just thinks that just all pro-choice arguments are just terrible ad hoc rationalizations. To be fair, that might be because we’re on Twitter. Because I don’t think he even has even a Facebook and the venue makes a big difference. And he agreed he was like “Yeah, that could be it.” but if you are in social circles or social media circles where you see a lot of really bad bumper sticker arguments too often it’s easy to start to genuinely believe that’s all there is. It’s the opposite of what I think happens with you guys where you see better arguments so often you actually think they’re the more common ones. It’s not clear to me that that’s true, but at least you know they exist.
Josh: Right, yeah. I definitely get this a lot even at talks, I feel like sometimes there’s just this subsection of pro-lifers, they bristle a little bit like when I’m talking about… So let’s take philosophy seriously and let’s think about the best arguments that exist like, all that and they’re just like “This is so simple! It’s either killing a life or it’s not killing a life like, why, like, don’t make it so complicated.” It’s just “No! There are interesting pro-choice arguments, this isn’t as simple as you think,” both philosophically and emotionally, by the way, and so I want to help us take up, you know, go up a rung on the intellectual ladder and there’s just a lot of pro-lifers, they’re just like, “What you’re doing is stupid! What are you… what are you doing? Why are you… I must be so much smarter because I figured out that this is actually really, really simple that it just comes down to this one question basically and it all just lines up and so how could anyone, how could anyone be pro-choice?” That kind of thing, “unless they’re just so attached to their lifestyle, that’s the only reason that they’re pro-choice,” and it’s like “Nope. I’ve talked to more pro-choice people than you and there are pro-choice people that have really interesting arguments they’re coming from different places they’re not all this one thing. They don’t fit into the box that you think that they all fit in.”
Emily: Exactly. I think there’s also the pro-life person who thinks that pro-choice people are stupid in their own head and then there’s the pro-life person who treats all pro-choice people like they’re stupid.
Josh: Talk more about that. So how does that present when they’re going to treat pro-choice people like they’re all stupid?
Emily: I think it usually presents itself quite frankly in just not using any practical dialogue tips. I’m not specifically saying, ERI’s practical dialogue, ANY practical dialogue tips, I have given speeches or talked to pro-life people about practical dialogue tips and they say to me “You know? Why does that matter? Because pro-choice people can’t think through things logically. They just can’t.”
Monica: Oh, dude…
Emily: And so… it doesn’t really matter for you to use these tips, you should just not even bother, and they openly seem to treat pro-choice people like they think they’re stupid and from a pragmatic level, well I don’t think most pro-choice people are stupid. I think that treating them like they are, even if the one you’re happen to be talking to right now actually is making a completely absurd argument, treating them like you think their argument is stupid is not persuasive at all.
Monica: Well then you have to ask “So why are you even having the conversation then? What’s the point? If you’re not trying to persuade the person you’re talking to or other people around, why are you putting the time and effort in?” and I want to point out too, maybe a good way to get people to see why this is a problem, is just think of the reverse, because pro-choicers treat us like we’re all a monolith, often a very stupid or evil monolith, all the time. And they’ll assign motivations to us or intellectual inhibitions to us that don’t apply. You know how that feels, and it doesn’t persuade you, it doesn’t make you more open to their side, it just makes you angry and more resistant, so… We already know how that works because they do it to us all the time. Why do the same thing?
Andrew: Yeah, I’m willing to concede for the sake of argument. Let’s assume that most, and not just pro-choice people, but let’s just assume most people are stupid. Most people are stupid, for the sake of argument. Are you going to convince them of your position by telling them that you think they’re stupid?
Andrew: It’s just not going to happen!
Andrew: Even if you think they are, that’s not how you’re going to change their mind.
Monica: Well, I think part of the problem here with a lot of the people we’re talking about is, their primary goal isn’t to persuade. We talk about “Well that’s not persuasive.” They don’t necessarily care about being persuasive, they might have some other goal in mind; a lot of times I’ll see people talk about how the main thing is to courageously and boldly proclaim truth.
Monica: And they might have a religious reason for that or otherwise, but they’re more focused on making sure that they don’t shy away from hard truths that they are about being persuasive. Obviously, you could do both, but their focus is a different thing so even when you talk about “Is that persuasive? How can we be persuasive?”, it might be kind of assuming too much because a lot of people don’t care about that. There’s also this whole idea of “Does shaming people work?” Not just in the abortion debate, there’s many political topics now where the primary reaction is “If you argue X,Y,Z, we will… we won’t argue with you, we will just shame you as a bad person until you are quiet about it.” And I think there are some pro-lifers who think that’s the best way to approach certain pro-choice arguments. They don’t care about persuading, they just want them to stop giving the argument. You know? So… which is… I guess, a whole other problem but…
Josh: I think it’s true, Monica, I really like what you said but and I think it’s true that you can do both that you can try to be persuasive and also be like “I’m going to make sure I’m always proclaiming the truth.” But I will just say that typically in my experience, the person who literally says “I’m just here to proclaim truth, man!” tends to be very unpersuasive and it must be nice to be able to just walk away from any outreach you do feeling amazing because all you have to do to have succeeded is to have “proclaimed truth” I’m really rocking my head after a dialogue like, “What could I have done better? How could… Is there a way that I could have treated this person better or made them feel more comfortable or drop their defences more or sort of respond to their arguments differently?” I’m thinking about all that stuff. It’s not just about proclaiming truth to me, I want to actually make a difference, not just a statement. It’s so frustrating. And the last type that we want to talk about sounds kind of similar but I think this is a different type, is the people who are like “All the women who have abortions are super evil.” It’s not that they’re just stupid, they’re evil. “These people are going to Hell. Everyone… everyone knows that if they’re pregnant that this is a baby inside them and that they are deliberately just killing them.”
Monica: That is just ignorance! That is just ignorance. This kind of is similar to when we’re talking about making acting like pregnancy is not that hard, to believe that everyone even knows that they’re pregnant much less knows that the nature with their… I’ve been pro-life my entire life, passionately so, long before I had children. Okay. I had two experiences that really brought home for me how not simple this is on an emotional, psychological level. The first one was when I had a pregnancy scare before I was ready to be pregnant. And, scare is not the right word, I wasn’t planning on it but if it happened I wouldn’t have really been sad, you know. And when I found out I wasn’t pregnant I was actually super sad! And it was a very bizarre thing to have such a strong emotional reaction, to an entity that never actually existed. So, I feel like that’s a complicated thing. I felt like I was grieving and I had never been, I hadn’t been pregnant. Right?
Monica: That was confusing and a weird emotional experience, and then, the flip side, the first time I was pregnant when we planned to be pregnant and wanted to have kids, immediately. I was surprised, especially in the first trimester, how not emotional I felt about it at all. I mostly just felt sick and exhausted. And, I was thinking a lot about how, again, I planned this pregnancy with my husband, it’s something I wanted for a long time, but on an emotional level right now, I don’t feel in love or filled with motherly instinct or anything. In fact, especially since it was my first pregnancy, it’s almost like, “Am I really pregnant? I don’t know. I just feel really tired.” And the only visceral physical interaction you have is mostly very negative. It’s like we were talking about before, with how difficult pregnancy is. It’s so easy for me to imagine that if I was pregnant but in a condition where I needed to not be pregnant – terrible relationship or I’m not done with school or whatever the normal reasons are that people talk about – first of all, it would be very easy to convince myself I wasn’t pregnant. I have tried to predict whether I’ve successfully gotten pregnant many times and been totally incorrect in both directions. Even after having gone through it. It’s easy to think you are and realize you’re just psyching yourself out and think you’re not and the same. So it’s easy to convince my – it would be easy to convince myself I’m not pregnant and be in denial and stall. It would also be easy even if I was pregnant, if I was scared or upset or there were bad conditions to convince myself that it’s not a human that counts, I wouldn’t even say the word human. You can’t feel anything! It’s not a visceral, obvious thing, and I have studied biology formally. And I’m pro-life. And it was very easy for me in my first pregnancy, I thought about it a lot. I was like, I can totally, totally understand how women would easily believe that if they get an abortion they’re not aborting, you know, a child. They’re aborting a potential. Because all it feels like is exhaustion and nausea. And so for someone to say “Everyone knows,” I just find that to be… I don’t know how you could believe that. And I say that as someone who is pro-life and who has studied biology and who wanted all my pregnancies, it’s still not that obvious. I find it very… When people say that, and to be frank, and I’m not trying to make this a sexist thing but especially when men say it…
Josh: I was going through it, it’s okay. I was walking loaded.
Monica: I don’t want to hear a pro-choice or a pro-life man, I don’t want to hear any man tell me what all women know when they go through pregnancy. Just stop. You could be very intelligent, very empathetic, very… and have a lot of people who’ve talked to you about it, but you have not done it. It’s a very bizarre experience. Anyway, that’s my rant.
Josh: Yeah. I mean, we had a recent commenter that I think you told me about who was like…
Emily: We did.
Josh: So what… You’re the one who saw it, why don’t you tell us the story, because they were… They were reacting to Andrew, right?
Emily: Yes! So this was, I assume that this particular commenter fell in the abolitionist camp, they were responding to the piece that Andrew did about the abolitionist SBC resolution and in their comment they claimed that women are twerking as they’re leaving the abortion clinic in celebration of their abortion and therefore that is proof that they know they are killing babies and not only that but they are celebrating the killing of the babies. Now, my experience on TikTok, here we go again back to TikTok, I feel like that’s just been my anthem of this. There are pro-choice people who celebrate their abortions on social media. I don’t think that means that they believe that they are killing a baby. For example, I just saw a pro-choice TikTok yesterday of a woman outside of Planned Parenthood doing a dance with like the caption “Just dropped my kid off.” And that comes across very, very, flippant about abortion, this is just “Yeah, yeah, I know what I’m doing and this is great, this is the greatest thing ever.” I think that those people are doing it largely to push back against pro-lifers.
Emily: Because pro-lifers are talking about “This is a baby. This is your child. How could you do that?” and so that… She’s not saying, this woman who made this video, “I believe this is my child and I just killed them and isn’t that awesome?” That’s not what they’re saying. They’re saying “Ha! You pro-life person, you’re saying this is my child? Well guess what I just did to this person you’re saying is my child.”
Josh: They’re trying to get under the pro-lifers’ skin. This is the same person who like walks…
Monica: I want to say, why would you even assume any of that’s true anyway, when people do really edgy stuff like that and pro-lifers point to it as proof of anything. You don’t even know she got an abortion! You don’t even know if she’s ever been pregnant. She’s posting to TikTok!
Emily: Yes. I acknowledge there are pro-choice people who do things that might make it look like they are really, really evil in what they’re doing and they know and they’re just “Haha! I’m killing children!” There are pro-choice people that are doing things that might look like that but that means absolutely nothing about the actual women who are having abortions.
Josh: And we’ve got… Well I’ve had pro-choice people come at an outreach for if I’m doing outreach with like Justice For All for example, and there’s like an eighteen foot tall, you know, there are graphic abortion victim photography, you know, behind me and they’ll be like “Oh! That looks like spaghetti!” or like they’ll say like these kind of like obnoxious things and it’s like…
Monica: Yeah, the whole thing is designed to get you outraged, it’s the whole point. It’s trolling in real life. I don’t know how that’s not really obvious.
Josh: I think there might be… Here are the people that, that maybe aren’t trolling is, they are upset that, forty plus years past Roe, that there is still this cultural… Abortion is still stigmatised and they want to destigmatise it and so joking around about it or talking about it, there are certainly I think like, Sarah Silverman or some female comedian has literally said “I do jokes about abortion because like, I’m… I just like, I… Why… Why don’t people talk about this more, this is no big deal like…” that kind of thing.
Josh: So I know that exists but I think most people are just trying to get under the pro-lifers’ skin and, you know, Jacob has sidewalk counselled a whole lot and he was like “Most people are not dancing the way out of the abortion clinic. First of all, they’re in too much pain if they’ve had a surgical abortion. And secondly, this is not where most of them are at, a lot of them are having a really, really hard day and so let’s empathise with them and that works a lot better than just coming from this place of “All women are evil” and “They all know what this is.”
Monica: Well also, I believe there are women who get abortions and feel great relief and even joy sometimes, I believe that that happens, but even if that is their emotional reaction it says nothing about what they believe about the nature of the entity they aborted. If anything, to my mind, it suggests they definitely don’t think it was a child because that would be a weird emotional reaction if that’s what you thought.
Josh: That’s a really good point.
Andrew: Now I want to defend this group for a little bit.
Andrew: Because there is a thing that pro-lifers do… That is also a well-meaning but really annoying thing, it’s not one of the things on our list. But where it’s like “Oh but…The baby is a victim but the woman who gets the abortion is the second victim of an abortion.” And it borders on taking away women’s moral agency because it’s just “Oh well, they just don’t know,” and that might be true. But if you’re making a major ethical decision, you have the obligation to figure it out. That’s everyone’s job.
Monica: Saying they just don’t know isn’t really accurate, what you really mean is they don’t believe what you’re saying. It’s not that they just choose not to figure it out, it’s that they actively don’t think what you’re saying is true.
Andrew: I think in some cases. I think there are also cases where someone might not know and they might not want to know.
Monica: Yeah, I think that’s true too. There’s a moment of panic or crisis and it would be really great if this narrative was true because it made things a lot simpler. Let’s just go with that.
Andrew: So like, while the “All women clearly know and they’re evil,” which by the way is this weird flip side of the coin from the “All pro-choice people are stupid.” It’s either they’re all stupid or they all have perfect understanding of what they’re doing. You pick one. But there’s an extent to which if pro-lifers are well-meaning and they’re like “Yeah, it’s actually … women, they just don’t know because of all the lies the culture told them, they just can’t be expected to know” and there’s some truth to that and I’ve written about that. But at the same time, it’s infantilizing to women to say “Oh well, they just… They can’t know.” There are plenty of pro-life women who do know and women who have gotten abortions who, for one reason or another, know now what they either didn’t know or didn’t want to know then.
Monica: I don’t think the argument is that they can’t know. It’s just that they don’t. It’s not that they can’t know, it’s that they don’t agree. I think that’s a stronger version of the argument. I don’t think it applies to all women; I’m not going to go that far. I think you have a point that it’s more layered than that but the idea isn’t “I’m not going to think about this, I’m just going to do it,” I think that does happen, but I think there are a lot of people out there, in fact, I think this is kind of the crux of the difference between pro-choice and pro-life people. It’s not that pro-choice people are just completely ignorant of the argument that abortion kills a human, is that they actively don’t agree that that is true in a philosophical… it’s not a biological one. Sometimes a biological one. And so, to my mind, when people say “Oh, she doesn’t know,” I hear it as she actively doesn’t believe that’s what’s happening. Especially with early term abortions. I don’t think it really works for later term. That becomes very implausible to my mind. Even if you didn’t know you were pregnant. I think it becomes less plausible as the pregnancy goes on but especially for early term like what I was saying before, when you just have no interaction it’s hard to believe that there’s anything there. Maybe if you study biology and maybe depending on how you feel, what you feel about embryos but… I take your point. I think it’s more complicated and I don’t think that all women who get abortions are a monolith. In fact, when you were saying that’s the opposite of “All pro-choicers are stupid” it’s also the opposite of “All pro-life women are idiots,” and I don’t like it when people say that either or “self-hating,” right? It’s more complex than that but…
Andrew: “Pro-life women are all tools of the patriarchy.”
Monica: “I’m just doing this to impress my husband,” who’s not a pro-life activist and wasn’t involved at all until he met me, but okay. Yeah.
Josh: I mean, basically any broad statement that is like “It’s all this thing,” is going to be… If people are involved in what you’re talking about, that is just going to be too simple, so I agree, the “All women who’ve had abortions are total victims” is too simplistic, just like “All women know exactly what they’re doing” is way too simplistic. There is a spectrum of moral culpability and women of abortions fall all over this spectrum. I think it might be true that more than half of women having abortions fall on the more innocent side of culpability because there’s enough that they didn’t know or intend or whatever, but certainly there are women all over that spectrum and so it’s complicated. The people are involved so it’s complicated.
Monica: I also think, and maybe this is kind of to your point, Andrew, I agree there’s a spectrum, I agree with everything you just said. I think the pro-life movement is more likely to emphasise one end of the spectrum than the other partly out of empathy and probably partly out of strategy and I can see how that would be frustrating to people who want to have a very, more blunt conversation about what it is that’s happening here. And that might… there’s a lot of resistance to that, I think it’s a tricky topic.
Josh: That’s a good point. Okay, so we’ve talked about the eight types, let’s kind of wrap up by just giving just kind of some thoughts on how do we reach these people. If, for the ERI, Secular Pro-Life fans, are like “They’re with us. They’re on our page on what we want the pro-life movement to be,” and then they see this obnoxious thing happening in a comment thread or in person, what should they do? Should they do nothing? Should they confront the person? How should they do it? I’m interested in your guys’ thoughts.
Monica: I don’t think it needs to be any different than your general rules for how you dialogue with pro-choice people. So if your general rules are, you know, these practical dialogue tips to be persuasive and to try reach to someone, you do that. Or if your general rules are “Is this a total waste of time?” then maybe you do that. I also think, and we were talking about this earlier, I really don’t believe in pro-life infighting. In fact, I wonder, I’m a little, even, nervous about this episode because it’s spending so much time focusing on pro-lifers. I do want us to be the best version we can be, but the enormity of the problem we are trying to solve requires so much more resources than we have to begin with and I don’t want to siphon too much off arguing with other people. So for example, if consistent life people think that I’m not pro-life enough because I don’t agree with X, Y, Z topic or if abolitionists think I’m not trying hard enough, I just… okay, I don’t have time. I don’t have time. I’m going to try with the whatever projects I’m trying to do that I think will help, I’m trying to keep my focus on those and not get too distracted. And so I’m conflicted between the issue of trying to make pro-lifers better in general, more persuasive in general, and get them out there and helping, versus if they’re not on board, I have lots of other things I could be doing besides trying to persuade them. I don’t know. I don’t have the solution to that. I do think it’s tricky. So for me, when we get weird or off-putting pro-life comments on our stuff, most of the time, unless it’s egregious, if it rises to a level where I need to say “Excuse me, no,” and “Don’t bring that here again.” But below that, I usually don’t even mess with it at all. Because it’s taking away time I could be doing something hopefully more helpful.
Josh: But again, imagine the person asking this is not a full-time pro-lifer like you who is running an entire non-profit basically by yourself and you literally don’t have time for this.
Monica: Or perhaps the person… Maybe it’s their friend, maybe it’s their spouse, maybe it’s somebody they have an ongoing relationship with.
Josh: Yeah! Or it’s like the pro-life mom who’s like “I have an hour a day that I want to be actively pro-life while my baby is asleep. This is what I want to spend that hour doing and so I’m online and if I see people talking about abortion, I want to jump in and I’m here, I have time and I just saw this really obnoxious thing happen. Should I confront it or not?” Should pro-lifers ever confront that kind of thing or is it all infighting and unhelpful?
Monica: I think there’s a context, for sure, where you should do it. We talked about the one where if it’s so egregious, you need to, just for the sake of clarity, be “We’re not okay with this.” And then the other rules will be, again, I think similar to how you feel about when you talk to pro-choice people. Like, “How many other people will get to see this conversation as an example? How polite is this person being where I think they might be open to what I have to say? How easy is it to address their… are they making a single comment with a single claim that I can talk about or is it like eight different points in two sentences?” There’s a lot of factors into how effective it would be but if you are going to address them, I don’t see any reason you would use different dialogue tips than you use for anything else.
Josh: I agree. No, I agree with that we should still be asking clarification questions and we should, I think, in my mind, if I was going to do it for whatever reason, I think I just want to kind of say, “What if pro-choice people were doing this to you? What if pro-choice people were acting this way?” That wouldn’t convince you to become pro-choice. Probably, it would just be annoying to you and so maybe let’s think about, “We’re on the same team!” I want us to be as effective as possible because I really think there are minds out there that can be changed if the person that they confront, that they’re dealing with is a reasonable, kind, gracious, thoughtful pro-lifer. I mean Secular Pro-Life has an amazing blog. I think you’ve done this multiple times, but I always think about one that I saw that’s several years old, there’s, you guys asked “If you used to be pro-choice and now you’re pro-life, tell us why” and then you compiled all these categories and there were even people that were like, “I changed my mind because of Internet debates” which was interesting to me because I kind of used to think, “No one changes their mind on the Internet,” well, at least a few of them do and…
Monica: Secular Pro-Life probably would not exist if it wasn’t for Internet debate.
Josh: So, for me, I just want to help them get better. I’m not going to spend very much of my time doing it but at the same time, this is an area where ERI and Secular Pro-Life is a little bit different in our focus, ERI has always been “How can we help pro-life people to be more effective?”
Monica: Yeah, that’s a big part of your work.
Josh: It’s a big part of our work and is complicated and probably one of the more common internal conversations we have is “What things should we say out loud and what things do we not?” And it’s complicated! And there are some times that we’ve probably said more than we should have and they’re probably sometimes that we didn’t say things that it would have been totally fine to say and we were too worried. It’s really complicated. Especially when we’re dealing with other pro-life organisations and not just individual people.
Monica: Well that comes down to how open they are because ERI, your main audience are people who want to be better and they’re asking you for advice but the list we’re talking about, we’re usually talking about people who weren’t coming to you for that reason and some of them might be interested, some of them… I think some of the things we’re talking about people do innocently and if you push back a little bit, they’ll stop. It depends on how open they are to begin with. You said, the AHA kid who was really polite. That was probably much more worth your time than a lot of random commenters on the Internet.
Josh: I totally agree. I’m not going to spend very much time with a closed-minded pro-life or a pro-choice person, that’s a waste of time and less is for other people who are watching. I totally agree with that. Sometimes you’re not going to know if they’re open-minded and I know, I’ve told the story before but there is a guy who changed completely his style of doing pro-life stuff because I sent him a snarky tweet. I had a bad day this one… This is before ERI, okay? To be fair, but I got some tweet from some pro-lifer where there’s like “All pro-choice arguments are lies, they’re all just, all their arguments are. They’re deceptive, they’re ploys, they’re…” this kind of thing. And then I just respond, I was having a bad, I clearly was having a bad day because I snarkily responded “Tell me exactly how Judith Jarvis Thomson’s violinist argument is based on lies and deceptions. I’ll wait,” that kind of thing. And then…
Monica: You even said “I’ll wait.” Wow.
Josh: I don’t think… No, I didn’t say “I’ll wait,” I’m saying that’s like the tone, the attitude that I had, basically. And he never responded. It was over. And I never thought about that tweet again for years and years. And it would have been probably seven something years later before… We started ERI, I’m at the Students For Life conference, and this middle-aged white guy comes up to me and says “You’ve changed my life. Because of the snarky tweet that you sent me a long time [ago], I did this thing,” I didn’t remember at all. He had to show me a screenshot or something. He was like “Look. See the snarky thing.” I was like “Wow that was really snarky for me, it’s unusual. I must have been having a bad day.” He was like “Yeah, but like, I deactivated my entire Pro-Choice Lies Twitter account after that tweet, and I saw the error of my ways and now I work all the time with Terrisa from Secular Pro-Life and I do all… I’m a white Catholic guy and I work all the time with her and I love it,” and he’s completely changed and he did not seem open-minded. So there are going to be cases where you can reform that… He’s probably more the exception than the rule. So I agree, don’t spend a ton of time on it, but man, I’m just thinking about all those pro-choice people who could become pro-life if they engaged with a better pro-life argument coming from a more kind, gracious pro-life person.
Monica: I was just going to say, maybe it’s kind of the eighty twenty rule, where maybe it’s worth it a lot of times to give one quick comment, quick overview “I don’t really agree for these reasons…” don’t get into a long debate, but if that person is persistent, and we’ve all seen this, pro-choice, pro-life alike, where they just decide that your group their thing and they’re just going to be around for a while…
Emily: We have a few of those.
Josh: We have a few in common actually.
Monica: I’ve had some that are for years, years, very consistent… You’ll have plenty of additional opportunities to kind of poke here and there. You never know.
Josh: Yeah. And if you give that really quick response, you can often tell in their response to you “Are they open or not?” And at that point you can decide “Are you going to keep on going or not?”
Andrew: Sometimes we actually… I think it depends on getting lucky almost sometimes, there are times where one person on ERI will respond one way, we’ll respond to what they’re saying rather than how they’re saying it and then, sometimes, I’m generally the abrasive person, I don’t do comments. I’m kind of the opposite where if something is really bad, I will break my strict “I don’t care what people write on the Internet” policy and I will deal with the person. And I’m way more flexible if it’s private, if it’s someone posts something on Facebook, I don’t care. If you email me, you’ll get a response. Generally speaking. I’m also bad at emails. I push back on the tone, I’m just… Of someone, and just said “This isn’t coming across the way you think it’s coming across,” and it was just like night and day. And sometimes people just need a little bit of a push and you don’t think that it’s that category. You might think that they’re like this, like, a much tougher person, there are certain really tough people that we have in common that I’m thinking of. I’m just beaming the name. But…
Monica: And it’s so hard to tell online. Right? For the people we know… I know people that I know personally in person, and then I see them online and sometimes the personas are so different, in both directions. I have a friend of ours who’s volunteered for us for years that I’ve only known online for like ten years, a really long time, and I just met her in person in the last year totally expecting her to be this really sarcastic, aggressive, and she’s just so calm and sweet. And I’m “This is not what I thought at all,” and she’s “Well, I’m very blunt, I just want to get to the point online,” but in person you would never guess it. And then you have the opposite where online they’re actually really, really polite and calm and then you meet them in person and they’re actually very sarcastic, they’re just filtering it all out!
Josh: Oh, that’s interesting.
Monica: The whole time. Yeah, I think of one or two. Those ones are even more where you’re like “Wow, you’re doing a really good job online, I had no idea.” Yeah, you could go either way so it’s… So to your point Andrew, somebody could come off as super snarky online and this doesn’t go with my perspective at all because if they do I’m like “Whatever, moving on” all the time. But it’s possible they don’t even mean to or if you were talking to them in person it would be very, very different and they think they’re coming off a different way. It’s always possible. Maybe not the ones you’ve talked to for years.
Emily: Fair enough, fair enough. So your story, Josh, and this whole conversation just about snark is raising this question for me that I feel like a lot of people listening may be asking themselves which is, we at ERI have always taught that you shouldn’t really treat pro-choice people with a lot of snark. Maybe sometimes it could be appropriate if they’re doing that and you have a lot of rapport or whatever. But is it ever okay to treat a difficult pro-life person with more snark than you would give a pro-choice person out of wanting to impress the pro-choice people that are going to see this comment, get them more on your side or to really jar a pro-life person out of that behaviour. Is that ever okay? Is the kind of tweet that you sent years ago before ERI, I know you don’t love it now, but could something like that ever be appropriate? Should we treat pro-life people with more snark?
Josh: Generally speaking, I think not. I definitely am a lot more tempted to treat pro-lifers with snark than pro-choice people. That’s always been a thing for me. It’s just… and for me, this is a biblical example so I’m sorry, but this is like the example I give people a lot in my head. But it’s just like “Look, Jesus, if he existed…” and all that, you know, “he gave the obnoxious Pharisees a lot harder time than he gave, you know, the woman to the well, the woman caught in adultery,” things like that, and I’m just like “I am a lot more bothered when pro-life persons act like jerks than if a pro-choice person acts like a jerk.” Like fine, but it’s like “Don’t make my team look way worse by acting obnoxious.” So I’m certainly more tempted to be snarky, and I’m probably snarkier in my head with pro-life people than pro-choice people. We did a podcast a while back with Dank Pro-Life Memes on snark and we were not really on the same page with him. We’re good friends with him but he’s definitely snarkier than we are, but the thing that I have to admit that I don’t want to admit as Captain ERI, is that some people are persuaded by snark more than our style of dialogue. That’s just true.
Monica: That is so true! We’ve talked about this before. I don’t know if I agree that you should treat pro-lifers differently than pro-choicers but in general I do think, and it’s very difficult to tell when and I’m not an expert but, there are times and places where you need to be a little snarky. I know people who have told me overtly that if they’re in a debate and the other person is constantly very, very polite and very, very chill, no matter how much they push, they lose a little bit of respect for them, because they feel like they’re kind of a doormat. It depends on the personality you’re talking to. There are definitely a brand of people, I’m related to some of them, where if you never push back, they’re not going to be impressed. They’re kind of waiting to see if you’ll push back a little bit, like “How committed are you?” They just have a different interpretation of those things. I do think that’s hard to do online, there’s a place for it. I’m definitely a little sarcastic on Twitter and stuff but I don’t think it should be different for pro-lifers than pro-choicers but for both categories, there’s going to be a time where it is appropriate to kind of shove back a little bit harder. I think.
Josh: So, I definitely think there are some people that will be convinced by snark and what I struggle with, is knowing when it would be kind of safe to use it because Monica is my favourite snarky pro-lifer in existence. I’m going to link to two of her speeches that are kind of snarky but I like them and I like that thing that Monica brings to the pro-life movement. But in my head “Okay, I could be snarky here, I have a snarky line in my head with this pro-choice person, I’ve got some rapport but it feels like a high-risk high-reward play and I typically don’t play that one. So, Monica, have you figured out when to use snark?
Monica: No. I try not to most of the time. I’m more likely to if I’ve decided that the person I’m talking to is not the point and the audience is, and even then I try not to hit it too hard, because I think if you hit it too hard, you just sound defensive. Just a little taste is fine and it also depends on the venue. My speeches are going to be way snarkier because they’re to pro-life audiences and my goal there is emboldening and encouraging people that are pro-life but I have had some of my speeches sent by friends to their pro-choice friends for the content and I regretted it because the demeanor ruined it. So it depends on your audience, depends on what you’re trying to do and I don’t have a hard-and-fast rule.
Josh: What have you done processing the thought of if you’re too snarky in a speech to pro-lifers, not only might you embolden them but you might actually kind of make them want to be more snarky and maybe they’re not ready or wise enough to use that snark well out in the wild. Have you processed that thought about that?
Monica: I don’t worry about that too much because the speeches I’ve done have been… I’m specifically thinking about speeches at rallies and marches where most of the speeches’ tenor is very sombre and often very reflective, which there’s a place for, and I’m just trying to vary it up a little bit. So for the Dobbs oral arguments, there were thirty speeches or more. Very short speeches, and most of them were really just heartfelt and talking about your experiences in a very sombre way, and then there were just one or two, including mine, that were very yelly. I’m just trying to wake you up a little bit. I’m not even thinking about “Will they hear mine and then go yell at people?” I want you to see that you can have the attitude and be pro-life; it doesn’t always have to be this really sombre thing, even though I do think it’s a very serious issue. I also do speeches for people who bother to show up, sometimes in the snow, and I just want them to know that they’re appreciated, they’re really putting this effort in so that’s a very specific kind of audience. The one I regretted was when I was giving my myths presentation for the first time in Berkeley which is not the same kind of audience or content at all. And I had purposefully intended and practiced it to be very dispassionate and just “Here’s the information,. But it was an all pro-life audience and they were responding to me in a way… kind of like “We’re on the same page!” and like “This is pretty stupid isn’t it?” And then it kind of messed up what… because I knew we were going to record it. I knew it was going to be on YouTube and all kinds of people are going to see it besides just pro-life people. It’s designed for people that aren’t already pro-life. Anyway. So I regretted that one and that was one of the best recordings of it and I’m like not very dispassionate at all, so I gave the presentation again a few months later and there was a pro-choice person in the audience and I knew that in advance. Changed everything. Because I was thinking about that guy while I was giving it. He was more important to me than all the pro-life people because he’s the only one that’s not already persuaded, and my whole presentation was much more respectful. It’s just hard to keep it all in mind all the time.
Josh: That’s really interesting. I have one case where I definitely think it’s important for pro-lifers to actually confront a difficult pro-lifer, is when sidewalk counselling. And we get this question all the time because of the sidewalk counselling masterclass, it’s like “Hey, I’m here at the clinic, this guy over here has a bullhorn and keeps on shouting Bible verses” literally shouting through a bullhorn, which is like “I don’t know why you’re doing both?” I’m like “You’re doing both, at a woman” and it’s like “Oh! They’re going faster into the clinic, I’m watching them walk faster into the clinic and they’re going to be involved in killing their baby. And it’s making me less effective. I’m trying to reach out to them but they don’t want to come to me because this guy is over here and like, what do we do?” and we have a whole module of the sidewalk counselling masterclass. I can’t do all of it right now but certainly we’re encouraging people “Try.” It might not work. It very well might not work but try. There are multiple techniques of confronting the person, trying to get them to lunch, trying to start at a very common groundie, like “Hey! So great that you’re out here! Think of all the people that are just on the couch or just like, not doing anything,” kind of like what Monica was saying earlier. At least “Hey! At least you’re here, you’re doing something,” and then talking about what strategies might be most effective or maybe “Let’s take turns and see what seems to work,” and there are ways that we recommend if you need to, that are more confrontational than that, but those are cases where sidewalk counsellors can make a huge difference in front of abortion clinics and unfortunately the bullhorn types tend to make the sidewalk counsellors a lot less effective even though they’re perfectly satisfied because they’re proclaiming truth all day. It’s like “We’re fine, everything’s fine,” it’s like “No, we’re trying to save lives here and you’re making that difficult.” So I do think it’s worth it but I will admit it won’t always work and we are still thinking about more techniques and things to have people try there because it is easily the most common question we’ve gotten since we published this sidewalk counselling masterclasses. “What do we do with the difficult or alternative sidewalk counsellors that are out here or protesters or whatever.”
Josh: Yeah, that’s what we called it.
Monica: The goth ones…
Josh: We were… The alt-pro-lifers… We’re just trying to come up with the most charitable label for it and then we call them alternative sidewalk counsellors. And so that would be a case where I think it’s worth trying but I think start probably at the least confrontational level and then ratchet it up if you have to.
Emily: So, before we wrap up this podcast, I think there’s one last obvious question that a lot of, maybe pro-life people who are listening to this might be thinking, which is “Are we, by doing this podcast, engaging in one of the very things that we’re saying difficult pro-lifers do?” In other words, infighting and, or becoming purity test pro-lifers ourselves. People that are calling out other pro-life people and saying “You’re not doing this in the correct way or the best way,” and so, are we becoming difficult pro-lifers by doing this?
Josh: I mean, certainly AHA considers me a difficult pro-lifer. I mean, I think they’ve got full podcasts talking about that. I don’t think this is infighting. Unless people are using the term infighting way too broadly. If infighting to you is any time any pro-life person expresses any kind of disagreement with any other pro-lifer that’s instantly infighting and bad and all that, I just don’t agree with that. That’s not, this is not my view. I want the movement to get better. I think the more complicated, when we’re thinking internally about what kinds of things that are directed at the pro-life movement that we like, that we might want to say to try to help the pro-life movement get better, like “When should we say things and when should be not?” The more complicated ones are like “What if it’s, like, a pro-life leader or a pro-life… Another pro-life organisation that is doing these things?” We don’t want to call that out, we basically never do but then…
Monica: … specific individual.
Josh: Right, but what’s awkward, and we have had, and I’m surely not going to name them, but we have had a specific group a little bothered by how much we’re even talking about just ineffective things that pro-lifers do because they’re like, we do a lot of those things, and it’s frustrating for them, that we’re like, even talking about it.
Emily: Even without us calling out other groups, other groups feel called out because people see their strategies, we say that strategy is bad, even without saying…
Josh: And then they’ve got people going to them and being like “Josh Brahm doesn’t think that you ought to do things like that,” that kind of thing. Which is admittedly quite annoying. And so we try to be really wise about that, we don’t want to come across like anti-the-rest-of-the-movement, I don’t want us to come across like we’re competing with other pro-life groups, we’re trying to take them all down or something like that. That’s definitely not what we want to do. I don’t want to spend all of my time talking about your bad pro-life habits for whatever. I think we have to spend some of our time doing it because there’s some of the pro-life movement that’s open to doing things differently. And so when I step in front of a young pro-life audience and I say we’ve had five thousand conversations and we’ve learned a lot of things from them about both what to do and what not to do, a lot of them are at the edge of their seat, they’re like “Tell me the things! I want to know the things! I’m excited!” I’m just open-minded and cool, they’re not bothered by it. It tends to be older pro-lifers that have been doing some of the things that I’m saying maybe are not the most effective but they’ve been doing this thing for twenty years and really like doing those things, and they don’t, they kind of take umbrage with us doing that. So those are some of my thoughts, what about you guys?
Monica: Well I think that infighting… I very much sympathise with being worried about focusing too much on infighting. I even felt a little bit conflicted about doing this podcast for that reason, but I think infighting would be more if we were listing these types of people and then arguing for all the reasons why they should stop. But what we’re really talking more about is the third-party pro-lifers who see this and how do you respond and how do you handle it so we’re speaking to an audience that is asking, they’re asking “What do you think? What should we do?” And there are going to be people on that list that also haven’t thought about it and maybe they’ll hear it and be like “Yeah, maybe I won’t do it that way anymore”. Infighting to me would be if we put this out there and then we get a lot of pushback and then we do another one and then we go back and forth and we start spending all this time just on this thing. I do think there’s a place, the eighty twenty rule, I think there’s a place where you could just say “Hey real quick, I don’t know about this” and then people can agree with you or not and you move on. Or even saying, I never do that, we do that sometimes. Sometimes we’ll have a post that says… We’ve had a couple posts where I’ll be, like, “Everyone, just so you know, I’m not going to ban people for being pro-choice,” I want them to be here because echo chambers make you weak. And so that’s sort of me calling people out but I’ll just say it once “Let people agree or disagree and move on.” I’m not going to spend a ton of time on it or the nine months of inconvenience post that I was talking about. I’ll say it once. “Here’s my thing, agree or not, move on.” So I think infighting implies sort of a sustained effort and it also implies, like you were saying, especially if you’re focusing on a specific individual or group and fighting with them as opposed to just, these general ideas of how we think this could be better. I also want to say again, one more time, I am not, I don’t think any of us are saying that the eight people we listed aren’t really pro-life.
Monica: It’s very important to me to emphasise that because the whole “You’re not pro-life if” thing, most of the time, when people say that, I don’t think it applies and I really do appreciate anybody who cares enough to speak on it to try to do something even if it’s not what I would do, you care enough that you’re out there trying to figure out something. That’s already a good start. It’s not just a sound bite, I really have a lot of affection for people who are at least putting themselves out there. So, anyway, those are my thoughts.
Andrew: Yeah. I think just because something is negative doesn’t make it infighting. So, Emily, picking on you for a second here. You do music lessons, right?
Emily: I do, I do teach lessons.
Andrew: Okay. So what would happen if you just told your students nice things all the time?
Emily: They would never improve.
Andrew: And so, part of our job, and you know, someone might complain, like, “We never asked you to do this,” well, there are people who do ask us to do this.
Andrew: And it’s an important thing to do but part of our job is finding ways to improve that people don’t necessarily want to hear. Ways that are hard or painful or wound negative. And again, I said at the beginning of this, I have applied these to myself. It is good medicine, it tastes bitter in the mouth but it’s good when it goes down. And I’m significantly more effective now because of that. And I’m not speaking truth any less and I don’t prioritise results over duty. I lean more duty-focused than results-oriented. Anyway, but at the same time, results matter because lives are at stake and part of my duty is to do what I can to save lives. So if someone wants to label that infighting, I think that’s unfair. But also, this is an important thing. It has to happen. Otherwise, you just kind of get flabby as a movement.
Josh: Well it would be weird for the person who thinks that this is infighting to call us out for it because then that would be infighting too.
Emily: That is very true!
Josh: So, you’re just going to have to just be frustrated and quiet about it, I guess, because we’re never supposed to say anything.
Emily: The other thing that makes this really different is, rather than telling people “You’re not pro-life enough and you should stop doing this,” we’re saying “Thank you for doing what you’re doing and trying and getting up off the couch,” like I was saying, “We think you should maybe improve on some things, but this doesn’t stop you from being pro-life. We don’t think you’re less pro-life because you engage in these things.” When I teach a student, if I’m going to use Andrew’s music lesson analogy, and I’m going to tell them nice things and I’m also going to tell them things that they should improve on, you will never, ever, ever hear me say to one of my students “You can’t sing. You should just give up.”
Josh: “You’re not a real singer”.
Emily: “You’re not a real singer. Why are you even trying?”.
Monica: Sounds so much sadder in that context.
Emily: And that is, I think, sometimes, what some types of maybe purity test pro-life people might do, is that, “You’re not a real, real pro-lifer. You should just stop doing this entirely.” That’s not what we’re saying. We’re saying, “Maybe there are some ways we can improve. And so, we’re all on the same team. Let’s try to do this better together.”
Josh: Right. And then if an individual isn’t responsive to that, then move on, then they’re not interested, fine, then we can focus on other things. I am so glad that, Monica, you were able to join us for this. It is really good having you on this. It’s also Andrew’s first podcast, sort of, he did a livestream with us. We did a big live stream on Dobbs, it was great, finally having Andrew on the podcast. I think we’ll be having him on more often in the future as well. No one is going to have any idea the kind of technical difficulties we’ve had to deal with, this has been about three and a half hours, trying to record this.
Emily: It has been a day, folks.
Josh: So thank you guys so much for doing this! I think this is going to be really helpful for a lot of people and I appreciate you and Monica. You are definitely going to be back on this podcast and I can’t wait.
Monica: Hopefully not on Wi-Fi next time.
Josh: Yeah. Hopefully not on Wi-Fi. Let’s have you, maybe, here.
Josh: Great talking to you guys.
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