“Why are you in front of a high school, this is messed up!”
“Girls here have had abortions. Don’t you think this will hurt them?”
“Do you really think that you can tell me what I can do with a fetus that is in MY body?”
“What if a woman is going to DIE because she can’t have an abortion?”
“What about rape? Would YOU keep a baby that’s always going to remind you of what happened to you?”
“Wait! Is he filming us? You need our permission to film us.”
Question after question tumbled out of their mouths. As the questions came, I tried to find common ground, worked to create analogies, and attempted to ask questions in order to follow an issue to its completion but the two young women only dismissed my responses with more rapid-fire questions. The questions continued to pile up in between us and I tried to understand in which direction to guide the conversation.
After briefly responding to a few different questions, I knew I needed to establish the foundation of why we were there: the pre-born are human and are therefore deserving of human rights. If they didn’t understand the root of why we would protect the pre-born child from abortion, they would continue to counter my responses with more questions. To lay this foundation, I used the Human Rights Argument.
“Do you believe in human rights?”
“Who should get human rights?”
“Any human who is BORN.”
Well that wasn’t what I was hoping for.
“Ok, what is it that makes the child human after birth that it doesn’t have before?”
Rather than receiving an answer, the questions continued.
“What do you think about birth control?”
“Don’t you know that there are studies showing that teen pregnancy rates decrease when they have proper sex education?”
“My aunt has an autoimmune disease and if she was pregnant, her child would be severely disabled. She would need to have an abortion. What do you think of that?”
Even though I didn’t receive an answer to my question, using questions is still very important in this situation. There are more people listening than just the few who are leading the conversation and questions are one of the best ways to invite people to think critically about what’s being discussed.
The three young women who were leading the barrage of questions, however, seemed much more interested in shutting me down than truly discussing the issue, focused on how the pictures we were showing made them feel about their own connections to abortion. They were gaining momentum and I wanted to deescalate the situation. I tried again to find common ground.
“I know these pictures are really awful to look at. I don’t like them either,” I said. “The reason that we show them is because it is important to show people what the choice of abortion really is. If parents were bringing their toddlers to their doctor to have them killed, would you want to show people what was happening to try and stop it?”
Even though the person who responded didn’t agree that we should, they all paused as they considered what to say next. Before any of them could catch their breath long enough to swing back into questioning mode, I knew I needed to be assertive and get a better grip on the conversation before it spiralled out of control again, “All of you are bringing up lots of different questions and I do want to try to respond to your concerns, but if you want me to respond, then I also need an opportunity to answer.” This received several nods and I was able to address some of the questions that seemed closer to their hearts and that had come up more often. Sometimes you may need to intentionally interrupt the flow of questions to highlight that they haven’t allowed you much of a chance to respond.
Another important tool to use when managing a crowd is hand gestures (with your palms facing upwards). They allow you to take up more physical space, reminding them that you are a participating party in this conversation. Hand gestures also give more control in guiding the conversation (“Sorry, if you could please allow me to finish addressing your friend’s question *gesture*, then I can get to your question *gesture*. I want to answer your question, but I owe your friend a response first” *gesture*).
Additionally, they allow you to appear more engaging and confident.
Occasionally, the conversation escalates to a point where someone is emboldened to say something so far out in left field, so evidently wrong, that it gives the others reason to pause. You can use this to your advantage. Repeat what he has said back to him, making sure that you understand him correctly. The others who are listening will likely become uncomfortable with the fact that they are standing alongside this individual and then you are the one who looks truly reasonable.
Each person who you meet during activism has his or her own unique experiences which has resulted in his or her current understanding of abortion. It is a challenge to be thorough when you’re trying to show multiple different people, all with various—and often differing—reasons to defend their views of abortion, and while you are limited by their willingness to have a true discussion, this doesn’t meant that you can’t gain ground. Several of the young people I was speaking with left agreeing with a few different points and most importantly, we were able to show them pictures of what abortion really does to pre-born children. It is possible to manage these situations. It is possible to deescalate these conversations, and it is worth it because if we don’t share the truth with them, who will?