I felt like I was hitting a wall in my conversation with Danny at the Abortion Awareness Project. We had looked at pictures of aborted children, and we had discussed human rights and the difficult circumstances surrounding pregnancy. He would agree with my reasoning, and he even told me, “You’re really good at getting your point across.” Despite that, he kept reverting to his pro-choice position. If he understood the logic of the pro-life position, why wasn’t he convinced by it?
When we expose the truth about abortion, we see countless people become pro-life, but we also meet many who react with anger, obstinance, or apathy. We know from experience that those reactions nearly always mask some hidden wound. How can we address those deeper heart issues that block someone from accepting the truth?
The answer to this question is both simple and challenging: seek to understand. We cannot address people’s true beliefs about abortion unless we seek to understand what they believe, and why they believe it. When we seek to understand people, their deeper beliefs and their past experiences will often rise to the surface. In order to get to that point, we need to ask good questions, and then listen well to the responses.
I realized that although I was communicating intellectual arguments to Danny, I was not doing enough to seek to understand his point of view. I needed to reroute the conversation through questions and listening. So, I asked him an open-ended question: “What was it that made you decide that pro-choice was the way to go?”
He revealed to me a tragic fact: his mother had had two abortions while she was living in great poverty. At that point, I set aside the intellectual arguments and listened. I told him how sorry I was that she had gone through such difficult things. I tried to ask him gentle questions about his mother’s situation and about how she was doing now. “I guess that that experience kind of shaped the way I think about abortion,” he said. Danny told me that his mother wouldn’t talk much about the abortions, but she had expressed regret for her lost children.
Now it was perfectly clear why Danny struggled to accept the pro-life position: it would mean admitting that his loved one had made a serious mistake. I wanted to communicate to him that rejecting abortion did not have to mean rejecting his mother. So, I asked more questions: “Danny, imagine for a moment that I get a phone call. Someone tells me that my mom has been involved in a drunk driving accident that killed someone–and she was the one who was drinking and driving. Do you think that I would hate my mom because of what she did?” “Well, you’d probably be angry,” he replied hesitantly. “Yeah, I think I would be angry if someone I loved did that,” I said. “But do you think I would hate her and call her a terrible person? Do you think I would abandon her?”
He was thoughtful as he answered. “No… I think you would try to be a part of her healing journey.”
“Yeah, absolutely,” I told him. “Don’t you think it could be the same with your mom? She was part of a decision that ended someone’s life, and it’s a decision that has hurt her deeply. Don’t you think, though, that you could be a part of her healing journey?”
Danny agreed with me, and we continued to discuss the impact of abortion and what it did to children and mothers. I asked him, “Do you think your mother made the right choice? Or do you think that if she’d had more support, she could have carried to term?” He was thoughtful again and said, “I think we could have made it. I think she could have done it.” He was starting to understand that his mother had needed real support, not abortion. He even asked me, “What do we need to do to prevent abortion?”
After a long discussion about his mother, Danny and I started to go back into the intellectual arguments around abortion, such as questions about prenatal development. He again expressed that our arguments made a lot of sense. “Powerful pictures,” he told me as he stared at the abortion victim photography. “You’ve kind of changed my view a bit.”
As we wrapped up our conversation, Danny and I talked about some other social issues, and he told me that he was so discouraged by all the problems with the world. “I guess that I have less and less hope for humanity,” he said with a depressed look.
I silently prayed for the right question, and one came to me: “Is there anything that does give you hope—for yourself or for others?” His face brightened, and he immediately responded, “My daughter.” He told me that his daughter was the reason that he wanted to get a job, get an education, and be a better person. I couldn’t stop smiling as he told me about this little girl whom he loved so deeply.
It can be challenging and scary to have these “heart” conversations. Every person’s story is different, and there is no perfect script for us to memorize. We can, however, be voices of truth and compassion to the people in front of us. Through our gentle questions and our intent listening, we can show people the love and respect inherent to the pro-life message.
And for hurting people, that compassion can leave a real impact. As Danny left for class, his expression was hopeful again, and his last words to me were, “Awesome conversation. Awesome conversation.”