Note: Below is a guest editorial from R.J. McVeigh, who I've had the joy of mentoring through Students for Life of America. R.J. is 19 and a student at Grand Valley State University preparing for a career in medicine--unless I can talk him out of it in favor of being a full-time pro-life apologist. I'm a tough mentor: My students must read and digest lots of apologetic material, then discuss it with me over the phone. R.J. takes that challenge on with gusto, and it showed in his stellar debate performance at a nearby university, where he led the pro-life panelists into battle. Enjoy his take on the debate. I changed only a few words for word economy.--Scott
Last week, I participated in a Pro-Choice/Pro-Life debate on a university campus. The structure of the debate was two 4-person panels, consisting entirely of college students. Despite my unavoidable bias towards my own team, I think it is safe to conclude that our Pro-Life panel dominated the debate. The surveys taken from the audience at the end of the debate reinforce this opinion of mine - with all but one survey stating we were more effective. (The one other survey said it was a tie.)
I conclude that we won the debate not only on content, but also on style. For example, while the opposing panel presented their arguments by reading off a typed paper, we delivered our case while looking the audience in the eye and engaging them in what we were saying. While the opposing panel seemed to change their argument every time a different member spoke, our argument was one, singular voice coming from each member. We enunciated. We sited sources for our information. We appealed to science and philosophy, not emotion and religion. We structured our arguments. We broke stereotypes - we had more women on our panel, we didn't mention faith or the bible at all.
All of these things that gave us an edge had very little to do with the actual position we were arguing, they were merely aspects of speaking etiquette that the opposing panel seemed to lack. This made me ask myself: Why was this debate so non-conformed to the stereotypes of Pro-Life/Pro-Choice? I think we've all seen the media template: the pro-Lifer is a Christian, Bible-thumping, emotion-driven person who hasn't stopped to think critically about the issue, while the pro-choicer is an enlightened, educated, non-judgmental, accepting person. Granted, this debate is just one example, but I believe you can see many examples of my analysis if you look for it. What has changed?
1) We've been listening. The Pro-Life youth have grown up in a liberally biased environment. We've heard it all through the media and at the academic level - "Abortion is a religious belief, no one cares what your bibles says", "Empirical evidence is what matters", "Pro-Life people are extremists", "Pro-Life people are so close-minded", "You are all emotion, and no fact", "You can't even argue your case". We've listened when people tell us we are being ineffective. We've learned to base our position on science and philosophy instead of religion and emotion. We've adjusted. We've become equipped to engage at the academic level.
2) We no longer appeal to emotion - they do. When we present logical arguments from points of common agreement - like science and accepted morals (killing toddlers is wrong) - we are met with emotional appeals like, "forcing children to be born into poverty is terrible".
But wait - weren't these the exact type of emotional arguments we were ridiculed for using (and have thus adjusted)? The majority of the Pro-Choice youth only know how to parrot emotional arguments about rape, poverty, and disease masquerading as intelligent arguments. They get angry when we persist in a logical conversation about the emotional claims and what they mean. This is a complete 180 change from what the stereotypes were merely 10 years ago.
3) We are the under-dogs. We realize we are fighting an up-hill battle. Meanwhile, the Pro-Choice youth simply expect the intellectual conversation to be handed to them because they are so used to that being the status-quo. We realize that if we are going to make our voices heard, we had better have our facts straight, are arguments clearly outlined, our sources sited, etc. We prepare like professionals - because we need to be professional in order to be listened to. The Pro-Choice youth don't feel the need to think critically about their position because the media and laws currently agree with them.
4) We have become open-minded, they have become close-minded. The Pro-Life youth WANT to discuss the topics of human value and worth and how we should form our actions/laws. We want to have conversations about this. The Pro-Choice youth want to simply continue dismissing us with the condemnations of "Religious extremists", "You're over-simplifying", "You shouldn't judge others" - and thus put our opposing arguments out of mind. Very few Pro-Choice youth are willing to discuss the issue on a level playing field, without getting angry or offended. The whole idea that being Pro-Choice is the enlightened, progressive position that "fights the power" of the evil, religious, intolerant establishment is a complete illusion. There is nothing more anti-establishment than being Pro-Life, and nothing is less tolerated.
The tables have turned. Eventually, they will see the reverse of stereotypes. The religious, close-minded, extremist, emotional, judgmental zealots have become the intellectual, articulated, well-prepared, confident, charismatic civil-rights activists. It's a new generation.
Gear up, Pro-Choice Americans. We are the youth - and we will not go quietly.