Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Book Review: Love Unleashes Life: Abortion and the Art of Communicating Truth by Stephanie Gray [Clinton Wilcox]

(Full disclosure: Stephanie is a friend and I have had the pleasure of engaging in pro-life activism with her. As such, I'll be referring to her by her first name because it feels weird to me to call her Gray. Additionally, even though she's a friend, these are still my honest thoughts on her book.)

Love Unleashes Life is the newest book from pro-life advocate Stephanie Gray. It's a book that covers some of the intellectual and emotional arguments for abortion and how to respond to them, but the main focus of the book is in teaching people not just how to respond to these arguments, but also in how to engage in a more human way, by recognizing when emotional hang-ups and past trauma are undergirding someone's arguments.

This book should be on every pro-life advocate's bookshelf. There are a lot of books you can pick up to help respond to pro-abortion-choice arguments, but precious few books that help engaging pro-abortion-choice people in a way that cuts to the heart and responds not just to concerns people have but in responding to the trauma they have experienced in the past. Few books, if any, do that as well as Steph's book here.

This book seems to be largely intended for Christian readers. It's neither a pro nor a con, but I think worth pointing out, since I have nonreligious readers, as well. I do think nonreligious people can find a lot of value in this book, if they can overlook the Scripture references. And of course, the arguments she gives against these pro-abortion-choice arguments are nonreligious so as to appeal to the largest number of people possible and change more hearts and minds on the issue.

Aside from the aforementioned, one of the things that stood out in particular is the fact that it's an excellent primer on communicating a controversial message. If you want to be a good communicator you will do well to pick up this book. On top of that, it has good focus on how to use language well (for a couple of examples, she talks about avoiding the word "but" because it can sound dismissive, and about using personal pronouns, such as "he" and "she" when referring to the unborn).

I really enjoyed her discussion of double effect reasoning (pp. 64-65). Usually in discussions about abortions in the case of the woman's life being in jeopardy, the intentionality criterion is emphasized (e.g. that the unborn child's death is foreseen but unintended), but the other criteria for when double effect permits saving the woman's life in a life-threatening pregnancy aren't really discussed. Stephanie discusses all four criteria in some detail, to show what kinds of procedures double effect reasoning justifies. Her discussion even helped clarify my thinking a bit on this issue.

As great as this book is, there are still some areas I feel could use improvement (perhaps for consideration in a second edition sometime in the future), and they're mainly along the philosophical side of things.

Her book was mainly geared toward helping people like me talk more humanly about abortion, so it's not meant as a primer on the intellectual arguments for abortion choice. However, there were some arguments that were conspicuously missing.

In her discussion of rape, she trots out the toddler to show that since we would not kill a toddler who was conceived in rape, if the unborn are fully human we should not kill the unborn for this reason. That's true as far as it goes, but most pro-abortion-choice people argue the reason abortion is permissible in rape is because she has been made pregnant against her will, so we should not force her to use her body for this child because she did not consent to having sex. Steph did address bodily rights arguments, but didn't address them in the context of the rape discussion.

Another thing was her constant use of the term pre-born. I understand why she is using it, and I know many pro-life people who insist on using it (over the term "unborn"). The problem is that many pro-abortion-choice people consider the term "pre-born" to be a propagandistic term. It can lead to irrelevant debates over terminology if you use that term rather than unborn. It's possible that Steph's experience has shown her otherwise, but in my experience using "pre-born" instead of "unborn" can derail the conversation. At the very least, I thought the book could have used a brief section talking about why she opted to use "pre-born" instead of "unborn".

Her section about personhood is good, but I feel it didn't go far enough. Most of the way Steph responds to the question of personhood is by driving home the point that it's ageism -- the reason the unborn aren't conscious or self-aware is because they're too young to be conscious or self-aware, but will be in time. However, in our current age we are defending what has come to be considered a controversial proposition -- that there are such things as natures, and that numerical identity is retained even in the absence of psychological connectedness. Again, I realize the point of the book was not to go too deep into these arguments (and there are other books one can read to learn how to respond to these arguments), but I feel that we'd encounter a number of people who might actually answer "yes" to the question of whether or not age is a relevant factor in one's value, especially considering that euthanasia is becoming more accepted. So I would have liked to see addressed why consciousness or self-awareness are not relevant factors in determining one's value, since there are a number of people we'll have to respond to who hold to these types of arguments.

My final con was regarding her section of the teleological view of the uterus. This is a view I wholeheartedly endorse, and she's really the only person in the abortion literature I've seen defend this specific view (other thinkers defend teleological views, but it usually has to do with the personhood discussion and whether or not we're persons from fertilization). I like her argument, but there were a few counterarguments I came up with in my head that I wish she would have addressed. So basically this comes down to I really wish she would have responded to potential criticisms of her views because I'm very much interested in how she would respond to them.

The missing arguments aren't a huge deal, since it's not really the point of the book to give a full primer on these arguments. This book is an invaluable resource to a pro-life advocate's arsenal.

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