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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Talking with Pro-Abortion Street Canvassers: Part II

Almost a year ago, I wrote about the experience of talking with pro-abortion street canvassers. I referenced a specific conversation in which the canvasser refused to accept written materials that refuted the points she was making.

That was not a productive conversation. In fact, I was furious upon ending it, and the canvasser seemed to be as well. I was so depressed that I was almost ready to throw in the towel on any sort of future effort to reach out to people who have been deceived by the pro-abortion point of view.

Well, this past summer, that changed. One hot Thursday afternoon at the end of July, I was afforded the amazing opportunity to talk to this same canvasser again. The way it happened was really fortuitous. When I talked to her last year, it was downtown while on a break from work, and this time I ran into her right by my house, while headed to the gym on a rare weekday off from work. I was walking at my usual brisk pace, listening to my iPod, when suddenly, right in my path, there she was, waving and beckoning me to come over and talk to her. I immediately recognized her, and the whole horrible experience of the previous year came rushing back to me. It was clear that she didn't recognize me (if anything, I look a lot different in gym clothes than I do in work clothes!) and I had about a millisecond to decide whether I was going to stop and talk or just ignore her and walk on by.

I think that in that millisecond, something in my subconscious told me that if I ran into this young woman again, against all odds of such a coincidence, I should take it as a sign that I was meant to have a second conversation with her. So I stopped.

What followed was probably the most interesting half hour in recent memory. It would be impossible to recount all of the twists and turns that the conversation took. It started with the reason the canvassers were out, which, unsurprisingly, was to get support for Planned Parenthood's preferred ways to implement the Obama health care law (i.e., get as much funding for abortions as possible). We discussed several public policy topics of which I have some knowledge, ranging from taxpayer funding of abortion and whether public funding actually encourages abortion as a choice, to whether it's scientifically provable that the unborn are human beings and whether the law should reflect that. By listening carefully and showing that I understood her point for point, I was actually able to present the logic of the pro-life position in a way that never would have been possible in our previous conversation. This time we were calm and thoughtful, and I truly tried to give her the benefit of the doubt on each point and forget that I'd heard every one of them a billion times before.

But the point when things got really interesting was when I asked her why this issue was so important and personal for her that she was willing to spend all day, every day flagging down strangers on street corners to talk to them about it. At that point, we started to talk about both of our past experiences with men and the experiences of our female friends and acquaintances. I found out that this young woman was very wounded by her past experiences. She had seen so many men abuse and take advantage of women sexually and leave them "holding the bag" (i.e., a baby or an STD) that she had concluded that women simply didn't have enough rights. In her mind, these types of situations would be best rectified by using the law to artificially make women more like men are naturally (i.e., immune to a lot of the natural physical consequences of sex). Yes, in her mind, what women really needed was the ability to prevent themselves from becoming pregnant as a result of sex, and/or to destroy a pregnancy that happened by "accident." After all, men never need to worry about these things, so we just need to equalize what nature made unequal.

I told her that I could see where she was coming from. I actually know personally of several situations where a woman was sleeping with a man, became pregnant, had the baby without his support, and was left in poverty to raise the child alone. Terrible, of course. It is obvious to me that such a situation is much worse for the woman because the man does not have to worry about the physical consequences of sex. If he does not want to face the consequences of his actions, no one can truly make him do so, short of throwing him in jail (and even that threat does not always work). Few people would argue that this is a desirable state of affairs.

Where I disagree is on the point that trying to artificially make women more physically like men (i.e., not pregnant or unable to get that way) would really fix this problem. At best it is a "bandaid" solution that doesn't truly get at the underlying issue, which is men disrespecting women and using sex as an instrument of power, control and self-gratification rather than love. If anything, I think the availability of contraception and abortion actually encourages men to engage in such behavior, since it gives sex at least the appearance of being consequence-free for the man. It is unclear to me how this would encourage more loving behavior on the man's part.

I pointed out to this young woman that situations like the ones she mentioned would rarely even happen to begin with if society taught men to truly love and respect women, and taught women that they deserve nothing less than this from men. I pointed out that a truly loving man would never put his beloved in a situation where she could get a disease or be left alone in poverty to raise a child. In other words, a man who truly loves a woman would ONLY use his sexuality as an instrument of love. And within that truth lies the solution.

This was the point where the conversation sort of ground to a halt. She didn't exactly disagree with me. No, more than anything, she was just skeptical that men could ever be convinced to live like that. In her mind, men are inherently selfish scoundrels who just want what they can get from women, and women should just forget about trying to change that. The best we can hope for is to be able to "protect" ourselves (with birth control and abortion) so we don't get hurt too badly.

And this is when I concluded that the most basic difference between the pro-life and pro-legalized-abortion camps is hope. Hope in the future, hope in the beautiful and naturally-present differences between men and women, hope in the inherent goodness of people, hope in our ability to inspire change in society, hope in the lasting power of true love.

We have it, they don't. That's pretty much the essence of it.

I told this young woman that based on the incredible examples of love between a man and a woman that I have witnessed in my life, I have incredible hope that I too will find that kind of love someday, and hope that all women, including her, will hold out for the same - because we are too precious to accept anything less. And I wished her the best. She thanked me for the conversation and we went our separate ways.

It certainly makes sense that someone who has never seen an example of faithful, selfless, committed love between a man and a woman is so cynical about the power of that kind of love to change the world. I pray that every pro-lifer finds some way to impart a bit of hope in the power of love to the many wounded people out there who have no rational reason to believe in it.