Just as there is a broader mission for pro-life activism as a whole, there is a narrower mission for each pro-life job a person sets out to accomplish. It is therefore mandatory that an activist know why he is debating a pro-abort. The mission of a pro-life debater is not to make his anti-life opponent appear ignorant, ridiculous or stupid, however tempting or easy this may seem. The mission is to make the pro-life position appear reasonable in comparison to the pro-abortion position.
It is important to avoid persecuting an opponent, however justified this may seem at the time. Society usually sympathises with the underdog, and if a pro-lifer appears to be browbeating his opponent, he will lose the debate in the eyes of his audience even if his facts and logic are unimpeachable.
The best way to refute a pro-abortionist's lies or whining ploys for sympathy is with cold, hard facts. The pro-life debater should not be afraid to deny and disprove falsehoods and slogans. Above all, the pro-lifer must remain logical and calm and must describe to his audience the ploy that his opponent is trying to foist off on them.
This is the second of the two absolutely mandatory preparation rules. If a person knows his topic, he may be able to overcome several other shortcomings during a debate. But nothing will save him if he doesn't have a firm grasp of the material! It is human nature to ignore or avoid evidence that erodes or compromises one's position. As Simon and Garfunkel pointed out in their ballad "The Boxer," "A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest."
Therefore, since the vast majority of hard data and logic supports the pro-life position, the average "pro-choice" debater will be appallingly ignorant of even the basic numbers and facts that every pro-lifer knows by heart. This can be a tremendous advantage for the pro-life debater, because his debating opponent will be forced to resort to empty slogans that are easy to refute.
The tactic of refuting a bogus anti-life statistic or claim quickly and cleanly with documented evidence is devastatingly effective, and an anti-lifer will almost never be capable of regaining the initiative or momentum once a pro-life debater has sharply debunked one of his bogus claims in a debate. Nothing impresses an audience more than a person who can quickly and dispassionately disprove his opponent's claims with documented information.
This might sound like an obvious debate rule, but it is extremely important for a debater to know what his strengths and limitations are before he actually engages in "verbal combat." Many people are scared to death by the idea of debating in front of a crowd of hundreds of people. But every pilot who has ever flown a Boeing 747 crammed with just as many people was probably scared to death by the idea of so much responsibility before he began to fly.
All it takes is study and practice. This is best accomplished in four general steps, as shown below.
You can get a good 'leg up' early in any debate by researching your opponent's personal background and the attitudes, actions and background of his organisation(s). The important thing to remember here is that all of your sources should be generally available to the public. If you employ rumors or hearsay, you may be liable to legal action for slander or libel. The best way to approach this task is to obtain back issues of your opponent's organisation's newsletters and check their websites
Look for personal information on your debating opponent. Remember that any information you include as part of your debate presentation must be documented from sources generally available to the public. Hearsay information may be useful for your own personal strategising and research, but don't present it as fact.
In particular, try to get a general feel for your opponent's attitudes. This will allow you to anticipate their arguments and tailor your response. Details on your opponent's organisation(s) are also important. Look for general policy statements, stupid or indefensible quotes on national and local levels, and the activities of the organisation on national and local levels.
Your level of aggressiveness will depend largely upon your opponent's debating style. Debaters from within each pro-abortion organistion seem to be stamped from the same mold, but style sometimes differs greatly from group to group.
If you are going up against a person from Abortion Reform or a pro-abortion politician, you will find that they are usually very aggressive and employ very abrasive and extreme language.
In such cases, you may want to 'hang back' just a little in the debate, and assume a somewhat defensive posture. In this manner, you can allow your opponent plenty of rope to hang themselves: They will almost certainly make silly remarks that you can immediately attack. Nothing impresses like effective counterpunching. If you decide to try this tactic, just be certain that your opponent does not hog all of your debating time.
Try a different debating style if you are facing someone from a more mainstream political party. These people are rigorously trained in the use of Newspeak and soothing language. They will prattle on for minutes at a time on 'feel-good' topics, and are absolute masters at avoiding the messier and more embarrassing (for them) aspects of baby-killing. It won't be long before you feel like you are in a room full of cotton candy, because your opponent will try to smother you (and your audience) with words.
If you are debating a person who uses this tactic, go on the offense immediately. Be aggressive and attack, attack, attack! Sling every particle of statistical mud you can lay your mind on and press vigorously. Don't let go of your opponent! Keep the pressure on, and try to take as much of the debating time as possible. If given the opportunity, your opponent will ramble on pointlessly and consume all available time.
There are two sides to every contest: The offense and the defense. No army, team, or individual can afford to emphasise one to the detriment or exclusion of the other. If they do, they will not complete their mission(s). Pro-life debaters must not only be familiar with effective offensive debating tactics, they must be able to recognise and counter the tactics commonly used by pro-abortionists and other anti-lifers.
No matter what variations they assume, there are basically only five primary anti-life debating tactics.
When one possesses an inherently weak position in any contest, it is necessary to resort to trickery and deception in order to win. One of the most common and effective tactics employed by the weaker party in any contest is simple diversion of attention. The anti-lifer knows that the best he can do against an experienced pro-life debater is to break even. Therefore, the easiest way for the anti-lifer to garner a tie in the debate is to drag a series of tangential or irrelevant topics into the discussion.
Many of these topics have absolutely nothing to do with abortion. The anti-life debater brings them up in an attempt to distract the attention of the audience during a debate.
Quite simply, if the pro-abortionist can appear to be reasonable when offering facts that nobody can dispute - on a topic unrelated to abortion - he can then expect that this reasonableness will transfer over to his position on abortion in the minds of the audience.
The members of the audience will walk away and make the connection between the pro-abortionist's position on abortion and his logical and concise presentation on topics that have nothing to do with abortion. The product of this connection will be the vague feeling that the pro-abortion position is superior.
This tactic, known as argumentum ad hominem, or "arguing to the man," consists of attacking a person or his organisation instead of his moral or logical position. Instead of arguing to the point (argumentum ad rem), the anti-life debater attempts to distract audience attention away from the topic under discussion. Ad hominem arguments generally fall into four categories: (a) stereotypical labeling, (b) guilt by association, (c) calling the pro-lifer's motivations into question, and (d) alleging inconsistency. Examples follow.
Anti-lifers commonly describe themselves as champions of the civil rights of everyone - except those persons who happen to disagree with them. Anti-lifers are accomplished word police. However, most anti-lifers feel perfectly justified in using stereotypical labeling against conservatives, and this will usually occur several times an hour during a debate. This tactic almost always includes the argumentum ad individuum, or an "appeal to prejudice." Following are a few actual examples:
The best way to counter this tactic is to patiently point out to the audience that the anti-life debater is engaging in unjustified and judgmental stereotyping and pigeonholing. If the anti-lifer continues to stereotype the pro-lifer, the 'victim' should simply pause each time and point out the tactic. When this has been done several times, the audience will begin to get the idea and the anti-life debater will begin to feel the heat of disapproval from observers who can see through his hypocrisy.
One of the most effective ploys used by anti-life debaters is guilt by association. The anti-lifer will identify and describe the most extreme actual or fictional pro-life character he possibly can and will then attempt to convince an audience that all pro-lifers share that person's philosophy, beliefs, and actions.
Those who possess the anti-life mentality are inherently violent by nature. Therefore, the pro-life debater has many opportunities to use the same 'guilt by association' tactic against the anti-lifer. The pro-lifer can use it to highlight the absurdity of the anti-life comparisons and the hypocrisy of the anti-life debater when he reacts violently to the identical tactic he was just using himself.
If the anti-lifer is a pro-abortionist, the pro-lifer might describe some of the extreme examples of pro-abortion violence described inand then state as fact that many pro-abortionists engage in such activities. The purpose of this stereotyping is, of course, to incite a reaction from the anti-lifer and then point out that he does not seem to like the very tactic that he is fond of using - when it is directed against him.
If an anti-lifer can convince an audience that pro-life motivations are suspect or somehow a threat to the public, he has essentially won the debate. However, this is very difficult. Pro-life and pro-family activists, unlike anti-lifers, work for the good of society, not for themselves. Therefore, the anti-lifer must use extreme language and very nebulous and false charges to make his 'point.'
There are several simple ways to respond to these spurious charges; by pointing out the absurdity of the allegations, showing how the anti-lifer is insulting the beliefs of pro-life members of the audience, and by demanding proof by asking (several times, if necessary) the question "How do you know that?" It also helps, once again, to show that the anti-lifer is stereotyping all of those people who do not happen to agree with his philosophy.
An anti-lifer's version of 'consistency' is one of his highest possible goods. If he can somehow 'prove' that the pro-life debater is 'inconsistent' (by 'showing' that all pro-lifers are inconsistent), he will plant seeds of doubt in the minds of the audience.
These charges are invariably based upon bogus or doctored statistics. The best way to defend against allegations of inconsistency is simply to produce statistics that show the allegations are false. Alternatively, the pro-life debater could simply dismiss the anti-life charges as 'stereotyping' and demand proof of the allegations. The statistics and sources necessary to debunk these and other bogus pro-abortion allegations are available in various places throughout this website.
When a person states as fact biased views or statistics that cannot immediately be refuted, he gains points by appearing to be an expert in the field. This is called argumentum ad ignorantiam, or "appealing to ignorance." This is the most common tactic used by all anti-life debaters.
The decisive response to these allegations, of course, is to produce quotes or statistics (preferably by anti-lifers) that refute the opposing debater's views. After this has been done, it is often useful to call the dependability of the anti-life debater's information into question repeatedly during the remainder of the debate. All of the above pro-abortion falsehoods - and many others - can be decisively disproven with facts and statistics contained in this website.
The second most common tactic used by an anti-life debater is the use of emotion and hyperbole to appeal to the feelings of an audience and bring them to his side without actually demonstrating the validity of his position. This is known as argumentum ad populum, or the "appeal to the people."
The "appeal to the people" generally takes one or more of three distinct approaches;
(A) argumentum ad captandum vulgus, the "appeal to the emotions;"(B) argumentum ad misericordiam, the "appeal to sympathy;" and(C) argumentum ad crumenam, the "appeal to the purse" (self-interest).
Under normal circumstances, an experienced debater will only resort to an appeal to emotion (as opposed to an appeal to logic) if he feels that he has no other recourse. By contrast, an anti-life debater will generally begin appealing to the emotions of the audience at the very beginning of a debate.
The tactic of the 'appeal to the emotions' is extremely strong (perhaps even instinctual) in pro-abortionists. All a pro-lifer need do is pick up any piece of pro-abortion literature at random, and he will see the twin themes of appeal to fear and appeal to anger run strong in the author's writing.
One of the strongest themes in pro-abortion and other anti-life thought is the oppressor/oppressed juxtaposition. Anti-lifers correctly perceive that, if they can paint themselves as near-helpless and brutalised 'victims,' they will go a long way towards winning a debate, regardless of how shabby their actual presentation is.
All of the arguments described are 'hard cases' often used by pro-abortionists and other Neoliberals. The most decisive way to rebut these points is taken in two steps. First, show how rare the appropriate class of 'hard cases' really are. All abortions for rape, incest, fetal deformity, and threat to the mother's life comprise less than two percent of all abortions.
It is a basic tenet of the anti-life mentality that its adherents are activists for selfish reasons. Pro-abortionists support the slaughter of innocent preborns just in case they might need the 'option' themselves someday. Anti-lifers also like to assume that everyone else is just like them, and so an appeal to the selfish streak in every person comes naturally to them.
The best way to reply to the appeal to self-interest is to demonstrate to the audience how the anti-life debater is twisting his facts to suit his conclusion. Point out that a welfare delivery may be more expensive in the first year, but that eventually that child will be paying taxes into the system for his entire work life. Show that a particular religious viewpoint on when life begins has already been imposed upon all women.
Another common debating tactic used by anti-lifers is "obscurum per obscurius," which is the explanation of an obscure or difficult concept by using even more obscure or difficult concepts, thereby guaranteeing that the original concept will not be understood. When this tactic is used, the anti-lifer is banking on the audience (and his debating opponent) being too timid to question his 'logic' for fear of appearing ignorant, not 'up' on the issue, or non-Politically Correct.
Of course, if the anti-life debater can convince his audience that there is really no way to answer a difficult moral question like abortion essentially by expanding the moral 'grey area' to cover all possible permutations and situations - he has won the debate, because he has convinced them that any solution is correct. In other words, he has gotten the audience to accept his version of situational ethics. The classic example of this principle, of course, is the pro-abortion argument that "We don't know when life begins."
The best way to reply to the "mystagoguery" tactic is to point out, through parallelism and extrapolation (explained later in this section), that such anti-life 'logic' simply does not transfer to other situations and is therefore invalid. For example, the comparison that Garrett Hardin makes between DNA and a preborn is patently absurd, and could just as easily be used to justify the murder of born human beings as preborns.
And Warren Hern's statement should be exposed for what it is: A ridiculous comparison by a man who apparently thinks that pregnant women are ugly and somehow 'diseased.' This man, by the way, makes a very rich living out of committing the acts that he is defending in his book.
The ultimate answer to any of these attempts to complicate is this: If a person cannot grasp the implications of what he is doing, then he should not proceed. We must always err on the side of safety and of life. Pro-abortionists would have us believe that the combined power of all of the finest minds in the world cannot determine when human life begins - but that somehow, each and every woman can.
Knowing the character of your audience is extremely important, because your tactics and general emphasis should be tailored to fit the background of those people you are trying to reach with your message. You must know what your audience's interests and "hot buttons" are, and appeal forcefully to them.
You must convince the audience that your opponent is everything he says that you are: Inconsistent and rigid in philosophy. Hammer away mercilessly at your opponent's obvious inconsistencies: Sex-selection abortions used against unborn women, the utter pro-abortion lack of respect for the law, and all of the many other contradictions of his indefensible position.
If you are speaking before a live audience, make sure that you have a generous question/answer session at the end of the panel or debate. There is nothing more advantageous to the pro-life position than answering a barrage of hostile questions calmly, logically, and expertly.
It is sometimes extremely difficult to make any points before a hostile audience that has already made up its collective mind. The pro-life debater may find himself in the middle of what he thinks is a reasoned statement, and suddenly, there it is - the groans, the shaking heads, the rolling eyes - the Pavlovian, knee-jerk, anti-intellectual reaction so typical of the closed mind. People who react in this manner have not had enough time to think about what has been said; they are displaying a conditioned reaction. They have been trained by society and by their peers to instantly respond in the politically correct (P.C.) manner.
Such a cause and effect is as simple and unthinking as a starving dog salivating at the smell and sight of raw meat. This mindset is obviously very dangerous. People so afflicted can be immediately seduced and controlled by the popular viewpoint without really knowing what is happening - but they are firmly convinced all the time that they are correct. They are the foot soldiers of oppression and they do not even know it. They are effectively shielded from reality by their thick idea filters.