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LN Feature: Using logic in the abortion debate

Stephanie Gray is an international speaker on the abortion/pro-life issue. Along with Jojo Ruba, she’s the co-founder of the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform in Calgary, and while she’s no longer formally with that organization, she still spends a lot of time presenting the pro-life cause to a wide variety of audiences. She started speaking publicly about the abortion issue at the age of 18, and she’s given more than 800 pro-life presentations across North America. Recently, one of those presentations caught our eye here at Lighthouse News.

LN: You speak to some pretty interesting groups. Most recently, you did a “Google Talk” down in California. Now, not everybody even knows what a “Google Talk” is or what it’s all about. Let’s start with some background on that.

SG: Well of course, we’re certainly all familiar with Google. We “google” things every day. And the company Google runs a program – initially for its staff – called Talks at Google, where they bring in speakers five days a week. And those presenters are invited to the Google campus essentially, and staff are invited to attend the various lectures, as well as staff who aren’t at that physical location; they’re invited to come in in an internal live-stream program where, from other Google offices around the world, they can watch these talks. And essentially they’re presentations by authors, scientists, actors, film-makers, and people of different backgrounds who come and present basically on their work, and their specialty, and what they do. And then, what Google does is they load these recordings generally to their YouTube channel, and that is how – kind of – word spread that I gave a Talks at Google presentation.

LN: Now Google isn’t exactly known as an organization that’s friendly to the pro-life cause. You know, we’ve all heard if you enter certain search terms there’s kind of a bias in terms of the way the search (results) come up. So I guess the real question is “how on earth did you get yourself invited to speak there?”

SG: That’s a good question. I know we can often have ideas about how certain companies or businesses are, and I have to say I was really impressed with Google in this whole process in which I worked with them. So what happened is, if you go to Talks at Google and watch various speakers, usually a Google staff member is introducing the speaker. So staff who work for Google can initiate the process for inviting a speaker. And so there happens to be a staff member at Google who was familiar with my work and reached out to me, and told me about the whole Talks at Google program, and asked if I would be willing to speak, and of course I said: “Well, I’m willing, but will they be willing on their end?” So I started looking into this Talks at Google program, and seeing the other speakers they’d brought in, and I was very impressed that Google has actually brought in speakers on the range of the political spectrum. Yes, they had just brought in – prior to me – Cecile Richards, the president of Planned of Parenthood. But they have also brought in major conservative Christian speakers like Francis Chan for example. So when I learned that, I thought, “OK, maybe they would be receptive.”

So, you know, I very much believe in speaking the language of your audience, so I crafted a description of my talk that spoke about what I speak on, but very much through the lens of the secular culture. I spoke about human rights, how I’d be appealing to the insights of Holocaust survivor Dr. Victor Frankl, and I proposed a talk description, and that was submitted and Google accepted it. And I found myself in April speaking at Google.

LN: I listened to that talk; I had a look at it online. In fact, we link to it the Lighthouse News homepage this week – it’s available here. And I shared it on social media, and in that share, I used the descriptor that kind of encapsulated for me what I took away from the talk. I said: “There is not a speck of religious presuppositionalism here. Just a clear, Socratic approach – a logical approach – to the abortion question.” And then I dared my pro-choice friends to interact with it. But I found it interesting that the whole argument was based on logic rather than appeals to any kind of morality. I honestly didn’t know – from watching the video – that your pro-life position is rooted, presumably, in your Catholic faith.

SG: Yes, so I mean certainly I would say I was making some assumptions. I was making the assumption that my listeners believed in human rights. I was making the assumption that my listeners believed in equality; that they believed in the basic moral principle that it’s wrong to directly and intentionally kill innocent human beings. However, I did not make explicit appeals to religion – as you pointed out, my Catholic faith, Christianity in general, or any other religious persuasion – because I know not everyone in the audience necessarily is convinced of that. And of course, we do need to evangelize the culture generally speaking, but I wasn’t there for that. I was there to speak on abortion, so I thought “OK, strategically, how do I package my message (so) that (it) essentially appeals to truth that God has written on all of our hearts?” As I said, the sense of equality, and justice. And so, in appealing to that, yes, I have found people to be open to it, and receptive to it. And in one of my proposals to Google as well was: “Yes, I’d be very much applying the Socratic method”, which – when I’m speaking to Christian audiences – I call Jesus’ method. Because if you look throughout the Scriptures, Jesus is continually asking questions when engaging people in conversation, but so did Socrates. And since I’m speaking to an audience broader than Christians, I thought “Well, then I’ll call it the Socratic method instead.”

LN: Is this the future of the pro-life movement? Do we need to move away from arguments about the morality of abortion – or, if you will, the immorality of abortion – and instead make the argument from a purely dispassionate, logical perspective?

SG: You know, I think we definitely need to make sure logic is very much involved in the appeal that we’re making. I think we do need to appeal to morality, but coming from the perspective that the people we’re speaking with can at least initially agree on. So the moral principle being grounded in, let’s say, the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, or our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which says everyone has the right to life. These are appeals to morality, but not necessarily appeals explicitly to religion. But we need to very much rely on logic, rely on reasoning, but understand that the human person is more than just our brains. Our hearts are involved as well. And hopefully you would have noticed as well in my presentation that in some of the stories I shared, while there was a lot of appeal to logic, there was also that appeal to the heart. Sharing, you know, the stories of people I’ve met who made very difficult decisions to carry pregnancies to term, such as a friend of mine who conceived as a result of rape at the age of 12 and did not abort that child. She did the right thing even though it was hard.

LN: So, back to the talk at Google. How was it received? Did you change any hearts or minds do you think?

SG: You know, I am confident based on the experience that I’ve had speaking to many people that hearts and minds would have been changed. Unfortunately, I couldn’t measure that in this particular setting, so I don’t have concrete examples. Normally, I survey my audiences and they, you know, fill out (a) questionnaire about their views on abortion before and after the talk, and in this setting I worked with the format of how Talks at Google always runs their presentations, which didn’t involve a type of survey afterwards that I was familiar with. But I did get good feedback from various people who heard the presentation and talked about friends that they knew who had also heard the presentation. Certainly, there’s some discussion going on now in the comments section under the presentations at the YouTube link.

LN: Final question. We keep hearing, politically at least, that “the discussion is over” on the life question. That the matter is settled. Given that attitude, do you see any positive possibilities for advancing this discussion particularly in the Canadian federal context?

SG: I would say, you know, the discussion is only “over” if we stop discussing it. I think the reality is as long as people like you and me are talking about the issue and forcing it into the limelight, then it will continue to be discussed. And therefore, absolutely, we can create opportunities. And that’s the key word. We create opportunities for it to be discussed, as well as for positive policy decisions to be made in the political sphere. And absolutely, we want to be working to make sure not only (that) abortion is unthinkable, but also that abortion is illegal.

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