Scott Klusendorf: When somebody says, “Well, I don’t accept that that’s a human being early on.” Here’s a great question to get your critic thinking: “How do two parents - two human parents - create offspring that is not human, but later becomes so?”
End of Excerpt
John Fuller: Scott Klusendorf on Focus on the Family from one of our best programs of 2018. As Scott talks about one of the great issues of our time - the basic principle of valuing every human life. Your host is Focus president Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller. Welcome to the broadcast. Let’s go ahead and hear Jim’s opening remarks.
Jim Daly: John, the topic of abortion is what we’re gonna tackle today, and it is close to the hearts of all of us here at Focus on the Family. It’s one of our ministry pillars where we defend human life and all of its forms. We call it the sanctity of human life pillar. And uh, that’s why I’m excited to talk today about what it means to be pro-life. And today, we are going to equip you to have very rigorous and thoughtful discussions with people who may oppose that position, are pro-abortion, pro-choice.
And this is a moment in our culture, John, where I think we have the momentum. The most pro-life generation is right now. The 20, 30-somethings are more pro-life than their parents. And I’m excited for that because I think that is the work of the Holy Spirit in them. And I’m hoping today we will be able to give you some tools to get into these discussions. You don’t have to be combative and confrontive. What you need is to be equipped with the arguments to win that discussion. And that’s what we’re gonna do today and next time.
John: And one of the best people we know to help us get there is Scott Klusendorf. He’s the founder and president of Life Training Institute. He’s been speaking to and training thousands of people to engage in that conversation about the value of life and about abortion. And he’s been a very popular broadcast guest here on Focus on the Family.
Jim: Scott, welcome to Focus live.
Scott: Jim, it is great to be here. John, good to see you.
Jim: We appreciate it. You know, a lot of people may not realize this, I was born in the ‘60s prior to Roe v. Wade and my mother was 42 when she had me, and she had the option, at least in California, because of the risk of an elderly mom - a 42-year-old mom - she was contemplating having an abortion with me. I was the fifth child.
Jim: And we think it all started in ‘72 with Roe v. Wade, but it was happening even before that, wasn’t it?
Scott: Yes, it was, though not in the numbers that we see after legalization. But you’re correct. There were people getting abortions prior to Roe v. Wade. And those were troubling like the ones we see today.
Jim: Now, for 25 years you’ve been on this issue and teaching people within the faith community how to argue this in a way that is respectful and forceful. What drew you to this? Why did you pick such a controversial topic like abortion?
Scott: I had always been pro-life, Jim, but I wasn’t behaving like I was pro-life. I felt bad about abortion, but my attitude did not match my behavior. And I was a pastor - an associate minister - at a church in Southern California. And in November of 1990, the local crisis pregnancy director started up bugging me about getting more involved. And here’s what she did. She said, “I want you to come to breakfast. We’re going to have a speaker. He’s intelligent. And he’s going to lay out a case for the pro-life view. Would you come and attend that breakfast?” And I said “Sure, I’d love to.” And typically, in our area, when you had a pastors’ breakfast, you would get a hundred guys showing up. That morning, when the topic was abortion, there were four other pastors, beside me, and their wives - very small group. But the speaker stood up, made a case for the pro-life view, laid out logic, and I thought, “Man, this guy’s really sharp.” But then, Jim, he did something that absolutely rocked my world. He showed a very short video clip depicting abortion. I had never seen abortion.
And as I watched this, after he carefully introduced it - he didn’t spring it on anybody, he was gracious in the way he did it - I watched that clip, and I thought, “I am no different than the priest and the Levite who passed by on the other side of the road. They felt pity for the beating victim, but they didn’t take pity. And Jesus said that wasn’t enough.” And I went home and told my wife, “Honey, I think my whole world’s been changed.” And I showed her the VHS tape - VHS tapes were these rectangular things that we used to use - and I showed her that tape, and she said, “Whatever you feel the Lord’s put on your heart, I’m with you.” And six months later with the blessing of my church, I had resigned to go out and train pro-lifers to make a case for the pro-life field.
Jim: Scott, let me play that person who is - who you were before you went to that meeting. Um, you know, “It’s a sensitive topic. It’s uncomfortable for me. I don’t want to talk to people about that.” You can be talking to a pastor or a layperson.
Scott: That’s right.
Jim: How do you awaken their hearts to the need to discuss this? Why is this so important to God?
Scott: Yeah. People who are not broken-hearted over abortion will not take the risk of talking about it. They will play it comfortable. And they will stand back and worry about, “Am I going to offend people?” I am first and foremost concerned about being a gracious ambassador for Jesus. I don’t want to unduly offend people. We shouldn’t. However, we shouldn’t let the controversial nature of abortion stop us from communicating biblical truth. There’s a third way. We don’t have to choose between talk about it and offend people, don’t talk about it and avoid it. There’s a third way. Do it graciously, but truthfully. And that’s what we aim for in all that we do at LTI.
Jim: Well, and we need to put that in neon lights because you’re never gonna win somebody to a position through just brutal disregard.
Scott: That’s right.
Jim: There has to be mutual respect, I think. Would you agree with that?
Scott: Yeah. You’ve got to build friendships. You’ve got to build relationships. In fact, people are surprised that the former president of the ACLU, Nadine Strossen, is a friend of mine. Though we debate abortion on college campuses across the U.S., she’s a friend. I consider her that. And though we go after each other on the content of the debate, there’s no personal attacks. And I think that’s the biblical way.
Jim: I would agree wholeheartedly. In taking a pro-life position, you’ve really boiled it all down to one central issue, and that is, the preborn child is human, not becoming human, but is human. How does a conversation about that begin with someone who may hold an entirely different view?
Scott: You have hit on the central issue of this debate, and the one Christians must get right. And that’s this, Jim - you cannot answer the question, “Can we kill the unborn?” till you answer the predicate question, “What is the unborn?” I love how my friend Greg Koukl sets it up. He says, “Imagine you’re at your kitchen sink washing dishes and your 5-year-old boy comes in behind you, with your back turned and says, ‘Daddy or Mommy, can I kill this?’“ What’s going to be the first question out of your mouth? “What has he got?” You know, cockroach or snail, don’t show it to mom. Uh, neighbor kitty, whoa. And brother by the throat, you have some issues. You’ve got to answer the question, “What is it?” before you answer the question, “Can we kill it?” And this is precisely what so many people don’t do in the abortion debate. They talk about privacy, trust, poor people...
Scott: ...Rights, but they don’t answer the question, “What is it?” And that’s the fundamental question we must focus this debate on, like a laser beam or we’ll be distracted chasing rabbit trails all day long. So for example, if someone came to me and said, “Why don’t you trust women to make their own personal decisions?” I’m not going to get defensive. I’m not going to start saying, “Listen - I don’t hate women” - I’m going to very graciously say to them, “Would you say it’s okay to kill a toddler in the name of trusting people to make their own decisions?” “Well, no, of course not.” “Well, why not?” “Well, because he’s a human being.” “Ah. If the unborn are human, like that toddler - and I haven’t argued yet they are, but if they are - would you agree that they should not be killed in the name of trusting women any more than we’d kill a toddler for that reason?” “Oh, but that’s different. The unborn aren’t human, the toddler is.” Ah. That’s the question we’ve got to focus on. We focus on the question, “What is it?” before we answer the question, “Can we kill whatever the thing is?”
Jim: And in that quest, you’ve created this, I think, fascinating acronym that really helps you in that moment. When you feel those emotions rising to focus, like a laser beam - like you said - on four key things, SLED is the acronym. Describe SLED for us and what that should remind you, in the heat of discussion, to say to that person who may not share your viewpoint.
Scott: Pro-Lifers argue from science that the unborn are distinct, living and whole human beings. But we don’t end there. We also need to argue that the unborn have value, the same value you have. The same value John has. And so, we use the SLED acronym to show there’s no essential difference between that embryo you once were and the adult you are today that would justify killing you back then. Those four differences are size, level of development, environment - meaning where we’re located - and degree of dependency.
Think of the acronym, SLED, and you’ll remember those. Let’s look at those for a moment. As an embryo, you are smaller than you are today. But since when does body size determine value? We don’t think Shaquille O’Neal is more human and valuable than us, simply because he’s a foot taller. Uh, large people...
Jim: Maybe 2-feet taller.
Scott: ...Yeah, 2-feet. Yeah, exactly. Yeah uh, but we don’t think large people have more rights than small people in virtue of their body size. What about your level of development? Sure, you were less developed as an embryo, but since when does that matter? And by the way, this is a question we need to become adept at answering. When people throw out things like, “Well, that embryo isn’t self-aware, it’s not as developed as us,” too often as pro-lifers we take the bait there and we go, “Well, it’s got a developing brain by six weeks.” No, don’t go there. Challenge them on why development matters in the first place. Make them defend that. Don’t do the heavy lifting for them.
Jim: How would you do that?
Scott: Well, let’s say somebody said to me, “Well, that embryo’s small.” My first question will be, “Can you tell me why body size determines value? Why is that the thing that gives us rights?” Make them argue for that. See, they’re asserting it, they’re not arguing it. And too often, we let people make assertions rather than arguments. So, size, level of development. How small doesn’t matter. Level of development doesn’t matter.
Two-year-old girls do not have a developed reproductive system yet, but we don’t think they’re less human and valuable than the 21-year-old young woman who does. Students who are listening to us right now, high school students in the gallery, they are less developed than their parents. You are less developed than your parents, physically and intellectually, though that may come as a shock to some of them. But the reality is you’re not going to reach your intellectual peak...
Jim: But they’re rising?
Scott: But they’re rising. Yes, yes.
Jim: Yeah, give them all the pats on the back.
Scott: We’ll give them all the pats. But they’re not going to reach their intellectual peak until their mid-40s, but it doesn’t follow their parents are more human and valuable than they are. Size, level of development, what about environment - where you were located? You were in the womb, now you’re out. But how does where you are change what you are? How does a journey of 7 inches down the birth canal suddenly transform you from non-human, non-valuable thing we can destroy, to valuable human being that we can’t? And the answer is if you weren’t already human and valuable, you’re not going to get there by changing your address.
Jim: Let’s stop there for a second, before we continue with the SLED acronym. How do you combat that, because that’s a common debate on college campuses? Um, and I think it’s a big blow to a pro-abortion person, when they try to defend that. What arguments have you heard them make, to say, “Yeah, it’s not human before the 7-inch trip down the birth canal, but it is human afterward?
Scott: I will always ask the question, “Tell me why location matters.” And then I will use a counterexample to kind of shake them a little bit. I’ll say, “Are you aware that Dr. Michael Harrison at the University of California-San Francisco is doing fetal surgery for herniated diaphragms, where he removes the fetus almost entirely from the womb, repairs the herniated diaphragm, then places the fetus back in the womb? Does that child go from being non-human while it’s in the womb to briefly becoming human while it’s outside, and then back to non-human again?”
Scott: And of course, they’re scratching their heads at this point, because it shows that you have a huge problem with that idea that location determines value, because you would have to say that child literally goes from being human to non-human back to being human again.
Jim: Wait, you can take that argument in a legal context. What if that surgeon were to mess up while that baby was out of the womb, getting a relatively easy surgery, but something went wrong. The anesthesiologist made a mistake. They could be up for, I’m sure, charges...
Scott: Legal damages, absolutely.
Jim: And that happens between human beings. So even in that context, they’re acknowledging - the legal system, I think, would acknowledge that that baby outside the womb is human, that’s going to be put back in the womb for further development.
Scott: Exactly. And of course, the cousin to this argument is the whole viability idea. Well, the child’s not viable. Suppose a woman who is pregnant in New York gets on a plane, where viability is roughly 24 weeks, 25 weeks, and she flies to Bangladesh, where viability is more like 30-35 weeks because medical technology is not as advanced, does her child go from being human in New York where it’s viable because of medical technology to being non-viable when the plane enters Bangladesh airspace, back to being viable again and human when it comes back to New York?
Jim: It’s illogical.
John: Well, Scott Klusendorf is our guest on Focus on the Family and you can get better equipped by continuing to listen as we resume the conversation and by getting Scott’s book,. You’ll find that and a CD or download of this broadcast at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. And so far, we’ve covered ‘S’, ‘L’, and ‘E’ in the acronym SLED - Scott, what’s the ‘D’ stand for?
Scott: Degree of dependency. People will say, “Well, that unborn does not have a right to life, because it depends on the mother.” And once again, as Christians, we need to challenge the assumption here. Why does dependency on another human being mean that you can be killed? For example, conjoined twins will often share each other’s bodily organs. They will share vital organs. And it doesn’t follow we can kill them, simply because they can’t live independent of each other. Size, level of development, environment, degree of dependency, none of those are a good reason for saying you could be killed then, but not now.
Jim: Scott, as I’m listening to you, obviously, the core issue is when is this baby, human? And I think you’re making a strong case for that. Have you found secular scientists who have admitted that yes, a fetus in the womb is human?
Scott: The debate over when we come to be has been settled in science for decades. In fact, I would argue it’s been settled since the 1860s, but it has specifically been settled in our time through embryology textbooks, which speak uniformly that each of us began at the moment of fertilization. Now, there are people who come along and say we don’t want to value that life at that point, but the science is settled. And even people on the other side will admit this at times. Peter Singer does not dispute with us that we began at the moment of fertilization. Camille Paglia, the feminist author, says right out of the gate, “Abortion is murder, I’ve always admitted that. And by the way, it’s not just killing blobs of cells,” she says, “it is killing distinct individuals.” Now, this is not a pro-life advocate. This is someone on the other side admitting this. And, of course, I will cite these sources in debates. It’s always better to cite the other side’s sources if you can, rather than your own. It gives you more credibility. But the science is settled, Jim. Each of us, from the earliest stages of development, was a distinct, living and whole human being.
Jim: Right. And I would say for those that rely on biology as their faith, as their religion, it’d be hard to argue that you’re not human at the point of conception. I mean, what are you if you’re not human?
Scott: Well, and here’s a good question for our listeners to ask. When somebody says, “Well, I don’t accept that that’s a human being early on.” Here’s a great question to get your critic thinking: “How do two parents - two human parents - create offspring that is not human, but later becomes so?”
Jim: Right. They can’t answer that.
Scott: They can’t answer it. And they have to sit there and make stuff up.
Jim: You know, in that vein of the discussion or the argument um, you say pro-lifers need to be careful about focusing too much on the impact of abortion, related to the woman. Now, that goes a little bit against the grain, because I know in the pro-life movement, which we work in, we want to lift up the needs of the woman and the dignity of the woman and the situation that she’s in. Why is that a bit dangerous in this debate?
Scott: Well, it’s something we need to talk about. The question is not: should we talk about the impact on women? We should talk about it in the right place, though.
Jim: Describe that.
Scott: And what I argue is our primary argument is a moral one. It is wrong to intentionally kill innocent human beings. Abortion does that, therefore, it’s wrong. That’s our moral case. What we don’t want to do is put the cart before the horse. Abortion is not wrong, because it adversely impacts women, it’s wrong because it intentionally takes the life of an innocent human being. Now, once you make that point, nothing wrong at all with standing up and saying “Oh and you know what else? It has a devastating impact on women.” They can have physical effects from it. They can have psychological impact from it.
I am fine with doing that. In fact, some of the best pro-life presentations I’ve made are those, where I’ve laid out a case for the pro-life view, made the case that abortion intentionally kills an innocent human being and then I’ll have a woman stand up, who I know, who gives a testimony about how God saved and redeemed her from her own abortion. That’s a powerful one-two presentation. But we want to make sure that we don’t put the cart before the horse. The first thing we need to argue is, “What is the unborn, why is abortion wrong, morally?” Then talk about the impact on women.
Jim: Let me ask you this: why is there that zeal? I understand the zeal from a pro-life position. I am pro-life, and I get that, because we’re, obviously, trying to save innocent human life from destruction. Where does the other side - the pro-abortion people - where do they get that zeal? Why is there such a fire in them to want to terminate the life of a child, or seemingly? I know some fair-minded people - I’ve met with them in the abortion industry, where they’ll say, “That that isn’t the outcome we necessarily want to advocate, but we want a woman to have that choice.”
But what ignites them about keeping abortion clinics open and the taking of human life present? Why wouldn’t they say, at least, “That is not what we want to do, but in some circumstances, we would encourage someone to do that?” It’s as if it’s the opposite. Their first solution is abortion. And, “If you want to keep your child, we’ll try to work with you.” That’s, at least, the impression I get.
Scott: I think you’re accurate, Jim. There are two impulses at play here - one philosophical at the worldview level, and then one practical. At the worldview level, there’s a radical view of autonomy that says, “I control everything about me. My body is exclusively mine. I may do with it what I wish.” And that view of autonomy, which up until our recent times did not really get a foothold in the culture, has saturated our culture. So that’s the philosophical worldview we’re up against.
The second thing that’s in play, though, is the practical issue. Millions of Americans, Jim, have had an experience with abortion. Think about it. Not just the women who’ve had abortions. What about the dads who encourage their daughters to abort? What about parents uh, and extended family who did? All of those people have a vested interest now in abortion, and it will give them incredible psychic pain to have to admit that they were party to the intentional killing of an innocent human being.
And this is why as Christians, we need to be very careful to be gracious, but not go to the other side and say we don’t want to talk about this, because we don’t want to offend people who’ve had abortions. The kindest thing that Christians can do is gently convey the truth about abortion, so we can lead people to repentance and the healing they so desperately need.
Jim: Well, and that fits right with 2 Timothy. If you look in chapter 2 of 2 Timothy, that’s what it is, to lead someone to repentance and to save them from the snare of the enemy.
Scott: Absolutely. And we’ve all heard great stories of women and men, who’ve been involved in abortion coming to faith in Christ. We want to lead people there, but unless they know their sin, they’re not gonna get there.
Jim: Well, that is a danger that we’re afraid to talk about - sinfulness. Scott, let me lay this one at you. Again, I’m - for those that may have just tuned in, you know, I was born in the ‘60s. My mom was offered, at least, to contemplate aborting me, because it was a high-risk pregnancy at 42. Now she was in not a good marriage. My dad was an alcoholic. Five years after I was born, they separated. That argument that, you know, here is a poor woman - I don’t care what color her skin was - white, black - doesn’t matter - but a poor woman, they really can’t afford another child, or the woman herself might say, “How can I afford another child?”
Jim: So it becomes a rationalization of finances.
Jim: Speak to that.
Scott: Well, notice what the argument assumes. First of all, as Christians, we want to show compassion to that poor woman. We want to acknowledge she faces a challenge. But notice what the objection really comes down to. They are assuming the unborn aren’t human. Would anybody kill a toddler, so it would help the parents balance the checkbook at the end of the month? Never. Why do they only say that you can kill a fetus for that reason? Because they’re assuming, not arguing, they’re assuming the unborn are not human. And so I’m going to point that out by trotting out - I call this trotting out my toddler - I’ll hold my hand at knee level and say, “Pretend I have a 2-year-old in front of me. His parents can’t afford to feed him. They could pay their bills better if they eliminated this child. Can they do it?” “Well, no, of course not?” “Why not?” “Well, because he’s a human.” Ah, if the unborn are human, like that toddler, should we be killing them in the name of economic hardship? Notice all of these objections, Jim - trust, poor women - all of them assume- privacy- all of them assume the unborn aren’t human. They don’t argue for it. They just assume it. It would be like me looking at you, John, and saying, “When did you quit cheating on your taxes?” And you say, “What? Wait a minute. I - I’m not.” “Well, that’s not what I asked you.” Now, notice I’m assuming something I haven’t proven.
Scott: And people do this with abortion all the time. The popular street-level arguments, almost all of them, assume the unborn aren’t human. And then the second thing I’ll say to that person, by the way, you need to understand the pro-life movement. We are a caring movement. Our pregnancy centers assist women across this country, not only before they give birth, but after.
Scott: We are a caring people. The statistics prove that. So, not only does the argument assume the unborn aren’t human, the argument is factually wrong. We do care for people, and there are resources for them.
Jim: Well, and Scott I think that’s one of the reasons that we have that fire in us, because we see the results when a woman chooses life. One of the things that we’ve done here at Focus for over 10 years is Option Ultrasound, where we have assisted pregnancy resource centers in becoming medically equipped, meaning they have a doctor’s license, they obtain a ultrasound machine through Focus’ program. And they can now do ultrasounds and allow that, um, mom to see that child growing within her. There have been so many stories of women who have walked into those clinics confused...
Jim: ...Troubled, in some cases thinking, “I made this commitment to my boyfriend that I would at least get an ultrasound, but I am going through with an abortion.”
Jim: But then once she sees that baby in her womb...
Jim: ...It changes her. And - ‘cause they can see the frame. They can see the hands. They can see a baby, in some cases, sucking its thumb.
Jim: In one case we heard just a couple of weeks ago, a woman at one of these clinics receiving an ultrasound - the baby appeared to be waving in the ultrasound.
Jim: And this was a woman who went in thinking she would terminate that baby’s life. And thank God, and only God would know...
Jim: ...That that waving in the womb, that that baby saved its life...
Scott: Yeah, absolutely.
Jim: ...Because the woman said, “How could I terminate the life of this child?”
Jim: And that’s what we’re doing. And that’s what gives us that fervor. It’s not money, it’s not fundraising - all those dollars go right back to helping women make that very decision. And I’m excited about it, and I’m excited that this culture is moving in a more pro-life direction. And I’m also excited that you’re providing the tools to argue this and to provide the Christian community the ability to state a clear case why a baby is a human being. And we’re not done yet, Scott. We are out of time today, but we’ve got to come back next time and continue this discussion.
I do want to, uh, include some questions from some of the folks that are visiting in the gallery today - young people that are here, homeschoolers from their debate, uh, class - and I want them to be able to ask you a handful of questions, as well. Can we do it?
John: Scott Klusendorf has been our guest on Focus on the Family, and we trust that you’re gonna get his book,, which we have, along with a CD or download of our conversation. You can get these excellent resources at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast or call 1-800, the letter A and the word FAMILY - 800-232-6459.
While you’re at the website, be sure to look for more details about Option Ultrasound, which is a terrific program. Jim, an estimated 415,000 babies have been saved through Option Ultrasound.
Jim: Yeah. Think of that. And I want to say thank you to everyone who’s helped support Option Ultrasound over the years. If you haven’t, please consider doing so. You probably don’t realize that it just takes $60 to save a baby’s life, and that’s incredible! And I hope you’ll stand in the gap with a $60 gift to save a child’s life. And when you make a gift today, you’re actually going to help save 2 babies because some generous friends of Focus on the Family, they have offered to match your gift dollar-for-dollar, and that is incredibly generous and exciting as well. So on behalf of the moms who decide to keep their child, or perhaps allow that baby to be adopted because they saw the ultrasound of their baby in the womb, let me, on their behalf, say thank you for stepping up and saving them.
John: And when you make that $60 contribution to support Option Ultrasound, we’ll also send Scott’s book,, as our way of saying thanks. And you can make that donation at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Well on behalf of Jim and the entire team here, thanks for listening. I’m John Fuller inviting you back as we once again help you and your family thrive in Christ.
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Scott KlusendorfView Bio
Scott Klusendorf is the founder and president of the Life Training Institute which was established to equip pro-life advocates for defending their views in the public square. A passionate defender of pre-born children, Scott has participated in numerous debates with abortion advocates at the collegiate level, and he has lectured student groups at more than 80 colleges and universities including Stanford, U.C. Berkeley and M.I.T. Scott is the author of The Case for Life and the co-author of Stand for Life. He and his wife, Stephanie, have four children and reside in the Atlanta area.