A Pro-Life Primer for Student Activists

Pro-Life 101: A User-Friendly Guide to Making Your Case on Campus by Scott Klusendorf

(Stand to Reason Press, 1999, 37 pages, $4)

The public square is fraught with pitfalls for those who would venture there to defend the sanctity of life — and no other single arena is more hostile than today's secular college campus. It's an atmosphere charged with emotion and cynical rhetoric.

Into the fray comes a helpful how-to guide written by Scott Klusendorf, director of bioethics for the San Pedro, Calif.-based Stand to Reason organization. Having gained a reputation over the last four years as a persuasive pro-life speaker and educator, Klusendorf is well-qualified to coach and support those brave young souls who dare to take the pro-life cause where it's especially unwanted.

Klusendorf's chief objective in Pro-Life 101 is to train students and young people to become effective defenders of life on campus or in the media. He has led seminars throughout the U.S. and Canada on techniques for winning abortion debates and formulating strategies to deflate pro-choice justifications.

In many ways, the slim handbook is a condensed version of one of Klusendorf's right-to-life presentations. And while it is aimed at a student audience, the book is a valuable reference for any Catholic or pro-lifer looking for an easily understandable summary of right-to-life principles. In three quick chapters, the book anticipates and counters the most commonly voiced pro-choice rationalizations.

One of Klusendorf's primary objectives is to demystify the abortion issue. To the argument that abortion is a complex question encompassing many side issues, Klusendorf tells readers to bear one simple fact in mind: What is a human before birth?

An insistent reference to the humanity of the unborn child, he notes, can be an effective counter to all obfuscation thrown up by abortion supporters. To force pro-choice supporters to admit that the “something” killed by abortion is indeed human, Klusendorf keeps the spotlight squarely on the morality of the issue, and prevents efforts to disguise abortion's ugly realities.

The book's middle section is clearly the most important. Here, Klusendorf presents an easy-to-grasp format for making a pro-life presentation to a secular group. Using the acronym SLED, he points out that neither size, nor level of development, nor environment, nor degree of dependency — nor the sum total of all those characteristics — constitutes a valid reason for disqualifying the unborn child as fully human.

The presentation section also features five central arguments that pro-choice supporters can use to counter the pro-life position. Klusendorf is especially adept at recognizing these stratagems as little more than efforts to deflect public attention from the truth of abortion. For example, justifying abortion in cases of rape is an example of disguising a true opinion by an appeal to a worst-case scenario. “The ‘pro-choice’ position is not that abortion should be legal only when a woman is raped, but that abortion is a fundamental right she can exercise for any reason she wants during all nine months of pregnancy,” he writes. “Instead of defending this position with facts and arguments, many disguise it with an emotional appeal to [fight] rape.”

This section also spells out the weaknesses of moral relativism, a philosophy often used by abortion supporters to undercut religious or morality-based debate. Moral relativists argue that there are no absolute standards of right and wrong. If it is up to us to decide right and wrong, Klusendorf writes, then there is no difference between Mother Teresa's morality and Adolf Hilter's.

The only omission in Pro-Life 101 is discussion of a strategy to respond to pro-choice individuals who simply don't care — and openly admit — that abortion involves the killing of an innocent human being. For years, abortion supporters have justified their position by denying the humanity of the unborn child. As that position becomes increasingly untenable, they have resorted to such tactics as attacking the credibility of pro-lifers, or accusing them of extremism, intolerance and violence. It's possible that Klusendorf's silence on the ‘don't care’ scenario is deliberate. Any movement that would admit that its success relies on the destruction of the innocent unborn needs no further elaboration or commentary.

Pro-Life 101 has received the endorsement of a number of prominent pro-life activists, including Father Frank Pavone, head of Priests for Life International. A number of Canadian pro-life workers, including John Hof and Ted Gerk of British Columbia, have also recommended the book for Canadian students.

Klusendorf has enlisted the support of an anonymous donor to underwrite production costs and keep the selling price low for students. Klusendorf plans to go to press in late October with an initial printing of 5,000 copies, with distribution set for November 1.

Pro-Life 101 is not a slick or glossy publication; nor is it expected to win prizes for flashy design and layout. But what the book lacks in visual appeal, it more than makes up in content and convenience. Buy it for yourself or a student who loves life.

Mike Mastromatteo writes from Ontario, Canada.