“Thank you! You’ve opened my eyes! I never thought about abortion that way before! I always made an exception for rape but you’ve helped me see the innocent one – cause the fetus is innocent too and I never thought of that before!”
– Ex pastor, recently new atheist attending his first Humanist convention
“Well I don’t think it’ll change how I vote but I can’t refute your arguments and you’ve answered all of mine. I guess I’m going to have to think about this some more.”
– Young man at a post-conference social
“I haven’t had reason to rethink abortion in over ten years. Never thought there were any real arguments to consider!”
– Pro-choice young woman
The above quotes represent just a few of those I spoke to at the Humanist Convention in Denver who walked away either newly identifying as pro-life in all cases, or whom I knew had had at least some degree of mind-change by the end of our dialog. This was my second conference attendance in 6 weeks, having recently has similar results at the American Atheist Convention in Memphis. But if I’d remained the least bit unsure of the effectiveness of one-on-one dialogue as a pro-life strategy, the Humanist Convention in Denver erased all doubt!
I’m convinced that positive human connection is unparalleled in its ability to change minds on the emotional issue of abortion. That’s not to say there isn’t much we can achieve in our writing and and online interactions (I’m a huge proponent of social media activism), but in the words of one of the pro-choice ladies I befriended in Denver (after bonding with her over an anti-waste rescue mission of a garbage-bound platter of nuts and fruit): “Conferences turn us into three-dimensional people.” Indeed, no matter how much you may disagree with someone ideologically, it’s really hard to view one another as enemies when you’re sharing toasted almonds from the same snack bag! Friendly discussions, with gentle body language and eye contact not possible online, can take people out of defensive mode and into mutual listening mode.
As with other events that involve one conversation after another (campus displays like Genocide Awareness Project, Justice for All or Choice Chain for instance) setting up a pro-life info table at a secular conference, where by my estimate close to 99% of attendees identify as pro-choice, can be emotionally and mentally exhausting — to say the least. For roughly 18 hours a day, four days in a row, whether I’m at the info table, at diner, or down in the lobby recharging my phone while waiting for the rain to let up, I’m likely to have someone ask me why I’m a pro-life atheist — I even had someone tell me her abortion story when I went to the bathroom! I know that every word I say that weekend and every tone I choose to say it in can help paint for them a new picture of a pro-life person.
“You’re so serene and calm when you talk to people. I don’t know how you always stay so composed with people arguing with you all day long.”
– Pro-choice young lady
I’ve read countless pro-life books and attended fantastic pro-life apologetics workshops over my years in the pro-life movement, and all of them have given me confidence to dialog with reasoned arguments. But it was those who taught me not only what to say but how to say it, that did me the greatest favour! I’m not by nature a serene person in face of argument but I can testify to the wonders of stepping back emotionally, of smiling pleasantly in the face of insult, of making a mental effort to keep one’s voice calm and conversational, and of asking open-ended questions with the intent to understand them. I disagreed with most of the people I talked to at the conference, but I think I liked every one of them! And I hope that’s the sentiment that most of them walked away with. I want them to feel like the next time they see me, be it online or at another conference, that they will want to engage me on abortion again (as one exhibitor whom I met at the American Atheist convention was eager to do when we were both tabling this event). It’s not likely they’ll leave my table pro-life the first time they pass by, but if they leave thinking “that girl really listened to me, and we had at least some common ground” or “I disagree with her but I still like her,” then I have achieved something of value with lasting effect.
Of course, one of the best results of a pro-life presence at secular conferences is that minds often are changed. At the optional social event Sunday night (which I’ll be honest I almost skipped on account of being so exhausted by then) I ended up in an hour and a half discussion with four young men and an ex-pastor. By the end of our conversation, three of the five admitted they agreed with me and couldn’t refute my arguments, and the other two said they weren’t sure yet, but that I’d really made them think. The ex-pastor (whom I quote at the beginning of this post) was so excited and grateful for his new-found clarity that he started right then and there telling some of his friends who’d missed the conversation why they too should be pro-life! Needless to say, I got roped into another long conversation alongside him and it ended up being a late night, but I’ve no regrets!
“Since becoming an atheist a little while ago I started rethinking all my views on everything. Abortion is one of those I’m still dealing with but you’ve really made me think! Everything you said made sense. I kind of want to disagree with you but I don’t think I can.”
– Young man at post-conference social
Attendees of secular conferences differ from those one might meet at a typical public pro-life display, in that most are ex-Christians and many have been particularly wounded by Christianity. As such, I believe they are more unlikely than your average pro-choice individual to take the time to interact with a religious pro-lifer. That means it falls to pro-life atheists/humanists/secularists who share their common ground to reach this particular audience. As an increasing number of young adults and those of all demographics are leaving religion, many have not yet made up their mind about abortion – we hope to be there to ensure the pro-life voice is one of the voices they will hear within the secular community as they rethink their moral convictions. Won’t you please help us in that goal?
Every dollar you send our way will go toward conference admission, table fees, and flights – in fact, I even couch-surf rather than staying at the hotel, just to ensure that we’re maximizing all funds toward the essentials! With your help we can attend more conferences throughout this coming year (there are at least a dozen more we could attend, but we’re shooting for another three at the moment – at a cost of approx $1000 each). So if you love the results you’re seeing on the blog and the Facebook page, please ensure we can continue this work by making a donation below, sending an email gift to firstname.lastname@example.org or by sending a check to Pro-Life Humanists c/o Kristine Kruszelnicki 541 Parker Street, Gatineau, Quebec, J9H 4S3 Canada. Bringing a pro-life table to a secular convention is unlike anything I’ve ever done. I look forward to many more opportunities to do it again!