In Public, Keep What You “Believe” About Abortion to Yourself


Given the recent incoherent attempts by Herman Cain to articulate what he claims is a pro-life position, it is apparent that he needs some lessons in how to make the prolife case — if indeed, he is pro-life.  If he is pro-life, then some humility is in order, like recognizing that his answers so far have demonstrated at best that his head and his heart and his mouth are pretty disconnected. We need a president who is pro-life and able to clearly articulate why.

While a lot of people, including this writer, have taken Cain to task for how he answered interviewer Piers Morgan’s question about his grandchildren, I’d like to focus this article on his declaration that preceded that question. When Morgan brought up the topic of abortion, Cain’s immediate response was: “I believe that life begins at conception….”

Herman Cain is not alone in making this kind of weak assertion when approaching the abortion issue in public forums. Rick Santorum has used exactly the same language.

But pro-lifers should never say “I believe that life begins at conception.” Instead they should say, “We all know from science and logic that life begins at conception.”

Part of the art of rhetoric — that is the art of making an argument — is understanding what your audience, whom you are trying to convince, hears in your words. The secular audience, and even many people who would describe themselves as believers, hear the words “I believe” as either a statement of personal opinion, or a statement of religious belief.

The secular person hears the pro-lifer saying, “According to what my religion teaches, life begins at conception and what I am seeking in the law is for the law to impose my religious belief on everyone else including you.”  Immediately the secular person starts to think, “Who are you to try to impose your religious belief on me and everyone else?” (Cue the incessant media mantra that has been drummed into his brain: “Taliban, Taliban.”) In addition, many believers, lacking in any intellectual formation and their thinking muddled by years and years of propaganda, think: “Yes, I agree with you that life begins at conception, but we can’t impose our religious values on other people who don’t believe as we do. We might be personally opposed to abortion, but we have to let others choose for themselves.” (Cue reflexive embarrassment over being politically incorrect or lumped in with the Taliban.)

The pro-lifer who is going to make public statements on the topic of abortion, then, has to teach by his words. He has to lead his audience to reason properly. It starts by abandoning this easily- misconstrued language of “I believe” and using the language of “knowing” — this gets past all the propaganda by engaging with and connecting with the mind of the hearer and appealing to what he considers to be universal authorities that are not religious.

“We all know from science and logic that life begins at conception.”

Having made this statement be ready to back it up quickly and coherently:

We know from science:

  • At the moment of conception a unique individual is formed with DNA distinct from the mother and the father.
  • This individual is already either male or female.
  • This individual begins immediately to self-direct his or her own development.

We know from logic:

  • The moment of conception is how we all began. Even though people may try to dehumanize the embryonic human being by calling him or her “the product of conception,” we are all products of conception.
  • The embryo is an individual of the human species — a human being at the earliest stage of human growth.

There you have it: “We all know from science and logic that life begins at conception.”

Practice it. (Especially if you are a presidential candidate.)


About Author

Mary Kochan, former Senior Editor of CatholicExchange, is one of the founders and Editor-at-large of Raised as a third-generation Jehovah's Witness, Mary worked her way backwards through the Protestant Reformation to enter the Catholic Church on Trinity Sunday, 1996. Mary has spoken in many settings, to groups large and small, on the topic of destructive cultism and has been a guest on both local and national radio programs. To arrange for Mary to speak at your event, you may contact her at

  • PaddyOH

    In other words (perhaps): less “credo,” more “cogito”

  • mallys

    Good points. Opinions can be discounted, facts must be checked.

  • Tarheel

    Perhaps the self-proclaimed pro-life candidates should hire Mary as a Campaign Manager.

    I know this though may sound strange but I’m willing to bet that Planned Parenthood has one of their supporters on each candidate staff. They may not be obvious but they are there.

    Putting an end to abortion is more than a political agenda. It should be a personal agenda for all us. Whether you are very active in pro-life events, support it with donations, or simply pray to end abortion, we all need to do something.

    Sadly we need it to be a political agenda to stop taxpayer funding of abortions and U.S. support of the U.N.’s position on abortion.