Must We Earn the Right to Speak Out?

When dealing with contentious social ethics issues, sometimes all one can do is proclaim that certain things are wrong, end of story. It is nice if some practical measures can also be introduced into the mix, but sometimes a bottom line of resistance must at least be held. Consider the abortion debate for example.

Pro-abortionists often make plenty of silly and unhelpful remarks, such as, ‘this is a woman’s issue, and men cannot speak about it’. Slightly less silly but still problematic is the claim that unless someone is actually involved in helping pregnant women, then they have no right to condemn abortion.

I have even had religious folk run this line by me. They have told me that unless I am involved in actually helping a pregnant woman in their difficult situation, I have no right to speak out against abortion, and I should just shut up.

How is one to respond to such a claim? The short answer is ‘yes and no’.


Yes, in a sense this is fair enough. It is often not sufficient to simply tell a pregnant woman that abortion is wrong. It is not enough to simply denounce the evil of abortion, important as that is. What is also needed is for the pro-life camp to provide practical alternatives to abortion.

For example, if a frightened, pregnant 15-year-old girl comes to you and says, “My family has just kicked me out of the house and my boyfriend is demanding that I get an abortion,” it is not enough to simply tell her that abortion is wrong. We need to be able to say to that girl, “come to our community or church, we have a crisis pregnancy support home where you can stay. We’ll feed you, clothe you, shelter you, and when the baby is born, we can look at the options (adoption, keeping the baby, etc.).” Until the pro-life camp is able to provide real alternatives to the evil of abortion, it may lose the credibility, if not the right, to speak out against this evil.

And the truth is, many millions of pro-lifers around the world are up to their ears in very practical help for pregnant women. There are services and programs all around the world where pregnant women can go to for real help, counsel, support, protection, financial assistance and loving care.

Sure, there should be many more of these. But most often these programs are run on a voluntary basis, without any government funding. Often these are church-based works, or community projects, or volunteer efforts. Usually people are volunteering countless hours to these works, often at great personal sacrifice and expense.

Unfortunately most governments are not helping things very much in this regard. Western governments give billions of dollars away each year in providing abortion services and facilities, and various pro-abortion activities. But government funding for pro-life activities is very sparse indeed.

As an example of pro-lifers taking seriously the needs of women and offering support, see Frederica Mathewes-Green’s helpful 1994 book, Real Choices: Offering Practical, Life-Affirming Alternatives to Abortion (Multnomah). In it she points out the many needs pregnant women have, and how they are often being coerced into an abortion which they may not even want.

Indeed, this book is the result of numerous hearings held across the US to find out why women had abortions, and what their many needs are. The various reasons include: viewing adoption as too difficult; lack of partner or family support; lack of finances; interference with work or career, etc.

While none of these reasons alone can justify the death of an unborn child, they can be powerful motivational factors in a woman’s decision to go for an abortion. Mathewes-Green spends the rest of her book offering practical help and alternatives, so that these sorts of excuses become less common and viable.

That is a big challenge for the pro-life community: to get even more involved in such practical help, so that we can make it easier for women to say no to abortion and yes to life. It is not an easy job, and is often a thankless task, but it must be done.


Everything I just said above is certainly true and important. However, it is not the end of the story. There is another side to all of this. The simple truth is, if something is wrong, then we have a moral obligation to resist that which is wrong. We may or may not be able to be personally involved in offering all the practical help we can. But that does not change the fact that something radically wrong must still be resisted.

So the claim that one cannot speak out against something unless one is personally involved is misleading at best, and mischievous at worse. Consider a few obvious examples. Most of us may not be directly and/or practically involved in helping women who have been raped, or work in rape prevention programs. Does that mean for the majority of us we cannot therefore speak out against rape? Surely not. One might as well argue that a doctor cannot treat malaria, or work against it, unless he has first personally experienced it.

Consider another example. Many people might be thieves, robbers and home invaders because they need money for various reasons – perhaps to support a drug habit. But does it really make sense to say that we cannot speak out against theft unless we are personally involved in helping the drug addict? Is it really remiss of us to condemn home burglaries because we may not be doing all we can to help the home invader with whatever problems he or she is going through?

Or what about the prostitute? She may well have many needs in her life. Perhaps she was abused as a child, or rejected by her family. She may need money to support her own children. But does the fact that one is not directly helping her situation mean that one cannot stand up and declare prostitution to be morally wrong, and not something we should wish to promote?

Sure, in all of these situations, it is great if and when practical help is being administered. And countless Christians are doing just that: working in red-light districts, working with AIDS patients, working in slums, working with the dispossessed and marginalised, working with prisoners, and so on.

But one can hold high moral and social standards as well it seems. We can stand up for what is right, and resist that which is wrong. I, for example, am quite busy in the particular work that I do, so I am not directly helping prostitutes or pregnant women or drug addicts. But I have friends and colleagues who are involved.

While I cannot do the practical things they are doing, I am grateful for their work, and see their ministries as an extension of what I am doing. And while they may be too busy to stand up in the public arena and resist evil at that level, they are glad others – including myself – are doing just that. So we can complement one another in the various tasks we have been called to do.


Thus we need each other, and we all have a role to play in the many difficult social issues confronting our society. On the issue of abortion, we are dealing with a moral evil. It is always wrong to take the life of an innocent human being. Thus we must get the message out as to what abortion really is, and how it takes the life of any unborn baby.

But to learn about the abortion issue and to take a stand, while quite crucial, is only half the battle. In some sense we may well need to earn the right to speak out against it first. In some ways, as mentioned above, it certainly helps our credibility, and certainly gives us a firmer foundation to stand on, when we can demonstrate practical and loving alternatives to abortion.

It is hoped that everyone who speaks out against the horror of abortion is also involved in some way or another to make things easier for the pregnant woman, to provide some real alternatives. But that may not always be possible. We all have our role to play, and none of us can do it all.

So in a sense we do need to earn the right to speak out. And most pro-lifers have heroically been doing the hard yards here all along. They have not just protested outside of abortion clinics, or written letters to newspapers, but they have in a multitude of ways offered practical help, assistance, comfort and care for women considering an abortion.

In the same way the abolition movement of two centuries ago involved both the proclamation of the horrors of slavery, as well as practical help and support for slaves. And since many economies depended on the slave trade, thought also had to be given as to how slave owners and traders could find alternative – and ethical – incomes.

It was a difficult situation then, and it is a difficult situation today. There are no easy answers, and there is much work to be done on many fronts. We all must do our bit. Some will be called to simply speak out on the evil of abortion. That must be done. But others may be involved in hands-on practical service and support for women and their babies.

All such tasks are necessary. Thus to those who say I have no right to speak out on abortion because I am not personally involved in helping and supporting women in difficult circumstances, I say, ‘yes and no’.

[1622 words]

14 Replies to “Must We Earn the Right to Speak Out?”

  1. Thanks for the recent series of anti-abortion articles, Bill.

    I’ve been involved in a discussion on abortion today and the very issue you addressed in this article has just come up, so I think it will be very useful.

    James Swanson, Tennessee, USA

  2. Hi Bill,

    Well done, you have every right to speak out and write essay upon essay about abortion. There are many who support your view. But you see, you are confirming things the pro-abortionists already know. That abortion is the killing of a beautiful unborn child. Something we all once were. The truth of this is absolutely painful. It hurts to be reminded of the truth. Because there is massive guilt that many people feel – the abortionists, mothers, politicians, feminists. That is why people don’t want to you voice your opinion on this matter. The truth is painful and you are pricking many consciences. People will make senseless claims in desparation to keep pro-lifers from reminding them of the truth of abortion.

    Teresa Binder

  3. Thank you for your articles on this. As a university student, I see often that because there is a very strong pro-abortion voice on campus, they are often the ones who are framing the arguments on their own terms. Thank you for framing the issue in our terms as Christians.
    Natasha Sim

  4. We don’t have to earn the right to speak out … but … those who have been active in a certain field, or who have studied that field extensively, are surely going to be regarded as having additional authority to speak (and presumably will be better equipped to speak).

    We should never feel condemned to silence. By all means, speak up, and have an opinion … and where possible, take the time to understand clearly your opponent’s position(s) so as to ensure that your comments strike at the heart of an issue and won’t cause collateral damage.

    The latest abortion legislation issue here in Victoria has been interesting. I heard a Labor MP bemoaning the fact that she’d received abusive phone calls and emails from people, because of her support for the legislation.

    My response: tough. It comes with the territory. I wouldn’t be abusive myself, because I (hopefully) have the capacity to be articulate in making criticisms. But some others feel very strongly and are very emotional about abortion and, if they don’t have the articulate critcism card to play, are going to get angry and abusive. Their view is that MPs are promoting murder of innocent children, and they want to express that view in the only way they know how.

    Politicians are just going to have to accept that when they make life or death choices about our community’s children, some people are going to hold them personally responsible for the death toll.

    — Stephen Frost, Melbourne

  5. It’s early (or late from my point of view)

    I’ve just read through parts of Hansard from last night that make for chilling reading. So many members of Victorian parliament without the ability to listen to their conscience – or medical facts for that matter. Here’s a rather sketchy summary (as best as I can manage – please take into account that I am not experienced at this and I have tried to use normal English! I apologize for ignorance of any terms or improper usage in advance)

    Lower House vote for the decriminalization of abortion: 47 to 35

    Dr Napthine (South-West Coast) proposed that time (3 or 4 weeks) be given for members to consider amendments to the bill. (some were given only two hours before being voted on)

    Motion defeated.

    Mr Clark (Box Hill) proposed an amendment to include the term ‘serious injury’ in relation to the foetus.


    Mr Clark proposed an amendment to require girls under the age of 17 years to:
    a) have permission from a custodial parent, or
    b) at least 3 days have elapsed since notification to perform an abortion was given, or
    c) the Children’s Court rules that the above is not required

    Defeated. (During this debate Dr Napthine again proposed that an adjournment until the next sitting was appropriate to consider amendments. Mr Andrews (Minister for Health), Ms Morand (Minister for Women’s Affairs) spoke against this. Ms Victoria (Bayswater), Mr Ryan (Leader of the Nationals), Mr Walsh (Swan Hill) supported this motion. Vote taken again. Defeated.)

    Mr Clark proposed another amendment relating when girls under 17 years (this was too complicated for me to follow) are suspected of being victims of child abuse and the administering of drugs and needed the involvement of child protection agencies – ie. mandatory reporting and the involvement of authorities.

    Defeated (it was mainly claimed that this amendment duplicated other parts of the law, but Dr Napthine again thought that time – in this case to compare them – was appropriate)

    Ms Kairouz (Kororoit) proposed an an amendment to ban partial birth abortion.


    Ms Kairouz (Kororoit) proposed an an amendment to change ’24 weeks’ to ’20 weeks’


    I believe ‘debate’ continues today.

    You can find the Hansard for the two days so far here:

    I feel sick in the pit of my stomach. I grew up hearing my mother often tell me the story of how I was unexpected and unplanned, but how joyful she was at the thought of her 7th child (2 deceased – one at 2 years, another at 2 weeks), even though she was having a hard time in a new country (my parents had only emigrated from Germany a few months earlier when mum found out I was around!) The implicit association between ‘unplanned’ and ‘unwanted’ offends me deeply. I didn’t need to be ‘wanted’ to exist as a life and should be afforded equal legal protections to any other human automatically. My mother never failed to assure me that the objective reality of my existence was acknowledged immediately and they would just adjust. (My dad, a scientist who came over to work for the CSIRO was also strongly pro-life) She thinks the current ‘reforms’ stink. She is one of my favourite people. She will be 80 next year, rides her bike around, goes to a writing class (in English) and a French class and only recently stopped going to her photography class. And dotes rather excessively on her cat. I digress…

    The law should reflect the status of human life from conception and never allow highly subjective ideas about life to exist. Otherwise someone just like me can have their lives legally snuffed out for no good reason at all. Right to control your own body? What about mine?

    Ironically I was born at the St Andrews Presbyterian Hospital (now the Peter Mac Cancer Centre) – literally a stone’s throw from the State Government offices. My birthday is next week. I was born in 1967, the year the Abortion Law Reform Commission was formed. It’s also the anniversary of my sister losing one of her pregnancies (would have been her only son) at 22 weeks. I remember her profound grief.

    I’m really not having a good time with this subject. Life is precious – has any scientist created anything remotely like life from scratch? How can we act so cavalier with something we clearly don’t own?

    I’ve had enough for now – I’m going to bed. Perhaps the above review will be useful for some. My hope and prayer is that it gets defeated in the Upper House when it gets there.

    Mark Rabich

  6. I agree with Stephen Frost re his response to the news that some pro-death MPs getting abusive emails or letters. Obviously we don’t agree with or condone people resorting to abusive language, but compared to killing babies in the womb, which is what the pro-death MPs want, copping a bit of bad language seems trivial in comparison. If I was given the choice between being executed or called names, I know which I would prefer!

    Ewan McDonald.

  7. Bill, you are right to emphasize the importance of practical pro-life living and to highlight a range of ways that can be done. This pro-life perspective can be carried through to our families and communities.
    At some point we simply do have to say abortion is wrong whilst also being sensitive to the reality that many think it right and proper, and the real nature of the “procedure” is often hidden from women who are stressed and upset about their pregnancy for a range of often serious reasons. Sometimes with a little hindsight the reasons don’t seem that important but in the moment. To also engage in the political process to try and defeat bad abortion laws, or to try and moderate abortion laws with better safeguards and information for women is also practical pro-life work. If our efforts resulted in just one more woman taking a couple of days to seek counseling and information about her prospects if she continued the pregnancy then our political efforts are worthwhile and have helped 2 vulnerable people. Our efforts might result in a mother being given the space and the assistance to recognize that her motherhood is already real and that her baby needs her, that she does not have to choose between her baby and her own survival.

    The indifference of the legislative process through the VLRC to the Legislative Assembly was appalling. It was indifference to real women and the real circumstances many women face both in the discovery of their pregnancy and in the way many have been sucked into the abortion industry who invaded their woombs to attack their babies with sharp instruments for a profit. The appalling indifference to the eugenicist tone of the defense of the Bill was shocking. A large proportion of this defense seemed to rest on the need to search out and relieve parents of the burden of “defective” babies. It was acknowledged that some of these defects were terminal but no opportunity was allowed to show that termination is not the only, probably not the best solution. How many others were judged too defective because they were possibly downs syndrome, with spina bifida, or with a cleft palate or maybe needing a shunt. So many other ways of being a human person that were offered as chief argument for the massive deregulation of the abortion industry. That callous indifference will not stand the test of history. it is only hidden under the thinnest veils of ideological cant and sloganeering. The Government’s unseemly truncation and constraint of the debate will betray the reality of what they were really doing. And to the heroes who slogged their way through this disgraceful process in the last few days, the brave and dogged work of MPs such as Campbell, Clarke, Kairoz, Napthine, and the roughly 25 or so others who supported their efforts, my deepest gratitude to your blood, sweat and tears advocacy for life and for mothers.

    Angela Conway

  8. Life is for loving – not aborting, and
    Loving is for life – not euthanasing

    If love never dies,
    and our lives become filled with love,
    maybe Love will resurrect us after we die?

    Can anything compare with this?

    Phil Brabin

  9. Bill, you are dead right again in what you are saying here. We don’t have to earn the right to have an opinion, but I think we (The Church) need to have more of the options in place for women with unwanted pregnancies. We must appeal to the conscience of the public to have clout in the marketplace of ideas. What we need I think, is a powerful documentary depicting abortion in Australia, but without any frantic, frothing-at-the-mouth emotive language, just showing it like it is. I think that because it’s happening behind closed doors, most Australians just don’t know the full horror of it.
    Ian Brearley

  10. Does anyone know what coverage (if any) Gianna Jensen’s visit elicited in the mainstream media?
    Mark Rabich

  11. Thanks Mark
    Surprisingly, there was actually some coverage of Gianna in the Age before she came here. She and Professor Graeme Clark were interviewed after the Parliament talks, but I did not see too much coverage. More was on Clark than on her.
    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  12. At what point does one “earn the right” to speak out against abortion? As a young man I had a relationship with a very young girl. The result of our relationship was that she fell pregnant not once but twice.
    Twice she aborted, initially there was great relief but this soon vanished and guilt filled our lives. Our relationship vanished with the guilt and she met another man.

    I still mourn those lost children and I wonder what they may have achieved if allowed to mature. Would they now have a family, what careers would they have followed, would they have been world changers – I will never know. Have I earnt the right to speak out? Can I say that you have to live with the results of your decision for the rest of your life? Can I say that there is great guilt on both parties, men do have feelings? I know that I have been forgiven, but I can never forgive myself.

    Jim Sturla

  13. Check out this link!

    Shows a cute baby in the stages of development in the womb. Humans are arrogant to suggest these growing beings are not worthy of our love and protection.

    Most Australians value these little beings. It is a minority who wish to have the power to destroy these little beings.

    Teresa Binder

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