By Jon Wagner, JFA Trainng Specialist

“I was in the broken foster care system and have seen the challenges of adoption—I wouldn’t wish that on anyone, so I am pro-choice,” replied “Eva” cautiously. I had asked for her opinion on abortion as she approached our exhibit at the University of North Texas (UNT). She continued to walk, appearing to have little interest in a discussion.

“Eva” was more willing to focus on the unborn because I showed empathy for her suffering first. Here JFA volunteer Mark creates a similar moment for another UNT student. (Photo: University of North Texas, November 2018)

At that point, I was tired from a long day of conversations. My knee-jerk reaction to her anecdotal reasoning was to give a quick, factual response, but that approach wouldn’t have served Eva. She appeared to be skeptical and shy, worried that I might lash out with a firm response. I wanted my words to be meaningful and gracious to Eva. I wanted her to truly hear that I cared.

So instead of following my initial impulse I said, “I hear you, and I want you to know that I don’t think the foster care and adoption systems are perfect, or that these processes are easy or smooth. I’m sorry if anyone, especially a pro-life advocate, has ever implied that they are. I know that many cases do play out well, but I also know that even in the best cases, placing someone for adoption, adopting a baby, or being placed in foster care are very complex processes logistically and emotionally. We pro-life advocates need to research more and learn to listen and empathize better.”

I hear you, and I want you to know that I don’t think the foster care and adoption systems are perfect, or that these processes are easy or smooth. I’m sorry if anyone, especially a pro-life advocate, has ever implied that they are.

Eva was visibly relieved that I had acknowledged the challenges she brought up, and she was encouraged that I asked questions that allowed her to open up about her life growing up in the foster care system. She seemed very thankful to be heard.

Eventually, I felt we had reached a moment when it would be fruitful to return to the topic of abortion. Our dialogue went something like this:

Jon: Would you agree that many of the challenges faced by children in foster care actually increase as they get older? I’ve heard that it’s often especially difficult to place an older child for adoption.

Eva: I definitely agree with that.

Jon: Knowing that, then, how should we treat infants, toddlers, and young kids who are currently in a difficult foster care or adoption situation? Even though they face increasingly challenging circumstances, would ending the lives of these children ever be an acceptable solution to their problems?

Eva: Of course not. Regardless of the challenges, violence is not the answer.

Jon: I agree. Eva, it seems to me that this relates directly to the topic of abortion. If the unborn are fully human like older children in the foster care system, then wouldn’t that mean that the unborn should be protected in the same way? Shouldn’t children be protected despite the challenges they face, or the challenges that seem to lie ahead of them, at any stage in their development?

Eva: That makes sense. I would agree that if the unborn is a human being, just like children outside the womb in the foster care system, then they should be protected in the same way.

Eva then willingly processed through the information on our human development display, listening as I explained why we know that the preborn are whole, living, human beings. Furthermore, she heard me out as I shared that the preborn should not be treated differently because they look different than we do, or because they are inside of or dependent on their mothers. None of these reasons justify killing them. Eva then brought up pain sensation, asserting that perhaps it marks the start of value and worth for the unborn.

Eventually, after discussing that specific topic and several others, Eva agreed that abortion is wrong, at least after seven weeks. Even though she did not agree with me about the equality of the unborn before seven weeks of age, she seemed to shift on her view of many cases of abortion. Additionally, she now seemed more uncomfortable with all of them.

The most encouraging thing about my conversation with Eva didn’t come until the very end. As we concluded our dialogue, Eva wasn’t just content or thankful for being heard—she was beaming. I offered Eva a bottle of water since we had been talking for a while, and it was warming up. She said, “Yes, I’d love a water, but I was actually going to offer to buy you a drink and a snack in the union as a sign of gratitude for our conversation.” Eva chose to bless me, even though I had just disagreed with her very firmly.

In the conversation Jon Wagner (orange hat) had with Eva, he had the opportunity to share JFA’s brochure and his reasons for opposing abortion. The same happened with another UNT student pictured above. (Photo: University of North Texas, November 2018)

I handed Eva JFA’s new “Invitation to Dialogue” Brochure, and wrote down other websites she could go to for further study.* She was very open to these resources and promised to do further research. I gave Eva a hug, and she thanked our team for caring and engaging her campus in healthy discussion.

As I reflected back to the beginning of my interaction with Eva, one important principle stood out: I didn’t need to immediately make my next point when she first shared hers. I needed to empathize with her and acknowledge her ideas, even if they were unpersuasive, because she matters. Ironically, this was likely what prompted her interest in hearing what I had to say, after all. Eva ended up showing genuine interest in the reasons I opposed abortion and in discussing our differences. She even expressed interest in staying in contact and discussing the issue further.

Empathy for another person and genuine interest in another perspective drew together two unlikely friends. This was one of my favorite conversations last year. It showed once again the value of JFA’s Three Essential Skills: asking questions with an open heart, listening to understand, and finding common ground when possible.

* Websites Jon shared in this conversation: