From debate to dialogue
Rusty Benson
Rusty Benson
AFA Journal associate editor

June 2008 – If the contemporary culture war had an official beginning it would likely be January 22, 1973, the day the U. S. Supreme Court legalized abortion on demand in the landmark Roe v. Wade case.

As the smoke cleared from that ruling, many American Christians were shaken from decades of cultural hibernation by the reality that unborn babies were being torn apart or poisoned in abortion clinics around the nation. Evangelicals began to join with Roman Catholics – who had already laid a solid foundation of life-affirming doctrine – to organize groups that would become known collectively as the pro-life movement. In response, abortion supporters entrenched their defenses in parallel groups. In an effort to put on a positive face, they took on the moniker  “pro-choice.” 

In the 35 years since Roe v. Wade, the combatants have met for battle in courtrooms, on abortion clinic sidewalks, in the media, on college campuses and anywhere individuals were willing to risk a debate turning into an ugly confrontation. 

If either side is battle weary, it shows little. Pro-choice advocates continue to passionately defend their ground as protecting the right of a pregnant women to sovereignly rule over her own body. 

Against the prevailing law, pro-lifers take the offensive to convince the culture that the life of an unborn baby is of a higher value than anyone’s “right to choose.” That goal requires making a persuasive public argument that a fetus is, in reality, an unborn human being and that abortion is the killing of that person. To that end, one of the most engaging pro-life strategies is the display of photos that depict the gruesome reality of abortion.

Unborn in the USA: Inside the War on Abortion is a film that documents the current pro-life movement, focusing largely on the work of groups that use these huge photos of aborted babies in an attempt to create a dialogue between pro-life and pro-choice advocates. The movie was released in 2007 and is now available on DVD. (Warning: The documentary contains language and violent content that viewers may find objectionable.) 

Among the organizations that are profiled in the film is Justice For All (www., a pro-life group that displays the abortion photos on college campus across the nation. Central to their work is training student leaders to dialogue with those who stop to view the exhibits.

Steve Wagner, is a trainer for Justice for All who appears in the film. His critique of the movie is among those included in the special features of the DVD version. Although he describes Unborn in the USA as generally “engaging and fair,” Wagner, who is also a bio-ethicist with Stand for Reason, a Christian apologetics group, was disappointed that it focused largely on the more contentious interactions between pro-life and pro-choice advocates. 

That shortcoming motivated him to write Common Ground Without Compromise as an attempt to break the abortion debate deadlock by encouraging both sides to search for common ground early in a discussion of the issue.

“I’ve spent hundreds of hours out on college campuses talking to students,” Wagner says. “What I’ve found is that when you look at them from a distance you have all sorts of opinions about them. But when you talk to them, you realize that a lot of your assumptions were mistaken.

“And what I found out is when we can actually enter into a dialogue, we position ourselves as truth-seekers along with the person we are talking to, we find that person is more open to reconsidering their perspective.”

In Common Ground Without Compromise Wagner offers 25 questions designed to create dialogue about abortion, such as: Should abortion be used as a form of birth control? Should abortion be legal through all nine months of pregnancy and for any reason? Should we encourage women to view pictures of the results of abortion before they have one?

In each case, Wagner demonstrates how common ground can start a conversation that can lead to a re-examination of more fundamental beliefs.

Another reason Wagner wrote the book, he says, is that earlier efforts at common ground proved to be inadequate.

“The problem is that we set aside our disagreements about whether or not the unborn is a human being or whether or not the mother has the right to abort the unborn. At that point we have compromised. My view is that we should view common ground as a tool to help us to discuss our differences in a more civil way so we can start a dialogue that moves forward.”  undefined

Resources from
Common Ground Without Compromise by Steve Wagner – $11.99
Ambassador’s Creed – 10 principles that describe the characteristics of a good ambassador for Christ (Go to