Instead of making ‘big splashes,’ it focuses on impacting individuals with one-on-one conversations
A pro-life organization called the Equal Rights Institute is helping college students to pursue fruitful, civil dialogues about abortion in an increasingly divisive political culture.
A national organization, the institute’s mission is to help pro-life advocates think clearly, reason honestly, and argue persuasively while also learning to better understand other people’s points of view.
One of its recent challenges has been facilitating good conversations since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022 and began allowing states to protect unborn babies from abortions again.
“Of course pro-choice people are furious! They believe that the Supreme Court has taken a natural right away from them, and partially because of President Trump, of all people,” Josh Brahm, founder and president of ERI, told The College Fix.
An August 2023 Gallup poll found that abortion is one of the topics in which political polarization “has increased most significantly” in the past two decades.
To help break down barriers between people — especially on college campuses, Brahm said ERI encourages pro-lifers to put themselves in the other person’s shoes and listen.
“We’re not about dropping slogans or sound-bites; we’re about genuine conversation that changes minds or, at the very least, makes pro-choice people understand and respect pro-lifers, often for the very first time,” he told The Fix.
Emily Geiger, director of education and outreach at ERI, told The Fix that she first became involved with the organization as a college student.
At the time, Geiger said she was feeling frustrated because her pro-life club had a display that was vandalized 13 times in one week, and the college administration gave the incident little attention. Pro-choice students also held a protest at a local pregnancy resource center, and some of their pro-life advertisements were ripped down, she said.
As a student pro-life advocate, Geiger said she really wanted her campus to become “a place where people of different viewpoints could actually speak and be heard, respectfully engaging with each other’s positions rather than shutting them down,” but she did not know how.
Then, she found the Equal Rights Institute.
Through its Equipped for Life Course, Geiger said she and others in the club learned how to “foster respectful and productive dialogues about abortion on our campus.”
Now, she works for the organization, helping other students and adults to do the same.
Brahm told The Fix that he launched ERI ten years ago to do something other pro-life groups were not focused on: teaching pro-lifers how to respectfully and effectively dialogue with people who support legalized abortion.
“Much of that vision was based on tons of experience talking to pro-choice people on college campuses, particularly the friendships I had developed with pro-choice people,” Brahm told The Fix.
He said ERI is different from other pro-life organizations that do outreach on college campuses because their goal is not to make a “big splash” by garnering attention. Instead, he said they want to have gracious, thoughtful conversations with pro-choice individuals.
“We should also be pointing out any common ground we have. It’s a breath of fresh air in the conversation and a reminder to both people that they aren’t polar opposites,” he said, adding “When you model respectful and productive dialogue, the vast majority of people will rise to the occasion.”
Geiger said they believe that it is crucial to understand pro-choice arguments in order to have productive conversations and change minds. When she conducts tabling outreaches at colleges, she told The Fix that she opens the floor for students to share their opinions and let them speak without interruptions.
Geiger said she wants the person to feel heard rather than threatened. Often, as a result, she said the student’s interest piques and they become more open to understanding why she is pro-life.
Brahm said ERI tells pro-lifers to remember that the person may have had an abortion or may know someone who did.
“We’re not there to judge people for having abortions,” he said. “We are there to exchange ideas with thoughtful people about an important human rights issue …”
However, he said ERI also emphasizes that people should set boundaries in conversations and not put up with abusive behavior.
Along with training students and speaking to pro-life groups, ERI produces podcasts and articles on its website, and offers courses that teach pro-lifers how to dialogue well and compassionately approach pregnant women who are considering abortion. The organization also runs an Affiliate Group Program, which offers materials and one-on-one training to help college students run an influential pro-life group on campus.
IMAGE: Equal Rights Institute/Facebook