A pro-life activist walks into Google’s headquarters and delivers a speech so compelling that within 24 hours, the online video of it surpassed a similar speech given by the head of Planned Parenthood.
It may sound like the start to a far-fetched joke, but on April 20th, pro-life speaker and activist Stephanie Gray did just that.
Gray was the co-founder of the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform and served as its executive director for several year before starting the ministry which she now runs, Love Unleashes Life.
She spoke in April as a part of the Talks at Google series, a program that brings a variety of speakers to the company’s headquarters to discuss their work. Gray has participated in more than 800 talks and debates on abortion.
Gray’s talk centered around the idea that there are three qualities that lead us to call someone “inspiring:" They place others ahead of themselves, have “perspective" on their sufferings and situation in life, and do the right thing even in difficult situations. She linked these criteria to the process of dialoguing with others about abortion, emphasizing question asking.
She began by contrasting two stories, that of the shipwreck of the Costa Concordia in Italy in 2012 and the “Miracle on the Hudson" emergency plane landing in 2009. In the first story, she explained, the captain had jumped ship along with the rest of the crew. In the second, the pilot, Captain Chesley Sullenberger, had been the last off the flooding vessel, ensuring his passengers all exited safely.
In comparing the two stories, she noted that Sullenberger was lauded as a hero, and the captain of the Concordia internationally shamed.
“If you agree that it was correct for the pilot to put the passengers ahead of himself, to prioritize the needs of his dependents," she said, “then wouldn’t it follow, that when it comes to the topic of abortion and an unplanned pregnancy, that a pregnant woman ought to prioritize the needs of her dependent?"
However, she noted that the comparison was only valid “depending on, indeed, whether embryos and fetuses are human beings, like the passengers on the airplane."
To determine whether or not a fetus is a human being, Gray displayed an image of a human fetus and posed the question, “What are her parents?" It would logically follow that two human parents’ offspring must be the same species, she said.
Despite the ambiguity around the origin point of human life when it comes to abortion, she said, in discussing other topics “we have great clarity." For example, an IVF specialist or dog breeder would agree that the life they attempt to create begins at fertilization.
Taking a look at what qualifies as “personhood," Gray considered the terms used by pro-infanticide philosopher Peter Singer, that a person is a being which is “rational, conscious, and self-aware." She contrasted a human embryo with an amoeba: the embryo lacks these qualities “because of how old she is," where the amoeba lacks them “because of what it is."
“Should personhood be grounded in how old we are, or should personhood be grounded in what we are?" she asked.
“The quality of age shouldn’t be the basis for which someone has personhood status," she answered, noting that the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizes the rights of “all members of the human family."
She then addressed the question of the fetus’ dependence, arguing that the fetus’ greater dependent status as a weaker entity than a baby entitles it to greater, not less, protection. She related this to the story of a friend’s husband who, faced with the choice between rescuing a mother or her baby first from the roof of a sinking car, made the “obvious" choice to take the baby.
“Since you believe that we should prioritize weaker and more vulnerable people ahead of stronger people, then shouldn’t we actually prioritize the needs of the pre-born child?" she said.
She recalled meeting a Rwandan genocide survivor who, seeing a picture of a child killed in the conflict next to an aborted fetus, pointed to the image of the fetus and said, “That’s worse, because at least my family could try to run away."
Considering the concept of perspective, she posed another question: “How can we change our perspective in an unplanned, crisis situation?" She recalled dialoguing with a college student whose stepmother had an abortion upon learning her baby was expected to die at birth. Responding with a thought experiment involving a terminal cancer diagnosis, she answered the student, “Why would we cut short the already short time we have left? Instead, wouldn’t we want to savor every moment of every day of the next 20 weeks (of the pregnancy)?"
Moving to her final criterion for what makes a person inspirational – “do the right thing" – she listed a number of circumstances that make pregnancy hard and often lead to abortion, including poverty or rape. But when we look at parents raising an already-born child in the same circumstances, she said, we can see that we ought to have the same attitude towards carrying an unborn child as towards parenting a child in the same situation.
Gray closed with a number of stories from people she knows personally, including a woman who was raped and had a child at age 12, a woman who cared for her baby daughter with respiratory issues, and a woman who regretted her own abortion and ended up counseling another woman to carry her baby to term.
“They’re inspiring because they put others ahead of themselves, because they had perspective, and because they did the right thing, even when it was hard," she said of all the stories she had told throughout the talk. “And that’s the challenge that I leave all of you with today."
In a question-and-answer session after her talk, she recommended that audience members seek to start dialogue on the difficult topic of abortion with open-ended questions, and to “seek to understand where (another) person is coming from." She also used the analogy of a person choosing rape to address the thought that pro-life views cannot be “forced on" pregnant women, saying that just as it is illegal to make the choice to rape someone, it ought to be illegal to choose to end the life of a fetus.
Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards also gave a Talk at Google, in a video published March 7. Gray’s talk, published June 19, had surpassed Richards in views within 24 hours of being uploaded.