If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle. -Sun Tzu, “The Art of War”
The beginning of 2023 brings with it a new legislative season, as legislators at both federal and state levels put forward new bills on behalf of their constituents.
A bill being pushed forward in Georgia is worth focusing on. Called the “Equal Protection Act” the bill aims to expand the protections for unborn children provided in the Georgia Heartbeat Law, by defining the life of an unborn human being as starting with conception.
While the goals of protecting unborn children is noble, those pushing the bill are ignoring current political realities for the sake of moralistic purity. A recent article by Pastor Josh Buice of G3 Ministries provides a case in point for the faulty thinking driving the bill.
It goes without saying that to stand for the preborn and to support the abolition of abortion will result in great opposition. Such opposition will come from liberal feminists and pro-choice advocates who bow the knee to secular humanism and detest the very Word of God. They will go to rallies wearing shirts that read, “Save the Whales” while holding signs that support the murder of little babies. You might be shocked to know that the pro-life establishment is currently working to oppose the abolition of abortion as well.
It might surprise readers to learn that some of the opposition facing pro-lifers is not coming from those who support abortion, but from those who claim to oppose it. Groups such as Abolish Human Abortion, Free The States, and large Evangelical ministries such as G3 of late have repeatedly attacked pro-life organizations for allegedly “Not doing enough” to stop abortion. The reason? Pro-lifers oppose bills aimed at totally abolishing abortion and are(so the claim goes) guilty of cooperation with evil because we seek to “regulate” legalized child killing.
The claim is, of course, bogus. To accuse pro-life advocates–some of whom have spent large parts of their lives and experienced much pain and hardship along the way– of “cooperating” with those hell-bent on protecting their ability to kill unborn children is an act of such brazen arrogance it barely deserves to be taken seriously.
The attack on pro-life advocates who take issue with Abolitionist talking points is misguided. Yes, pro-life advocates can always do more, and should when given the opportunity. Pro-lifers and Abolitionist groups do share in common a strategic goal: The overall elimination of abortion from our society. The difference boils down to one of strategic goals versus tactical goals.
Strategic goals encompass broad objectives; the point we would like to get to, in this case, abolishing abortion in the United States.
Tactics are different. Tactics are inherently smaller-scale and laser-focused on what can be immediately achieved given the situation one finds themselves in. You could say strategy involves the big picture of what you want to happen to accomplish your goal. Tactics involve the smaller picture, the “how” you get to your goals based on your strategy. Think about it this way: Suppose you want to take an expensive vacation to Hawaii. Your long term strategic goal is to enjoy carefree relaxation on the beaches under the Hawaiin sun. How do you get there?
This is where tactics come into play. Unless you already live in Hawaii, you will need to take steps to get ready for your vacation. This may mean you look at your finances and begin setting aside money to pay for the trip. It may mean shopping around for deals on airlines, hotels, and rental cars. It may mean finding out how much time you can afford to spend away from your obligations at home such as work. And it may mean deciding on whether a trip halfway across the Pacific ocean is even feasible for you in the first place. You may have to put it off for a time, and spend your vacation doing something a bit more manageable given your situation until a better opportunity presents itself.
If you ignore all of these steps and simply hop on a plane the next morning, you may enjoy your getaway; more likely, your trip will hit multiple obstacles leaving you with a miserable experience.
The issue comes down to tactics: How do those who oppose abortion get the culture to the point where we reject abortion as unthinkable(our strategic goal)? While Pro-lifers agree in principle with our Abolitionist critics, in practice the application looks different. As Scott Klusendorf notes, pro-life advocates have already tried to pass bills aimed at immediately eliminating all abortions outright. When these bills failed, it led to a change in tactics, not a change in overall strategic objectives. Pro-lifers began working to protect the unborn children we could, while hoping this would give us a greater foothold in the culture to protect more unborn children as time went on. Writes Scott,
From 1974 to 1983, pro-lifers advanced several human life amendments and human life bills, hoping to gain a quick and decisive victory for all unborn humans. When those efforts failed, pro-lifers began practicing a second strategy aimed at limiting the evil of abortion insofar as possible given current political realities. While not abandoning our principle of total protection for all unborn humans, we practiced incrementalism to save as many lives as we could along the way. Abolitionists insist that pro-life advocates employ a sinful means (incremental legislation) to achieve a good end (saving children). But the abolitionist claim is question-begging since the debate over incrementalism is precisely about whether compromising legislatively equals compromising morally.
Abolitionists who attack pro-life advocates for supposed inconsistency bear the burden of proof to show why failing to support immediate abolition bills are engaging in gross injustice.
Second, it can be pointed out that Abolitionists like Josh are just as guilty of the same moral indiscretion they accuse pro-life advocates of engaging in. Writes Josh,
A bill to abolish abortion was introduced in Louisiana, but it failed. Why did it fail? The failure was not based on the fact that massive pro-choice feminists and liberals opposed it. That was a given. It failed because 70 pro-life groups openly opposed the bill. Allow that to sink in for just a moment. It was the pro-life establishment standing with the pro-choice feminists and liberals who actually caused the bill to fail.
In an open letter, about 70 anti-abortion groups passionately opposed the bill to all state legislators urging them to reject it. The letter included the following appeal:
“As national and state pro-life organizations, representing tens of millions of pro-life men, women and children across the country, let us be clear: We state unequivocally that any measure seeking to criminalize or punish women is not pro-life and we stand firmly opposed to such efforts.”
Josh also states the following,
In essence, powerful groups who operate under the banner of pro-life and receive multitudes of millions of dollars from Christians and local churches actually worked to kill a bill in the state of Louisiana that would completely abolish abortion. The rationale was based on an unwillingness to criminalize mothers who murder their babies. So, on the basis of that logic and broken pro-life ethic—is it improper to criminalize a mother who straps her child in a car seat and drives her SUV down a boat ramp into a lake? At what level are we willing to hold mothers accountable for murdering their children?
Josh then goes on to argue that to be truly just on behalf of the unborn is to support measures aimed at criminal punishments for women who engage in abortion.
Setting aside for a moment that the finances of most pro-life organizations are near bankruptcy levels(Really, the idea we’re raking in millions is just laughable, not to mention slanderous) Josh’s argument is itself broken. While he accuses pro-life advocates of not truly caring about children, his overall argument shows he is guilty his of his own charge.
For individuals to support the abolition of abortion but to reject the prosecution of women who murder their babies is to be woefully inconsistent. Our justice system is extremely robust and allows all layers of every case to be heard and considered individually. Every case is unique and deserving of due process under the law. However, if pro-life groups oppose abortion but refuse to hold women accountable for murder, they reject equal protection and justice for all. That is a broken ethic that should be abandoned and opposed by Christians.
Why should the lives of unborn children hinge on whether or not mothers get criminalized for obtaining abortions? Are we to believe that until we are willing to pass a bill to criminally charge women for getting abortions, abortion should remain legal?
Josh doesn’t cite any of the reasons pro-life advocates give for opposing the prosecution of women; instead, he dismisses them offhand as contrary to Scripture and accuses those who disagree with him of choosing to save some lives over others.
There might be good reason to think prosecuting women for abortions is a step to far. For one, it ignores current political realities. Given the sheer hysteria following the overturning of Roe v. Wade this past summer, it’s foolish to assume an all-or-nothing approach to abortion is going to make it far, especially one that makes the protection of unborn children hinge on whether we get to prosecute women. Pro-abortion advocates have already largely succeeded in painting pro-life advocates as extreme and unreasonable, and an entire political party has rallied behind abortion rights. This past week, with the passage of the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act(HR 26), Democratic lawmakers(with one exception) voted against legislation requiring abortionists to provide medical support to children inadvertently born during botched late-term abortions. The biggest cultural institutions, from Academia, to Hollywood, to Big Tech Corporations like Google and Facebook, routinely promote pro-abortion activists and target pro-life ones. States such as my home state of California have launched themselves into a Crusade of sorts to bring women to the state to have abortions at taxpayer expense, and have routinely tried to shut down pro-life organizations for providing women other options.
Given these cultural trends, belief that the complete abolition of abortion can be achieved only if pro-life groups would simply stop opposing Abolitionist bills that completely ban all abortion procedures all at once is downright delusional and slanderous.
Second, pro-lifers don’t oppose the prosecution of women who get abortions without good reason. Writes Francis Beckwith,
Consequently, if abortion is made illegal because the law again comes to recognize the unborn as human persons with a right to life, legislatures, while creating laws and penalties, and courts, while handing out sentences, will have to take into consideration the following important facts. (1) It is a reality that unborn humans are persons and to kill them is no different than killing a newborn baby, an infant, a small child, an adolescent, or an adult. (2) Because of both the lack of education concerning prenatal development and the miseducation of the abortion-rights propaganda that permeates the media, both men and women are often ignorant of the nature of the unborn child…Not realizing at the time of the abortion that the procedure kills a real person who, in many cases, suffers excruciating pain, many women often suffer from depression after finding out about these facts. And since both those who may encourage these women to seek an illegal abortion(family, friends, or lovers) as well as the abortionist who will be paid for performing this deed have no intention of discouraging her, it is likely that the pregnancy women will be lied to (e.g. “You’re not carrying a baby, it’s a ‘Product of conception,’ ‘blob of tissue’…) and unlikely that true facts will be provided to them. Thus, the woman who seeks and obtains an illegal abortion is really a second victim.
Criminal law relies on nuance and discretion, something Josh ignores. Even homicide laws have factors that get taken into account during both the investigation and the subsequent prosecution. Josh’s analogy fails to take these factors into account. A woman who purposely drowns her child in a car will be prosecuted for murder. A woman who sinks her car to commit insurance fraud, not realizing until it was too late that her child was inside the car will still be prosecuted, but not for murder. Given the amount of confusion pertaining to the nature of prenatal human beings, it’s ludicrous to hold women accountable for something they didn’t or even couldn’t fully understand.
Pro-life advocates who recognize these realities and oppose the prosecution of post-abortive women are not guilty of compromising with evil; they’re opposed to fixing one evil by replacing it with a different one. Abolitionists who make the prosecution of women their condition for protecting unborn children need to stop and ask if they are engaging in the same sort of moral compromise they accuse pro-life advocates of peddling.
One last thought on the matter, as my colleague Daniel Gump has pointed out, prior to the passage of the 14th Amendment in the late 1860s, nearly every state in the Union had legal protections for unborn children, but only a handful of states kept the option of prosecuting women on the table. The reason was that state legislatures, relying on Common Law understandings, recognized women as a sort of second victim of abortion, which was often used by sleazy men to cover up their own sexual misconduct.
The Abolitionist contention that unless women are able to be prosecuted for having abortion, our society is engaging in deep injustice leads to a curious circumstance where all laws prohibiting abortion pre-Roe were just as wickedly unjust as the legal protections for abortion that followed it. That’s silly.
In closing, the moralistic chest-thumping of the Abolitionist movement needs to be subjected to careful scrutiny. While many(such as Pastor Buice) are eager to defend unborn children, it’s worth asking if the methods they are demanding pro-lifers adhere to are going to help or further harm the unborn. Consider this closing thought from Josh,
If you live in a state where a “heartbeat law” has been passed, I would urge you to not support that law and to work to abolish abortion completely. Consider the fact that under that “heartbeat law” it allows abortion doctors and mothers to intentionally murder one category of babies while protecting another category of babies. As Christians, we should never support a law that allows for the murder of black babies while protecting white babies, and in the same way we should oppose the heartbeat laws that divide the preborn into two classes where one is legally murdered and the other is protected.
Josh’s complaint here raises an important question: Are we supposed to simply accept the intentional killing of all unborn children unless we are able to put forward legislation to protect all at once, or should we work to save some until we are able to save all? He is failing to grasp that pro-lifers who support such a law are not settling for it. Instead, pro-life advocates are using the law as a way to both protect unborn children as well as bring attention to their humanity, and open the door for people to see the wrongfulness of abortion. Minds and hearts tend to change incrementally, so it’s only logical to assume societies will as well.
Scott Klusendorf provides a helpful response
Abolitionists insist that incremental laws are a sinful rejection of God’s sovereignty and legitimize murder. However, if incremental pro-life laws are inherently sinful, which incremental laws currently in force do abolitionists wish to repeal right now? Incremental laws save lives. For example, the Charlotte Lozier Institute estimates that the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits the use of federal and state matching Medicaid funds for most abortions, alone saves 60,000 lives a year (2,409,311 total since 1976). Should we let those children die in exchange for abolitionist purity? This is a problematic question for abolitionists and one they’ve dodged in public debates with pro-life advocates. Incremental laws make it tougher to operate abortion clinics, forcing some to close. That’s why Planned Parenthood fights these laws tooth and nail. If a bill was introduced banning all abortions but did not address lives lost to IVF procedures, would abolitionists support it?
The courage to stand for unborn children is laudable; demanding they all be allowed to die because we can only save some for the time being is not.
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