“Immediatist vs Incrementalist” debate analysis, Part VI: Christians and the legislative process

by Clinton Wilcox of Life Training Institute

It is an honor to be able to contribute to Jill’s frankly devastating critique of T. Russell Hunter’s performance in his “Immediatist vs Incrementalist debate against Gregg Cunningham.

churchandstatesignsLate in the debate (timestamps 1:05:10 to 1:07:04), Hunter made the following claim: Christians are not practicing activism at abortion clinics because they don’t trust in the power of God, they trust in incremental legislation.

During cross-examination  (timestamps 1:41:32 to 1:44:56), Hunter made the same accusation, adding pastors and churches, and asked if Cunningham agreed.

Cunningham rebutted that while he agreed churches aren’t doing enough to combat abortion, it is not the fault of incremental legislation. Incremental legislation is a good thing.

Rather, Cunningham observed:

  • Pastors are not being trained properly in pro-life apologetics, and they are not speaking about abortion to their parishioners.
  • Pastors can be afraid of losing members, so they don’t want to engage in any sort of “offensive” speech from the pulpit.
  • Christians, by and large, are not leaving the pews to engage in pro-life activism.

Not to be outdone, Hunter wrote the following as a comment on Jill’s post:

As for specific bills and laws, we do believe that cultural change is necessary to their passage and are focused on doing what we can to “get the votes,” as our anti-abolitionist pro-life opponents always tell us “are not there.” But do look for specific practical actionable bills of abolition to start appearing in 2016.

In other words, legislation is actually fine, as long as it’s AHA’s brand of legislation. And somehow Hunter’s brand will not lull Christians into complacency?

The bigger problem, though, as has been pointed out before, is all bills are necessarily incremental, as would be any bill AHA proposes. If, for instance, you pass a personhood amendment in Texas, all you have to do is go to New Mexico, “…and then you can kill the baby.”

Hunter had an answer for that in another comment on Jill’s blog:

Do I need to explain the difference? Do you see that the statewide abolition bill that bans abortion because it is the murder of human beings is different than a state Not banning abortion and not bringing humans under the protection of law but hexing a certain procedure in which they could be killed?

Of course people would drive to another state to get an abortion but that is because in their state abortion had been abolished as murder.

However, AHA opposes incremental legislation to close abortion clinics because “Shutting down clinics doesn’t halt abortion; it just makes people who choose to sacrifice their children drive further.”

Overt contradictions aside, Hunter is nevertheless playing semantics. If we must oppose all bills that could end with “…and then you can kill the baby,” we must, of necessity, oppose any personhood amendment that doesn’t abolish abortion in the United States as a whole.

morgentalerBut then you run into further problems, because then you could just cross the border to Canada, “…and then you can kill the baby.”

Hunter’s brand of “immediatism” should be rejected because one cannot consistently live as an immediatist as Hunter understands it. All bills we can logically support are incremental in nature; personhood bills are simply the only kind Hunter is happy with.

During the debate Hunter knocked Christian involvement in legislative endeavors as distractive from real work to stop abortion.

So, should Christians be involved in the political process?

Absolutely, if we believe in effecting change for the better. In fact, as brilliant theologian Wayne Grudem pointed out, there have been many times in Jewish history when they gave counsel to ungodly rulers, such as when Daniel counseled King Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4, and when Joseph advised Pharaoh in Genesis. Please read the linked article for a more in-depth discussion of Christians being involved in the political process.

It’s true many Christians can use the political process as an excuse not to engage in activism, but this isn’t a problem with the legislative process. This is a problem with education in our churches, and apathy among church-goers.

We should continue to support incremental legislation because that’s the only way we’ll affect change in our current political atmosphere.

Pro-life people want the immediate end to abortion. Incremental legislation is our strategic method for getting there. Planned Parenthood knows this. Pro-choice writers like Katha Pollitt know this (it plays a major theme in her recent book Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights). The only people who don’t seem to get that are the self-proclaimed “abolitionists.”
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Clinton Wilcox is a staff apologist for Life Training Institute. He specializes in training pro-life people to make the pro-life case more effectively and persuasively. He is also a certified speaker and mentor for Justice for All. He keeps a personal blog, and you can also follow him on Twitter.

Read previous posts:

Prologue
Part I: Let babies die today, we can save the rest later
Part II: There’s only one way to cut down a tree?
Part III: Social justice history vs TR Hunter
Part IV: Straw men and the Bible
Part V: Sacrificing children to the idol of abolitionism
Scott Klusendorf: Debate between Gregg Cunningham and T. Russell Hunter
Jonathan Van Maren: Four observations from the Cunningham vs. Hunter debate

14 thoughts on ““Immediatist vs Incrementalist” debate analysis, Part VI: Christians and the legislative process”

  1. Clinton, Laws that end with “…and then you can kill the baby” undermine the right to life making them wrong. Any incremental law that prevents abortion in even some little way is totally fine, UNLESS it undermines the right to life of someone.

    A personhood law in Texas DOES NOT undermine the right to life in New Mexico. It simply lacks the jurisdiction to protect the rights of those in New Mexico. But a law in Texas that says babies can’t be killed unless they are too young to feel pain; that undermines the right to life doesn’t it? It codifies into law permission (within their lawful jurisdiction) to murder innocent children that can’t feel pain. That is wrong to do. And it doesn’t matter if that law saved a million lives, you can never justify any action or law based solely on the outcome. That is a godless ethic called Utilitarianism.

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  2. Hi, Nathan:

    “Immediatists” keep throwing around words as accusations without really stopping to think about it. I am not a utilitarian, nor are any other pro-life advocates that I’m aware of. That’s why we don’t support bombing abortion clinics or killing abortionists, because the ends don’t justify the means.

    Laws like the 20-week-abortion ban do not give permission to kill unborn children younger than 20 weeks old. Abortionists already have that permission. What we’re doing is trying to limit the amount of children that they are able to kill. If we can’t save them all, we should at least save some.

    If you oppose incremental laws that are aimed at saving what children we can when we can (with an eye to eventually making abortion illegal across the board), then you are willing to let unborn children die for the sake of your ideology.

    These laws don’t undermine the right to life. In fact, pro-abortion organizations like Planned Parenthood and pro-choice writers understand what we are doing with these bills. They know that we’re not happy stopping here, that this is only a step toward undermining Roe v. Wade. It’s a mystery to me why “abolitionists” can’t see what Planned Parenthood sees as plain as day.

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  3. Nathan: a law in Texas that says babies can’t be killed unless they are too young to feel pain; that undermines the right to life doesn’t it? It codifies into law permission (within their lawful jurisdiction) to murder innocent children that can’t feel pain.

    No it doesn’t – said law would not address those without the (here, supposed) ability to feel pain – which is the exact same situation as now.

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  4. Clinton, I’m sure you are not a Utilitarian, but what I’ve heard over and over again are arguments for abortion regulation that almost exclusively appeal to the end results as justification for the strategy. Anyone who justifies their methods based on the end results is using a utilitarian ethic.

    You disagree with me that it’s even possible to undermine the right to life or give permission to perform abortions when abortion is already legal. I’d like to further challenge you on that point.

    I’m sure that when you engage others about the right to life or personhood of the unborn child, you would never say that they shouldn’t abort an unborn child UNLESS they were under 20-weeks gestation. You wouldn’t do that regardless of whether abortion is legal or not in your country/state. Am I right about that? Adding that exception in your argument would undermine the very basis for the right to life, because the right to life isn’t based on age or location or level of development.

    When pro-lifers craft laws, they are communicating something. They are communicating to other lawmakers and to the public. Laws communicate right and wrong. When someone hears about a 20-week abortion ban crafted by pro-lifers or Christians, they are being taught something. They are being taught that 20-week old babies have a right to life and those younger than that don’t have a right to life.

    So my question to you is: Why is it wrong to include exceptions for abortion when explaining right and wrong on a college campus, but it’s OK to include exception for abortion when explaining right and wrong on a legal document.

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  5. Nathan:

    It’s not utilitarianism, it’s pragmatism. We have an end goal in mind: to end legal abortion in the United States. We don’t believe the end justifies the means; therefore, we don’t bomb clinics or kill abortionists. However, pragmatism is about political strategy, not about the ends justifying the means. We want to get legalized abortion abolished. How do we do that? In our political climate, we can’t do it overnight. So we take incremental steps with an eye toward ending abortion altogether. You’re confusing pragmatism with utilitarianism.

    When I engage people on college campuses, I don’t tell people that abortions are justified based on age, level of development, etc. I also tell them I don’t think it should be legal. But that’s in a perfect world. We don’t live in a perfect world. We live in a world where abortion is already legal; we live in a world in which abortionists already have permission to kill every unborn child who comes through their door. So my discussions on abortion is regarding what should be the case, not what is the case. We live in a climate in which every unborn child is a potential homicide victim, so passing incremental legislation is how we save what lives we can, when we can, so that lives are not needlessly lost. We’re not content to let unborn children die just because we can’t save them all.

    You’re right that laws teach people, but you’re not right when you say we’re teaching them that unborn children less than 20 weeks old don’t deserve to live. Incremental laws went through to end partial-birth abortion in the 90’s. That didn’t communicate to people that it’s okay to kill late fetuses if you don’t partially birth them first; just the opposite. It got them talking about why, exactly, it’s wrong to kill fetuses using this procedure. After all, if we ban partial-birth abortions, then how is it consistent to kill them using other means? It gets people talking, and it gets abortion out in the public, when without these bills it remains in the dark.

    When pro-life lawmakers push their laws through, they are not making exceptions. If abortion is legal through all nine months, pushing legislation through that says “stop killing 20-week old and older fetuses because you are causing them excruciating pain” says nothing about the younger fetuses. And to reiterate my earlier comment, pro-choice people and pro-abortion organizations understand what we are doing. They know we are not going to stop at these laws, and they know that these laws won’t stop us from making more abortions illegal. Why is it that they can understand this, but “abolitionists” can’t?

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  6. Nathan: Doug, Have you ever read an abortion regulation created by pro-lifers before? I’ve never read one that doesn’t give explicit permission to legally abort certain unborn children.

    Try reading one: https://www.congress.gov/bill/113th-congress/house-bill/1797/text

    Nathan, I hadn’t read one before. Here, you must be talking about the exclusions for the unborn at less than 20 weeks gestation, for rape or incest against a minor, or when:

    “in reasonable medical judgment, the abortion is necessary to save the life of a pregnant woman whose life is endangered by a physical disorder, physical illness, or physical injury, including a life-endangering physical condition caused by or arising from the pregnancy itself, but not including psychological or emotional conditions”

    I think what I said still stands. “said law would not address those without the (here, supposed) ability to feel pain – which is the exact same situation as now.”

    It’s legal now to have an abortion in the same situations that would be legal under that proposed law. If you want to say, “Now see here, Douglas – the proposed law does ‘address’ that portion of the unborn,” then you have a point, but again – so what? It’s not making it legal to abort them whereas as of now it’s illegal. If it did legalize abortions that as of now are illegal, then I would say you’ve got a case.

    I also think that saying, in essence, “No law until a total ban,” is a bit ridiculous, from the point of a pro-lifer. The exclusion for danger to the mother is not going to be taken away. Things like ectopic pregnancies do happen, and right there is the leading cause of pregnancy-related death during the first trimester in America.

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  7. Pragmatism is fine. Basing your ethics on pragmatism is wrong. So if you are discussing whether a law is effective, then pragmatics is relevant. If you are discussing whether a law is right or wrong, pragmatics should be considered irrelevant. I’m sure you would agree.

    You said that abortion regulations get the public talking about abortion. That is irrelevant. The Roe v. Wade decision got the public talking about abortion. That doesn’t make it right or good.

    You said that pro-life laws are not making exceptions and that they say nothing about the excepted fetuses. Have you ever read a pro-life regulation bill before? See my previous comment for an example that you can read yourself.

    You said that the Partial Birth Abortion Ban didn’t communicate to people that it’s OK to kill late-term babies using other methods. I can’t understand how you could say that if you’ve actually read the PBA Ban. Have you ever read it? Or do the words in the bill not have meaning? The bill gives 3 primary reasons to ban this particular late-term procedure: 1) because it’s gruesome and inhumane (as if we are talking about animals or something), 2) because it’s not a safe for the mother, 3) because it gives the medical community a bad reputation.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Partial-Birth_Abortion_Ban_Act

    Here is a quote from the bill:
    “In light of this overwhelming evidence, Congress and the States have a compelling interest in prohibiting partial-birth abortions. In addition to promoting maternal health, such a prohibition will draw a bright line that clearly distinguishes abortion and infanticide, that preserves the integrity of the medical profession, and promotes respect for human life.”

    So according to the bill’s own words, the reason to ban this particular procedure is to draw a more clear distinction between abortion and infanticide. That’s what this bill communicates to the world, because that’s what it says in black and white. This statement clearly communicates that the unborn child is less valuable than the born child.

    In the Supreme Court ruling that upheld this ban, the justices followed the ethical logic provided in the bill and suggested ways in which late-term babies could be killed in ways that were less gruesome to the public.

    Besides all this, the bill wasn’t even pragmatic because according to people like James Dobson and Justice Roy Moore, the PBA Ban doesn’t have the power to prevent even a single abortion.

    http://americanrtl.org/pba

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  8. Hi Doug, I’m not saying no laws unless it’s a total ban. That may be what AHA is saying, but I don’t. I’m just opposed to any law that would undermine the right to life. Here are some examples of laws that can prevent some abortions, but don’t undermine the right to life.

    http://americanrtl.org/incrementalism

    I’d like you to consider this. There are no federal laws that legalize abortion in the states. There are only Supreme Court decisions. If those decisions are overturned someday, we will then have PRO-LIFE laws on the books in all 50 states that give legal permission to perform abortions under the excepted cases. Will these laws still be OK with you once Roe v. Wade, et al is overturned?

    Concerning ectopic pregnancies, it’s alway legitimate to perform medical procedures to save the lives of all involved. But if we need to end a pregnancy to save the life of the mother, we should also attempt to save the equally important life of the baby. Sometimes that’s not possible and the baby tragically dies. Here is a full treatment of that topic.

    http://americanrtl.org/life-of-the-mother-exception

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  9. Nathan, on ectopic pregnancies, there seems to be some disagreement. In that rtl.org link, there is an account of successfully transplanting an ectopic pregnancy, in 1915. While 100 years later, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine says that as far as transplanting tubal pregnancies into the uterus, that, “this is not possible with present medical science.”

    WebMD says that with ectopic pregnancies, the baby probably cannot survive. That in extremely rare cases it might, but not when the pregnancy is tubal, cornual, or cervical.

    I grant you that there may be some over-generalization on the part of those who say the baby’s almost surely going to die, but I also think there is wishful-thinking and some denial of reality going on with some pro-lifers, here. Also don’t think the exact ratio of survive/don’t survive really matters – the exclusion for the health of the woman is going to remain.

    I’m not saying no laws unless it’s a total ban. That may be what AHA is saying, but I don’t. I’m just opposed to any law that would undermine the right to life. Here are some examples of laws that can prevent some abortions, but don’t undermine the right to life.

    Looks to me like you distinguish between when the excluded among the unborn are mentioned specifically in a law, and when they are not. I don’t think it matters, i.e. without the law (now) or with the law, they are not protected.

    I’d like you to consider this. There are no federal laws that legalize abortion in the states. There are only Supreme Court decisions. If those decisions are overturned someday, we will then have PRO-LIFE laws on the books in all 50 states that give legal permission to perform abortions under the excepted cases. Will these laws still be OK with you once Roe v. Wade, et al is overturned?

    Laws are rarely about enumerating our rights; rather, they are about proscribing certain actions. There’s no federal law that says I can’t eat a pizza, for example.

    “If Roe would be overturned….” – We don’t know all of what would happen. It’s not impossible that many anti-abortion laws would be found unconstitutional on other grounds, for one thing.

    However, let’s just say that Roe was no more. What would definitely happen is that it would vary, state-by-state; abortion being more illegal in some states, and less illegal in others, the same as it was before Roe. Very easy to identify most of the strongest-restriction states as well as those with the least restrictions. And then there would be some where it’s a toss-up as to how things would shake out.

    Perhaps there would be some states that would totally outlaw abortion, no exceptions, all other things being equal, but I think they are very few, if any. I think there would in general at least be the same or similar exceptions as in the proposed laws you are now disagreeing with, i.e. health of the woman, rape, incest.

    I’m pro-choice, so I’m certainly fine with those exceptions.

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  10. But a law in Texas that says babies can’t be killed unless they are too young to feel pain; that undermines the right to life doesn’t it? It codifies into law permission (within their lawful jurisdiction) to murder innocent children that can’t feel pain.

    No it doesn’t. You’re confusing “necessary” with “sufficient”. If I tell you that you can’t have what you want unless you ask nicely, that doesn’t mean you automatically get whatever you want if you ask nicely. For example, the answer is always going to be “no” if you ask me to help you smuggle weapons or illegal drugs through airport security (regardless of how nicely you ask). Likewise, “no abortions unless the unborn child is under 20 weeks old” doesn’t automatically sanction early abortions (it only rules out late-term abortion).

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  11. “Abolitionists,” because Abotlitionists(without quotations) hope to abolish abortion, while “abolitionists” are members of a social club. “Abolitionists” need to be that child in the womb for a moment. “abolitionists” need to be that child most affected by gay marriage. “abolitionists” need to feel the cannila coming for them, so that they can be abolitionists who want to end abortion, instead of just profess desires. “abolitionists” need to be that one child who will be saved by anti-abortion legislation saving the pain-capable. Then they would be okay with the incremental law protecting THEIR bodies. But protecting some bodies is not good enough because it does not save all bodies.

    “abolitionists,” sound like liberals with their rhetoric—we have to have healthcare for everyone or no one. It’s just another form of communism which is moralism without God. If “abolitionists” were really interested in the approach they profess, seeking a new jerusalem, they would go to holylove.org, and get the messages God is sending to them.

    But it’s truly an act of Grace that there are all those people out there trying to take the time to teach and explain why anti-abortion laws are critical. It really is good. Thank you for your service, and please pray for marriage.

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