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I strongly believe that abortion is the greatest civil rights and social justice issue of our day. Tragically, many of us have become numb to its effect (namely, the murder of an innocent, defenseless life) as well as its prevalence. As Al Mohler recently pointed out, “Abortion is now one of America’s most common surgical procedures performed on adults. As many as one out of three women will have at least one abortion. In some American neighborhoods, the number of abortions far exceeds the number of live births.”

In response to this, many conservative Christians have become absolutists in terms of pro-life legislation. They view any form of realism, pragmatism, or incrementalism to be indicative of moral compromise. The result is that in their supposed moral purity, they accomplish practically nothing. And they sometimes attack the moral integrity of those who think that given the choice between having no abortions (impossible in our current culture and political system) and reducing abortions (which is possible), we should only stand for the former option.

In response to this sort of thinking and these attacks, it’s encouraging to see the clear thinking of  Scott Klusendorf (author of the excellent The Case for Life: Equipping Christians to Engage the Culture) and Jay Watts—both of—who offer these five arguments:

  1. It doesn’t follow that because we can’t save all children we shouldn’t try to save some.
  2. We should reject the premise that pro-lifers who support incremental legislation are deciding who lives and who dies.
  3. Because the court-mandated abortion license is already extensive, the only thing state and local laws can do is limit that license around the edges—which they do quite effectively—while educating the public on the humanity of the unborn and the inhumanity of abortion.
  4. Personhood advocates should be careful about making claims about pro-lifers compromising the cause.
  5. Incrementalists have good reasons for shying away from outright bans on abortion.

You can read their explanations here.

For more on this, see Clarke Forsythe’s Politics for the Greatest Good: The Case for Prudence in the Public Square.

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16 thoughts on “Attacks on Incremental Pro-Life Legislation: Unfair and Dangerous”

  1. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

    JT: “I strongly believe that abortion is the greatest civil rights and social justice issue of our day.”

    Me too. It’s why I don’t vote for Liberal Democrats and their pro-abortion party platform.

  2. andy says:

    At least in principle, does the incremental position resemble the idea spoken of by our current president a few years ago when he said that he desired to “reduce the number of unintended pregnancies”and, if I remember correctly, to reduce the frequency of abortions (he may not have suggested the latter, my memory is fuzzy on that point)?

  3. Devin says:

    Mohler said it’s the most common surgical procedure, and you added “one of” in your requote. Just curious which it is.

    1. Devin says:

      Nevermind. Looks like Mohler edited his original post.

  4. Reg Schofield says:

    In Wilberforce’s fight against slavery in Britain , it was a slow process with many small victories that finally achieved the goal of outlawing slavery. Without compromising , any type of movement or agreement that will stem this evil tide is a good thing .Who knows where momentum in the fight will lead.

  5. John says:

    Great post, and I agree with your ethical assessment of the urgency of this injustice. Consider my sketch here.

  6. Sow and Go says:

    WOW great post. Unfair and dangerous is true.

  7. ‘I strongly believe that abortion is the greatest civil rights and social justice issue of our day.’
    Globally? And modern day slavery, famine, oppression, HIV-AIDS?
    I fear your view is too USA-centric.

    1. Justin Taylor says:

      Abortion is a global tragedy, not limited to the US.

  8. Cody says:

    Justin, what do you think of Ron Paul’s stance on abortion legislation? Namely that abortion is a state issue rather than a federal issue. My understanding is this would allow states to immediately change their laws to make abortion illegal in their state. I think this is akin to how murder is dealt with. There is no national law against murder. Manslaughter and murder is dealt with on a state level.
    Would this be an incremental pro-life legislation example that you are referring to?

  9. But greatest social justice issue? Do you have the stats to support your view that abortion is globally the greatest justice issue? And how have you come to that view?
    Justin, I merely highlight how we evangelicals can be rightly inflamed by some issues and neglectful of others.

    1. Justin Taylor says:

      “After nearly four decades, Roe’s human death toll stands at nearly sixty million human lives, a total exceeding the Nazi Holocaust, Stalin’s purges, Pol Pot’s killing fields, and the Rwandan genocide combined. Over the past forty years, one-sixth of the American population has been killed by abortion. One in four African-Americans is killed before birth. Abortion is the leading cause of (unnatural) death in America.”

  10. I’m sorry Justin I just think you’re missing the point.
    But I agree your figures are a nightmare-I am all too aware of the tragedy of abortion (I have been a family doctor for 30 years-how many women have you spoken to contemplating abortion?)
    But just take one country, eg DRC (Congo) Population of 63 million, life expectancy 45 yrs for men and 49 yrs for women. Many children orphaned though HIV AIDS, child soldiers still at large, trafficking widespread, women vulnerable to abuse etc. And that’s just one country in Africa!
    Please do not close your eyes to the wider world’s tragedy.
    I promise I wont comment any more on this!

  11. David, With all due respect, I think it’s you that’s missing the point. As I point out in a previous piece (which I quote from here), pro-life Christians should reject the premise that because they oppose the intentional and unjustified killing of innocent human beings, they must therefore take responsibility for all of the world’s ills. Is the American Cancer Society wrong to focus on one deadly disease to the exclusion of others? It’s highly unfair to demand that local pro-life groups take their already scarce resources and spread them even thinner fighting every social injustice imaginable. This would be suicide for those opposed to abortion. As Frederick the Great once said, “He who attacks everywhere attacks nowhere.”

    True, as defenders of human dignity, we should care about the poor, clean water, and the rights of others everywhere. The U.S. government, however, is not going to solve those problems in developing countries the way it can solve abortion here. For example, our government can’t ban poverty or stop the sex trade of young girls in Thailand. That is the job of that nation’s citizens and government! However, the U.S. government can and should ban the killing of unborn humans within its own borders. That is why prudent pro-lifers have always sought both moral and political solutions to that problem. While poverty and the sex trade are evil, no one in America proposes legalizing them.

    Abortion is different. Far from reducing the practice, our government currently advocates it both here and abroad. For example, during his first week in office, President Obama restored funding to organizations that promote and perform abortion overseas. A year later, he signed a healthcare bill that subsidized insurance plans that fund it here in the U.S. At the same time, he rescinded federal regulations that protect doctors from forced participation in elective abortion and threatened to cut off Medicaid funding to any state that denied tax funding to healthcare entities that provide abortions. Finally, he nominated to the federal courts justices sympathetic to the abortion license whose rulings could set the pro-life cause back for decades to come.

    Because ours is a government of the people, Christians have a fundamental duty to work within the political system to limit evil and promote good. Shouldn’t social justice start in the wombs of our own nation?

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Justin Taylor, PhD

Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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