Avoiding the Circular Firing Squad

The tension that has always existed between the so-called “purists”, and those who sincerely believe in the incremental approach to legislation, could pose a bigger threat to the pro-life movement’s legislative agenda than is posed by the abortion lobby itself.

Written By: Mark Crutcher
President of Life Dynamics

In the Book of Matthew, it is written that when Pontius Pilate could find no guilt in Jesus, he washed his hands and told the crowd in front of him that the fate of this innocent man was no longer his responsibility. And with that, he handed Jesus over to them to be crucified.

There is a breathtaking parallel between what Pilate did over 2000 years ago, and what the United States Supreme Court did last June when it overturned Roe v. Wade.

When you cut through all the legalese and mumbo jumbo, what the justices said was that they would no longer be responsible for the nation’s policy on abortion and were turning it over to the state legislatures. In other words, they washed their hands of the unborn, and decided that a different group of people would determine their fate.

One result is that the pro-life movement must now decide how to protect those children in a completely different environment.

In that process, we have to also make sure that we never forget the core principle we are fighting for. Simply put, it is that a living human being is created at the moment a woman’s egg is fertilized by a man’s sperm, and this new human being is entitled to have his or her life protected by law – at every stage of development and in every situation.

The reason this is important to know is because you’ll often hear people claim to be pro-life, while at the same time saying there should be “exceptions” that allow abortions to be legal in certain situations.

To see how illogical this is, all you have to do is paraphrase these exceptions.

Two examples would be, “I am pro-life, but it should be legal to kill babies who were conceived in rape” and, “I am pro-life, but it should be legal to kill babies with Down syndrome.”  When any exception is paraphrased in this way, it exposes the fact that there is no such thing as Pro-Life With Exceptions.”

By definition, you cannot accurately label someone pro-life who says that it should be legal to kill certain groups of children. It is as illogical as someone in 1860 saying, “I am an abolitionist, but I believe that there are some circumstances in which it should be legal for people to own slaves.”

The point is, the only legitimate pro-life position is that an unborn child is morally equivalent to, and has the same right to life as, a born child. So when someone says that a particular circumstance justifies abortion, unless they are also willing to say that the same circumstance justifies killing a five-year-old, then it is obvious that they do not see the born and the unborn as morally equal. In other words, that person is not pro-life.

That brings us to the sticky issue of legislation.

Politics is often called “the art of the possible” and the challenge for the pro-life movement has always been to figure out a way to succeed in that environment while remaining true to our principle. Now that the Supreme Court has punted the abortion issue to the state legislatures, solving that riddle will be critical in determining what we can, or cannot, accomplish in the future.

Let me make it clear that I have always had deep misgivings about the incremental approach to pro-life legislation. I continue to believe that if we had stood our ground 50 years ago, and forced the American people to choose between absolute, unrestricted abortion-on-demand through all nine months of pregnancy or no abortion under any circumstances, we would have won this battle a long time ago. But that is not what we did. Instead, we chose to complicate the issue by offering compromises and exceptions, and now we’re stuck with the consequences of that decision.

Today, my concern is that the tension that has always existed between the so-called “purists” like me, and those who sincerely believe in the incremental approach to legislation, could pose a bigger threat to our legislative agenda than is posed by the abortion lobby itself.

The dilemma is: can the pro-life movement justify backing legislation that would prohibit some abortions, while allowing them to be legal in certain “hard case” situations?

This argument has plagued our movement for years, and it has been the primary source of the infighting and turf-battles that have destroyed so many worthwhile pro-life initiatives. Now, with the abortion issue left up to the state legislatures, it is poised to become an even bigger and more contentious problem than it has been in the past.

To resolve this conflict, we must first acknowledge the real-world distinction that exists between advocacy and support.

Let’s be clear. Any group or individual that advocates legislation that would permit the legal killing of even one unborn baby has no legitimate claim to the label “Pro- Life.” In the post-Roe legislative process, whenever we have a realistic opportunity to pass a pure bill, anyone who claims to be pro-life while advocating for a bill that allows exceptions, is a fraud.

However, the choice we will have to make is seldom going to be between passing a pure bill or passing a bill with exceptions. In almost every case, the choice will be between a bill with exceptions or no bill at all. And when that is the situation, for the pro-life movement to support a bill with exceptions is far different than if it was advocating a bill with exceptions.

A perfect analogy to this is seen in the legislative efforts to end America’s epidemic of drunk driving.

When those who fight this battle signed onto legislation that reduced the legal blood/alcohol level from .10 to .08, they were not advocating that people should be allowed to drive with a blood/alcohol level of .08. Their guiding principle has always been that people shouldn’t be allowed to drive with any amount of alcohol in their system. But they supported the .08 standard because that was the most they could get at the time. As soon as it was signed into law, they were back at work trying to take the next step. That defines the distinction between support and advocacy.

As for the pro-life community, someone who advocates less protection for the unborn than what is reasonably possible is a sell-out and has no place in this movement. We have to also recognize that this standard will seldom be consistent from venue to venue or even from time to time. Actions involving the abortion issue that might legitimately define someone as a sell-out in Texas or Alabama, might be seen as heroic in New York or California.

Consider this…

Years ago, there was a movie about a wealthy Catholic businessman who helped save Jews from being sent to the Nazi death camps. His name was Oskar Schindler and the movie was called Schindler’s List. The title came from the fact that Mr. Schindler kept a list of people he thought it would be possible for him to help. In the end, he was able to keep about 1,100 people from being executed. But until his death in 1974, he was haunted by the fact that he had to choose between those he could save and those he could not. The lesson here is that, when Schindler left someone’s name off his list, he was not saying that it was okay to kill them. He was simply saying that he couldn’t save them.

In a sense, the pro-life movement already understands this concept, and accepts that the perfect should not be the enemy of the good. In one example of that, those who work at pro-life crisis pregnancy centers, or do sidewalk counseling in front of abortion clinics, know that they will not be able to save every baby. In fact, given the environments in which they operate, these people have to accept that their success rate is going to be low. But their inability to save all the babies does not prevent them from trying to save the babies they can. And no one in the pro-life movement criticizes them or questions their integrity over the babies they could not save.

Pro-life political operatives who are attacked for supporting incremental legislation, see this as a double standard. They will tell you that they want to protect all the babies, but until that is possible they will protect the ones they can.

This raises a legitimate question.

If “un-pure” legislation is the only thing possible at a given moment, is supporting it – while making it known that you do not advocate it – different than what goes on in a crisis pregnancy center or on the sidewalk in front of an abortion clinic? Of course, it isn’t different and it is indefensible to suggest that supporting legislation to protect every baby it’s possible to protect, until you can protect all of them, is selling-out the pro-life principle. If we say that it is, we have lost sight of the fact that every baby saved from abortion is a victory.

Here is the reality.

Now that Roe v. Wade is gone, for the first time in almost 50 years we have real opportunities to pass legislation that protects the unborn. But if this dispute between those who say, “all or nothing” and those who say, “all or something” explodes into a pro-life civil war, it will destroy those opportunities and take with it everything we’ve worked for since the day this struggle began.

What every person in the pro-life movement needs to keep in mind is that the pro- choice mob is vicious and the post-Roe battles against them are going to be more brutal than ever. But the most important thing for us to remember, is that we will lose every battle in which we treat our fellow pro-lifers as the enemy.

Read Mark’s Latest Book:

At the end of the battle over legalized abortion, one side will win and one side will lose. What side will you be on? Read Siege today. Available here on the Life Dynamics website for just $12. Click here to order your copy now.

Right now, the pro-life movement is entering a new phase in this battle with opportunities we’ve never had before. But in order to successfully save those unborn lives that are hanging in the balance, we must be prepared to adjust our strategies and tactics. Read about where the battle is headed in Siege. Order your copy today.

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