13 For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. ~~Galatians 5:13-15 (NASB95)
Maybe my memory deceives me. If any of you were involved in the pro-life movement prior to 1987, I’d welcome your correction if I remember things wrongly. I’m about to make an assertion based on my personal recollections of being in pro-life ministry, and I know full well that people who usually agree with me will adamantly oppose my convictions on this matter. I’m therefore open to hearing correction from people of my generation who fought to save unborn lives.
As I remember those early years when Francis Schaeffer and Dr. C. Everett Koop galvanized evangelicals to oppose abortion, infanticide and euthanasia with their film series, What Ever Happened To The Human Race?, I recall our unwillingness for any compromise. We understood the urgency of overturning Roe v. Wade. Precious babies were being slaughtered, and we needed to stand against laws that permitted such evil. We had no time to waste, and we wouldn’t settle for anything less than complete abolition of this horrible practice!
After several years of seeing absolutely nothing happen, we began to consider incremental steps to stopping abortion. Make no mistake — we continued praying for the total eradication of abortion, but we believed our all or nothing approach actually retarded our efforts. We decided that victory is best won by winning small battles first.
Perhaps our efforts haven’t brought us to the hopeful place where we are now. Perhaps former President Trump deserves all the credit, and incrementalism was as useless as our all or nothing approach. But when I see the new abolitionists accusing incrementalists of actually working against efforts to save unborn babies, I can’t help wondering why they cast us as the enemy.
To be clear, I fully support the new abolitionist movement. Never has it looked so possible that Roe could really be overturned, and I definitely pray that individual states would outlaw this mass murder of vulnerable human beings. In the ultimate sense, you can count me as an abolitionist.
Having said that, I support incrementalism. Okay, the heartbeat law in Texas doesn’t stop all abortions. But it stops a large percentage of them. A baby’s heart starts beating in the fifth week, before most women even know they’re pregnant. Therefore, the heartbeat law saves almost every unborn life. So although we would prefer that Texas (and the other 49 states) would illegalize abortion altogether, this law saves precious lives. Shouldn’t we celebrate that fact instead of arguing that it somehow creates obstacles to abolishing abortion? What’s wrong with small victories that might lay the foundation for ultimate victory? Aren’t the few saved lives valuable? Should they be sacrificed in the name of abolition?
At the same time, the incrementalists who killed the Louisiana bill that would have completely outlawed abortion in that state made a serious mistake. They misinterpreted the criminal penalties that would have been imposed on women who aborted their babies, overlooking the bill’s provisions for women who aborted as a result of coercion. This misplaced compassion will cost countless unborn lives thatr this bill (had it become law) would have saved.
When I think of incrementalism, I most certainly don’t think of rejecting any pro-life measures. Rather, I think of accepting laws that don’t give us everything we want, but at least put some restrictions in place until we can reeducate society enough to achieve stronger laws. Have I misunderstood incrementalism based on my recollections of what it meant in the late 1980s? Or do other incrementalists share my perception? As it stands now, I lean toward the incrementalism that will take whatever victory we can get now, but will keep fighting until total abolition happens.
Incrementalism (even the sort of incrementalism that I embrace) doesn’t satisfy any of us who oppose abortion. I understand that fact. I’d like to see every form of abortion vanquished from the planet. Including birth control methods that work as abortifacients! But if we shut down incremental steps to dealing with abortion until we get everything we want, babies that could be saved through incremental measures will die in their mothers’ wombs.
Abolitionists and incrementalists need to stop their infantile bickering and support each other. Until we can save every unborn baby who is threatened by abortion, let’s work together to save as many as we can.