Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Why vicious? [Jay]

This was written in a comment to Scott under an earlier post:

The debate is on -- and it's already vicious -- between Operation Rescue which is willing to support an "abortion ban" which nevertheless upholds the "right to abort rape babies" and a growing number of no-compromise groups such as ALL, Operation Save America and Colorado Right to Life.

It IS a matter of principle. It CANNOT be a matter of politics, because the politics negates the principle. Principle -- "the RIGHT to life" -- is the strongest tool we have in our arsenal to soon effect a total end to abortion in at least some states, if not nationwide.

Remember how we got rid of slavery -- by agreeing as a country that we could not allow slavery in ANY circumstances.

I wanted to address a few things in this comment, but I want it to be clear before I start that my motivation is not to stir up more antipathy but to quash it.

First of all the reference to how we rid our nation of slavery is factually inaccurate. Political coalitions existed between those who believed slavery was an affront to God, those who believed slavery was anti-capitalist and bred laziness, and those who wanted to control the spread of slavery so as to control the increasing political power of the slave holding states to name a few. Within the most ardent abolitionists there was division over whether violent force should ever be used to free slaves or whether slave owners themselves were “victims” of the system of slavery and in need of spiritual liberation not violent overthrow. We can not imagine that the anti-slavery movement was monolithic. We ought not to be surprised that the pro-life movement is not monolithic. It is the way we advance. People often are convinced in part before they are convinced in whole.

The primary purpose for my post is to address the issue of the viciousness of the debate as it was characterized. What possible gain can be had by the people that agree on the sanctity of life turning our frustration and passion on each other? If this is indeed a movement based on principle and we, the pro-lifers, are asserting a higher ground of principles, how do we demonstrate that higher ground by impugning the passion or commitment of our fellow pro-lifers? How do we assert the dignity of all human life while belittling the intelligence of those who share our goal but differ with our tactics? The battle is for the lives of the unborn. The battle must not become about who loves the unborn more. I was once warned by a wise friend that we are in grave danger when we start to believe that no one else truly understands the issue. That only I or my group “gets it.” We have to figure out the best way to confront abortion, and when others differ with us, we act within our conscience and make our case. If they continue to differ then we take divergent paths and recognize that we still want the same thing.

I agree that this is a moral issue, and so we are forced to confront it with moral and principled clarity. Whether we are incremental or “no compromise” in our tactics, we had better operate with more dignity and less viciousness. We are not so strong a force that we can afford to tear each other apart.


  1. Jay,

    Thank you for your post. I understand where you're coming from, and I agree with what you say to differing degrees.

    The comment you refer to is mine, and the viciousness I referred to was directed from the incremental camp against the no-compromisers, not vice-versa.

    I hope it has been clear in my comments here that I do not doubt the sincerity of the incrementalists here or elsewhere in intent to end the evil of abortion altogether. The difference, as we all recognize, is one of tactics.

    I refer to two incidents in particular.

    1) in a December debate archived on between Brian Rohrbough (no compromise) of Colorado Right to Life and Steven Ertelt (incrementalist) of Wyoming Right to Life, Rohrbough attacked the idea (written into the federal Fetal Pain bill) of administering anaesthesia to babies before aborting them as evil and wicked, and admonished Ertelt for supporting it. Rather than defending the idea, Ertelt attacked Brian personally and repeatedly accused him of "taking the side of Planned Parenthood" (or something to that effect). The question was confused -- Planned Parenthood and NARAL disagreed on support for the Fetal Pain bill as written. My concern is that Ertelt tried to equate "no-compromise" with "pro-abortion" as if that were our intent, not simply a flaw in our logic. He was also very nasty to me, my wife, and others in his follow-up e-mails.

    2) In Cheryl Sullenger's Operation Rescue press release (dated Jan 31 at, announcing their support for a new South Dakota bill that makes most abortions illegal, but which upholds the "right" to abort rape babies, Cheryl said "To oppose this legislation would have to be considered ‘pro-abortion.’" She responded to multiple e-mails from no compromise folks, saying they were pro-abortion, siding with Planned Parenthood, etc. She even told one prominent pro-lifer she didn't think she was a Christian!

    And I don't know where O.R. is going with this -- Operation Rescue's Troy Newman was on Life Dynamics' January DVD seemingly siding with the no-compromise folks. After Cheryl's press release, he issued one of his own, splitting the difference.

    In any case, it's okay to debate tactics, and to challenge someone's position. Questioning their motivation is something entirely different.

    As a no-compromise advocate, it is my intent not to impugn the motives of incrementalist pro-life activists (though I may impugn the motives of legislators who call themselves pro-life but don't vote that way), but rather to inspire incrementalists to change and adopt what I firmly believe is a more productive avenue toward our common goal. To the extent that incrementalists follow the same lines of argument, I'm happy to work side by side with them as we work to abolish abortion.

    Ed Hanks

    p.s. As to slavery, I've never considered Lincoln a very principled anti-slavery advocate. He did compromise, and can even be seen from some comments as a racist. William Lloyd Garrison maintained a 35 year stretch without compromising, and increasingly gaining adherents to his absolute abolition position. He rebuked politicians who did not uphold the principle, and only supported two of them -- the Free Soil candidate from (I think) 1848 or 1852, and later Lincoln once Lincoln seemed to have taken a firm anti-slavery stance. My analogy with slavery comes together here -- anti-slavery folks who didn't want slavery in the north focused so hard on achieving it that they didn't attack the institution of slavery itself (as exhibited in the south). They argued against it, but generally considered that they had no power to change it in the south, and so remained satisfied with keeping it out of the north. Partly because of this stand, northerners in general (anti-slavery and not) tended to think that since most abolitionists weren't focused on ridding the US of slavery in the south, that there was an acknowledged states' rights "right" to hold slaves if the population in that state supported it. In the end, incrementalism allowed slavery to continue. Only Garrison's principled stand had the power to end slavery as an institution, and in many ways he had to overcome direct opposition from incrementalists and decades of states' rights mindsets built up by incrementalists in order to achieve the final goal.

  2. Ed,

    I intended my post to address the animus on both sides. I recognize that I am new to this cause in relation to so many of you who have suffered through decades of frustration. I will post more on this later.

    I can not say for certain that Lincoln was a racist, but it can be said for certain that he publicly made racist comments and that he did not have an ideological zeal to end slavery. And yet his election was the catalyst that lit the fuse on the preexisting slavery bomb in the United States.

    You clearly have a strong knowledge of Civil War history. I think that though Garrison had principle on his side, Garrison’s position was not the ultimate impetus for the end of slavery. The election of an anti-slavery president who had publicly made racist statements triggered the bloody mess that followed not Garrison’s principles. The Civil War was a direct violation of Garrisonian principles. And yet, Lincoln later remarked in his 2nd Inaugural Address that it was how God ended slavery and exacted the cost our nation must repay. It may be as simple as Lincoln and Douglass made it sound. A house divided can not stand. Abortion may be that simple as well. It may be a case that whatever tactics we adopt and how we approach this problem, life and death can not forever co-exist within our culture. The two divergent worldviews have a final conflict set by their mutual existence. Certainly with the coming technological advances and transhumanist/posthumanist philosophy, this culture must decide now how we define who and what is human. That decision is ultimately about who and what we are. Are we creations or cosmic by products? One side will ultimately win. Our best chance at victory is not to attack our allies. I do not care what your title or position is that does not help.

    Garrison, for all his principle, did not react well when Frederick Douglass broke ranks with him. We are all of us human.


  3. Actually, from a historical perspective, it was Garrison, not Lincoln who made the end of slavery possible.

    It would have been someone like Garrison, even if Garrison hadn't been there.

    Garrison made Lincoln's election possible, by changing the debate, and by educating a generation about the evils of slavery.

    By framing the slavery debate not in terms of a sectional division, nor in terms of degrees of compromise, but rather as a moral wrong that violates God's rules and the nature of humanity, Garrison completely changed the way the nation looked at slavery.

    The reason Lincoln's election sparked the Civil War is that he was the first president whose statements made southerners believe their "rights" to hold slaves would be put in question.

    Every previous president (in fact, every previous major party nominee) had either supported slavery, or had said it was a sectional or states' rights issue. Basically -- "Slavery is a tolerable evil, so long as we keep it in the south, because we know we have no power to end it there."

    In fact, that was the mindset of most northerners before Garrison. Politicians, church leaders -- even abolitionists! -- enforced that mindset, and were very offended when Garrison argued differently. In fact, Garrison faced his most direct criticism from these pastors and other abolitionists.

    But Garrison's stand -- on principle, rather than pragmatism -- changed peoples' mind about whether slavery could be tolerated anywhere, and as to whether it was a personal choice or a moral wrong. He showed graphic depictions of the suffering of slavery. He exposed the evil for what it really was, rather than in sterile terms, as "a peculiar institution".

    Previous abolitionists may have curtailed slavery. And Lincoln may have been the one who performed the acts which ended slavery. But Garrison ultimately ended slavery because he moulded the mind of America. Without Garrison, Lincoln could never have been elected.

    Ed Hanks

  4. Ed,

    I thought the Mennonites were arguing the moral position pre Declaration of Independence, but that is another issue. And Zachary Taylor may have come an early death away from starting his own war with the slave states based on some things that I have read.

    You and I probably agree on a great deal more than we disagree on these issues, and some friends of mine and I have proven that these types of Civil War discussions are capable of continuing for a lifetime with no real resolution. Let me see if I can state some things that we agree on:

    1) Lincoln, Douglass, and Garrison were all at their most effective when focusing on the humanity of the slaves and the injustice of slavery. We both agree that this is true with abortion as well.

    2) Lincoln, Douglass, and Garrison were all key figures in the anti-slavery movement of the pre Civil War United States though they had different motivations, ideologies, and tactics.

    3) Neither your nor I want the end of legally protected abortion to happen in a similar manner as the end of legally protected slavery. We do not want the rancor and animosity to blow up in violence. We want a moral revolution.

    The burden is still on us to behave with the dignity of those who represent a higher moral calling and principled cause.

    I can be glad that the pro-life movement has passionate advocates like yourself without having to think that every thing you say is right. I hope that you can do the same with me.

    God Bless,


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