Monday, June 11, 2007

Doing What's Right When You Can't Do What's Best [SK]

In reply to my comments (on another blog--scroll down for reader replies) defending incrementalism, Lolita challenges me with this question: “how did the pro-life movement get to the point where they regulate child killing?” She continues her case against incrementalism as follows:

The midwives did not go to Pharoah and say how about if babies born on Monday, Wednesday or Friday be killed but, the other days they can't be and try to legislate the situation to save some. They just defied the law because it was immoral. It went against Do Not Murder. There are incremental laws we could make that would not do this. Dr Charles Rice has written a book on this.

I enjoyed your application of philosophical views to the Bible but, what you and other pro-lifers do is try to out think the basics, right and wrong. God talks quite a bit about man doing right in his own eyes. God gave us the command of do not murder, it is that simple. Legislation that is crafted with this principle, the oldest precedent in mind would be based on a moral principle that is solid. When we try to do evil that some good may come, the Bible tells us that does not happen and we face unintended consequences of that legislation.

Also I personally don't find combining my Biblical theology with pagan philosophy very satisfying, the Bible is not to be interpreted in light of Aristotle or any other pagan Greek philosopher.
Me: Below is what I posted in response, with links to sources added here for clarity.

I reject your premise that incrementalists are regulating child-killing. We are doing no such thing. The federal courts, not pro-life lawmakers, decided that no unborn child has a right to life and can be killed for any reason whatsoever. Activist judges are the ones ultimately regulating both child-killing and those measures designed to restrain it.

And herein lies a major problem with your previous post: In the guise of moral purity, you fail to take into account the role of the federal courts in abortion policy. No doubt, you and I agree Roe v. Wade is unjust. It is also (for now) the law of the land. Legislators, however strong their pro-life convictions, cannot overturn that law. Remember: The federal courts have totally co-opted the issue from the other two branches of government, the legislative and the executive, leaving the people no real say on the matter. Lawmakers can, however, support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by this act of raw judicial power, thus lessening its negative consequences. In this case, writes Nathan Schlueter, incrementalists “are not protecting the right to kill the unborn in limited cases, but are preventing the killing of the unborn in all but those cases. If we were living in a time prior to Roe, the situation might be different.”

Until the judicial power grab is reversed at the federal level and states can once again propose laws to fully protect all unborn humans (and may that day come soon), how can we best save lives? We could, I suppose, pass perfect legislation that has no hope of surviving a federal court challenge. Doing so might make us feel better, but it saves no lives whatsoever. Moreover, these ill-timed bills, once struck down by the courts, only serve to create yet another layer of established legal precedent against us while, at the same time, they throw pro-life dollars into the pockets of pro-abort attorneys. (When you lose a court case, you pay the other guy’s legal fees.) In short, you show me: Where are the votes at SCOTUS to either 1) uphold a bill fully protecting all unborn humans, or, 2) uphold an incremental law of the type that you and Judie Brown would support? You and I both know they’re not there.

Greg Koukl has a better suggestion: Instead of making a moral statement we can make a moral impact by legislating to protect as many lives as we can given the judicial restrictions currently imposed on us. “The wise statesman,” writes Harry Jaffa, “will act to achieve the greatest measure of justice the world in which he is acting admits.” Doing so does not constitute an illicit cooperation with an unjust law. It does not concede the legitimacy of any abortion. It does not collapse into moral relativism, a point you make often but nowhere defend. Rather, it recognizes current legal and political obstacles and works within them to save as many lives as possible.

Recognizing that elective abortion is already authorized by a more powerful, over-arching federal court does not constitute cooperation with any abortion. Nor does it admit or support the rest of the evil that we are powerless (legally or politically) to reverse right now. Note also that we are not agreeing to the killing of some lives to save others. The killing will happen regardless. We are agreeing to the saving of as many lives as we can.

True, you could say it’s best to simply remove ourselves from the current legal and political framework that we’ve inherited. But living in this world often involves tolerating some evils you are powerless to change to avoid even greater ones you can. Pro-lifers who opt out of the admittedly less-than perfect political realm abandon unborn children to the care of pro-abortionists. (Of course, there is a point at which a government becomes so thoroughly unjust that revolution is warranted. Few pro-lifers think we’ve reached that point, however.)

One final point. Throughout our exchange, you’ve repeatedly questioned the value of extra-biblical knowledge, insisting that Scripture alone be your guide. Problem is, you are doing something that is extra-biblical. Nowhere does Scripture teach that other sources of knowledge have little or nothing to contribute (a point Koukl firmly establishes in this piece). Instead, its claim is more modest: The biblical documents are sufficient for knowledge leading to salvation, a point I wholly concur with. At the same time, we aren't "interpreting" Scripture with pagan thinkers, as you allege. We're simply benefiting from their insights where applicable.

Indeed, J.P. Moreland writes how Scripture repeatedly affirms the value of extra-biblical knowledge. In addition to Paul quoting pagan poets (Acts 17), Scripture acknowledges the wisdom of cultures like the Edomites (Jer. 49:7), the Phoenicians (Zachariah 9:2), and many others. The book of Proverbs is filled with examples of knowledge obtained from studying non-biblical sources--ants, for example. Furthermore, Scripture repeatedly affirms the existence of natural moral law: true moral principles rooted in the way God made things and knowable by all people independently of the Bible (Job 31:13-15; Romans 1-2). In fact, the Old Testament gives examples of people qualified to minister precisely because they had mastery of extrabiblical knowledge. In Daniel 1: 3-4, 2:12-13, 5:7, we see Daniel and his friends positioned to influence Nebuchadnezzar because they had mastered Babylonian culture, literature, and science better than their pagan counterparts. Because of this, they were ready to serve God when called upon.

As John Wesley wrote (himself a scholar on many non-Biblical texts), "To imagine that none can teach you but those who are themselves saved from sin is a very great and dangerous mistake. Give not place to it for a moment." Or, as the late Dr. Francis Shaeffer observed, the Bible is true truth, but not exhaustive truth. It is completely true about everything to which it speaks, but it doesn’t speak about everything there is to know.



  1. Right on Scott! That's all we did! We did the best we could under a system we did not create, but were forced to work around. I remember being very frustrated after two vetos by Clinton on my law, and having to wait until Bush was in office to go back to the Senate and try again. Yes, I knew babies were dying, so instead of just waiting for the next election, I kept up my efforts in other venues, i.e., protests, counseling girls wondering if they should abort, public speaking, etc.. Scott spoke about ill-timed bills in his post, you can't get discussion on anything unless the Congressional leadership is willing to schedule a hearing. You think Pelosi wants to hear about abortion right now? Right! On incrementalism, Senator Boxer, pro-abort from Ca. once said that "....and when they ban this, they will then go after the next procedure and the next.". That is exactly what I intend to do. Scott is right on when he says nobody thinks this is a major victory for the unborn, I know that, but I also think it's really over stating it when someone says it's evil and does nothing. We have now opened the door to get more pro-life laws, do you guys not get that? What would you have us do? Just take cases we know we will lose to court so we can continue to line the pockets of the lawyers for the pro-aborts, or think clearly and get united in a battle we can win? I know there is still work to be done, but I am not wasting valuable time and money taking out ads that run down my fellow pro-lifers for some notions of moral relativism, or fundraising fraud. Nor am I resting on the SCOTUS ruling as if my job is done, come on you guys! Jump into the trenches with me and stop whining about what you think is wrong! The monster was let out of it's box in '73, all we can do now is damage control. Do you know how you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. We can only chip away at Roe in the courts, but, on other fronts, we can change things too. Street counseling, taking in a pregnant teen, adopting a hard to place kid. All these things, plus a hundred more I can name will bring us closer to what we used to be, a culture respecting innocent human life. We live in a lost world, ladies and gentlemen, when faced with a choice like we had, getting what you can even if it's not all you wanted, or literally, throwing the baby out with the bath water, what should we have done? We did the best we could, with what we had. We did the right thing, when we unfortunately, could not do the best thing. Lori

  2. You knocked it out of the park Scott.

    There is very little to add to this. I anxiously await a response.

  3. Let's suppose that Roe v. Wade legalized the killing of ten-year-old children rather than unborn children (who have exactly the same dignity as ten-year-old children). Would the "authentic 'pro-life' response" (to quote Dr. Charles Rice) "be to insist that no grade-school child may be stood up against the wall and shot except in special cases, such as where the mother threatens suicide if the child stays around, or if he puts a strain on her physical health or emotional equilibrium, or if the child's father is a rapist or a close relative of the mother, or if the child's grandmother has approved the execution? No way. The only authentic 'pro-life' response to such a decree would be to insist that the law may never validly tolerate the intentional killing of the innocent of any age, including grade-school children." So it is with abortion.

    In fact, as Rice states, "[i]t is fair to conclude" the active promotion of laws that permit the killing of some unborn children but not of others has "increased the toll of lives taken by abortion." True, the incremental approach may save some lives, but it actually helps prevent the establishment of full legal protection for every unborn child (and thus helps perpetuate the killing of many more lives) by reinforcing the principle that each human person is not created in the image of God and that the right to life is thus negotiable. Ultimately, it is the legal and cultural acceptance of this principle--this mentality--that enables abortion to exist, and so long as we help perpetuate this principle, we help perpetuate abortion. A legislators that promotes the incremental approach may talk about the sanctity of every human life, but "his pro-life rhetoric is drowned out by the loud and clear message of his action, that he concedes that the law can validly tolerate the intentional killing of innocent human beings."

    Proposed legislation, on the other hand, that would ban all abortions without exception directly confronts the abortion mentality that the right to life is negotiable. Such legislation may not pass at first, but it helps to educate the public about the truth of the inalienable right to life and bring about a cultural change in people's attitude toward abortion, and that cultural change is absolutely necessary for the legal prohibition of abortion. Thus, it is the no-exceptions laws that truly help to save lives and stop abortion; the incremental approach simply helps abortion to persist. If we courageously put forward no-exceptions anti-abortion legislation, then the battle against abortion can be won; we cannot win the battle against abortion so long as we put forward legislation that makes compromises.

  4. Drr,
    I disagree. I think it's easy for those who did not do the work on this law, to critisize those of us who did, monday morning quarterbacking, if you will. I can tell you because I was there that education of the public at large took place during the PBA debates, so for you to say that an uncomprimised bill is needed for this reason, is not correct. Much like the picture of Emmitt Till's open casket funeral educated the public on civil rights, so did the debates on PBA. We lifted the lid on the casket of abortion, and showed the public what abortion takes the life of a fully formed, human person. Like you, I went to DC full of grand ideas of being the one to end abortion forever, then I saw first hand the realities of give and take in DC politics. Good, moral men and women who do what they can, even if it's not all they wanted. Call your congressman and ask him to schedule a hearing on ending abortion, see what he says. He will tell you, "Well, I am not on that committee...", or, "With Pelosi in charge? Are you joking?". I agree that all babies need our protection, but I did not let this monster out of the box, I am just trying to limit it's collateral damage. Do you really believe you can get a law passed ending abortion tomorrow? I'd like nothing better, but I know from years of experience, and I am someone who used to think the way you do, but I know that due to the give and take of politics, this elephant everyone wants B-B-Q'd and eaten on the spot, will still only get consumed one bite at a time. You are correct in that a cultural change is needed to end the holocaust of abortion. I am here to tell you my friend, even if the Supremes outlawed it tomorrow, until we change peoples' hearts, they will find a way. In the same way that criminals still find ways to get guns, women who do not want thier kids, will find a way to rid themselves of them. A cultural shift is the only way to deal with this part of the problem. How we get there can be accomplished on several fronts, not just through legislation. You can't legislate people into not sinning. However, you can show them love outside the "clinics", and maybe they won't go in. You can tell the girl you will find her a place to live if she fears losing her home, the face the truth tours, have one in your town. Hold pro-life 101 seminars to educate people with. All these avenues are open to you, not just the legislative process. Bottom line, your all or nothing strategy will not work. For example, I do not have perfect credit....say I tried to apply for a gold card with a 50,000 dollar limit. I will be turned down flat, not to mention, because I get turned down, it goes on the record and my credit rating drops even lower. So, I started small, I applied for a card with a limit of a few hundred, not what I want, but with certain realities in place, that's all I can get. At least I now have a precedent in place to build on. It's the same with my PBA Ban. Also, please make sure you know the difference between what the law sets up for us to do next, and the legal praddelings on of the SCOTUS Justices. Now that the door is open a crack, maybe we can use a crow bar and scrunch the monster back inside. Best, Lori V.

  5. drr said:

    True, the incremental approach may save some lives, but it actually helps prevent the establishment of full legal protection for every unborn child (and thus helps perpetuate the killing of many more lives) by reinforcing the principle that each human person is not created in the image of God and that the right to life is thus negotiable. Ultimately, it is the legal and cultural acceptance of this principle--this mentality--that enables abortion to exist, and so long as we help perpetuate this principle, we help perpetuate abortion.

    William Wilberforce introduced several bills to the British Parliament in the late 18th century to abolish the slave trade outright, and every one of them failed to pass. So in 1806 the abolitionists changed tactics, and introduced a bill to prohibit aiding the foreign slave trade. This bill was able to pass - and, since most slaves were being shipped on vessels flying American flags, it effectively shut down the majority of the British slave trade. It wasn't long before British hearts and minds were changed to the extent that it was possible to abolish slavery completely.

    I suppose that if Wilberforce were campaigning for abolition today, he would have critics complaining that he "helped prevent the establishment of full legal protection for every slave" and "reinforced the principle that each human person is not created in the image of God and that the right to liberty is thus negotiable." Of course, nothing was further from the truth.

    Half a loaf is better than no loaf. What kind of bizarre reasoning says that if you can't save everyone, you might as well not try to save anyone? Heck, that's why Canada has no law whatsoever restricting abortion at any time, for any reason: the anti-incrementalist nay-sayers sided with the pro-abortion feminists in 1989 and successfully lobbied against the government's only attempt to regulate abortion after the existing law was struck down.

  6. DDR,
    Your position assumes pro-lifers have power to promote better legislation that would protect all unborn children when in fact they do not. As I said in the post above, the federal courts, thanks to Roe, have foreclosed on that possibility. That leaves pro-lifers with three options: 1) Do nothing--opt out of the political arena until we can get everything we want, 2) pass 'perfect' pro-life bills which, at this time, have no chance of sustaining a federal court challenge, or 3) Do the best you can within the existing legal framework to save as many lives as possible.

    Option #1 is self-evidently mistaken as it leaves the unborn to the care of pro-abortionists while #2 creates more precedent law against us and makes pro-abort attorneys rich.

    Only # 3 actually saves lives.

    In short, your example of shooting 10-year olds works perfectly to refute my case--but only if Roe is not the law of the land which, sadly, it is.

    As for Dr. Rice's analysis on legal premises, I respect him but think he is mistaken. It's not enough just to quote him--you must show why his reasoning is better than what other legal scholars are saying--scholars like Hadley Arkes, Ed Wheland, Nathan Schlueter, and Clarke Forsythe--who disagree with his view entirely. Each has written pieces showing how well-crafted incremental legislation, far from putting premises in law that work against us, actually serves to undermine abortion rights and erode the power of the courts. That's true even when the legislation is modest and, at best, represents only a small step forward. In previous posts, I've given reasons why I think their views make sense.

    You can see what some of these authrors are saying at the links below:

  7. Ransom,
    Exactly! This all or nothing strategy has been tried, and has failed. See below:

    William Wilberforce introduced several bills to the British Parliament in the late 18th century to abolish the slave trade outright, and every one of them failed to pass.

    When we were strategizing on this bill, we knew that "all or nothing" was not the way to go, we needed a bill that we knew would pass the Senate and get to Bush to sign. The House was not a problem, getting it past the Senate was our big concern. We knew only a very narrowly defined bill, just a page and a half long, would get through the Senate. We knew from what had already failed, that we had to address "Carhart" somehow, with a life exception, not a health exception, and the procedure must be spelled out in clear and narrow terms. Our strategy was to go after this one rouge procedure, and if it passed the SCOTUS test, it would open the door for more restrictions, and someday, abolition altogether......sound familiar? Lori


All comments are moderated. We reject all comments containing obscenity. We reserve the right to reject any and all comments that are considered inappropriate or off-topic without explanation.