Why Do Pro-Lifers Despise Abolitionists?

James SilbermanAbolitionism

I was working for a pro-life organization when I became an abolitionist. In my time with that organization, I was told by my employers and by other pro-life leaders that Abolitionists were unnecessarily mean and divisive.

Even after embracing abolitionism as an ideology, I still figured that the accusations were probably true. The ideas of abolitionism seemed Biblically and logically unimpeachable, so I concluded that the reason so many pro-life leaders rejected abolitionism is because the attitude of abolitionists must have pushed them away. I decided I was going to be the nice abolitionist. Surely people wouldn’t reject the ideas if they were articulated to them kindly and articulately, I thought.

My theory was quickly disproven.

Shortly after becoming abolitionist, a pro-life friend of mine posted regarding Unplanned, a film about Abby Johnson leaving Planned Parenthood and becoming a pro-life leader. With every ounce of nuance and gentleness humanly possible, I commented that while leaving Planned Parenthood is, of course, admirable, Abby Johnson is actively opposing legislation to abolish abortion in Texas. I bent over backwards to make my communication as easy to receive as I could.

This pro-lifer became almost immediately belligerent toward me, accusing me of being a tin-foil-hat-wearing slanderer of a pro-life hero. As things got heated, I thought perhaps the internet medium had skewed our communication and asked if this person would be willing to meet me for coffee to have a civil conversation. This offer was rejected on the grounds that my assertions about Abby Johnson and the shortcomings of the Pro-Life Movement had made her so upset that seeing me would tempt her to sin in anger. After a back-and-forth of about 15 comments, I was blocked. This person, a pro-life leader in her community, now posts publicly that abolitionists are “evil” and equivalent to people who hold signs saying “God hates fa*s.” She accuses abolitionists of being a movement characterized by people who call unwed mothers “whores.”

This is vicious and willful slander. Anyone who refers to unwed mothers as “whores” or holds signs saying “God hates fa*s” is not welcome in the Abolitionist Movement. So why did this pro-life former friend of mine reject abolitionism and why does purposefully she spread this misinformation?

She does so for the same reason many Oklahoma State Senators have rejected abolitionism and accused Abolitionists of wanting civil war; for the same reason that Senators were spreading rumors that we were a security threat ahead of our first Abolition Day rally in 2019 and Greg McCortney made the same false accusation on Twitter the day of the SB13 vote. They don’t say these things because we’re a security threat, because we call people “whores,” because we’re warmongers, or because abolitionists have pushed people away with unnecessary rudeness. Those are the lies people tell about us to try to justify their refusal to immediately abolish abortion.

The pro-life leaders who reject abolitionism do so because the Abolitionist Movement is a threat to the political power of the Pro-Life Establishment and we’re a threat to the pride of people who don’t want to admit that they haven’t been going about the fight against abortion rightly.

That’s not to say that abolitionists aren’t harsh on pro-life politicians, lobbyists, and organizations. We are. But that harshness is a response to the refusal of these people and groups to immediately abolish abortion, not what causes them to refuse to abolish abortion.

Free the States didn’t make one ill-statement toward Senators Jason Smalley or Greg Treat until they went to the media to spread anti-SB13 talking points. When Greg McCortney became chair of the Health and Human Services committee, we covered his district with positive flyers encouraging Greg McCortney to be a hero of the preborn. It wasn’t until after the final committee hearing had passed without SB13 being heard that we publicly criticized him. These men chose not to abolish abortion and we responded with appropriately harsh rebukes.

As an aside, one other misconception which appears occasionally that I want to address is the idea that our criticisms are misplaced. Some people suggest that our ire should be directed toward the pro-abortion lobby rather than the pro-life lobby. This is an understandable sentiment, but it fails to take into account the fact that the pro-abortion lobby does not have the political power to keep abortion from being abolished in a state like Oklahoma. There’s no reason for us to go after them. It would be time wasted. We have a pro-life Governor, a pro-life Lt. Governor, a pro-life Attorney General, and pro-life super majorities in both the State House and Senate. It’s pro-lifers who have the choice before them of whether to abolish abortion. That is where the pressure must be applied. If they choose not to abolish abortion, it will be a choice they made of their own volition and our criticisms will rightly follow.

It’s not easy to admit fault, especially when we’re passionate about the issue which we may have mishandled. But that is what the pro-life establishment needs to do. It was a little bit easier for me because I was only a pro-life activist for about three years before becoming an abolitionist. For those who’ve been fighting abortion with incremental laws for 40 years, it’s considerably more difficult.

The first time I met Muskogee pastor and abolitionist Brett Baggett, he told me, “Repentance isn’t something to be ashamed of. It should be a regular habit of the christian life.” When we’re wrong, the Christian obligation is to own it. The fact that adherence to pro-life incrementalism has driven organizations like National Right to Life to become the primary opposition to the immediate abolition of abortion is evidence that something is terribly wrong at the foundation of the ideology, and therefore the movement. They need to repent of it, and there’s no shame in that. The only shame is in the continuance of the iniquity.

William Lloyd Garrison’s “I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice” quote is among his most famous. But the paragraph immediately preceding this more well-known excerpt from the first edition of The Liberator is perhaps even more profound and telling of the character of Garrison.

“Assenting to the ‘self-evident truth’ maintained in the American Declaration of Independence, ‘that all men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights — among which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,’ I shall strenuously contend for the immediate enfranchisement of our slave population. In Park-street Church, on the Fourth of July, 1829, in an address on slavery, I unreflectingly assented to the popular but pernicious doctrine of gradual abolition. I seize this opportunity to make a full and unequivocal recantation, and thus publicly to ask pardon of my God, of my country, and of my brethren the poor slaves, for having uttered a sentiment so full of timidity, injustice and absurdity. A similar recantation, from my pen, was published in the Genius of Universal Emancipation at Baltimore, in September, 1829. My consicence in now satisfied.”

I, too, recant and repent for my unthinking past endorsement of incremental/gradual pro-life bills. As difficult as it may be for some, I earnestly plead and pray that many more join me in that repentance and join me in demanding total and immediate abolition without compromise.