By popular demand, it’s time for a response to Scott Klusendorf’s article at Desiring God entitled “Abortion Dies by a Thousand Votes,” in which he defends political incrementalism and attempts to paint abolitionists as the enemies of progress. He begins with a fictional anecdote, before making three arguments against immediatism. We will deal with the arguments first, which will illuminate the problems with the lessons Klusendorf attempts to teach with his anecdote, which we will get to at the end.
Incrementalist Argument #1: Pro-Lifers Aren’t Able to Abolish Abortion
“First, [immediatism] assumes that pro-lifers have the power to immediately end abortion but simply won’t. This is simply not true. Pro-life advocates do not have the power to say which children live and which ones die. The federal courts did that when they ruled that no unborn children have a right to life.
“Given that legal environment, effective pro-lifers are immediatists in principle and incrementalists in practice. That is, while committed to the principle that every unborn human should be legally protected, they work to save as many lives as possible given current political realities. In short, pro-lifers aren’t satisfied with the status quo. They’re appalled by it. But they realize you can’t just wave a magic wand and make abortion go away. So, while they don’t willingly choose to be incrementalists, they function that way legislatively in order to limit the evil done.”
Klusendorf is saying that the supreme court has dictated that abortion is legal, meaning there’s nothing pro-life politicians can do to abolish abortion until SCOTUS rights its own wrongs and gives us permission to protect preborn children. This assertion is only legitimate if the supreme court is, in fact, God. Fortunately, it is not. The justices of the supreme court are fallible (to put it very, very lightly) and their powers limited. When they err and go beyond their designated powers, it is incumbent on the other branches of the federal government and on the states to check them. The concept that the supreme court is due our unconditional submission regardless of how obviously evil or unconstitutional their judgments are is anathema to our founding documents and principles, and more importantly, it is anathema to God’s word. When the court errs so egregiously and intentionally as to legalize murder, they must be defied. They should right their own wrongs, but we need not wait for them to do so. We must obey God and uphold the Constitution.
Pro-life politicians in states like Oklahoma, Idaho, Indiana, Missouri, and others have the bill to abolish abortion (or “magic wand,” as Klusendorf refers to it) before them and the supermajorities necessary to pass the bill easily. There is nothing stopping them from doing so except themselves; their own cowardice and Biblical and Constitutional ignorance. They prevent abolition with the cover the National Right to Life lobbyists who urge them to only take incremental steps in unconditional submission to our black-robed deities.
At the 2016 G3 Conference, Klusendorf (flanked by Voddie Baucham, James White, and an apparently visibly distressed Paul Washer) said we can’t abolish abortion immediately and have to settle for regulations because “the federal courts have already decided in Roe versus Wade, the Casey decision, and others, that no unborn children have the right to life. They’ve already dictated that from on high.” Where does this idea that the supreme court is “on high” and that the rest of us are obliged to unconditionally submit to the supreme court come from? It is blatantly unbiblical, yet it is the nearly unanimous position of the pro-life establishment.
Texas Alliance for Life Director Joe Pojman told the Houston Chronicle in 2019 that he opposed the Abolition of Abortion in Texas Act because “We could no sooner ignore SCOTUS than the force of gravity.” To Pojman, the supreme court’s authority over us is tantamount to a law of nature.
Opposing the same bill, Abby Johnson implied in a Facebook post that abolishing abortion immediately was “unconstitutional,” and said in a comment that it is not pro-life to abolish abortion if doing so means risking the loss of federal funding.
Campaign Life Missouri lobbyist Samuel Lee opposed the Abolition of Abortion in Missouri Act earlier this year, saying in a hearing that, “The bill, in section C and in another section asserts that various public officials would not have to comply with federal orders or other types of rulings and I think this is problematic. Of course, this is a statutory measure, but our state Constitution requires that you along with the Governor and lots of other people take an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of Missouri, so to put in statute that you don’t have to comply with that, including complying with a federal court order whether temporary or not, I think is problematic.” To Lee, the Constitution is a non-binding document that public officials are obligated to violate if the supreme court tells them to. Only the diktats of supreme court carry any legal legitimacy, and an oath to the Constitution is actually an oath to the supreme court, in this view.
These examples will suffice, though many more could be cited. This is the dominant, nearly unanimous view among pro-life leaders. But just as disappointing as those who hold this view are those pro-life leaders who know better but say nothing. There is a code among the pro-life leaders that none should ever publicly criticize another. The few who don’t ascribe to SCOTUS idolatry hold their tongues as their colleagues keep the Pro-Life Movement in a submissive posture, and thereby keep abortion legal.
Contrary to Klusendorf’s claim, pro-life Republicans in almost every state where abolition bills have been introduced have the votes to abolish abortion immediately and the Biblical and Constitutional authority to ignore the obviously evil, obviously unconstitutional Roe opinion. They are simply choosing not to.
Incrementalist Argument #2: Some Steps Are Better Than No Steps
“Second, the immediatist argument assumes no steps are better than any steps. How does it follow that because we can’t save all children we shouldn’t try to save some? Pro-lifers are not the ones compromising when we support incremental laws aimed at limiting the evil of abortion. Rather, the pro-abortionist is compromising because he’s forced to give ground on the current status quo — namely, that any child can be killed at any point in pregnancy for any reason. When pro-lifers chip away at the status quo, they are improving the moral landscape.”
The first problem here is that Klusendorf’s second argument assumes the validity of his (invalid) first argument. Immediatists do not hold that we can’t save all children and therefore shouldn’t try to save some. It’s that we absolutely can save all children tomorrow (at least in states with pro-life majorities and governors), but pro-life politicians and lobbyists choose to put forward incremental compromises in the place of abolition. It is for this reason that the 1832 abolitionist Declaration of Sentiments explained that, “We regard as delusive, cruel and dangerous, any scheme of expatriation which pretends to aid, either directly or indirectly, in the emancipation of the slaves, or to be a substitute for the immediate and total abolition of slavery.”
Politicians will always take the easiest path available to them. If we tolerate compromise, they will compromise; and there are an infinite amount of ways to compromise with abortion. They could invent three new pro-life victories to pass every year for a millennium. As T. Russell Hunter has said, “The key to keeping abortion legal is to continuously delay its abolition with a never ending stream of incremental pro-life victories.” To abolish abortion, we must take the option to compromise away from pro-life politicians. Otherwise, the pro-life Republican establishment will continue treating abortion as their most effective get out the vote project without having any intention of establishing equal justice and protection for preborn children.
The second problem with Klusendorf’s second argument is that pro-lifers are not “chip[ping] away at the status quo.” As Constitutional attorney Bradley Pierce detailed in his 45-minute demolition of pro-life incrementalism at our 2020 Abolition Now Conference, there are seven prongs to the incremental pro-life strategy, and every single one of them has been a failure.
The third flaw is that pro-lifers are not improving the moral landscape with incremental legislation. In some cases, they are worsening it. When I met with the office of my Ohio State Senator in 2019 to exhort him to file a bill of abolition, I was told, “This was very interesting, but it’s Senator Brenner’s personal religious conviction that life begins at a heartbeat.” The internalizing of this evil and scientifically absurd idea that life begins at a heartbeat is what happens when you champion a heartbeat bill for six years. The law is a tutor, meaning that the pro-life movement, with the laws they write, is teaching people that heartbeats, pain-capability, or other arbitrary factors are what make us valuable and worthy of legal protection. Thanks to the heartbeat bill, the false belief that life begins at a heartbeat has spread like wildfire. Just days ago, Stephanie Borowicz, arguably the most conservative member of the Pennsylvania State House, said in a hearing for the heartbeat bill that “Life ends when the heartbeat stops, and life begins when the heartbeat begins.” Her pro-life witness, doctor and activist Monique Ruberu, agreed (hopefully unreflectingly). This dehumanizing foolishness is the fruit of pro-life compromise.
In his book, The Doctrine of Balaam, pastor C.R. Cali wrote, “Regulating abortion gives more than tacit permission; it definitionally governs, directs, and controls the killing of pre-born children through rule and law. Rather than engendering an attitude of abhorrence for this slaughter, regulations legitimize the practice by dictating where, when, and how it is acceptable.”
Similarly, former editor-in-chief of the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy Josh Craddock pointed out in a 2013 article that regulating abortion creates “a painless, sanitized abortion that will be accepted by the American public. That’s why some pro-abortion authors suggested more regulation of the abortion industry in response to Kermit Gosnell! Only increased regulation can quell the public criticism of those who perceive abortion to be barbaric. Only increased regulation will ensure the abortion industry’s survival.”
Incremental pro-life bills ultimately delay the abolition of abortion and entrench abortion culture by tacitly affirming abortion’s status as health care, tacitly affirming Roe‘s legitimacy, compromising God’s commands, failing to communicate what actually makes abortion wrong, and lulling the church to sleep with deceptive claims of victories. British abolitionist Elizabeth Heyrick explained this brilliantly in her 1824 pamphlet Immediate, Not Gradual Abolition.
“The enemies of slavery have hitherto ruined [the abolitionist] cause by the senseless cry of gradual emancipation. It is marvellous that the wise and the good should have suffered themselves to have been imposed upon by this wily artifice of the slave holder, for with him must the project of gradual emancipation have first originated.
“The slave holder knew very well that his prey would be secure, so long as the abolitionists could be cajoled into a demand for gradual instead of immediate abolition. He knew very well, that the contemplation of a gradual emancipation, would beget a gradual indifference to emancipation itself. He knew very well, that even the wise and the good, may, by habit and familiarity, be brought to endure and tolerate almost any thing…
“He knew very well, that the faithful delineation of the horrors of West Indian slavery, would produce such a general insurrection of sympathetic and indignant feeling; such abhorrence of the oppressor, such compassion for the oppressed, as must soon have been fatal to the whole system… Our example might have spread from kingdom to kingdom, from continent to continent, and the slave trade, and slavery, might by this time, have been abolished all the world over: ‘A sacrifice of a sweet savour,’ might have ascended to the Great Parent of the Universe, ‘His kingdom might have come, and his will (thus far) have been done on earth, as it is in Heaven.’
“But this GRADUAL ABOLITION, has been the grand marplot of human virtue and happiness; the very masterpiece of satanic policy. By converting the cry for immediate, into gradual emancipation, the prince of slave holders, ‘transformed himself, with astonishing dexterity, into an angel of light,’ and thereby ‘deceived the very elect.’ He saw very clearly, that if public justice and humanity, especially, if Christian justice and humanity, could be brought to demand only a gradual extermination of the enormities of the slave system; if they could be brought to acquiesce, but for one year, or for one month, in the slavery of our African brother, in robbing him of all the rights of humanity, and degrading him to a level with the brutes; that then, they could imperceptibly be brought to acquiesce in all this for an unlimited duration.”
What Klusendorf calls a step forward that improves our moral landscape is actually step backward that delays abolition, dehumanizes some preborn children, and lulls the Church into complacency, thereby worsening the moral landscape. The conscience of the nation is seared and the light of the Church is dimmed when we regulate, and thereby sanitize, abortion.
Incrementalist Argument #3: Wilberforce and Lincoln Were Incrementalists
“Third, immediatists get their history wrong. As Gregg Cunningham points out, William Wilberforce was in principle firmly committed to the complete and immediate abolition of slavery, but in practice he functioned as a strategic and tactical incrementalist.
“He pursued both strategies simultaneously — as do pro-lifers today. He did not compromise on principle, only on tactics and strategy. When you don’t have the votes, you get what you can while you continue working for complete victory. For example, Wilberforce supported legislation to refit slave ships to reduce suffering. He introduced limitations on slave trafficking in shipping ports. He did all this while working tirelessly for complete abolition. He took these incremental steps to secure the votes to eventually ban the slave trade altogether.
“Abraham Lincoln, likewise, worked incrementally to abolish slavery in the United States. He withheld his Emancipation Proclamation until January 1, 1863 — three months after the Union victory at Antietam — in hopes of a more favorable reception. Even then, the proclamation only declared slaves free in the South (where Lincoln’s authority was not recognized), not the North! Nevertheless, the document helped refocus the federal war effort on slavery. No less an abolitionist than Frederick Douglass praised President Lincoln for prudently abolishing slavery:
“‘His [Lincoln’s] great mission was to accomplish two things: first, to save his country from dismemberment and ruin; and, second, to free his country from the great crime of slavery. To do one or the other, or both, he must have the earnest sympathy and the powerful cooperation of his loyal fellow-countrymen. Without this primary and essential condition to success his efforts must have been vain and utterly fruitless. Had he put the abolition of slavery before the salvation of the Union, he would have inevitably driven from him a powerful class of the American people and rendered resistance to rebellion impossible.”
Before getting to Wilberforce and Lincoln, Klusendorf’s notion that pro-lifers “pursue both [incremental and immediate] strategies simultaneously” must be addressed. The public-facing position of a number of pro-life leaders is that both strategies should be pursued. Here, Klusendorf goes even further and states that pro-lifers are pursuing both simultaneously. But none of this is true. Except in Washington State, pro-life leaders have been the primary opposition to immediate abolition in every state an abolition bill has been introduced. (See here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. ) Not a single pro-life organization anywhere has ever substantially supported any of the various abolition bills. All of these organizations either oppose immediate abolition or fail to rebuke their colleagues for opposing immediate abolition. This reality is too much of a PR liability for pro-life leaders like Klusendorf to acknowledge, so he simply ignores it. It’s important to be charitable, but it’s difficult to conceive of a way in which Klusendorf isn’t being intentionally misleading here. Claiming that the Pro-Life Movement pursues immediate abolition is plainly false. They support incremental bills and are split between vehemently opposing and ignoring abolition bills. Klusendorf and Desiring God should correct this false assertion.
Klusendorf intends to make an equivalence between Wilberforce and the Pro-Life Movement in this section of his article. This equivalence is false for two reasons. First, as demonstrated by the links in the previous paragraph, the pro-life leaders actively militate against immediate abolition. Even if it were true that Wilberforce supported both immediate and gradual abolition strategies, the pro-life leaders don’t. They are the people primarily responsible for the prevention of immediate abolition in numerous states.
Second, Wilberforce did not support gradual strategies. On numerous occasions and in just about the fiercest possible terms, Wilberforce detailed his opposition to incrementalism and his belief that anti-slavery incrementalists were “the real maintainers” and “most efficient supporters of the Slave Trade.” In his 1807 book entitled A Letter on the Abolition of the Slave Trade, Wilberforce wrote (emphasis ours):
[L]et me most seriously urge on the conscientious deliberations of those who…by their fatal proposal of gradual, instead of immediate abolition, dashed the cup of happiness from the lips of the wretched African, at the very moment when at last he appeared likely to taste it, and who thus proved in fact the most efficient supporters of the Slave Trade. A vast majority in Parliament were then so much alive to the principles of justice and humanity, that all direct opposition would have been utterly ineffectual. But this kind of half measure, however unintentionally, exactly answered the purpose of our enemies, by giving time for the zeal of men to cool, and providing an expedient by which, aided by a little of that self deception which we are all apt to practice on ourselves on suitable occasions, they might feel the complacencies arising from an act of justice and humanity, without paying the price or making the sacrifice which those principles required [p. 294].
Wilberforce correctly contends that the acceptance of gradual abolition as a principle serves to sabotage the enthusiasm and momentum of the anti-slavery cause. As Heyrick similarly wrote in the excerpt cited earlier, “[The slave holder] knew very well, that the contemplation of a gradual emancipation, would beget a gradual indifference to emancipation itself.” Demanding abolition at some (determined or undetermined) future date makes otherwise good men and women comfortable coexisting alongside the monstrous evil in the meantime, thus assuaging their consciences to complacency. In this way, Wilberforce and Heyrick argue, the slave holder had no more helpful ally than the anti-slavery incrementalists. He continues:
Let me be forgiven if I speak strongly, where I feel so very deeply. It is not only because the gradual Abolitionists have been, in fact, the only real stay of that system of wickedness and cruelty which we wish to abolish; though that assertion is unquestionably true; but it is trying beyond expression that they should be the real maintainers of the Slave Trade, who reprobate it in terms of detestation as strong as any which we ourselves can utter. Nor do I mean (the declaration is made with solemnity and truth) that these expressions are not sincere. If they were not proved to be so by the general character of those who use them, my personal knowledge of some of them, and the esteem and regard I entertain for them, excludes the contrary supposition. Yet I cannot but believe, that, could they have clearly foreseen what would be the practical effect of their opposition, it would not have been continued for an hour [p. 295].
Like anti-slavery incrementalists, pro-lifers give sincere statements of detestation toward the evil of their age. Nonetheless, their strategy of opposing immediate abolition and substituting incremental bills in its place is “the only real stay of that system of wickedness and cruelty which we wish to abolish,” and if they allow themselves to see the delaying effect of their gradual strategies, pro-life incrementalism would not be “continued for an hour.”
Regarding specific incremental bills, Klusendorf makes another factual error when he writes “Wilberforce supported legislation to refit slave ships to reduce suffering.” If Klusendorf had read Wilberforce’s position on the Slave Trade Act of 1788, also known as the Dolben Act, instead of relying on the erroneous (and indeed slanderous) historical accounts of other pro-life incrementalists, he would have known Wilberforce’s belief that “the Slave-carrying bill [was] a measure which a very few years after was acknowledged, as it is still universally confessed, to have been beneficial to [the West Indian Body] [p. 275].” As detailed in previous excerpts, Wilberforce believed that by regulating the slave trade, the gradualists were strengthening the slave power. For it to be abolished, the full horror of chattel slavery needed to be exposed. By regulating the slave ships in order to make the journey across the Atlantic slightly more comfortable for the captured slaves, the gradualists made slavery more palatable to the public and thereby entrenched it as an institution. The bill was, as Wilberforce described incremental bills, a “half measure” which served to cool the zeal of the anti-slavery activists and allowed them to sink into complacency and delusions of victory. This is another substantial factual error which Klusendorf and Desiring God ought to correct.
This claim is slanderous because Wilberforce spoke forcefully against the accusation that he was inconsistent in his immediatism, calling it “sophistry” that “can only be accounted for by the supposition, that [those calling him an inconsistent immediatist] are utterly unacquainted with the circumstances of the case (p. 257).” Wilberforce was appalled by his contemporaries’ suggestion that he was an incrementalist, indicating that he would be appalled by Klusendorf and the pro-life leaders making the same accusation.
While the claim that the pro-life leaders are following in Wilberforce’s footsteps is proven demonstrably false by Wilberforce’s writings on the subject, pro-life leaders do hold much in common with another important character from the story of abolition in Britain – Henry Dundas.
On April 2, 1792, the House of Commons debated the abolition of the slave trade. Wilberforce put forth a motion for immediate abolition. When it was Dundas’ turn to speak, it was into the early hours of April 3:
“My honourable friends… have very known that I have long entertained the same opinion with them as to the Abolition of the Slave Trade, though I have differed from them as to the mode of effecting it. I have felt equally warm with themselves in the pursuit of the general object, and I feel so at the present moment… My opinion has been always against the Slave Trade. I will not, therefore, vote against his motion. I may, however, think it proper to qualify it…
“In all of these great leading questions [regarding abolition] I concur with my Honourable Friend; it may then be asked, Do you not agree then, to the Abolition of the Trade? I answer, that neither do I differ in this opinion. But, the point of difference between us is this: I cannot help doubting as to the prudence or practicability of the mode of abolishing it, as proposed by my friend… If ever there was a heart purer than any other – if ever there was a man that acted upon the purest motives that ever can actuate human nature, I believe I may justly say that my Honourable Friend [Wilberforce] is that man; but still, with respect to the prosecution of his object, and the manner which prudence would suggest with a view to the practicability of it, he must excuse my stating that there is a shade of difference between us.”
After this statement professing agreement with the abolitionists’ end goal, Dundas successfully motioned to amend Wilberforce’s “magic wand” so that it did not abolish the slave trade, but instead removed the right of slave owners to possess the children of their slaves while compensating slave owners for any financial losses. This was Dundas’ first public action on the matter and began his campaigning for the gradual abolition of the slave trade, which, during the coming years, would compete for support against Wilberforce’s efforts for immediate abolition.
This is precisely the scheme pro-life politicians and lobbyists have concocted wherever an abolition bill has been introduced. The pro-lifers kill the abolition bill and pursue the incremental strategy with more gusto than they ever have before. In some cases, like those of Oklahoma Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat and Texas State Rep. Jeff Leach, it is the very pro-life legislators responsible for preventing abolition who make certain to author pro-life legislation at the time of their treachery in an attempt to maintain credibility.
Further, the pro-life organizations give the politicians cover as they carry out this scheme. Despite being primarily responsible for keeping abortion legal in Texas in 2019, Leach was given Texas Alliance for Life’s Courageous Defense of Life award for his born-alive infant protection act. Oklahoma State Senator Greg McCortney, who denied the Abolition of Abortion in Oklahoma Act a hearing in 2020, was given a full endorsement in the last year’s Republican primary and called a 100% pro-lifer by National Right to Life. The Pro-Life Movement, very clearly, is Henry Dundas, not William Wilberforce.
As for Lincoln, he was an incrementalist. While it is true that Douglass and even William Lloyd Garrison developed a fondness for Lincoln after it was all over thanks to Lincoln’s vanquishing of the Confederacy, Lincoln spent decades opposing the abolitionists. While in the Illinois legislature, Lincoln voted for a resolution censuring the abolitionists. He publicly declared in 1837 that “[The] Institution of slavery is founded on both injustice and bad policy, but the promulgation of abolition doctrines tends rather to increase than abate its evils.” All along the way, Lincoln rebuked the abolitionists (among whom Douglass and Garrison were the most prominent leaders) and supported the American Colonization Society (ACS), an incrementalist group whose members owned slaves in some cases and whose goal was deporting all black people.[As an aside, to preemptively address a claim occasionally made by pro-lifers, it is true that Wilberforce, at one time, expressed support for colonization. However, he later publicly repented for his error. After inviting Elliot Cresson of the ACS to an abolitionist event in England, Wilberforce and the British abolitionists were told by Garrison of the errors and incrementalism of the ACS. After tense deliberation, James Cropper announced to the gathering, “It is with very great pleasure that I can add the name of William Wilberforce as having changed his opinion. He now deeply regrets that he was ever led to say anything in approbation of the Colonization Society.” Cresson promptly left the country.]
Incrementalists can have Lincoln, but they cannot have Wilberforce. Their attempt to claim Wilberforce is irrefutably contradicted in the most clear and strong possible terms by Wilberforce’s own words consistently over a period of decades. Wilberforce actively militated against the gradualists and considered them the true upholders of the slave system. Anyone who has perpetuated the myth of a supposedly incrementalist Wilberforce has done so ignorantly, and anyone who continues to do so after being exposed to his writings on the topic would be doing so dishonestly. Klusendorf, Greg Cunningham, Clark Forsythe, and other pro-lifers who have claimed Wilberforce for incrementalism should recant of their slanderous accusation against him. Any further claim that Wilberforce was an incrementalist by someone who has been exposed to these excerpts should elicit the following Wilberforcian response: “I cannot persuade myself that our opponents are serious in using this argument, and therefore I will proceed no farther with this discussion.”
Klusendorf’s fictional anecdote revolves around a middle-eastern parliamentarian named Ahmad. In Ahmad’s country, sex slavery is legal and he endeavors to do something about it. As Klusendorf explains it, Ahmad wants to abolish the practice, but doesn’t have the votes. So he pushes for regulations on sex slavery which shorten slavery contract lengths and protect girls with chronic illnesses from being sold. Sex slavery is reduced by 18 percent.
Then, Ahmad goes for more. He writes a bill to protect 97 percent of women from enslavement, 19,400 of the 20,000 victims in Klusendorf’s story. The bill would have passed, but it was thwarted by two anti-slavery legislators who wouldn’t settle for anything less than total abolition. Ahmad tries to persuade them, but is unable, and “a month later, 20,000 young girls had new homes. And new masters.”
With this story, Klusendorf attempts to paint a picture in which abolitionists are to blame for the misery of the 19,400 women and girls. Klusendorf then transitions to the issue “closer to home” by bringing up the slew of heartbeat bills that have passed in recent years:
“Red states like Georgia, Ohio, Missouri, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Louisiana passed bills restricting abortion either after fetal heartbeat or after eight weeks. An Alabama law went further: it defines all unborn humans as persons and permits abortion only when the fetus has a lethal anomaly or when pregnancy presents a serious physical or psychiatric health risk to the mother.
“Note that each of these pro-life bills contains exceptions. Not one abolishes abortion outright, though each (if court injunctions are lifted) limits the abortion license. Are pro-life advocates compromising their core principles when they support legislation that stops short of a total ban?”
The point of the exercise is to analogize the heartbeat and life at conception bills to Ahmad’s bill which would save the 97 percent of victims. But the key phrase is “if court injunctions are lifted.” These pro-life bills have not saved 97 percent because they’ve never gone into effect. Every one of them is contingent on the supreme court’s approval. The supreme court has been made up of a majority of Republican appointees for all but four months of the 48 years since Roe v. Wade, including in 1992 when a court made up of eight Republican appointees and a pro-life democrat strengthened legal abortion in the Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision. The current court is giving no indication that they intend to do anything about abortion. After the June Medical decision, John Roberts is a lost cause. After their contentious confirmations, Amy Coney Barrett, Brett Kavanaugh, and Neil Gorsuch have been extremely timid, especially regarding abortion.
The reason for their timidity is the pressure the left applies to them. Chuck Schumer threatened to impeach justices if even the pitiful abortion regulations at issue in the June Medical case were upheld. Joe Biden recently announced a commission to brainstorm ways to add seats to the court and fill them with his own appointees. The left is full-court pressing the supreme court. Pro-lifers, on the other hand, take a posture of timidity and unconditional submission to the supreme court. Accordingly, the supreme court is never under any strain to take action against abortion. The court delivers soul-crushing defeat after soul-crushing defeat to pro-lifers, and the pro-lifers pretend they’re winning! In one of the most incredible press conferences on the internet, former Focus on the Family Executive Vice President Gary Bauer responded to the Planned Parenthood v. Casey ruling – the most crushing defeat the Pro-Life Movement has suffered since Roe – by saying, “This is a great day for America, and a great day for women and unborn children.” The court only feels pressure from one side. From the other, they receive obsequious boot-licking.
These pro-life bills do not save 97 percent. They save zero percent because they do not go into effect. To quote from our new Are You An Abolitionist pamphlet: “Even if pro-life bills did significantly reduce abortion rates, all of the [principled] points against incrementalism would stand. However, they don’t actually have any significant effect on the abortion rate. In defense of their strategy, pro-life incrementalists sometimes cite the decreasing abortion rate since the early 90s, but the rate is decreasing at comparable rates in pro-abortion states and pro-life states, meaning that factors other than incremental pro-life laws (such as the proliferation of abortifacient birth controls and self-induced abortions) are causing the decline in reported abortions…
“[T]he incremental strategy entails passing regulations which can be upheld by the courts within the framework of Planned Parenthood v. Casey. This means writing laws which dictate where, when, and how a baby can be murdered, but without passing any law which would put an ‘undue burden’ on the mother’s ability to murder her child. So incremental pro-life bills either do nothing because they are worthless, or they do nothing because they have some impact on abortion numbers and therefore are struck down. Either way, they do nothing.”
Klusendorf attempts to paint a picture where abolitionists – by opposing incremental legislation like heartbeat bills – are responsible for 97 percent of abortions. But the truth is the exact opposite. Abolitionists do not currently occupy the necessary legislative seats to prevent incremental pro-life bills from passing. But when we do, legal abortion’s days will be short. We are not responsible for the 97 percent, but in states where pro-lifers control the legislature and governorship, pro-lifers are responsible for 100 percent of the children legally murdered in utero.
If a given pro-life bill actually reduced abortion by 97 percent while implicitly or explicitly consenting to the murder of the other three percent, we would still argue against it. Granted, that would be a more difficult argument, but we don’t even have to make it because there is no such bill coming from the Pro-Life Movement. If there were such a bill, we would work to amend it so that it abolished abortion. There’s no reason that a public official who supports abolishing 97 percent of abortion shouldn’t support abolishing 100 percent of abortion. We must press them until they are unable to do anything but establish justice, as is the only appropriate role of the Christian.
Klusendorf’s arguments against immediatism largely vary from being based on unbiblical reasoning to being clearly misleading. The credibility lent to the article by Desiring God’s masthead is a shame. For both its effect in delaying the abolition of abortion and its serious factual inaccuracies, the article should either be substantially amended or, ideally, unpublished.
The Abolitionist Movement is growing rapidly and might soon have the political influence to abolish abortion in various states despite opposition from the pro-life politicians, lobbyists, and organizations. But until then, the power to do so rests with the pro-lifers. The ball is in their court as to whether they will get behind immediate abolition or continue on their present course of opposing immediate abolition with substitute gradual schemes which sanitize abortion and mollify the righteous anger and action which would otherwise naturally result from the Christian church in the midst of an abortion holocaust.
Pro-life incrementalism is compromise, and it is by the pro-life leaders’ insistence on incrementalism and compromise that preborn children are doomed to the fate which awaits them at the hands of murderous abortionists.