Scott Klusendorf has published another article defending pro-life incrementalism and criticizing abolitionism, this time at The Gospel Coalition (TGC). Let’s get right into it.
1) Rhetorical Demonizing
In a previous article on the Southern Baptist Resolution on Abolishing Abortion, Klusendorf wrote that abolitionists will “wield it like a cudgel” against pro-life compromise. In the TGC article, his opening paragraph paints abolitionists even more menacingly:
Now that the Supreme Court has let stand (for now) a Texas pro-life law that prohibits abortions after fetal heartbeat, the knives are out for pro-lifers, and not just from pro-abortionists. Abolitionists are also in the hunt to gut pro-life legislative efforts.
We’re hunting down pro-lifers with knives! Somebody stop us!
Klusendorf needs to drop the cheap rhetoric. Though his ideological arguments are also not appreciated, at least they can be answered. This is garbage argumentation.
2) Lying About Bill Ascol
In the Townhall article, Klusendorf (and his co-author Marc Newman) mislead readers about Bill Ascol, by saying Bill “used a 2020 sermon to say Baptist churches should summarily disfellowship politicians who don’t vote along abolitionist lines.” He repeated this in basically the same words in the TGC article.
Especially given the context, this sleight of hand leads the reader into believing that Bill suggested church discipline for politicians who aren’t total abolitionists. He didn’t. He suggested church discipline for those who vote against a bill to abolish abortion. But Klusendorf can’t say that. Obviously, he can’t win the argument if he portrays Bill accurately. So he doesn’t. He lies about Bill repeatedly, even after being publicly corrected. Klusendorf isn’t arguing in good faith. He’s misleading and demonizing.
3) Another Analogy
For his first analogy, Klusendorf imagines three governors addressing the imagined scenario of legal spousal abuse:
“Imagine a world in which wife-beating is legal. Three governors—Bob, Abraham, and Caleb—all claim to oppose it. Bob has the political power to protect all women, but when the state legislature sends him a bill banning spousal abuse outright, he vetoes it and demands exceptions for men 35 or younger. He appeals to pragmatism: ‘Come on, younger men have difficulty controlling their emotions and may snap if their wives burn supper, fail to discipline the children, or withhold sex. That’s reality. The solution is not punitive laws, but state-funded counseling for men.’
“Abraham, meanwhile, wins election in a state notorious for wife-beating. Previous attempts to ban it outright failed miserably. Abraham is sickened by this lamentable state of affairs and vows to protect all women in law. However, he does not yet have the votes to do it. Nevertheless, he does what he can. He signs an executive order freeing state employees from abusive spouses. They may leave home and keep their jobs without fear of arrest. Two years later, his party—which more or less opposes wife-beating—picks up a slim majority in the legislature. True, the votes still aren’t there to ban the practice, but he keeps pushing. He signs legislation that forbids hitting your wife with blunt instruments. A month later, he secures two more bills, one protecting teenage girls from forced marriages to older, abusive men and another that forbids striking any woman older than 50. Those last two bills alone will protect an estimated 20,000 women. He signs all three incremental bills and vows to do more.
“Caleb governs a state where attempts to ban wife-beating have similarly failed. The state legislature scrapes together just enough votes to send Caleb identical legislation to that signed by Abraham. Caleb swiftly vetoes it on grounds that incremental legislation that regulates when, where, and how men may beat their wives is sinfully motivated and consents to the abuse of those women left unprotected.”
The first thing to point out is that Klusendorf writes as if he and the pro-life leaders are Abraham, and Bob is an immoral compromiser who is nothing like the pro-life leaders. Bob serves as the scapegoat to whom Klusendorf directs the abolitionist criticisms which Klusendorf admits through the analogy are legitimate in some instances. But the pro-life leaders both support incremental bills and oppose abolition bills, giving them much in common with both Abraham and Bob.
Second, even Abraham, with whom abolitionists would disagree, is not like the pro-life leaders. They don’t commonly sign incremental bills and promise to keep pushing or vow to do more. They sign incremental bills and promise not to enforce them. (As he signed a slew of pro-life bills Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt told the media, “we’ll let the courts work out if any of those get overturned.”) They sign incremental bills and promote them as moderate compromises that still allow for abortion. (As he signed the heartbeat bill, Texas Governor Greg Abbott responded to a pro-abortion question about whether the bill was too radical by saying, the heartbeat bill “provides at least six weeks for a person to be able to get an abortion.”)
Third, Klusendorf doesn’t actually draw anything out from the analogy that would provide a response to abolitionist arguments. He just set up another scenario similar in some ways to that of the abortion battle. Abolitionist arguments against signing pro-life bills stand unchallenged.
4) Repealing Pro-Life Laws
Klusendorf then argues that if abolitionists don’t like pro-life regulations, we should support pro-choice efforts to repeal them. Abolitionists support the repeal of pro-life regulations, but only in the context of an abolition bill which is abolishing abortion. Abolitionists only support bills which establish a just standard, according to God’s definition of justice. We are very loud about that. A bill which repeals pro-life regulations without abolishing abortion establishes an unjust standard. We would oppose that. To suggest that we would or are logically bound by our ideological foundations to support the New York Reproductive Health Act is preposterous.
Klusendorf then argues that these bills have reduced abortion numbers, and says abolitionists have dodged this point. This is silly. We have repeatedly made clear in articles, podcasts, pamphlets, conference presentations, and more that any alleged reduction in the abortion rate as a result of a pro-life regulation:
- Does not change the inherent injustice of regulating abortion
- Delays the abolition of abortion by serving as a substitute for abolition, causing more deaths in the long run
- Delays abolition by dehumanizing unborn children left unprotected
- Is exaggerated in most cases
Klusendorf asks, “If a bill was introduced banning all abortions but did not address lives lost to IVF procedures, would abolitionists support it?”
Abolition bills do not directly address each form of murder. All they do is establish that life begins at fertilization and remove the exception in the homicide code that allows for abortion. Upon the passage of such a bill, preborn children would be treated by law the same as everyone else. Death by surgical abortion, by chemical abortion, or by IVF clinics tossing out surplus embryos are not specifically addressed. They don’t need to be. Just like our homicide codes don’t need to specifically spell out death by stabbing, by shooting, by strangulation, etc. as separate forms of murder. It’s all murder.
If a bill were to specifically write into law an exception that allowed for the intentional murder of humans at fertility clinics, we would oppose that bill.
6) Prisoner of War Analogy
Suppose I’m a prisoner of war captured by a ruthless enemy. My captors take me and hundreds of my men on an 86-mile death march where those falling behind are promptly shot. As the ranking officer, I secure a concession from my captors that allows exhausted soldiers a 20-minute reprieve to recover and get moving before they are shot. My fellow officers join me running up and down the line saving as many men as we can. As a result, 400 men who fell behind resumed the march and after the war returned home to their families. Tragically, 500 others could not resume the march and were shot.
Klusendorf goes on to say that by securing the small concession, the officer was not consenting to the murder of 500 men. He is correct. There is nothing wrong with the ranking officer’s actions. He is not writing a law. As a military officer in combat, his objective is to kill as many enemy soldiers as possible while losing as few of his own until the war is over. Of course, it is no sin to fail to perfectly annihilate the enemy without losing a single man. All the commander can do is strive to make decisions that lead to victory while losing as few of his mens’ lives as possible.
This situation is in no way analogous to a political struggle against the murder of children. The socio-political principle of immediatism does not apply to war because immediatism is about repentance. In the context of a culture that murders its children, repentance is the key. For repentance to occur, violators of God’s law need to be called to repent. For there to be a true call to repentance, a righteous standard has to be presented. When we are calling for a 20-week ban, heartbeat bill, ultrasound law, etc., we are failing to call the State or nation to repentance. We are missing the only thing in the universe that is the power of God unto salvation, and the only thing which is powerful enough to truly push back darkness.
7) iMmEdIaTe aBoLiTiOn iS a fAnTaSy
As he has many times in the past, Klusendorf argued in the TGC article that immediate abolition is a fantasy, like trying to wave a magic wand. He writes:
Abolitionists wrongly assume that pro-life advocates have the power to stop abortion but simply won’t. This is fantasy. Like Governor Abraham, pro-lifers have no such power. The federal courts have declared that no unborn humans have a right to life. Given that judicial reality, pro-lifers can’t wave a magic wand and make abortion go away. Abolitionists reply that laws permitting abortion are null and void and that pro-lifers who work to limit their evil impact wrongly cede to Caesar the ultimate authority to dictate from on high who lives and who dies. But as Steve Hays points out, the objection confuses moral authority with legal authority. Biblically understood, God is indeed the ultimate moral authority who will righteously judge all humans. Genuine Christians recognize and acknowledge that truth. However, to abolish abortion in a constitutional republic like ours, pro-lifers need legal authority, which they do not yet have in sufficient measure to protect all children. In short, declaring that abortion-permitting laws are null and void does not make them null and void. Given pro-lifers lack legal authority to save all children, it’s not evil for them to protect as many as they can.
It is, of course, true that declaring something does not make it so (sorry, Joel Osteen). But Roe is not null and void by virtue of abolitionists declaring that it’s null and void. It’s null and void by its nature. No governing authority possesses the power to authorize the intentional killing of innocent human beings. Any attempt to do so must be defied by those under the authority of the bloodthirsty tyrant.
We recognize this in other instances. “I was just following orders,” or “befehl ist befehl” was no excuse for mid-level Nazis on trial in Nuremberg. The international court recognized that every man possesses a duty higher than our duty to governmental superiors. What is that authority by which the wretched Nazis were sentenced to death? As Nuremberg prosecutor and SCOTUS justice Robert H. Jackson explained it, “[T]he law is not only to govern the conduct of little men, but even rulers are, as Lord Chief Justice Coke put it to King James, ‘under God and the law.’”
Jackson knew that the Nazis on trial couldn’t seriously deny what they were being accused of. “We doubt very much whether it will be seriously denied that the crimes I have outlined took place,” Jackson declared. “The effort will undoubtedly be to mitigate or escape personal responsibility.”
Accordingly, Jackson focused substantially on arguing that one cannot be immune from penalty by virtue of the fact that they were participating in mass murder under the direction of a superior: “[O]ne who has committed criminal acts may not take refuge in superior orders nor in the doctrine that his crimes were acts of states. These twin principles working together have heretofore resulted in immunity for practically everyone concerned in the really great crimes against peace and mankind. Those in lower ranks were protected against liability by the orders of their superiors. The superiors were protected because their orders were called acts of state. Under the Charter, no defense based on either of these doctrines can be entertained.”
Applying this to the present situation, a State-level official cannot shirk his duty to uphold justice and outlaw murder by appealing to orders from the supreme court. Both the supreme court and State-level officials are “under God and the law.” Both of them — regardless of the failings of the other, and regardless of any official decree that violates their unalienable obligations — have Biblical and Constitutional responsibilities to uphold the right to life, so help them God.
Klusendorf responds to this idea by arguing “to abolish abortion in a constitutional republic like ours, pro-lifers need legal authority, which they do not yet have in sufficient measure to protect all children.” In order to say this, Klusendorf must hold a view of legal authority which views the supreme court as the ultimate authority unto whom unconditional submission is due. He does not have a proper view of the hierarchy of authority, believing that there is no legal authority but that which is derived from SCOTUS.
In the State of Oklahoma, every single legitimate authority is in unanimous agreement that abortion must be abolished. God’s Word demands the immediate abolition of abortion. The U.S. Constitution establishes that “No state shall… deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” The Oklahoma Constitution establishes that “All persons have the inherent right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and the enjoyment of the gains of their own industry.”
Further, Oklahoma is run entirely by pro-life Republicans. Democrats control less than 20 percent of both chambers of the legislature and not a single Statewide office. All pro-life Republicans have to do is follow the law. But alas, the law means nothing to them, as they follow pro-life leaders like Klusendorf who tell them that all authority in D.C. and the whole United States has been vested in every whim of the lawless, genocidal supreme court. God’s word and U.S. law be damned.
8) Are We All Incrementalists?
In lieu of making any Biblical arguments for incrementalism, Klusendorf attempts to pull abolitionists down to his a-biblical level by arguing that even abolitionists are incrementalists:
“When abolitionists introduce a total ban on abortion in one state but not all of them, they are working incrementally. They are practicing what one writer calls ‘local political incrementalism.’ In doing so, they are not saying, ‘We consent to killing the baby in those other states where we did not introduce a bill.’ As long as there remains a political union between states that protect life and those that don’t, pro-lifers have no choice but to function incrementally, in this case, state by state.”
“Local political incrementalism” — Doug Wilson and Klusendorf’s term for a State abolishing all murder within its jurisdiction — is not immoral. It is the obligation of every official at every level of government to obey Christ. Abolishing abortion (locally or nationally) is passing and enforcing a law in accordance with God’s Word. This is obedience to Christ. Regulating abortion (locally or nationally) is writing a law in rebellion to God’s Word. This is disobedience to Christ.
(On separate note, it is rather disappointing to see someone like Wilson — the mortal enemy of milquetoast, Gospel Coalition types — become an outspoken incrementalist thought leader whose talking points are parroted in TGC. As the reformed, conservative Christian world is heading rapidly toward abolitionism, I hope the realization of the ideological bedfellows Wilson is making on this subject is not lost on him.)
9) Is Nullification Akin to Secession?
Klusendorf argues that nullification is “akin to secession.” Wilson goes further and says “[To abolish abortion,] the first thing you’d have to do is you’d have to say not only are we going to outlaw human abortion, but we refuse to be politically allied with any other political entity that doesn’t. That’s secession. In order to be a true abolitionist, you have to outlaw all abortion and secede from the union.”
Wilson’s claim is objectively false. Klusendorf’s is a huge stretch. Nullification and secession bear some similarity, in that both are possible solutions to a totalitarian central government. But to say they are the same thing; to say that in order to nullify Roe, you must secede is to say that two plus two equals five. Objectively, nullification and secession are different things.
To nullify is to uphold higher law in defiance of an order from a superior while not acting to separate from or remove the authority. To secede is to declare complete independence from the authority. Wilson’s claim is false. Is Klusendorf’s more modest claim accurate?
Jefferson Davis, an avid supporter of secession and opponent of the nullification practiced by the abolitionists who defied Scott v. Sanford and the Fugitive Slave Act, said in his U.S. Senate farewell address that, “Nullification and secession, so often confounded, are indeed, antagonistic principles. Nullification is a remedy which it is sought to apply within the Union, and against the agent of the States. It is only to be justified when the agent has violated his constitutional obligations…but, when the States themselves and when the people of the States have so acted as to convince us that they will not regard our constitutional rights, then, and then for the first time, arises the doctrine of secession in its practical application.”
10) Does Asking “And Then What?” Defeat the Abolitionist Argument?
In recent months, some pro-life leaders have become taken with the idea of asking “And then what?” as if this defeats the abolitionist argument. Jonathan Van Maren went as far as saying this simple question causes the abolitionist argument to “fall apart.” In his article, Klusendorf follows Van Maren’s lead.
Abolitionists do not purport to know exactly how abolition and nullification would play out, and we don’t need to. Duty is ours, results belong to God. Might the federal government threaten to withhold funding? Under a Democrat administration, probably. Might they send in federal troops? Klusendorf asserts that they will. He could be correct, though it is certainly not the sure thing he suggests. Sending federal troops to oppress a State is not a good look for any administration. There’s a reason it hardly ever happens; and that reason is not that nullification is rare. Nullification is not rare. The feds hardly ever use force against the States because the federal government knows how bad it makes them look if they send troops into a State to thwart the will of that State.
But even if the feds did use force, that doesn’t change our obligations. Our obligations are to Christ. Our obligations are to expose tyrants, not appease them. That we have not forced them to decide between backing down or truly exposing themselves as tyrants is to all of our shame.
As far as the likeliest scenarios, abolitionist attorney and Abolish Abortion Texas director Bradley Pierce gave an excellent presentation on the subject.
An important additional point here is that the threat of nullification is what causes tyrants to yield. As Frederick Douglass put it, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them.” SCOTUS will never give back the power it claimed to usurp unless we bow up.
It is conceivable that Roe would be overturned in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health because of the rise of the Abolitionist Movement. Men like John Roberts and Brett Kavanuagh are leaves in the wind, always seeking to be in the center of wherever the political winds are blowing. For the first time, there is a substantial movement pushing back on the supreme court’s genocidal tyranny. Abolitionists are unseating incrementalists in legislatures around the country. New abolition-nullification bills in new States are being filed every session. Abolitionist amicus briefs are being filed in supreme court cases telling the supreme court to overturn Roe and abolish abortion, or else.
The left is constantly threatening the legitimacy of the supreme court. We saw Roberts flip on Obamacare “taxes” in real time as CNN and NBC ramped up the pressure. On the other side of the aisle, the right is constantly appeasing the supreme court while claiming pretend victory and progress despite the reality of crushing defeat after crushing defeat in 38 abortion-related cases over 48 years.
One of the most incredible videos on the internet is Focus on the Family VP Gary Bauer claiming victory in the Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision, the most demoralizing defeat in the history of the Pro-Life Movement. An 8-1 Republican-appointed majority (six of whom had been appointed by pro-life Republicans in the previous 19 years to replace six pro-Roe justices) upheld and even strengthened Roe. But because a few of the pro-life regulations in question were allowed, Bauer and other pro-lifers claimed victory. In describing the posture of the Pro-Life Movement toward the supreme court, “pathetic” does not nearly suffice.
Abolitionists setting State sovereignty brushfires is what it’s going to take for tyranny to be adequately pushed back. As I wrote in the Are You An Abolitionist pamphlet, “The abolitionist position is that the supreme court’s permission is not necessary to abolish abortion, but our position is also more likely to bring about Roe’s reversal. A state challenging the court’s self-appointed authority to legalize murder signals to justices that the people will no longer put up with judicial activism and legislation from the bench. If the supreme court senses that the people will no longer tolerate their defiling the Constitution and legalizing murder, they will be more likely to right their wrongs.”
This article was a response, meaning that my arguments followed Klusendorf’s. There was no back-and-forth over scripture because Klusendorf did not make any scriptural arguments, as usual. Ultimately, that’s the only thing that matters. Pragmatically, abolitionism is more powerful to change politics and culture than incrementalism, but that’s not the primary reason to be an abolitionist. If Klusendorf had every pragmatic calculation on his side, and all abolitionists had was scripture, we would be right and he would be wrong.
The attacks on the Southern Baptist Resolution on Abolishing Abortion have been almost completely devoid of scriptural argumentation, including attacks from seminary professors. There’s a reason for that. They can’t out-exegete us. So they don’t even try.
For scriptural arguments, watch the video below.
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