When a Pro-Life Victory Doesn’t Mean You’re Winning

Birgit Jones - Pro-Life Victory

A major story hit the pro-life circuit today. The “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act” (H.R. 1797), passed the House of Representatives. It imposes a 20-week gestational age limitation on abortion at the point of development purported to be when babies are capable of feeling pain. At the surface this vote appears to be a victory for the pro-life community, but let’s take a closer look to make sure.

Incremental Thinking

Much like the morally noxious idea of relativism, incremental thinking focuses on a particular detail of an issue and fails to see the larger picture. Instead of thinking of babies as equally valuable individuals, who all have a right to live, this mindset separates subcategories of babies from the rest. In drawing a line in the sand to make some appear more pertinent than others, younger babies are cast aside. Those who are purported to feel pain (20 weeks) are singled out and the powers that be champion their lives. But consider the testimony of Dr. Maureen Condic, Associate Professor of Neurobiology and Adjunct Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Utah School of Medicine. She has testified that the unborn child is capable of reacting to pain as early as 8-10 weeks. So who do we charge with the delineation? Where does that line really lie? And is that really the issue at all?

Different But Equally Valuable

If we (rightly) realize that God loves all of His children, we soon come to the revelation that one group or another is not more worthy of saving. Whether she is a newly fertilized human being, still searching for implantation, or 20, 25, or 30 weeks in gestational age, she is an ensouled human creature of God almighty – at a different stage of life but of equal value. How then, can we differentiate? Much like the relativity of measuring our offenses against those of someone committing more atrocious offenses, this method of comparison distracts from the real issue. Moral relativism presents a quandary by removing the right or wrong of an act and displacing the wrongness of the act with a dimension of comparison. What fails to be considered is that intrinsic evil has no metering. An intrinsic evil simply is – evil.

But Won’t Incremental Victories Culminate in a Complete Win?

That has been the battle cry of many in the pro-life movement for decades now. In the past forty years, over 53 Million babies in varying stages of development have been given a death sentence. Add to this number, the fact that countless others die from the abortifacient aspect of the Pill and now Plan B, and you have a mind-boggling unknown figure. Given the fact that much incremental pro-life legislation has been passed and signed into law, one would expect the annual figures of abortions performed to drastically drop. That, however, has not happened. Even though there are now methods of abortion that can’t be documented (such as the abortion pill), and therefore are not a part of the statistics, the rate of abortions remains jarringly similar year after year. So what have all of these incremental ‘victories’ really won?

What Has Happened and How to Achieve Real Victory

What we see from the incremental approach is that the focus is misplaced. Instead of holding our representatives’ feet to the fire, we are allowing them to sidetrack us with supposedly small but important ‘victories’. Our mission should call them on their bluff and force them to face the entire picture. If it’s wrong to kill a 20 week fetus, then it’s wrong to kill a 10 week embryo and a newly fertilized egg. To further illustrate the wrong-headed thinking of incrementalism, remember that abortion for babies who feel pain is relevant whether or not they were conceived in rape or incest. If we pound out the fact that a real human life is at stake, we won’t succumb to the bait and switch tactic of ‘saving some is better than saving none’. As we have seen with the Pain Capable Act, in order for the bill to pass, the concession of rape and incest exceptions were added. This illustrates that relativism insures a lack of effectiveness of pro-life legislation. If we concede that certain pre-born children can be considered exceptions, we lose the battle for the acknowledgment of the humanity of all. Instead we create a ‘class’ of individuals who are deemed unworthy of protection and their God-given right to life – simply because of the circumstance of their conception. Natural law says otherwise and the Constitution bears it up. Are we going to fall for the flimflam or will we finally get a clue and start working for all the marbles? As Pope St. Felix III so wisely spoke:

Not to oppose error is to approve it; and not to defend truth is to suppress it; and indeed to neglect to confound evil men, when we can do it, is no less a sin than to encourage them.

Let’s oppose the error of abortion in all circumstances and in all cases, regardless of gestational age or circumstance of conception. To do otherwise would be to approve error and encourage evil men to continue their atrocities.

© 2013. Birgit Jones. All Rights Reserved.

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11 thoughts on “When a Pro-Life Victory Doesn’t Mean You’re Winning”

  1. Michael Harrington Stack

    I agree wholeheartedly that incremental bans on abortion are far from satisfactory, but they are victories. We may not be banning the murder of all children, but every incremental ban means less children killed each year. If Pro-Life legislators only ever went after the total ban of abortion, I doubt we would be anywhere yet. But with this incremental approach, we have made achievements. After Roe v. Wade, it would have been impossible for Texas to pull off something like this. I don’t think the pro-lifers in Texas’ legislator are writing off those below 20 as less human, they are just taking it one victory at a time because that’s the way we have been forced to do it thus far. I think we are all still focused on the big picture, but right now, pro-life politicians only have the numbers to move in small steps rather than the leaps and bounds that we desire.

  2. I have been involved with the pro life movement for many years, and I think

    the incremental approach is working. What it does is get the prolife message out

    there for people to digest. Sometimes it takes small steps, but each victory we

    are witnessing is register in people’s minds, they are reading the headlines and

    the momentum is growing and people are waking up more and more, just look at

    the change in the youth today, many are accepting the rights of the unborn.

    I pray in front of a planned parenthood clinic, so many of the young girls going in are

    not for abortion, they want restrictions. You need to start changing hearts, one

    by one.

  3. Birgit, I am also a devout pro-life Catholic who has been involved in the pro-life movement since high school. First, thanks for taking such an active role on this issue.

    Personally, I have gone back-and-forth on whether incrementalism is an effective approach or not, but I think that it can be effective. Please don’t take offense to any of my comments. I accept the fact that I may be wrong, but am trying to help both of us (and any other readers) understand more fully why incrementalism may or may not be effective.

    First, I have a couple questions about the “But won’t incremental victories culminate in a complete win?” section of your article. I see alot of claims without much evidence or sources. You say that “much incremental pro-life legislation has been passed and signed into law”. What do you consider ‘incremental legislation’? Is it only legislation that limits abortions to before a given number of weeks? Or would you consider any pro-life legislation that doesn’t fully outlaw abortion (such as ultrasounds and parental consent) to be incremental? If you go with the first definition, the partial-birth abortion ban is the only incremental legislation to my knowledge. Please let me know if there are others. If you go with the second definition, then I am certainly for incremental legislation. Sonogram Laws have been extremely effective in lowering the number of abortions.

    Now, here is why I believe incrementalism can be effective. Let’s assume I have a friend who is an atheist and I want to convert him to Catholicism. Should I start by explaining to him transubstantiation and how God is 3 in 1? Or should I start by proving the existence of some Creator and then gradually approach the Christian and Catholic idea of God?

    Similarly, let’s assume I have a friend who believes women have the ‘right’ to an abortion. Should my first comment be, “Human life begins at conception.” Or should I point out characteristics of unborn children such as the ability to feel pain at 20 weeks and the heartbeat which appears on an ultrasound around 5-6 weeks, and from there draw relationships between an unborn child and a human being to show that unborn children are indeed human beings?

    Now, I am only speaking in secular terms. The argument is much easier if you can bring in God and religion (Jeremiah 1:5), but what if you are trying to convince an atheist?

    Incrementalism just seems like a natural way to teach people about a subject. You and I and the rest of the pro-life movement (especially pro-life Catholics) realize that life begins at conception. However, we must help guide others to this realization. Not everyone will be willing to rush over and convert from a staunch pro-choicer to a staunch pro-lifer. Sometimes, if we push too hard people just put up walls and stop listening.

    Finally, I don’t understand your comment about “saving some is better than saving none”. It sounds like you disagree with this statement. I fully believe that saving even 1 baby, just 1 human life, is much better than saving no babies at all. Every life is invaluable and can make an enormous difference in the world. God loves every single child that he helped create so I think we should be careful to dismiss that saying. Maybe you could clarify what you meant?

    Again, thank you for all the pro-life work you have done over the years and for writing about this issue. We have alot of work to do, but through dialogue, educating our society, and Faith in God, we will surely change our culture.

    1. Birgit Atherton Jones

      Thank you for your thoughtful consideration of my post. To answer your question: “What do you consider ‘incremental legislation’? Is it only legislation that limits abortions to before a given number of weeks?”

      I would consider laws that exclude babies conceived in rape or incest or ‘health’ of the mother to be incrementally faulty. As I said in the post, as soon as we exclude some babies from a bill purported to address pain, we have lost our focus. It’s a biological fact that, no matter what the circumstances of birth, babies at certain stages of development feel pain. To include only some of them creates a ‘class’ of people not worthy of protection. Ultrasound, Clinic Regulation and Parental Consent bills, however, are not incremental in my use of the word. They attempt to give as much information and safety as possible to women.

      Your example of an atheist friend is a reason incrementalism can be a valid tactic in many situations. In the case of evangelization, taking a measured approach is the sensible option. Much like any learning done by a human being, it’s prudent to give small doses of information because doing otherwise would simply cause confusion and overload. In the case of life issues, however, it isn’t ever a good idea to separate some people from the ‘herd’ so to speak. You wouldn’t want to save just some senior citizens from euthanasia or to give some people freedom while others were slaves. With the topic of abortion, it behooves us to think of all of pre-born children as humans worthy of saving. Doing otherwise simply distracts focus and allows the Culture of Death to dictate our parameters. Much like Jesus taught about going back for the one sheep, we owe a responsibility to all of the pre-born babies.

      We in the pro-life movement have made concessions from day one. And yet we have never gone back and saved those who were left behind because they were somehow deemed to be expendable in the ‘big picture’. Take the Hyde Amendment, for example, it acquiesces to the theory of exceptions. In essence, it laid the groundwork for many other bills/laws embracing exceptions. Yet nothing was ever done to go back and amend/improve on that premise. Why? Because we haven’t held firm enough. Furthermore, the Pain Capable Act has no chance of becoming law (the Senate won’t pass it and Obama has promised veto). Why then, would the legislators add exceptions? It makes no sense except to illustrate my point.

      The bottom line is that abortion is an intrinsic evil – never to be justified. Allowing the pro-abortion crowd to push a choice on us is to weaken our stance. I realize that there are pro-life people out there who would disagree with me but I have come to my convictions through much prayer and discernment. I don’t think that I could look my brother/son (see the link above) in the eye and tell him that I wouldn’t stand up for his right to be born simply because his life began in less than perfect circumstances. Pro-life speaker/lawyer Rebecca Kiessling would agree as well. You might check out her testimony since she speaks much more eloquently than I.

  4. This was a very intriguing article and made me think about my support for this bill.

    How would you respond to the “Titanic” analogy that I have seen used elsewhere in response to your argument? It says that based on your logic, if a ship were going down and there were only enough life boats for half the people, then no one should be saved; that your reasoning means that if everyone cannot be saved, then attempts to save some would not be permissible.

    1. Birgit Atherton Jones

      Thank you for taking the time to comment on my post. Helping people (myself included) to fully think this type of legislation through was my goal. As far as your analogy about the Titanic, let me try to muddle through an explanation. In the boat analogy, you are providing two options: save as many as the boats will hold or stand by and do nothing, yes? I find that analogy troubling because no one is suggesting that nothing be done. In the situation of the Titanic one would hope that the life boats would be utilized until there simply were no more. Doing nothing would make no sense.

      In the Pain Capable bill, however, there is a third choice: hold out and insist on including every child – regardless of circumstance of birth. In reality, we know that this bill has no chance of passing the Senate. Even if it did, Obama has promised a veto. Therefore, it is safe to assume that it is one of those ‘symbolic’ bills. So why would representatives add an exception for a class of equally worthy people (rape/incest babies) when there is no hope of the bill becoming law? I posit that it is a symptom of a problem that has been going on throughout the pro-life movement. We have allowed the other side to choose our parameters. As with our brave military, who go back to save the one, we pro-lifers should also go back to save the one. We need to show that we are serious and will not be distracted. Beginning with legislation such as the Hyde Amendment, we have always allowed legislators to keep their foot in the door and dictate to us. If all pro-life people displayed a firm conviction for the dignity of ALL pre-born people, these exceptions would never have been allowed to exist. What have they really brought us?

  5. finishstrongdoc

    Well said, Birgit. One argument for incrementalism goes something like this: “Not all are at the same place on the controversy of abortion, so we must go for incremental steps until all catch up to the truth.” That misses the Big Picture, and gives everyone an excuse to accept the deaths of those not excluded from the list of exceptions. The list of exceptions can go on endlessly, and does.

    We have a Constitution that has been used to overthrow itself. A lie was told about the Constitution, and the Powers That Be have used the Original Lie to begin to erode all our other unalienable rights, as well. “Incrementalism” indeed! “Absolutism” indeed!

    “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
    ~Lord Acton~

    1. Birgit Atherton Jones

      Exactly! In the meantime, the strength of the pro-life movement is diluted and the focus is taken off of the humanity of the unborn child of God.

  6. Pingback: When a Pro-Life Victory Doesn’t Mean You’re Winning - CATHOLIC FEAST - Every day is a Celebration

  7. Great article Birgit – I agree 1000% – incrementalism has gotten us nowhere yet somehow this so-called prolife legislation actually decides who gets to live and who dies. So a baby at 19 weeks has no protection, but 7 days later does? And just how do they determine that one?? Very easy to be off by a week or so – ask any woman who has given birth how far off her due date and birth date actually were!

    1. Birgit Atherton Jones

      Thank you, Debi. I have to be honest and admit that this is a relatively new revelation for me. As someone who has worked in the pro-life movement since high school, I swallowed the Koolaid and thought that incremental successes would someday win the day. The Holy Spirit has been working on me lately, and the post above is the result. I feel like a curtain has lifted and that my focus needs to sharpen – only when we accept no exceptions will we see abortion end, God willing.

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