On Multiple Strategies in the Abortion Fight
Written by Rhett Burns on July 17, 2017
Last week I posted an interview with my friend Emily Buchanan of the Susan B. Anthony List, a political organization based in Washington, D.C. We talked about abortion politics and the SBA List’s efforts to end the abortion carnage. I greatly appreciate Emily taking time to talk with CrossPolitic and for her organization’s continued pro-life work. As one of the fastest-growing pro-life organizations in the world, the SBA List has labored hard to transform the life issue from an empty-gesture hat tip to social conservatives into an issue taken seriously on Capitol Hill. I am grateful for their work. This week, I want to follow up with a few of the ideas and issues raised in the interview.
At one point in the interview I inwardly recoiled. I mentioned this to Emily in our conversation, though I left it out of the edited interview posted last week. I recoiled when she mentioned polls. Who cares what the polls say?! I thought. I care what God says—”thou shalt not kill.” Polls, schmolls. Below I will defend what Emily was saying about polls, but I first want to point out that our rhetoric is important. The reason we should outlaw abortion has little to do with polls or popular opinion. We must ground our objection to infanticide in what God says—His Word and commands. Even if only a fraction of one percent of our citizens opposed abortion we are morally bound to oppose what God forbids. Similarly, when arguing for the 20-week pain-capable bill, we must be careful not to cede ground in our language. The reason abortion is objectionable is not because the child can feel pain—though that is horrific—but because it kills a child made in the image of God. It is not okay to kill an infant whether he can feel pain or not; nerve endings do not define a human. We must be careful and truthful in all our rhetoric and reasoning. Abortion is wrong because God says so and because it murders an image bearer of God.
I do want to be clear. I do not believe that the SBA List grounds their opposition to abortion in political polls or the pain-capability of the child, and I know for a fact that my friend opposes abortion on the grounds of God’s Word and God’s image. So why point to polls and make the pain-capable bill a central piece of legislation? The SBA List is a political organization working within our current political context and system. They are playing a game of take-whatever-you-can-win with the current cards we have been dealt. For good or bad, they are not all-or-nothing idealists: they are willing to take less than abolition in the short term and are willing to make appeals to secular reason (e.g. polls and pain). But neither are they compromised pragmatists: they are not satisfied with bread crumbs tossed in the pro-life direction. They are willing to take less than abolition now in order to pave a way for ending abortion in the long term. That is to say, they have a strategy that is actually working gradually toward ending abortion, which is different from some pro-life gradualism that never actually gradually goes anywhere except to another fundraiser. I would summarize their strategy this way: While lobbying to restrict federal funding for abortion, work to elect pro-life congressmen and presidents in order to confirm pro-life Supreme Court justices and pass a federal pain-capable bill, which would have the dual benefit of saving thousands of lives immediately and also could be taken to the Supreme Court and used to turn back Roe v. Wade.
What are we to make of such a strategy, especially in light of Pastor Toby Sumpter’s recent proposal to end abortion at the state level by defying the federal authorities in a similar fashion as immigration sanctuary cities and legal marijuana states? These two approaches represent different tactics toward the same goal. I heartily endorse Pastor Sumpter’s proposal because it invokes the rights of states and is explicitly clear that abortion must end because it is the sinful killing of a person created in the image of God. I believe that if a state stood up and defied the federal government on this issue it would be just the type of courage that God would bless and use to effect real change in our blood-soaked land. But at the same time, I see no reason why we cannot run two plays at the same time, especially seeing that such courage is often lacking in our leaders when it comes to outlawing abortion. (Exhibit A: the Republican House, Senate, and Presidency have yet to defund Planned Parenthood, even after all the CMP videos.) As long as we are careful and truthful in our rhetoric and reasoning, and we do not give political cover for cowardly congressmen who never intend to accomplish anything, then I think working with political skill and shrewdness within the current political order to end abortion over time is worthy of our support, prayers, and gratitude. Therefore, I see Pastor Sumpter’s proposal and SBA’s approach doing complementary, yet different, things. Like with a double-barrel shotgun, they are separate shells loaded in separate chambers, but both taking aim at the same target. Hopefully, one or both will strike an end to the abortion industry for good.
Two final points. First, with the pain-capable bill we should emphasize that it is a starting point, but not a final victory in itself. Even if it passes at the federal level pro-lifers still have much work to do to fully end the carnage. This work will require different tactics and rhetoric and a double-portion of courage. Second, politics is downstream from religion. We have murderous laws because, as a people, we have murder in our hearts. Our political system is chock full of greed, lust, and unbelief, an accurate reflection of our electorate. In our efforts to end abortion we cannot then overlook the importance of the Church. One of the reasons our politicians and political organizations feel that they must work pragmatically is because of the unholy and unbelieving polis we have given them. The salt has lost its saltiness and the light is hiding under a bush. Therefore, the Church also has much work to do in evangelism and worship to remake society into one that values life, God’s Word, and God’s image.