Is it wrong to pass incremental pro-life laws?

I'm Scheming Unborn Baby, and I approve this decision
I’m Scheming Unborn Baby, and saving a life is a good thing

Pro-life debater Scott Klusendorf summarizes a recent debate between a pro-life incrementalist and a pro-life abolitionist. An incrementalist is a pro-lifer who wants to pass laws that save lives right now, while still working for a full ban on abortion. An abolitionist is a pro-lifer who does not want to pass laws that solve part of the problem, preferring to hold off on laws that save lives until they can get all abortions banned.

So there was a debate, and Scott watched it, and here is his review.

First, the intro:

T. Russell Hunter issued a very public challenge calling for any pro-life leader to debate him on incrementalism. Gregg Cunningham, a former member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and Executive Director of the Center for Bioethical Reform, accepted. The formal debate structure was as follows: 20-minute opening statements, 15-minute rebuttals, 15-minute cross-examination, 5-minute closing statements. An informal audience Q&A followed the formal debate.

[…]Gregg Cunningham won the formal exchange handily and he did so early by pointing out a fundamental flaw in Hunter’s argument—namely, the mistaken claim that pro-lifers have the power to end abortion immediately but won’t. Again and again, he exposed Hunter’s fallacious either/or reasoning by demonstrating that pro-lifers don’t have to choose between incremental legislation that saves some children right now or total abolition that saves all at a later time. Rather, they can advance both strategies simultaneously and save many lives in the process. Cunningham also demonstrated a superior grasp of social reform history, noting that while Wilberforce, Lincoln, and Martin-Luther King were in principle moral absolutists, in practice they functioned as strategic and tactical incrementalists—as do pro-lifers today. During cross-examination, Hunter stumbled badly when asked if those babies saved through incremental legislation should have been left to die. When he refused to give a clear answer—despite being repeatedly pressed to do so—the debate was effectively over. In short, Hunter could not preach his way to victory, even when invoking his understanding of Scripture. His claim that incrementalism is not found in the Bible was decisively refuted when Gregg cited three examples from Scripture where God dealt incrementally with His people.

I watched this video clip to get a feel for how it went down:

In the clip, Cunningham asks if the babies who are saved by incremental legislation should be allowed to die instead. He has some evidence from a law professor saying that incremental laws do save some lives, and he is asking the AHA person should we not enact these incremental laws that save the lives of unborn children.

Scott has the transcript:

GC: I’d like to return to the question with which I began, which Russ hasn’t answered. Should we allow these babies to die rather than enact incremental legislation?

TRH: No.

GC: I’m sorry?

TRH: Like, should we allow – should we allow babies to die?

GC: Should we allow these – because…

TRH: The charade is – the charade is not even what we’re talking about – the incrementalism/immediatism debate. Focusing the ax at the tree, getting all the people who follow incrementalism to become immediatists and help put that ax to the branch – to the root…

GC: Would you answer this question?

TRH & GC: [unintelligible]

Moderator: That was the last question. Russ, go ahead and answer that, and then we’re gonna end this.

GC: Just for the record, Russ didn’t answer the question: Should we have allowed these babies to die, which this university professor says would have died had that legislation not been enacted. Should we have allowed them to die rather than enact the incremental legislation?

Moderator: Okay, Russ, answer that question, then we’ll change.

TRH: Um, well, I firmly believe that abortion is evil, and it is one of these things that the powers and principalities of darkness and high places are very in to. It’s the crown jewel of darkness, and I actually believe that if they can keep abortion going by deceiving people into becoming gradualists, they will do it. And if to deceive them they have to give them empty, illusory victories, and law professors may claim that babies were saved, they’ll do it. But I – if someone goes to an abortion mill and shoots a doctor, a baby might be saved that day, but that’s not going towards abolishing abortion. It’s not establishing justice that day [unintelligible] a baby that day.

GC: May I ask for clarification for your answer? You’re saying this guy’s making this up?

TRH: Uh, no, I have to read it. But I’m just saying that convincing people to be gradualists by saying, “Hey look, we saved some,” while they’re still being – I’m pretty sure that you can convince people to be gradualists for the next 40 years…

GC: Hey Russell, let’s do both. Let’s do both. Let’s do both.

Honestly, I am not sure why anyone pays these AHA people any mind. Just judging from that one clip, I don’t think that Hunter has anything of value to say in this debate. His group seems to be more concerned with attacking other pro-lifers who actually are getting the job done than doing anything. In the real world, incremental pro-life laws save lives. To be persuasive on those incremental laws, you have to talk about the logic and science that supports the pro-life view. That will be persuasive to Christians as well as non-Christians. Building consensus for incremental pro-life laws by appealing to a bigger audience that includes non-Christians makes sense – it solves the actual problem.

8 thoughts on “Is it wrong to pass incremental pro-life laws?”

  1. The problem with the AHA group (and others who fall into the ‘all now or nothing at all” camp) is that their position is basically anti-intellectualism applied to the abortion debate. It’s all about what sounds pious and churchy, it’s opposed to evidence, and it fights what actually works in the name of idealism and purity. They used to put up some good stuff against abortion, but these days they put most of their effort into criticizing the pro-life movement and trying to stop them from advancing legislation that saves lives.


  2. Thank you thank you thank you for posting this. We must be arguing against this insane position that there has to be a complete either/or and that methods that save lives now should be rejected. Do you happen to know if the full debate is available anywhere? On phone so hard to look.


  3. I managed to watch/listen to the entire debate and type up a summary that will publish on the 20th. That was… very interesting. I will also be typing up an analysis because people who are influenced by this thinking need to read an analysis and watch the debate. When someone quite seriously says that for the sake of some ideal we should let abortion continue rather than save lives now… wow. I can’t get behind that at all.


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