This fight will take time. Abortion is the vile fruit of many sins. It’s the endgame of sexual immorality and worship of self. I’m pleased that Douglas Wilson, many of his readers, and many more pro-lifers desire the end of this idolatrous and wicked act. It is an incredibly important topic just based on what’s at stake. Lives. Millions and millions of lives. There’s no dispute there. Because of the importance of the fight, however, how we fight it is also important. This is where the disagreement lies.
I do agree that we need to take Normandy in order to then finally take Berlin. However, the statistics on abortion rates, the public support of abortion remaining the same, and the increase of favor for abortion exceptions, indicate that we aren’t and haven’t even been taking Normandy. Rather, we’re still in England shooting clay pigeons and assaulting cardboard Nazis. Too few are storming those beaches, and too many are getting their target practice in. That’s the charitable interpretation. The reality may be closer to inadvertently working against the allies.
Throughout Wilson’s three recent “smashmouth incrementalism” articles (see below for links), Wilson has condemned compromised incrementalism, unprincipled incrementalism, and so on. For example:
I do agree that there is a species of incrementalism that is compromised in principle, and in the practical outworking turns out to be incrementalism working in the wrong direction. His point about legal compromises prior to Roe would be a good example.
What exactly would an unprincipled incremental bill look like according to Wilson? Wilson points out that the legal compromises prior to Roe v Wade are a good example of compromised incrementalism. Let us examine those compromises. There are many more compromises listed in the oral arguments of Roe v Wade found here, but for the sake of brevity, we can focus on footnote 54.
- Not all abortions are prohibited.
- There are always exceptions.
- The life of mother is an expressly-defined exception, thus placing her life above the preborn in conflict with the Fourteenth Amendment.
- The punishments for abortion fall short of murder charges.
Now, the twenty week ban defended by Wilson and Toby Sumpter has a number of compromises as well, including but not limited to this short list:
- Not all abortions are prohibited (Any abortion prior to 20 weeks is allowed).
- There are exceptions (Included are rape and incest exceptions).
- Life of the mother is another exception.
- The punishment for abortion falls short of a murder charge (The punishment shall be a fine or imprisonment for not more than 5 years).
Notice something peculiar? When Douglas Wilson says that the compromises that led to and helped establish Roe v Wade are an example of the bad kind of compromises, why is it that the bill he is supporting is guilty of the exact same kinds of compromises? With all the talk of opposing compromised incrementalism, I’m still not sure what incrementalist legislation Wilson would oppose. This is the problem with believing, as he argued previously, that compromise is only in the heart. The ends for which we are reaching have an ethical standing, but so do the means. Our intentions should be pure, but our actions are to be judged too.
I’ll let Joel McDurmon hash out differences on the Seventh Commandment. I will say, though, that while one must not be able to enact perfect justice throughout all of society all at once, nevertheless when we work to enact justice over time, we must still do so in a principled manner. We can’t fight injustice with slightly less injustice. The unrighteous can add a bit of injustice over time all the while remaining effective and consistent with their ideas (“incrementalism” works well for pagans). The righteous, however, cannot do the same thing. This is because what we are fighting isn’t merely the current law, but injustice itself. We may abolish one method of abortion, but the injustice remains. We have to understand the difference between a just King going from town to town (thus not overnight) destroying idols, and a compromised King going town to town only tearing down a fraction of the idols he comes across.
In reference to his “draconian” comments, Wilson clarifies in this latest article.
Why does the law have to be perfectly biblical when it comes to its description of the victims, but does not have to be perfectly biblical when it comes to the penalties applied?
Douglas has apparently misunderstood our position. We have never held this view, but rather that the law absolutely does have to be biblical when it comes to the penalties applied. Of course, we cannot force judges and juries to choose only Biblical methods of punishment (imprisonment not being one of those) in the meantime, but the law can adequately categorize the crime. Wilson’s comments on just punishments are good—great even. But they are also divorced, in this article at least, from any context, and certainly from our position.
Given all this, therefore, what “unprincipled abolitionism” is Wilson talking about? We can all give a hearty “amen” to rejecting unprincipled and unbiblical punishments. Of course. But unless we’re to just assume that Wilson is talking about real-world “draconian” abolitionist ideas, perhaps we should briefly look at what he is actually referring to: the Idaho Abolition Petition.1
The “draconian” punishment in question is a first-degree murder charge for mothers convicted of abortion. Sound scary? Women under duress and being forced by their evil boyfriends or pimps to get abortions being charged with first degree murder? That does sound draconian. Some have even claimed it means that women who have miscarriages may be charged with first-degree murder. These fears, however, are unwarranted. On the same website on which you can read the petition, there happens to be a FAQ. Considering a complaint such as the alleged execution of sex-trafficked women or misacrrying mothers, checking out the FAQ is probably at least a good idea, if not a necessary prerequisite. It should always be standard practice before you defame a just cause. Check out the FAQ, maybe ask a lawyer or the authors of the petition, or a legislator. Due diligence is due, after all. The Idaho Petition FAQ states:
Would all abortions result in a first degree murder charge under this legislation?
In American and Idaho law, there is “prosecutorial discretion”. Government prosecuting attorneys have nearly absolute powers. A prosecuting attorney has power on various matters including those relating to choosing whether or not to bring criminal charges, deciding the nature of charges, plea bargaining and sentence recommendation. This discretion of the prosecuting attorney is called prosecutorial discretion.
The natural effect of prosecutorial discretion is that not all parties involved in an illegal abortion would necessarily be treated the same. For example, if a step-father raped his 13 year old step-daughter and forced her to get an illegal abortion in order to cover up his crime, it is likely the 13 year old girl would not be charged with anything, and the father and the abortionist would both be charged with a first degree homicide and possibly other crimes.
See also Idaho Code 18-201, which essentially says there are certain persons who never would be charged with a crime. For example, if someone is forced to commit a crime because they are threatened by someone else and believe their life to be in danger if they don’t commit that crime at the behest of another, Idaho statutes specifically absolve them of culpability for any crime they committed under that duress.
The FAQ also includes a section on why the petition states “first degree” in the first place as well as the expected “what about the life of the mother question.” It’s worth checking out.
With that cleared up, I can say with confidence that claims that this petition (and petitions or proposed legislation similar to it) are overreaching, unbiblical, or draconian are either claims born from ignorance or outright fearmongering.
To quickly overview the landscape, we have immediatist abolitionists insisting that incrementalism and immediatism are two different things. Furthermore, immediatism is not overnightism. There can be good and righteous increments, but the devil is in the “ism.” Increments are acceptable. Incrementalism is not.
Douglas Wilson and other pro-lifers insist that we are all incrementalists. He, however, wants to be a principled incrementalist and not an unprincipled incrementalist. But what does that mean? How are we to judge what is principled and what is not in such cases? I am very much unsure. On one hand Wilson states that all compromise comes from the heart, but then he also states that “there is a species of incrementalism that is compromised in principle.” Even more confusing is that his example of this “compromised in principle” incrementalism is also something he supports, as we saw. So, although distinguishing between principled and unprincipled incrementalism sounds nice, it has no discernible meaning, and it does not appear that Wilson has demonstrated any meaningful example.
Of course, Wilson may rightly condemn pro-life professionals who secretly want to keep their golden-fundraising goose, but has he ever met a piece of compromise-packed incremental legislation he wouldn’t support? It’s difficult to tell. We can know that Wilson believes that his view is not the one of “temporizers, vacillators, or compromisers.” But why not? Good intentions? Is that all?
Immediatism requires smashmouth immediatism. It is hard. It takes guts and the willingness to say no to the scrap of cheese on the mouse trap. It requires a Kingdom-centric, hopeful, postmillennial, abolition focused strategy. With a real hope in the Gospel and the future of God’s world, we should straighten our backs and speak clearly that compromising on life is an insult to God and those who bear His Image.
Wilson – Smashmouth Incrementalism
Reasnor/McDurmon – Smashing the idol of “incrementalism” (even the “smashmouth” variety)
Wilson – Smashmouth Incrementalism, Part Dos
Reasnor – “Smashmouth incrementalism” is still fatal incrementalism
Wilson – Smashmouth Incrementalism the Third
- Idaho Abortion Initiative Petition.(↩)