The trouble with unprincipled incrementalism and allowing for exceptions
by Rebecca Kiessling March 2, 2011
This is my response to Scott Klusendorf's blog on the subject:
Hello Scott, thank you for bringing up these very important issues. Many in the pro-life movement will insist that we remain silent on things that matter to us in order to have “unity.” But the reality is that there is not unity within the pro-life movement on every issue and on strategy. We may say we want unity, but really, we’d like everyone else to either agree with us, or keep it to themselves. I think it’s beneficial for all to have logical discussions on issues involving strategy, and hopefully through these discussions we’ll at least gain more understanding.
I’m very thankful to have this opportunity to address the efficacy and import of what you refer to as “the incremental approach” to legislating abortion. I’ve written a piece which is the #1 ranked philosophical abortion essay on Google, and I’m well-able to articulate logical arguments on the subject, but for me, this is far more than merely a philosophical exercise. You see, I was conceived in rape and nearly aborted at two back-alley abortionists. But the dangerous conditions and the fact that it was illegal caused my birthmother to back out. She did not choose life for me. She chose abortion. Pro-life advocates and pro-life legislators chose life for me by making sure abortion was illegal in Michigan back then, even in cases of rape – 100% pro-life, no exceptions, no compromise, no incrementalism. They are my heroes and I owe my life to them! This is why I, in turn, do the same for others. I wasn’t lucky – I was protected. And so, it is with this sense of gratitude, purpose and urgency that I address these issues here.
I often hear the “burning building” and “sinking ship” analogies when speaking of allowing for exceptions – that you should try to save as many as you can. I believe that these analogies fail for several reasons. First of all, with the sinking ship, you are making a judgment call as to whom you should save – who is worthy of being saved first. This judgment call speaks volumes as to what values a society or organization holds dear. The saying, “women and children first” became a protocol used in marine disasters after it was established with the sinking of HMS Birkenhead in 1845, later employed in the sinking of the Titanic when 74% of the women on board were saved and 52% of the children, but only 20% of the men. By contrast, when the French ship SS La Bourgogne sank in 1898 killing 546 people, of the 165 survivors, 104 were crew members, 61 passengers, and only one woman. This was a product of the French Revolution and considered to be shameful to the entire French merchant marine. When we choose who we will save, it speaks volumes about what we really believe and who we are. Allowing for the rape exception says that children conceived in rape are disposable. It’s like putting us out there as infantry soldiers on the front lines, and then taking a huge step back, because you think that this current battle needs to be won and you perceive it’s the only way to achieve victory. But we are not column fodder!
Secondly, with the “burning building” analogy, the assumption would be that you would make efforts to go back and save the rest, right? In your blog, you state: “We are choosing to save as many as we can while we work to save all.” Well Scott, I would love to see the statistics as to how many times anyone has gone back to save the 1% after the 99% were already safe. How much are these incrementalists truly “working to save all?” I just don’t see this happening. Instead, all I’ve witnessed is that once the 99% are “safe”, the firehoses are being shut off, the fire engines are sent home, and unprincipled incrementalists are allowing the building to be burnt to the ground because, after all, those stuck inside are “only 1%.” Why bother wasting all of that water, manpower and other resources for only 1%?
The Hyde Amendment is a glaring example of this. A generation ago, the Hyde Amendment allowed for taxpayer funding of abortions in cases of rape. And instead of the pro-life calvary returning to save the 1% who’d been left behind, we had the celebration of the proposed Stupak Amendment a generation later as being a pro-life victory. In fact, NRLC originally sent out a press release saying that the Stupak Amendment wouldn’t provide for the funding of any abortions, which of course was not true because the rape exception was in there. When this fact was exposed, then NRLC and others dismissed it by saying that it “merely” incorporates the terms of the Hyde Amendment, and again, “it’s only 1%.” And so, mediocrity begets mediocrity. For me, this is so much worse than pro-choicers who would say to me “I think your mother should have been able to abort you / if I have my way, you’d be dead right now.” No, it’s much worse because it’s saying, “And our tax dollars should have paid for it!” Ouch! And that’s pro-life??? When you’re the 1%, you feel it, you get it, and it’s not a strategic game plan – it’s the lives and deaths of those similarly-situated. They are not a nameless-faceless irrelevant 1%.
Next, these analogies fail because the assumption is that 99% of the others’ lives have been saved by this unprincipled incremental approach, when that couldn’t be farther from the truth. What I’ve observed is a mediocre attempt to save the lives of the 99%, but in reality, very few have been saved by these measures, and they have not brought us any closer to ending legalized abortion – especially now with chemical abortions so readily available. Instead, many pro-lifers have become satiated with these so-called victories. When you’re satisfied with baby steps, why bother exhausting yourself with a giant leap? But after 40 years, you haven’t even made it across the room!
Fourth, these analogies and unprincipled incrementalism are based on the faulty assumption that you can’t save them all, and that simply isn’t the case. Scott, on your blog, you mentioned “abortion-control legislation aimed at limiting evil insofar as possible given current legal restraints” and “given current political realities.” Oh really? And what are those current political realities? Is it some supernatural phenomenon which is truly out of our sphere of influence or control? Of course not! The current political realities are lawmakers who have been re-elected because they’ve repeatedly received the exclusive endorsement of major pro-life organizations’ PACs in recurring election cycles, despite the fact that those lawmakers have not voted 100% pro-life. These lawmakers do not make the rape exception in a political vacuum. They make the rape exception because they are able to make the rape exception and get away with it. Too many pro-life organizations are not holding them accountable because they are allowing for it as well. Accepting rape exceptions = allowing for rape exceptions = supporting rape exceptions = making rape exceptions. The outcome is all the same, and what you support and applaud as a victory speaks volumes as to what your true values are. We will always have lawmakers who will insist on the rape exception as long as we have major pro-life organizations which tolerate, and thus, condone it. Instead of trying to push legislation through as quickly as possible, those who are 100% pro-life should hold out, as the Democrats did when they got what they wanted with the national health care legislation. They kept working their fellow lawmakers until they had them convinced and had the votes to win.
I just recently testified before a state house committee on a pro-life piece of legislation which had no exceptions. The sponsor of the bill was hoping for a 12 – 8 vote before the hearing began, but in the end, it passed with a 15 – 5 vote. Many legislators who make the exception have never really been challenged on this issue and have never put a face to it. I find that it’s rather easy to change the minds of those who make the rape exception – challenge them, hold them accountable, and put a face, a voice, a story to the issue. Even if it’s anecdotal, it’s still okay Scott. My observation is that many people like to keep this discussion in the philosophical realm so that the can play “let’s make pretend we’re not talking about real people,” so that you don’t have the opportunity to penetrate the stone wall they’ve built around their hearts with a personal story. But I’ve found that there’s nothing which pierces the heart like a personal story.
As a strategic means of ending abortion, unprincipled incrementalism has been a complete failure and got us the ruling in Roe v Wade. The majority opinion of the United States Supreme Court in Roe v Wade, Sec. IX, states, "If this suggestion of personhood is established, the appellant's case, of course, collapses, for the fetus' right to life would then be guaranteed specifically by the Amendment." However, the Court noted the following in footnote 54: “When Texas urges that a fetus is entitled to Fourteenth Amendment protection as a person, it faces a dilemma. Neither in Texas nor in any other State are all abortions prohibited. Despite broad proscription, an exception always exists. The exception contained [410 U.S. 113, 158] in Art. 1196, for an abortion procured or attempted by medical advice for the purpose of saving the life of the mother, is typical. But if the fetus is a person who is not to be deprived of life without due process of law, and if the mother's condition is the sole determinant, does not the Texas exception appear to be out of line with the Amendment's command?
“There are other inconsistencies between Fourteenth Amendment status and the typical abortion statute. It has already been pointed out, n. 49, supra, that in Texas the woman is not a principal or an accomplice with respect to an abortion upon her. If the fetus is a person, why is the woman not a principal or an accomplice? Further, the penalty for criminal abortion specified by Art. 1195 is significantly less than the maximum penalty for murder prescribed by Art. 1257 of the Texas Penal Code. If the fetus is a person, may the penalties be different?”
And then the Court concluded, "In short, the unborn have never been recognized in the law as persons in the whole sense."
You see, the hard lesson from Roe v Wade is that when ALL aren’t protected, NONE are protected. But it’s a lesson of which some are either ignorant, have forgotten, neglected, or have yet to learn. We will never have an end to legalized abortion in the U.S. as long as unprincipled incrementalists have their way.
Many of the incremental laws which merely regulate abortion are heralded as necessary protections for women. So then why the rape exceptions? Don’t rape victims deserve the same protection? Again, it just makes no sense to throw it in there. If you can’t stand up for the 1% in some of these small measures, how are you going to do it when it comes to actually ending legalized abortion? You’ve already established that we’re expendable.
For those who would like to put names, faces and stories to this issue, please visit these pages on my site, which include written stories and videos:
And there are a multitude of others for whom we speak. Never forget that 1% of 54,000,000 = 540,000 people!
Scott, I would have to be suicidal to acquiesce to a rape exception. I love life! I love the opportunity to live which was afforded to me by others who recognized the value and dignity of children conceived in rape, and that we were worth fighting for. My birthmother is thankful too. In fact, she and her husband legally adopted me 4 months ago – 22 years from the day we met. When you can say that you are committed to holding out for 100% pro-life legislation, it’s like saying, “I get it. You all matter. Yours were lives worth defending.” Now I hope you’ll all proceed from here and do the same for others!
Rebecca Kiessling, Esq., Pro-Life Speaker/Activist
"Conceived in rape, placed for adoption, then learned the truth at 18. I was nearly aborted at two back-alley abortionists. Have since litigated numerous high-profile cases protecting preborn human life and speak anywhere from 50 to 75 times/year around the U.S. and around the world."
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