In my previous post, I mentioned how pleased I was that the pro-life movement was united around the principle of the sanctity of life from conception. Sadly that does not entail unified action. Its proponents still have to agree on what strategy to take in confronting the systematic attack on life. An agreement on principles alone does not make a course of action easy or straightforward. Prudential judgments are involved precisely in those situations where two people agree on the principle of what is at stake, yet can weigh the circumstances differently and come to different ethical judgments.
Yet judgments are only prudent or practical when principles have not been compromised. Otherwise wisdom is severed from truth, and we’ve chosen to inhabit a relativistic universe. Life cannot be honoured there.
The failure to recognize this fact is one of the major obstacles to a united and effective pro-life front. There seems to be a misguided belief that being practical in a fallen world necessarily entails a compromise on principle. As one of the respondents wrote to me, lamenting the ‘extreme’ position I took in LifeSiteNews, ‘politics is the art of the possible.’ The writer believed that in order to achieve anything, some sort of compromise was necessary, and, furthermore, that compromise entailed seeking a gestational limit.
I reject the idea that bending on a matter of genuine principle, in this case upholding the sanctity of human life from conception, is ever practical. It is certainly not wise. I also reject the suggestion that there is no alternative but to bend on principle if the pro-life movement is ever going to do something. On the contrary, as I shall argue more extensively in the next post, achieving gestational legislation now would at best be a pyrrhic victory of little effect, would ignore the whole purpose of legislation, and would effectively neuter the pro-life stance ever after, in this and related areas, of which there are many.
Yet gestational legislation seems for some to be the hill of compromise to die on. To show me how counterproductive my position was, several people offered varying historical analogies that apparently recommended the good of pursuing gestational legislation. The examples of Oscar Schindler, Corrie Ten Boom, William Wilberforce, etc. were held up to demonstrate that many heroes of the past also thought that saving some lives was better than saving none.
For the most part these analogies are beside the point. Legislation which would establish proper societal standards was obviously irrelevant to operating behind enemy lines in WWII; and none of the examples ever chose to pursue the practical possibility of saving some rather than to stick to a principle others regarded as misguided, the supposed case in point. In fact, in the one instance where the analogy does seem to apply, Wilberforce’s decision to pursue the abolition of the slave trade initially, i.e. the future profit on the practice, before addressing the abolition of the institution of slavery itself is an example of winning a battle without compromising on principle.
His example is one that bears emulating. I will suggest a current analogy to his practice in a later post.
But I do understand the objections. Gestational limits are regarded as something that is possible, largely because other countries throughout the Western world have them. We can appeal to a sense of national shame. With that in mind, failing to pursue them is hopelessly naive. Wars are won through skirmishes and battles along the way.
But what this pragmatic proposal ignores is that countries that do have gestational legislation still enjoy an almost unfettered access to abortions. I will cite just one example, that of the U.K.. In summary:
“Between 1968 and 2011 (the latest year for which figures are available) there have been 6.4 million abortions performed on residents of England and Wales. Of these, 143 (0.006%) were performed under Section 1(4), i.e. where the termination is immediately necessary to save the life of the pregnant woman or to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman.”
Closer to home, Canada’s own abortion rates skyrocketed between 1969-88, the time during which doctors’ panels operated under an abortion law that was meant to restrict abortions solely to situations where the mother’s life was at risk. That law should have been far more stringent than a gestational limit.
Don’t misunderstand me. There is an urgent need for action now. I understand the desire to cease and desist with in-house debating. And I actually agree. The time has come. God is on our side. Let’s win a few battles in God’s strength, knowing that if He is with us, He will fight for us as He has throughout human history, and I think in the end grant us a total victory. But gestational limits are not wise, pragmatic or effective.