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Why I am not an abolitionist on abortion

Baby in the womb
An image of an unborn child. |

This might surprise many of you, but I am not an abolitionist on abortion.

Though many people in my evangelical “tribe” have become abolitionists, I haven’t joined them.

I am pro-life. I am anti-abortion, but I am not an abolitionist. 

Well, sort of. 

According to the dictionary definition of the word, I am an abolitionist. Like every genuine pro-life person, I am an abolitionist on abortion. I want the abortion industry to end. I want abortion to become illegal, with zero exceptions.

However, for some anti-abortion advocates within the Church — an abolitionist isn’t merely a person who wants abortion to become completely illegal. For these brothers and sisters, an abolitionist is a Christian who wants to end abortion through — in their own words — a specifically Gospel-centered and immediatist manner.

Therefore, though my pro-life advocacy is Gospel-centered, because of my support for step-by-step, gradual, or incremental pro-life bills, some Christians wouldn’t describe me as an abolitionist. 

In fact, because of my incrementalist approach to making abortion illegal, anti-abortion abolitionists say pro-life Christians like me do not want to abolish abortion, we simply want to regulate it.

In other words, according to them, we do not want to ban abortion, we only want to reduce it.

Abolitionists make that accusation against pro-life organizations like the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform, Gregg Cunningham’s Center For Bio-Ethical Reform, Mark Harrington’s Created Equal, Scott Klusendorf’s Life Training Institute and secular pro-life groups like Lila Rose’s Live Action.

Nevertheless, not all “pro-life” advocates are the same. Just as I am distinct from the so-called “holistically pro-life” groups like the Southern Baptist Convention’s ERLC, some abolitionists are presumably distinct from perhaps even more divisive versions of abolitionists.

So with that in mind, abolitionist groups include Abolish Human Abortion, Free the States, Rescue Those, and great ministries like Apologia and more recently, my dear friends at Founders Ministries.

Though abolitionists tend to be Reformed and theonomists, they are primarily identified by their commitment to “GATES,” an acronym for the five tenets that describe their ideology. The five tenets are:

“Gospel-centered, Aligned providentially, Through the church, Engaged biblically, Sought immediately without exception or compromise.”

Essentially, abolitionists believe there is only one righteous and only one effective way to do anti-abortion advocacy. They believe anti-abortion advocacy should always be Gospel-centered, biblical, solely reliant on the providence of God, led by the Church, and especially — immediatist in policy.

Abolitionists are mostly infamous for their immediatist approach to anti-abortion policy. They believe anti-abortion laws that do not immediately ban all abortions are evil, unjust, and unfaithful to God.

Abolitionists summarize their immediatist approach in what they call the “five components of abolition bills”:

“1. Outlaw abortion from conception; 2. Include no exceptions for abortion; 3, Criminalize abortion itself, and establish equal justice for the preborn; 4. Do not submit to the unconstitutional ruling in Roe; and 5. Repeal or supersede all statutes which allow for abortion.”

Therefore any pro-life bill that doesn’t contain each of the five elements wouldn’t be supported by abolitionists. For instance, on Thursday — Oklahoma passed the strongest pro-life bill in America since Roe v. Wade. The bill bans almost all abortions from conception, and it allows civilians to sue anyone who performs or facilitates an abortion.

However, the bill allows for exceptions if the abortion is supposedly necessary to save the mother’s life (though abortion is never medically necessary to save a mother’s life) or if the pregnancy is a result of a sexual assault or incest. The bill also doesn’t allow for abortionists and abortive women to be charged and prosecuted for performing abortions.

Since the bill doesn’t meet abolitionist standards, they do not support the bill. In fact, abolitionists would presumably vote against it.

I am probably going to offend many abolitionists — assuming they’re not offended already. However, I admire abolitionists more than they admire pro-life Christians like me. 

Though many abolitionists will not say the same about me — I believe abolitionists are my allies. Like immediate anti-slavery abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison and his more pragmatic former protégé Frederick Douglass — abolitionists and pro-life Christians have strong, internal disagreements. However, we are not enemies. We are allies with different convictions fighting the same battle.

After all, I actually agree with some of the critiques abolitionists have against the pro-life movement. Just as I’m sure this article will be offensive to some abolitionists, I’m also sure some of my words will offend my pro-life colleagues too.

I agree with abolitionists that many pro-life advocates are afraid to call abortion what it is: Murder. I also agree the pro-life movement needs to stop repeating the ridiculous claim that abortive women are victims.

Women who are threatened, forced, and pressured to have abortions are victims. However, that doesn’t describe the majority of women who choose to murder their babies for convenience. 

God doesn’t call women who offer their children as a sacrifice to Molech as victims, we shouldn’t either. 

And related to that, unlike the overwhelming majority of pro-life people, I do not believe only abortionists should be charged for murdering babies. When abortion becomes illegal — I believe anyone, including abortive women, who facilitate or perform an abortion should be charged and prosecuted for murder (Leviticus 20:1-5).

If abortion is murder, why shouldn’t abortive women receive the same penalty all murderers receive? If a pre-born baby’s life is just as valuable as any person’s life, then why shouldn’t they receive justice for their murder?

Clearly, I believe pro-life Christians should consider much of what abolitionists have to say on abortion — even though abolitionists refuse to consider much of what pro-life Christians have to say. 

I’m sure abolitionists disagree with much of what I’ve said so far. Still, I’m confident they would agree I’ve represented their arguments fairly. However, I can’t say the same about most abolitionists. 

Abolitionists consistently misrepresent and slander pro-life people. Abolitionists make false accusations about our real motives and real agenda concerning abortion. As I mentioned earlier, they say we do not want to end abortion, we simply want to regulate it. But worse, abolitionists also claim the reason why the pro-life movement wants to supposedly regulate abortion is because we profit off of abortion.

Those accusations are so asinine they are not worth refuting. However, I’ll address the basis for most of the false accusations the pro-life movement receives from abolitionists: the argument over incrementalism and immediatism.

Abolitionists claim pro-life people are complicit in abortion and guilty of compromise and injustice because of our incrementalist approach to fighting abortion. However, they are profoundly incorrect theologically and politically.

If incrementalism is sinful, every abolitionist who votes for the Republicans is a hypocrite. If incrementalism is sinful, every abolitionist who voted for Donald Trump is guilty of unrepentant sin. Candidly, abolitionists are the anti-abortion version of Never-Trumpers.

Though a majority of them voted for Trump, like Never-Trumpers, they refuse to acknowledge the righteous basis others have for thinking differently than they do. They refuse to acknowledge they are inconsistent incrementalists. 

The Republicans are not immediatists, yet abolitionists vote for them anyway, presumably because they rightly believe the alternative (Democrats) are significantly worse. Since the Republicans have adopted a pro-gay marriage stance — does that make abolitionists who vote for them complicit in homosexuality?

Of course not. However, from my conversations with some abolitionists — many of them haven’t considered this inconsistency and hypocrisy. The truth is, we are all incrementalists. Some of us just refuse to admit it. 

Every genuine pro-life person would like to immediately and completely ban all abortions. Pro-life Christians like me are not pragmatists by preference, we are pragmatists by necessity. Indeed, we want to abolish abortion. However, we are unashamedly committed to saving as many babies as possible until we have the power to save all babies.

Unlike abolitionists, we do not believe it is right to allow all babies to get murdered if we are unable to save all of them. Especially since that kind of thinking is one of the reasons why Canada is one of only two nations in the world (with North Korea) without law or restriction on abortion. 

This is because some influential members of Canada’s anti-abortion advocacy in the late 1980s effectively campaigned against an incrementalist pro-life bill by Prime-Minister Brian Mulroney. Since then, unlike our American counterparts — the pro-life movement in Canada has struggled to gain significant momentum and progress. 

If Mulroney’s imperfect bill had passed, Canada wouldn’t murder as many children as it does today.

Incrementalist pro-life bills are not ideal. However, they are effective and unfortunately — necessary. Like every genuine pro-life person, I’m happy to save as many babies as possible through incrementalism until we’re finally able to ban abortion, with zero exceptions.

Though abolitionists attempt to claim otherwise, William Wilberforce was an incrementalist against slavery. Indeed, he once said: “immediate abolition [is] preferable to gradual.” But that sentiment matches the views of pro-life Christians like me, not anti-abortion abolitionists. 

Notice that unlike anti-abortion abolitionists, he said “immediate abolition [is] preferable to gradual.” He didn’t say immediate abolition is the only option. The pro-life movement agrees with Wilberforce. We prefer an immediate end to abortion, but we’ll accept a gradual or incrementalist end to abortion when that’s the only option. 

After all, Wilberforce’s incrementalist approach is what eventually led to the end of slavery in Britain. Wilberforce’s mission as a politician was to ban slavery in the British Empire. However, he sponsored a motion in the British House of Commons in 1792 to gradually abolish the slave trade. That motion eventually produced the Slave Trade Act of 1807, an Act that banned the slave trade in Britain. Almost 30 years later, Wilberforce’s incrementalist campaigns culminated into the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833, an Act that finally banned slavery in the British Empire.

I know many of us have become disillusioned with mainstream evangelicals. If you’re familiar with my blog, you know I am disillusioned with mainstream evangelicals, too. As I’ve suggested, there are legitimate criticisms against the mainstream evangelical pro-life movement — especially groups like the ERLC.

However, our disillusionment shouldn’t cloud our judgment. As disappointed as I am with mainstream evangelicals and some pro-life people, I am not willing to allow bitterness to cloud my discernment.

I’m concerned that’s why many Christians are developing animosity towards the pro-life movement. I’m concerned that’s why some of my friends have become abolitionists. 

From my experience, many people will promptly accuse me of compromise, unfaithfulness, complicity in abortion, and cowardice. But I suppose they would also have to make the same accusations about William Wilberforce.


Originally published at Slow to Write. 

Samuel Sey is a Ghanaian-Canadian who lives in Brampton, a city just outside of Toronto. He is committed to addressing racial, cultural, and political issues with biblical theology, and always attempts to be quick to listen and slow to speak.

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