Incrementalism and Immediatism


The organization called Abolish Human Abortion (AHA) is now well known for its vocal condemnation of the pro-life movement seeking to pass laws which will save only some babies from abortion. From their perspective, any legislation which does not ban all abortions is a compromise with the abortion industry, sends some number of babies to their deaths, and is therefore to be vehemently opposed and decried as immoral. Under this logic, parental notification laws, waiting periods, health codes, bans on late term abortions are all incremental measures and, on principle, not to be supported.

From AHA’s website:

“You cannot abolish any evil by justifying or allowing it to continue in some cases. Any strategy for ending abortion in this country which allows for the continued occurrence of some abortions for the sake of eventually outlawing the rest, though seemingly pragmatic, is compromise and it’s [sic] promises of effectiveness are false.”

A recent meme developed by AHA and shared on Facebook attacks Fr. Frank Pavone, founder and director of Priests for Life, for promoting legislation in Montana which would provide anesthesia to preborn babies who are at least 20 weeks old and about to be aborted.


I made the following response in the same Facebook thread:

“To rip off the arm or leg of a 20-week-old-or-more unborn baby is barbaric; to do it without at least giving the child an anesthetic beforehand is just plain sadistic,” said Fr. Pavone.

AHA falsely portrays Pavone as someone who simply wants babies sedated before they are butchered. What AHA fails to see is that fighting over legislation to numb the baby’s pain makes headlines and causes clueless Americans to consider the fact that abortion is actually a form of human torture.

This is common knowledge to AHA and to pro-lifers, but it is a shocking and horrifying revelation to many ignorant and otherwise disinterested voters. This legislation is one more call, one more appeal to the conscience of a country that is marked largely by its indifference in the matter. The people are indifferent because, for one thing, nobody has told them about the excruciating pain which babies experience in abortion.

Fr. Pavone is trying to tell them about it. And you choose to mock and deride him for it. You’ve somehow managed to convince yourselves the world is upside down: Fr. Pavone and Priests for Life are the real enemy, joining pro-aborts to attack Pavone is the answer, and babies will be saved if we can make enough memes against pro-lifers.

Renowned pro-life blogger Jill Stanek offered her own excellent response to this type of attack. In her post she points out that,

“They [‘immediatists’] say that were all pro-lifers to focus single-mindedly on stopping all abortions, rather than saving babies around the edges, we would stop abortion faster, and without “compromising.” This claim is unproven and, in fact, could be considered disproven if the failure of all statewide personhood initiatives to date is taken into consideration. (Although I want to make clear I support personhood initiatives. I basically support any and every pro-life initiative.)”

And the philosophical principle of incrementalism was also recently defended by the distinguished Princeton University professor Robert P. George

“Of course, politics is the art of the possible. And, as Frederick Douglass reminded us in his tribute to Lincoln, public opinion and other constraints sometimes limit what can be done at the moment to advance any just cause. The pro-life movement has in recent years settled on an incrementalist strategy for protecting nascent human life. So long as incrementalism is not a euphemism for surrender or neglect, it can be entirely honorable. Planting premises in the law whose logic demands, in the end, full respect for all members of the human family can be a valuable thing to do, even where those premises seem modest. Fully just law would protect all innocent human life. Yet sometimes this is not, or not yet, possible in the concrete political circumstances of the moment.”

It is crucial that pro-lifers think with clear heads and sharp minds in this war against the Culture of Death. We must be wise, not foolish. We must never allow ourselves to fall into the trap of making the perfect (saving all babies) the enemy of the good (saving some).

A much-anticipated, live-streaming debate on this very subject will take place Saturday, April 25, 2015 between Gregg Cunningham (Center for Bioethical Reform) and T. Russell Hunter (Abolish Human Abortion) as they dispute the merits of Incrementalism and Immediatism. Stay tuned…