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“Incrementalism vs. Immediatism”—Strategy of the National Personhood Alliance

by Jay Rogers, Personhood FL

Any pro-life law that is enforceable and saves lives is a good law unless it explicitly identifies a class of human beings that we may kill with impunity. Such a law, even when passed in the absence of a Personhood state or national constitutional amendment is deemed to be “Personhood compliant.” We use the standard, “First, do no harm,” to measure the morality of laws that protect the sanctity of human life. This is also known as the doctrine of non-maleficence.

This is the position carved out by the National Personhood Alliance (NPA) a new organization that will network pro-life organizations throughout the United States. NPA will work in a cooperative capacity with Personhood USA, which will continue to promote the “branding” of Personhood and work on initiatives on a national and state level. NPA will be a separate group in which each state will have a “vote on the national Board” and will assist in setting the strategy, protocol and policy of the state Personhood organizations.

Within pro-life circles, there has been a vigorous and growing debate in recent years over the concept of “incrementalism.’’ Essentially, this is the idea that the pro-life cause can be advanced by passing laws that save some lives even while working toward the day when Roe v. Wade can be overturned. All pro-life groups would like to pass a Human Life Amendment to the United States Constitution. However, some are willing to accept momentary gains, even when these laws include the very “exceptions” outlined in Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton – most often rape and incest. This does not mean that these pro-life organizations believe exceptions are morally right. They are willing to accept the lesser of two evils – abortion on demand for any reason through all nine months of pregnancy vs. abortion in limited circumstances.

Personhood strongly opposes compromised incrementalism as ineffective and immoral. Regulating child murder cannot work on a practical level. We also oppose the exceptions on a moral basis. Delineating one class of human being we may kill undermines our pro-life argument and violates the law of noncontradiction.

Unfortunately, “incrementalism” has become a misnomer. The term is sometimes used to describe any pro-life legal strategy short of an outright ban and criminalization of all abortion. In reality, every pro-life strategy is incremental. Sidewalk counseling and the work carried on by CPCs are incremental strategies in that they do not purpose to end all abortion. Christian pro-life ministries ought to call all parents to repent of killing their sons and daughters, but on a practical level, this type of ministry can never be thought of as an immediate end of abortion.

Even the state-wide Personhood amendment initiatives are not an end to abortion in all of the United States. Likewise, a national Human Life Amendment would not end abortion in the whole world. Passing a single Personhood amendment will be the beginning, not the end, of a long war to end abortion. When the first Personhood amendment is passed on the state level, it will ignite a battle that will rage on for many years at all levels of government, state by state, and then finally nationally and world-wide.

As we begin down this road, we ought to delineate levels of incrementalism and define each by giving tangible examples of legal strategies that fit into each category.

1. Compromised incrementalism – Laws regulating abortion that include explicit exceptions, such as rape, fetal anomalies and the mental, familial, financial and emotional health of the mother.

2. Principled incrementalism – Laws that do not ban all abortion, but are designed to incrementally restrict abortion without including explicit exceptions in the language of the law. Examples might include parental notification laws, an ultrasound requirement, and bans on aborting preborn children that have reached the stage of viability.

Explicit vs. implicit?

Before moving on to a discussion of levels 3-6, it can be debated whether all “level 2” laws are Personhood compliant. Some in the Personhood movement see any attempt at regulating abortion incrementally as compromise. For instance, a 20-week ban on abortion, even one without the rape exception, is seen by many Personhood advocates as compromised because it states that a baby can be killed prior to the 20-weeks. While on one hand, that seems to be a compelling argument, on the flip side, it is the “argument from silence” fallacy. If a law or moral commandment is silent in addressing an action or behavior, then it does not follow that it speaks in favor of it. For example, a grand theft auto law might not address the theft of bicycles used in employment. This  does not make the grand theft auto law immoral simply because it does not protect bicycle owners to the fullest extent of their rights. We could apply this analogy to almost any legal statute. No single law punishes all crime. Each law makes up a larger legal code. Together with court precedent, these statutes and ordinances on all levels of government make up the system of civil law.

Yet another group takes the position of “immediatism.” They say that nothing short of a law that would put an end to all abortion without exception and also criminalizes abortion as murder is acceptable. The problem with immediatism is that I tends to have no practical sensibility. While we must end abortion by standing for uncompromising principles, those principles must be realized in practice and acted upon.  Otherwise, the pro-life advocate is merely engaging in sloganeering and agitation. Immediatism does not propose an actual plan or legal language to end abortion. However, it is a "strawman argument"  to say that some pro-life advocates want “incrementalism” merely because the measures they support cannot end all abortion.

A False Dichotomy

“Incrementalism vs. immediatism” is a false dichotomy. No incrementalist prefers a slow end to abortion. Pro-life advocates would prefer an immediate end to child killing. Likewise, no immediatist believes in doing nothing until he can end abortion in one fell swoop. They work to end abortion in any way they can in a manner that they consider morally acceptable. Most immediatists rightly admit that a cultural change is needed prior to legislation.

A 20-week abortion ban with no exceptions is opposed by some pro-life advocates, on the basis that it is a "incremental" strategy, even though it would protect the lives of tens of thousands of viable children who are being slaughtered each year. Another incremental initiative, such as defunding Planned Parenthood, would be supported by most pro-life advocates as a good strategy – even though withholding funds would not end abortion pro-actively.

The acid test for whether a law is morally acceptable from the sanctity of life position is whether such a law could stand a legal challenge under a constitutional amendment defending the Personhood of all human beings from biological beginnings to natural death.  A 20-week ban on abortion with no exceptions would not need to be repealed under Personhood. Under an amendment that would protect all human beings, it would be redundant to have a law specifically citing a 20-weeks ban, but it would not need to be repealed. However, a 20-week ban that explicitly includes exceptions for rape and incest would need to be repealed or amended to exclude that exception under a Personhood amendment.

The position of Personhood USA and the National Personhood Alliance is that any pro-life law that is enforceable and saves lives is a good law unless it explicitly identifies a class of human beings that we may kill with impunity. Personhood opposes explicit exceptions in pro-life laws. We do not make it our goal to pass a slew of incremental bills until the time we may overturn Roe. However, we view “level 2” and higher as being “Personhood compliant” and do not actively oppose those bills.

In the words of NPA director, Daniel Becker:

    We consider any bill which protects innocent human life, but does not explicitly mention a class of human life you can kill, as being “Personhood compliant.” This is the same functional definition that Personhood USA’s Board adopted in 2012. I fully agree with [some who say] that these bills are not the best vehicle to advance our agenda for legislative action. Our plan is to foster and promote a library of bills (similar to Americans United for Life) that promotes personhood and focuses public opinion specifically on the underlying issue of Personhood, i.e., a constitutional Personhood amendment or ballot initiative should always be our stated and primary objective. Another example is promoting an adoption bill that would define the pre-born as a "child (Person) not property." That said, we will support any measure that saves lives without compromise or exception. We reject any argument based solely on implication and personal interpretation. Our evaluation of the supportability of legislation should be based on objective explicate wording and effective legal intent.

Another way to state the doctrine of non-maleficence is that, “given an existing problem, it may be better not to do something, or even to do nothing, than to risk causing more harm than good.” Allowing for some compromise on “exceptions” may end up doing more harm than good in the long term. This strategy will reinforce the perception that the pro-life movement is willing to compromise on the same arguments that were the basis for Roe v. Wade, which brought abortion on demand in all 50 states.

As we now examine levels 3, 4 and 5, we should keep in mind that, although not morally compromised, it also may be a waste of time to spend resources on incremental initiatives that draw away from our emphasis on promoting Personhood through education, legislation and ballot initiatives. By settling for what is “good,” but not on the “best” strategy, we might end up doing more harm than good in the long term.

3. Personhood compliant laws that when enforced might reduce the numbers of abortions, but would specifically neither regulate abortion nor include exceptions. Two examples of this type of law are the defunding of Planned Parenthood and using state statutes regulating outpatient clinics (based on patient health concerns) to close non-compliant abortion centers.

4. Personhood compliant laws that do not deal with abortion, but define an preborn child as a Person. Some examples would be laws that extend the definition of homicide to include preborn persons, adoption laws that extend legal Personhood to preborn babies, or tort laws that allow courts to include preborn children as plaintiffs in injury cases.

5. An outright ban on all abortions without exceptions. Certainly, no sanctity of human life advocate would oppose a law banning all abortion. Note that if an abortion ban does not include a ban on human destruction during certain procedures in fertility treatment, various forms of abortifacient drug prescriptions, cloning, destructive human stem cell research, end of life issues, etc. -- then this is an incremental law in that it does not protect all human life. Most would agree that such a law is morally correct since the law does not explicitly condone these anti-life practices.

One then has to ask how an outright ban on abortion that cannot be extended to all sanctity of life issues is any different than a 20-week ban with no exceptions. Does it logically follow that a 20-week ban on all abortion with no exceptions then implicitly allows the killing of the preborn prior to 20-weeks gestation?

National Personhood Alliance’s principle applies here, “We reject any argument based solely on implication and personal interpretation. Our evaluation of the supportability of legislation should be based on objective explicate wording and effective legal intent.”

In simple terms, any law that ends with “and then you can kill the baby” is an immoral law. Of course, no pro-life law states this literally. However, if the law states any exception explicitly, then it ought to be evaluated as having an immoral intent to do harm.

6. Personhood – A constitutional amendment that would protect all human life by recognizing legal Personhood from biological beginnings to natural death. The Personhood strategy is to recognize the sanctity of all human life based on the evident truth that each of us is an image bearer of God. The God given right to life of every human being at any stage of development shall be recognized and protected. This is the principle goal of Personhood USA, the National Personhood Alliance and the Personhood state affiliates. We ought to focus as much as possible on this one objective.

Personhood is incremental. It is not an immediate strategy. We recognize that prior to passing state and national constitutional amendments, we have a massive work of education to do. The petition process itself is the beginning of the educational outreach and helps to garner volunteers for Personhood campaigns. We also recognize that there will still be disagreement in some cases on how to properly categorize pro-life laws and even to determine from a biblically principled perspective what is a “good” law versus a “bad” law. To judge correctly will require the “wisdom of Solomon.”

Therefore, we agree with the words of Proverbs 4:7-9,

    “Wisdom is the principal thing;
    Therefore get wisdom.
    And in all your getting, get understanding.
    Exalt her, and she will promote you;
    She will bring you honor, when you embrace her.
     She will place on your head an ornament of grace;
    A crown of glory she will deliver to you.”


Personhood—Being Pro-life in the 21st Century

Personhood is the pro-life battle-ground of the 21st century. Throughout the history of the Church the doctrinal teaching of the “Sanctity of Life” (Genesis 1:26-27) has been the belief that Man is created Imago Dei (Latin: in the image of God) and therefore has worth at all stages of life. This is the bedrock of Western civilization’s  understanding and practice of human dignity.

We are told in the gospels that John the Baptist was known by God, called by God, named by God  and then filled by God with the holy Spirit while still in his mother’s womb. This is an example of the biblical worldview of Personhood.

Abortion and the Death of Man

by Nigel M. de S. Cameron

As we approach the 30th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, a new and ever more complex threat to the dignity of humankind lies on the horizon. The struggle for the dignity of the unborn is unrelenting. More slowly than many predicted, the challenge of euthanasia continues to gain ground. Yet side by side with them both comes the revolution in biotechnology. Heralded by cloning, the first great battle in this war on human nature, the broader biotech agenda has hardly begun to catch our attention. Yet it threatens to overshadow every other issue in the fight for the sanctity and dignity of life.

Rethinking Pro-Life Strategy—The Human Life Amendment

by Robert Muise, American Freedom Law Center

The debate

Over the past year, debate and discussion over the direction of the pro-life movement has increased profoundly.  National leaders of the movement, including Catholic leaders, have eschewed—and in some cases directly opposed—efforts to pass constitutional “human life amendments” at the state level.  Instead of supporting such a strategy, they largely favor the current “incremental” approach, which offers no plan or promise of ending abortion in the foreseeable future.  After 35 years of

abortion on demand through all nine months of pregnancy, it is time to rethink pro-life strategy and the efficacy of the national pro-life movement.

While seeking to decrease the number of abortions performed in this country is a laudable endeavor and should continue, we must never forget that ending all abortions is the ultimate goal.  Protecting innocent human life is not negotiable.  Accordingly, we should not corrupt our discourse by even suggesting that it is.  The fundamental human right is the right to life itself.  This is true of life from its earliest stage of development until natural death.  Abortion, consequently, cannot be a human right—it is the very opposite.

Protecting innocent human life from its very beginning is a pro-life imperative—there are no exceptions.  Critics of this approach appear to argue that regulating abortion and seeking to end abortion are “either or” propositions—this is a false dichotomy.  There is no conflict between the two positions, so long as principle is not compromised in the process.  Both strategies can and must coexist.  However, it would be a tragic mistake to be content with a strategy that makes ending abortion secondary to other regulatory efforts, or worse yet, a strategy that avoids it altogether.  Accordingly, passing a human life amendment should be the pro-life movements’ main effort.

The humanity of the unborn and the inhumanity of abortion

A state human life amendment presents not only an opportunity to challenge the essential holding of Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973), it provides a historic opportunity to educate the general public regarding the harm caused by all abortions, not just late-term, partial-birth abortions, which, in comparison, are far fewer in number.  Accordingly, such an amendment provides the pro-life movement with the opportunity to demonstrate the humanity of the unborn victim at the earliest moments of life and the inhumane way in which this life is destroyed by abortion.  Demonstrating the humanity of the victim is a key component in social reform.  Throughout the history of our nation, social reform has always been achieved through such efforts, which dramatize the injustice and prick the collective conscience of the culture.  Examples of this phenomenon include the abolition of child labor and the civil rights movement.  Abortion should be included in this list.
A criticism of the human life amendment approach is that the American public is not ready to accept the reality that human life begins at fertilization.  If this criticism is valid, then it is a serious indictment of the national pro-life movement and calls into question its efficacy over the years.  A human life amendment provides an opportunity to remedy this grave deficiency, which alone is reason enough to support such a strategy.
In the final analysis, we are in this fight to win, not to go on in perpetuity, content with an occasional “honorable mention.”  To succeed in this fight, we must have leaders who are committed to winning it.  

Defining victory

What does it mean to win the pro-life fight?  John Paul II defined the objective in the Gospel of Life, 
The human being is to be respected and treated as a person from the moment of conception; and therefore from that same moment his rights as a person must be recognized, among which in the first place is the inviolable right of every innocent human being to life.
Evangelium Vitae at ¶ 60. A human life amendment seeks to achieve this objective—and nothing less.  Accordingly, a human life amendment must be part of our national strategy.
Challenging the essential holding of Roe v Wade 

Roe v. Wade was and continues to be widely-decried by legal scholars on both sides of the issue as being without constitutional warrant.  However, it cannot be gainsaid that the essential holding of Roe v. Wade remains the primary obstacle to any meaningful pro-life initiative that seeks to end abortion.  
To remove this obstacle, a case must be presented to the United States Supreme Court that challenges the central premise of Roe—that the unborn is not a person within the meaning of the law.  In Roe, the Court conceded that if the “personhood” of the fetus “is established, [the case for abortion], of course, collapses, for the fetus’ right to life would then be guaranteed specifically by the [Fourteenth] Amendment.”  Roe, 410 U.S. at 156-57.  The Court reviewed the language of the United States Constitution and concluded that the word “person” did not have any prenatal application.  Id.  A state human life amendment seeks to establish “personhood” as a state constitutional right.
In the early years of the pro-life movement, there was national support for a federal human life amendment—a proposal that would amend the United States Constitution.  Some legal scholars saw such a proposal as a legitimate means for seeking reversal of the Roe decision.  Despite such efforts in the 1980s, attempts to reverse Roe by a federal constitutional amendment or statute failed.  Unfortunately, some national leaders consider the prospects for doing so now or in the near future as almost nonexistent in light of current political realities.

On this point, critics of a state constitutional amendment strategy often conflate early failed attempts to pass a federal constitutional amendment with local efforts to pass a state constitutional amendment.  With regard to “political realities,” the two are incomparable.  The current political reality is that an amendment to a state constitution, such as in Georgia, has a very good chance of succeeding—if the national pro-life leadership would support it.  In this regard, the Georgia Right to Life should be commended for continuing the fight despite the lack of national support.

In the final analysis, when the Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade in 1973, establishing abortion as a virtually absolute right, the issue did not go away.  Indeed, there is no greater social issue that tears at the soul of America today than abortion.  And the reason for that is simple: abortion is intrinsically evil.  No Supreme Court pronouncement nor constitutional amendment creating an abortion right in the future will ever change that fact.  The same cannot be said of any number of social issues prevalent today.  The closest issue is slavery, which took a civil war and a constitutional amendment to resolve.  
As history teaches, William Wilberforce repented of his incremental approach, and then went about the business of winning total emancipation for the slaves in the British empire.  And the words penned by Martin Luther King, Jr. in his Letter from Birmingham Jail ring true today:
“We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor, it must be demanded by the oppressed.  Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct-action campaign that was ‘well timed’ in view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation.  For years now I have heard the word ‘wait’!  It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity.  This ‘Wait’ has almost always meant ‘Never.’  We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that ‘justice too long delayed is justice denied.’”

Unfortunately, the longer we “wait” the more lives are lost and the more engrained abortion will become in our Nation’s social fabric.  Now is the time to shift our pro-life strategy to include efforts to pass state human life amendments.

Robert J. Muise is an attorney with the Thomas More Law Center, a national, public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  The Law Center is committed to defending the sanctity of human life.


Re-printed with permission from Celebrating Life

Georgia Right to Life Supports National Personhood Declaration

Contact: Daniel Becker, Georgia Right to Life, 770-339-6880

ATLANTA, Jan. 23, 2014 /Christian Newswire/ -- Calling for a united effort to protect the pre-born, the elderly and the infirm, Georgia Right to Life (GRTL) President Dan Becker has joined pro-life leaders across the country in signing a "Declaration of Dependence." This document re-affirms that personhood is the policy objective of our movement.

"It's time for all pro-life supporters to get back to first principles, the principles our nation and our pro-life movement was founded upon," Becker said. "Signing this document affirms that our mission is based on the word of God and our goal is constitutionally protecting all innocent human life regardless of a person's manner of conception."

The declaration asserts our nation's "...prevalent and callous disregard for innocent human life indicates that America has, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, 'forgotten God.'" "As a faith-based organization we are pleased to see the religious foundation restored to the pro-life movement and its insistence to defend all innocent human life," said Becker.

It adds: "Whenever a culture accepts the idea that the lives of some human beings are inferior and thus, disposable, it has embarked upon a dangerous journey that inevitably launches that nation upon the path to other human rights violations." Claiming the devaluation of human life began with legalizing abortion, the document says that decision "…opened the door for the societal acceptance of euthanasia, assisted suicide, human cloning, embryonic and fetal experiments, and other serious practices…" GRTL is particularly concerned that the elderly infirm will also be targeted under the new healthcare guidelines, as their utility to society is diminished in the eyes of some.

Becker said, "While the goal is amending the U.S. Constitution, several states, including Georgia, are attempting to establish personhood protection in their state constitutions. This is needed to protect our current pro-life laws."

"We will continue to work at the state level until we achieve the ultimate victory of protecting innocent human life nationwide," Becker added. GRTL is supporting the call for a personhood amendment to the Georgia Constitution currently before the state legislature which will encase the "right to life" as the paramount right in Georgia.

Other signers at a national level, include: Dr. Alveda King, the niece of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Director of African-American Outreach; radio talk show host Steve Deace; Lila Rose; Thomas Glessner, founder and president of National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA); Rev. Walter Hoye, founder and president of the Issues4life Foundation; Father Frank Pavone of Priests for Life and Alan Parker of the Justice Foundation.

The declaration states those who sign "...stand in unity to assert a firm, foundational and unwavering belief in the sanctity of human life and the legal personhood of all human beings."

Georgia Right to Life promotes respect and effective legal protection for all innocent human life from earliest biological beginning through natural death. GRTL is one of a number of organizations that have adopted Personhood as the most effective pro-life strategy for the 21st century.


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