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Monday, December 9, 2013

Abolish Human Abortion's Revisionist History

I have previously written a response to Abolish Human Abortion's article The Difference Between Pro-Lifers and Abolitionists. I don't wish to specifically re-hash the arguments here, but I do want to address AHA's revisionist view of abolitionist history.

Abolish Human Abortion is a group of elitist pro-life people who don't want to consider themselves among the ranks of "pro-lifers" and who believe that only Protestant Christians can be true abolitionists. They make two claims that I would like to set straight. The first is that abolitionists will only support immediate abolition, not incrementalism. The second is that you cannot be a secular abolitionist. Specifically, I have used the Wikipedia article on Abolitionism as a guide.

Do abolitionists only support immediate abolition?

The answer to this question, in fact, seems to be no. AHA loves to charge pro-lifers as being moderate pro-choice people because they "prefer incrementalism" (a false claim that I addressed in my linked article). Certainly there were those abolitionists that would only stand for immediate abolitionism and not work incrementally, like Wendell Phillips and Frederick Douglass. However, there were other abolitionists, like Theodore Dwight Weld and Arthur Tappan, who preferred immediate abolition but were willing to work incrementally to see that happen, if need be. In essence, these abolitionists were like the pro-life advocates of today, that AHA wishes to shun. In fact, according to Columbia Encyclopedia, "Many historians regard Weld as the most important figure in the abolitionist movement, surpassing even [William Lloyd] Garrison, but his passion for anonymity long made him an unknown figure in American history." [1] Someone who was willing to work incrementally if need be is regarded by historians as the most important figure in the abolitionist movement.

In fact, the term Abolitionist had many definitions back then, including those who would only settle for immediate and complete abolition, those who wanted immediate abolition but would work incrementally if need be, even those who actively opposed it but didn't consider themselves part of the abolition movement writ large. In fact, their own posterchild William Wilberforce worked incrementally to end the slave trade in England. In fact, according to the Wikipedia article (see that article for citations), "Lord Grenville, the Prime Minister, was determined to introduce an Abolition Bill in the House of Lord rather than in the House of Commons, taking it through its greatest challenge first. When a final vote was taken, the bill was passed in the House of Lords by a large margin. Sensing a breakthrough that had been long anticipated, Charles Grey moved for a second reading in the Commons on 23 February 1807. As tributes were made to Wilberforce, whose face streamed with tears, the bill was carried by 283 votes to 16. Excited supporters suggested taking advantage of the large majority to seek the abolition of slavery itself but Wilberforce made it clear that total emancipation was not the immediate goal. 'They had for the present no object immediately before them, but that of putting stop directly to the carrying of men in British ships to be sold as slaves.' The Slave Trade Act received the Royal Assent on 25 March 1807."

If you're going to re-define the meaning of "abolition," don't pretend that history is on your side.

Can you be a secular abolitionist?

There's no reason why not. AHA seems to believe that since atheists and agnostics can't ontologically ground the existence of morals, that they can't recognize right from wrong. This is another false claim that's not even Biblical (Romans 1 tells us that the Law is written on all of our hearts). If atheists and agnostics can understand that it's wrong to kill human beings outside the womb, there is nothing preventing them from understanding that it's wrong to kill a child inside the womb. Plus, this doesn't account for people of other religions, like Muslims, and Christians that AHA doesn't recognize as Christians, like Catholics, who do have an ontological grounding for their morality (even if this grounding is not in the one true God).

Of course, many abolitionists had their views grounded in Scripture. But that doesn't mean that, by necessity, anyone who didn't believe in the Bible couldn't have been an abolitionist, or couldn't realize that slavery was wrong. On top of that, I've never seen one definition of "abolitionist" that precludes the non-religious or members of non-Protestant Christian religions/denominations. Even so, there were some atheist abolitionists, and abolitionists that AHA would never admit were abolitionists today, like Ernestine Rose, Fanny Wright, and Elizur Wright.

Clearly there is nothing in the term "abolitionist" that indicates that one can't be an incrementalist or that one can't be a Protestant Christian and a "true abolitionist." AHA has become an elitist organization that does more harm than good to the cause of ending abortion. I would like to join them in the fight to see abortion abolished, but until they take a more reasonable approach to pro-life activism, I don't see that as possible.

[1] From the 2003 Encyclopedia Article. See the linked article for more information.


  1. Excellent research Clinton. Thanks for doing the work to bring light to the twisted philosophy of AHA, that they falsely claim is historically based .

    1. Thanks, Russ. I hope to do more extensive research on it in the future, it just hasn't been that high of a priority for me since most of my reading and research in the abortion issue is more on the philosophical side.

  2. Wilberforce and Weld are rolling in there graves over this misuse of their so-called incrementalism. You are rewriting history to attack a group of devout Christians whom you have willfully decided to despise and misrepresent.

    I know that you are opposed to intellectual discussion of these things and never post my comments, but I would debate you on all of your points and attempt to get at the motive of why you are writing them and how you are misframing this whole difference between abolitionists and pro lifers if you were willing.

    1. I have no idea what you are talking about. First, I provided sources for my claims, so I am not misusing them (and they're not just assertions). Second, I have never deleted any of your comments. I have even responded to them (and one of mine you never responded to).

    2. So many claims from A//A about re-writing history, however the truth is they have and cannot provide any historical data for their claims. We await your sources with trepidation!