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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Will the Strawmen Never Cease?

This article is written in response to Josh Craddock’s recent article on the PersonhoodUSA blog. Since there is a disclaimer at the bottom, I don’t know if Craddock’s position on Erick Erickson is shared by anyone else at PersonhoodUSA, though I do know that Craddock’s views on the all-or-nothing approach are shared by PersonhoodUSA. This article will be a response to Craddock specifically, though it is applicable to the larger organization if they share his views on the matter.

Again, as I mentioned in my two articles regarding Abolish Human Abortion, my purpose in writing this article is not to be divisive. But there’s some very bad philosophy being done by some pro-life organizations, and I believe these organizations are doing more harm to the pro-life movement than good. It is my desire to get a dialogue going with these well-meaning pro-life advocates and to help both sides think more clearly about this issue, since how we do legal strategy is of utmost importance and there is a strategy that will best help abortion become illegal again the fastest. That matters, so we should use careful thinking about the issue so that we can be on the right side and do the most good.

My mentors and the philosophers I read make it a point to keep an open mind, and I would simply ask the same of whoever reads this article. Seeking common ground with pro-choice people is not going to prevent abortion from coming to an end. Division among pro-life advocates, groups, and organizations is going to delay our pro-life victory and in the end, the only ones who will suffer are the unborn children killed through abortion because we didn't put a stop to the practice sooner. To be clear, we are all on the same side. We all want to see abortion come to an end, and we all share in the frustration that it has gone on for 40 years now. The question is one of strategy. How do we make that happen the fastest?

Craddock doesn’t explicitly state it, but he does insinuate that Peter Singer and RedState editor Erick Erickson are “two sides of the same coin,” but after carefully reading the article Craddock was responding to it was easy to determine that the principled differences between Singer and Erickson are vast. I don’t know much about Mr. Erickson, but I can tell you this after reading the article that Craddock linked to. How do I know?

Peter Singer supports infanticide. Erick Erickson does not.

Peter Singer is a preference utilitarian. Erick Erickson is not.

When an “all-or-nothing” pro-life group attacks another pro-life person (usually insinuating that they’re really just a “pro-choice” advocate in disguise), it is always based on a strawman of that person’s position. This is no exception.

In the article that Craddock linked to, Erickson mentions that he used to support a rape/incest exception. This is what he wrote: “I was one of those Americans. For the longest time I thought we needed a rape/incest exception. It was only after meeting wonderful, caring people who were children conceived through rape that I saw the light. Georgia Right to Life had nothing to do with that. Others in the pro-life movement did.” Supporting the allowance of an exception in law because an “all-or-nothing” piece of legislation won’t get passed is not the same as believing the exception, itself, to be justified.

This article seems to have been written as a response to Erickson’s “scathing attack” against Georgia Right to Life. Craddock apparently believed a scathing attack against Erickson was in order, one based on a misinterpretation about the man’s views. Putting aside for a moment that I seem to remember reading something about not returning evil for evil (Romans 12:17), I actually agree that Erickson’s comments regarding Georgia Right to Life were too harsh. I certainly do not think they are comparable to Westboro Baptist Church. I think any comparison to Westboro is too inflammatory to be useful, and to my knowledge they have never picketed an abortion provider’s funeral. Nevertheless, rather than writing a scathing indictment of Erickson’s character, a more genial letter to the man would have been better.

But that being said, I also agree with Erickson when he wrote that we should pass this legislation, so that we can save all the unborn children we can, in any non-violent way that we can. Your own pro-life position tends to ring hollow when you would rather let unborn children die than pass legislation that saves some babies just because it doesn’t save all of them. Do you believe these are actual children or not? If so, then why would you let some babies die for your ideology? I believe Georgia Right to Life was dead wrong by calling pro-life people who support this exception in law until stronger bills that can protect all unborn children are viable “morally vacant.”

Many thoughtful pro-life people see this kind of legislation as a good first step in abolishing abortion altogether. And as I said in my articles on AHA, we are in good company. William Wilberforce had to work incrementally to free slaves in England. He had to start by passing legislation that kept slavery legal but made conditions safer for slaves on slave ships (reminiscent of the recent HB2 Bill that recently passed in Texas). But we obviously don’t stop there! It’s only a first step. Pro-life people would not be content to rest on their laurels and say, “well, that’s the best we can do.” To insinuate that about fellow pro-life advocates is simply unfair, emotional rhetoric.

So returning to the article at hand, Peter Singer would say that it’s not always wrong to intentionally take human life. And to be honest, he may be right. Saying that it’s never acceptable to intentionally take human life is, I believe, short-sighted. It must always be avoided, if possible. But there are times in which intentionally taking human life may be justified. The example of Hiroshima is a common example. The United States bombed the innocent people in Hiroshima, thereby taking innocent lives but possibly saving millions more by ending World War II years earlier than it would have ended. My friend Josh Brahm uses the example of an innocent aggressor (which was formulated by a friend of his in an unpublished paper ). Consider the case of a man at a bar who, unbeknownst to him, has his drink spiked with a hallucinogenic drug. He flips out and next thing you know is aiming a gun at five people, threatening to shoot. The police arrive and an officer has a shot, but a fatal one. I think the police officer would be justified in taking the fatal shot to protect the people whose lives are at risk.

So it’s short-sighted to say that intentionally taking human life is never justified. I think it can be justified in self-defense cases or if the woman’s life is in jeopardy and the child is too young to survive outside the womb. So in that respect, Singer is correct that it’s not always wrong to intentionally take innocent human life. However, Singer is incorrect when he states that abortions can be justified in other cases besides the mother’s life being at risk (and especially when he argues that infanticide is morally permissible). So when Craddock argues that both Singer and Erickson overlook the critical distinction between non-interference and accomplice with abortion, ironically, Craddock overlooks a different, but no less critical, distinction. By supporting pro-life legislation that leaves abortions legal in the case of rape/incest, Erickson is not interfering with those abortions already taking place. He is not being an accomplice to those abortions. But that doesn’t mean that he wants those abortions to remain legal.

Some people respond with a Biblical defense based on the parable of the shepherd who leaves the 99 to find the one who's lost (Luke 15:1-7). The Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling against Jesus, condemning him for receiving sinners and friends and eating with them. Jesus responded to their grumblings with the following parable: "What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulder, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!" However, if you proceed to the very next verse, you'll find that those who make this argument have taken the verse out of context to make an argument not originally intended by our Lord. He continues, "I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance" (NASB). This verse is talking about salvation, not about saving lives or any of the ethical considerations that have to go into such an important topic. Besides, even if we were to grant that their argument has merit, it's not representative of what they're actually doing. They are actually letting the ninety-nine die because they can’t save the one.

So what is the crucial distinction that Craddock overlooks? Simple. Craddock seems not to understand that intent matters. There is a distinction between killing and letting die. But if the intention is to see the person dead, then it really doesn’t matter whether you kill them or let them die if you would have been able to save them, as the end result is the same. The intention with pro-life bills like this one is to save as many children as you can, even if you can't save all or even most of them.

I think that Erickson was right to call out Georgia Right to Life for withdrawing its support of the bill. Erickson compared the teachable moment we're currently faced with, about whether or not it is right to kill the unborn after it can feel pain or before that point, to the teachable moment we had when the late-term abortion bill was being debated, which failed multiple times before it was finally passed. I think he is also right in that respect. Trying to make late-term abortion illegal helped people realize what abortion does to unborn children, and helped spur discussion of abortion which has led to more and more people becoming pro-life. We need teachable moments like these in order to keep the horrors of abortion in the public ear so that no one forgets what an abominable practice it is.

So comparing Erick Erickson to Peter Singer is just emotional rhetoric and betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of what Erickson and Singer both actually believe. Craddock then includes one of the most epic strawmen I’ve ever seen, in comparing the alleged views of Singer next to the alleged views of Erickson. But I need not go on, as I would just be re-hashing earlier statements.

Is Erickson like Singer? Resoundingly, no. Erickson believes in the sanctity of human life, Singer does not. Erickson does not support abortions in the case of rape or incest, he only supports leaving those exceptions in law since those are the only pro-life bills that can be passed right now, and he would rather see as many lives saved as possible rather than let the children that could have been saved die for the sake of his ideology. I am fervently hoping for a day when all pro-life people will be able to take a more reasonable and reasoned approach to the pro-life position, rather than an extreme “all-or-nothing” approach that doesn’t accomplish anything besides driving a wedge in the pro-life movement.

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