In Evangelium Vitae, the Catholic Church’s “blueprint” on the abortion issue, Pope John Paul II states that every Catholic and person of good will has a moral obligation to oppose and even disobey the civil authority on assaults on human life. He states:
73. Abortion and euthanasia are thus crimes which no human law can claim to legitimize. There is no obligation in conscience to obey such laws; instead there is a grave and clear obligation to oppose them by conscientious objection. From the very beginnings of the Church, the apostolic preaching reminded Christians of their duty to obey legitimately constituted public authorities (cf. Rom 13:1-7; 1 Pet 2:13-14), but at the same time it firmly warned that “we must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). In the Old Testament, precisely in regard to threats against life, we find a significant example of resistance to the unjust command of those in authority. After Pharaoh ordered the killing of all newborn males, the Hebrew midwives refused. “They did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live” (Ex 1:17). But the ultimate reason for their action should be noted: “the midwives feared God” (ibid.). It is precisely from obedience to God-to whom alone is due that fear which is acknowledgment of his absolute sovereignty-that the strength and the courage to resist unjust human laws are born. It is the strength and the courage of those prepared even to be imprisoned or put to the sword, in the certainty that this is what makes for “the endurance and faith of the saints” (Rev 13:10).
In the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting abortion or euthanasia, it is therefore never licit to obey it, or to “take part in a propaganda campaign in favour of such a law, or vote for it”.
From a strategic point of view, however, the Church recognizes that victory is not something that is likely to be achieved in one act, but instead can come through a series of incremental steps towards that goal. This strategy of taking small steps in order to overturn an unjust law is sometimes called incrementalism.
Some pro-life activists object to this approach because it appears to cede the moral ground on the question itself as a sort of compromise or “sell-out”. Yet, in the same encyclical, John Paul II clearly states that such an approach is moral, provided safeguards are in place to ensure the intent of the person advancing them:
A particular problem of conscience can arise in cases where a legislative vote would be decisive for the passage of a more restrictive law, aimed at limiting the number of authorized abortions, in place of a more permissive law already passed or ready to be voted on. Such cases are not infrequent. It is a fact that while in some parts of the world there continue to be campaigns to introduce laws favouring abortion, often supported by powerful international organizations, in other nations-particularly those which have already experienced the bitter fruits of such permissive legislation-there are growing signs of a rethinking in this matter. In a case like the one just mentioned, when it is not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a pro-abortion law, an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality. This does not in fact represent an illicit cooperation with an unjust law, but rather a legitimate and proper attempt to limit its evil aspects. (Source)
In addition to John Paul II, other revered and esteemed thinkers like Aristotle, Aquinas and Edmund Burke also supported the tactic in principle.
Although such attempts are generally treated with contempt by our opponents, they realize the approach’s effectiveness, since they have used the same approach in weakening the abortion laws using hard cases like rape and incest.
First of all, the great majority of North Americans are not ideologically in favour of abortion. Even in Canada where the media and liberal politicians want to insist that the “debate is over”, Canadians have a decidedly different opinion on the matter with over two-thirds wanting some restrictions on the procedure.
Secondly, in the last great civil rights struggle where Christians played a leading role - the emancipation of black slaves - William Wilberforce, the hero of the movement to abolish the slave trade and slavery itself, used an incremental approach over decades (1787-1833) to secure victory:
Wilberforce was a realistic man and knew (to borrow a cliche) that Rome was not built in a day. He knew that the kind of change he desired would take time, for it required the British people to adopt a whole new mindset. They had to be led to see that slavery was an afront to the God-given value of human beings, even those of a different skin-color. They had to see that the conditions of slavery were an abomination to a nation that claimed to be Christian. They had a lot to learn – a lot to understand. This would take time. Wilberforce, then, was willing to accept incremental improvements. For example, at one point he supported a bill, passed on a trial basis, that would regulate the number of slaves that were permitted to be transported on a single ship. Previously slaves had been laid in rows on benches, chained on their sides with the front of one pressed against the back of the next. Following the legislation, improvements were made. However, the bill implicitly and explicitly supported the continuance of slavery. Wilberforce saw it as a step in the right direction and was willing to support it. Another time he voted for a bill that required plantation owners to register all of their slaves. While this bill also supported slavery, Wilberforce saw that a registry of slaves would keep plantation owners from adding to their number of slaves by buying them from illegal slave smugglers. Wilberforce saw these incremental changes as accomplishing two goals. First, at the very least, they improved the living and working conditions of slaves. While slavery may continue, at least the slaves were afforded a greater amount of dignity, even if it continued to be minimal. Second, he believed that affording slaves greater rights set the Empire on a slippery slope. Having acknowledged the humanness of the slaves, people had to admit that slaves were something more than animals. The British Parliament had given approval to bills that Wilberforce knew would lead to nothing short of abolition. And of course his beliefs proved to be correct. The incremental changes for which he lobbied proved to be the starting point for the eventual abolition of slavery. (Source)
These two major factors suggest that incrementalism is an approach that should be used more concertedly by the pro-life movement. The soil is ripe for it since there is no firm ideological opposition to pro-life laws among the majority and, secondly, incrementalism has a proven track record of working. As Wilberforce did with the slaves, we must do with the unborn. We must push abortion into the slippery slope by giving the unborn children rights that are otherwise afforded to the rest of us i.e prohibiting inhumane ways of “termination” or the prosecution of criminals who kill a baby in the womb. Incrementalism is invariably tied to the so-called “wedge” issues which are used to advance a political or moral ideology in the public sphere. They are called “wedge” issues because they divide the segments of the opposition based on each sub-faction’s overriding allegiance, and thereby breakdown its unity in the face of attack.
In light of this strategy, what, then, are these wedge issues – the practical areas of promoting legislation – which seek to advance the pro-life movement and can be won in the court of public opinion?
1) Gendercide Abortions - Gendercide abortion is another term for sex-selection abortions where an abortion is procured for the sole reason of eliminating the unborn child based on the sex of the child. This procedure is almost unanimously performed on baby girls in many far-east countries and whose cultures continue the practice here in Canada. Besides the very real and dangerous demographic problem it creates, it is also tied with the commodification and human trafficking of females because of their relative scarcity. Most Canadians find this procedure abhorrent and an unacceptable form of discrimination. And the opposition to these laws by radical feminists paints them for what they are – not principled activists working to advance genuine women’s rights (and there are genuine women’s rights) – but rather selfish radicals who abandon safeguarding their own gender for their own personal benefit.
2) Parental Consent - This refers to the laws in place which require parental notification or consent before a minor obtains an abortion. In Canada, there is no law requiring parental consent for a minor to obtain an abortion. But over the last several years, Canadians have consistently showed that they favour laws which require parental notification. This is a reasonable law that many people who favour abortion can still support, because it merely allows all parties involved in that minor’s life to be informed of a risky surgery. In fact, if the minor were to undergo any other surgery, parental notification would be required.
3) Informed Consent - Informed consent is also a very reasonable and palatable restriction on abortion that most Canadians would accept as well. There is no such thing as too much critical information for such a decision. Does not a woman have a right to know what will happen to the baby and the health consequences of abortion to her personally? Only the most ideologically deranged zealot would refuse such basic information to a woman who is about to make the most important and terminal decision of her life. If it’s a choice, then shouldn’t it be an informed choice? Or do the zealots want to ensure that women stay in the dark?
4) Forced/Coerced Abortion - This particular wedge is gaining great popularity in pro-life circles in North America. It involves calling attention to the fact that many abortions are done so through coercion of boyfriends, husbands and other family members. It is well known that in China these things are commonplace. There is a grudging admission of this by the pro-abort establishment. However, it is also very prevalent in North America as well. It’s a taboo subject because the abortion lobby and the money behind it keeps the issue that way. During the 40 Days for Life efforts, we also learned that not only do family members pressure women to get abortions, but the abortionists themselves have a leading role to play in it too. Once again, this another wedge issue which is easily won in the court of public opinion since it doesn’t directly concern the legal status of the unborn child.
5) Unborn Victims of Crime – Like the “forced abortion” issue, the “unborn victims of crime” issue deals with encroachments into a woman’s dignity and freedom. The difference with this issue over forced abortion, of course, is that the aggressor necessarily becomes violent which results in the death or harm to both the mother and unborn child. Unlike abortion, the violence done to either the mother or the child is not wanted. This issue, of course, exposes the inherent weakness of the pro-abortion argument since the law does not assign personhood arbitrarily – personhood for a fetus that is “wanted” vs. one that is “unwanted”. The law does not work that way. Unlike the wedge issues above which primarily deal with the court of public opinion, this wedge also concerns the language and definition which the courts are forced to make concerning the legal status of the unborn child.
6) Decapitation Abortions - Unlike the other issues thusfar which concerned themselves with limiting the number of abortions, this particular wedge issue deals with restricting the crueler methods of abortion. The most obvious one is to outlaw decapitation abortions which typically occur during so-called “partial birth abortions“. Using the phrase “partial birth abortions” requires explaining, while “decapitation abortions” is self-explanatory and gets the message across instantaneously. Once again, this issue is no contest. Only the most psychologically disturbed individual would favour keeping this procedure legal.
7) Fetal Pain - This issue seeks to highlight the fact that unborn children do indeed feel intense pain during an abortion. The abortion becomes even more heinous the older the unborn child is, since her development is much further along. Like highlighting the more heinous forms of abortion, this issue, simply by mentioning it, compels people to think about an issue that they perhaps never have considered. The consequence of this could lead to the banning of all “inhumane” methods of abortion which accounts for a good majority of them at the current time. Animals have laws on the books protecting them against cruel treatment. Why not babies?
8 ) Tax Payer Funding - The wedge here is to split the pro-choice side along fiscal lines. There are many Canadians who fall into this category. They believe that women should have a “right” to abortion, but they have a serious problem with forcing people who don’t agree with it to finance it through public funds. There is something obscene by asking people who are vehemently opposed to an immoral act to finance it.
9) Freedom- There are also many people today who value the freedoms of Western civilization over and above their allegiance to an issue which they might theoretically agree with, but don’t have a strong attachment to. The western world today is undergoing a massive depopulation which is threatening the fundamental values of western civilization, as Islamic expansionism overruns Europe and, in the future, North America. Immigration does not work to stem this problem in any significant fashion. In fact, it makes it worse. In order to reverse these trends, there needs to be more people who value freedom (and Christianity) over radical Islam. That means we need a healthy birth rate which in turn means that abortion laws must be reconsidered as millions of babies are aborted each year along with their generations.
10) Economic Collapse - The reports concerning the economic collapse of the West are also linked to a shrinking population. As the the population ages, there is a corresponding requirement to have a young, healthy, and large workforce to sustain it. However, the West not only does not have a such a workforce, but its birth rates are suicidal. The main reason for this is abortion and contraception. If the West wants to survive economically – with its values in tact – it must reconsider its worldview of human life and human reproduction. Numbers don’t lie and so-called “pro-choice” economists had better start rethinking their allegiances to a decaying and lethal ideology that is going to bring the West to its knees.