Imagine you’re chillaxing at home when you hear a commotion next door. Peeking through the curtains you see that your neighbor is holding her toddler’s head against a block of wood, and is raising a machete in her other hand.
In this situation, you should:
- Go back to chillaxing
- Tweet that someone should look into the situation
- Call the police
- Immediately run outside and forcibly restrain her if necessary
If you answered 1, 2 or 3 you obviously need your head examined—though I fear there are people out there who would disagree. I am not talking to them.
The correct answer is 4: you yell at her to stop, and if she ignores you, you leap over the fence and try to grab the machete out of her hand—or at least make yourself a more inviting target than her child. You should, if possible, also call the police—hopefully you have your cellphone to hand, and the presence of mind to dial 911 as you’re leaping over the fence.
Anyway, my point is that it is morally obligatory to forcibly intervene when a child is about to be murdered and you are physically capable of stopping it. We should think less of you if you just stood by and watched. Even if you were wringing your hands. No one likes a coward.
You can probably see where I’m going with this, but let me make it obvious:
What is the relevant difference between a mother about to cut her child to pieces with a machete, and a mother about to cut her child to pieces with a vacuum tube operated by a doctor?
Since abortion is murder, morally-speaking, why do protesters outside abortion clinics not try to forcibly restrain women from going inside to kill their children?
A possible answer
Perhaps many abolitionists—that is, people who want to abolish abortion—haven’t thought in these terms before. But I suspect some have, and the reason they don’t use force is because it would be counterproductive in the long run. Since abortion is legal, restraining a woman would constitute assault. Thus, after the police settled the matter, the abolitionist would go to jail, and the woman would go back to the abortion clinic to finish the job anyway. A net loss for the abolitionist, especially in view of the fact he is now very limited in his ability to dissuade other women from entering abortion clinics.
Does this mean we should abandon the idea of force altogether?
On the face of it, surely the opposite.
Isn’t the problem with forcibly preventing women from entering abortion clinics not that it is going too far, but that it is not going far enough? Stopping women from having abortions by physically restraining them is impotent because abortion is legal. What we need is to eliminate the possibility of women entering clinics.
Obviously the most effective way to do that is to destroy the clinics.
This is an extreme solution—even to abolitionists. People tend to resist it. Yet I think it is perfectly proportionate given the extreme nature of the problem—as becomes clear when we use abolitionists’ own analogies:
If abortion is the new Holocaust, then abortion clinics are the new death camps
The Holocaust is an analogy often used by abolitionists. Indeed, just going by the numbers, abortion is 220 times worse, having so far killed about 1.3 billion worldwide since 1980 (in the US, 57 million since legalization in 1973); in contrast to the “mere” 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust.
Yet when I look back on the events of Nazi Germany, I feel very strongly that citizens should have done far more about the extermination of the Jews. Surely citizens ought to have at least tried to use sabotage to disrupt the systematic extermination of an entire people? Indeed, it hardly seems a stretch to say they would have been justified in doing anything within their power to fight the regime, up to and including assassinating Nazi officers. But certainly destroying Nazi facilities would have been justified—perhaps even obligatory.
What, then, is the relevant difference that makes it wrong to destroy “death camps” in a situation 220 times worse than Nazi Germany? Given the sheer scale of abortion, should our response be not far greater?
The other analogy often used by abolitionists is American chattel slavery. Indeed, they consciously model their efforts after the abolitionists of the 18th and 19th centuries. But whether slavery should be abolished or not was the issue at the heart of the American civil war. It seems to me that the 600,000 soldiers killed in that war was a steep, but tragically necessary price to pay for the freedom of an entire race of human beings.
But in that case, why is civil war not a tragically necessary price to pay for the lives of an entire class of human beings? Obviously the political situation with abortion is not particularly similar to the political situation in 19th century America; but that isn’t to say that civil war is unthinkable in the modern day.
“It will damage our witness”
This is the common rejoinder I’ve received when discussing these ideas with other abolitionists. The abolitionist movement is centered around the gospel. We want the church to rise up and transform the culture peacefully so that abortion is criminalized as a natural consequence. Violent action would hinder the reception of the gospel.
But this response seems weak to me.
Firstly, the reception of the gospel in our culture is icy. Hoping and praying for revival is virtuous, but it is not a substitute for taking immediate and proportionate action to prevent something similar to genocide. It would be nice if the whole culture would support us, but it may never happen. How long do we wait in hope of it—and how many children will we let die?
Secondly, this attitude takes the completely subjective, ill-informed and unconsidered opinions of non-Christians as a guide for how we should respond to evil. This isn’t a case where Christians have the freedom of conscience to do something (like drinking) but refrain so that non-Christians won’t perceive hypocrisy. This is a situation where Christians seem obliged to act. If I am in a situation where someone is being assaulted, and the only chance they have to live is if I intervene, then it is really irrelevant if the bystanders think Christians should be strict pacifists.
There’s also the issue of how much non-Christians should respect us for failing to have any strength of conviction. If we believe that abortion is murder, and that it is being done nearly 4,000 times a day in the US alone, and we know exactly where it is being done, and that if we don’t stop it no one will, then how much should anyone respect us if we do nothing? What kind of witness is that?
Sure, if Christians sabotage abortion clinics—even if they are very careful to avoid loss of life—plenty of people will consider us extremists or terrorists or anarchists or whatever. But does public perception of Christians matter more than saving millions of innocent lives every year? I just can’t see how.
“If we bomb abortion clinics, they’ll just get better security”
Maybe they will. Maybe the logical outcome of bombing clinics is escalation to the point of civil war. But so what? That does not, in itself, give us a reason to think we shouldn’t destroy abortion clinics, any more than it would have given Germans a reason to think they shouldn’t have sabotaged death camps. Civil war doesn’t seem like a prima facie unreasonable option, as demonstrated by the analogy of slavery or Nazi resistance—and especially in countries like the US where citizens have ready access to military-grade hardware and training.
What does this prove?
I confess I would be rather glad to hear a compelling case against bombing abortion clinics. The idea doesn’t sit well. But I haven’t seen one yet; and the idea of Christians allowing millions and millions of children to continue being legally killed every year sits even more ill than them rising up in violent protest.
What have I missed?