Friday, July 19, 2013

Life and Legislation: Playing the Long Game

On Wednesday, Texas Governor Rick Perry signed into law HB 2. This law bans abortions after 20 weeks and sets very high standards for abortion clinics inside Texas. These standards were so high that there are already abortion clinics announcing they will close because of the new law. You would think that all pro-life activists would be overjoyed at the great advances made by this bill. However, that is not the case.

Last Friday, the Texas legislature passed HB 2. Shortly thereafter, a pro-life Facebook page quickly took to attacking the bill and the bill’s supporters, calling the legislation “another compact with death and yet another agreement with Hell.” Why was this legislation a “compact with death” and an “agreement with Hell”? Simply because it was not a complete ban of abortion.

This page showed its lack of understanding the legislative process and how American government works, as well as a lack of a basic understanding of public opinion, by posting “If you have enough votes to pass an after 5 months ban[sic.]... You have enough votes to pass a total ban.”

That is simply not the case. The most recent Gallup polling on the Life issue shows that only 20% of Americans believe abortion should be illegal in all circumstances, but 52% believe that is should only be legal under certain circumstances. Gallup also asked whether abortion should be legal or illegal in each of the three trimesters. Many (61%) believed that abortion should be legal in the first trimester. For the second and third trimesters, a large majority believed that abortion should be illegal. The belief that if you have enough votes to pass a ban on abortion after five months means that you have enough votes to pass a complete ban is simply not reflective of reality.

Legislation itself cannot change the hearts and minds of people; rather, it is a reflection of the hearts and minds of the populace and the legislators. Right now, there is not enough popular support for the complete abolition of abortion. This means that we must take two simultaneous actions. First, we need to continue to work to change the hearts and minds of people to realize that life begins at conception. Until we get people to realize that, we will never get a complete ban of abortion. The second action we need to take is to push for the pro-life laws that we can get. Right now, there is no way we will get a complete ban on abortion passed, but that does not mean we cannot take steps to abolishing abortion and saving lives. When we are dealing with laws like the one in Texas, we must remember that these laws do save lives. It does not ban all abortion, but it will save many lives. Our goal should always be to save as many lives as we can.

Here is an analogy I like to use when talking about politics and legislative goals. Politics is like a football game. You have multiple downs and do not need to go for the touchdown on the first down of your possession. This is something that liberals understand. They take whatever they can get whenever they can get it. One example of this is Obamacare. Everyone knows that what they really wanted was a single-payer healthcare system like that in Canada, but there was not the support for that. Instead, they passed Obamacare, which will give them the footing they need to pass a single-payer system in the future. However, conservatives tend to treat everything as a “4th and long with 5 seconds left,” and throw the Hail Mary every time. The problem is that very rarely will a Hail Mary work. That is why it is so amazing when one does work; the expectation is that it will fail. There is no difference in politics. The  “Hail Mary” of perfection rarely works. Liberals advance their policy proposals by making whatever progress they can, but conservatives let perfection become the enemy of the good and will go for the touchdown, even when they know they can’t get it, instead of taking 20 yards.

I am pro-life without exception, and the Texas law is not my ideal piece of legislation. However, it was the best bill that could be passed at that time, so we should take that and then continue to push forward, changing hearts and changing minds in order to change the laws.

I will leave you with this. When William Wilberforce worked to abolish slavery in the British Empire, he took what he could get. He realized that initially a complete ban on slavery would not pass Parliament, so he worked to first ban the slave trade. After years of hard work, he finally saw that passed. When the ban on the slave trade was passed, Wilberforce celebrated, but did not stop fighting to ban slavery in the British Empire. He formed the “Society for the Mitigation and Gradual Abolition of Slavery Throughout the British Dominions” after banning the slave trade, and after more than 25 years of hard work, the goal of abolishing slavery was finally realized. The pro-life movement is no different. It will take time to change the hearts and minds of enough people to pass a complete ban on abortion, but that does not mean we do not take whatever steps we can now to limit the number of abortions before we can completely ban it.

Posted by Glenn Bertsch


  1. I'll never forget hearing David Barton speak on this subject a few years ago. He said something like, "Too often when they don't get what they want, Christians simply pick up their ball and go home, and that ends their influence in government real quick."