Outlawing Abortion: The Case for Pro-Life Incrementalism, II

Opinion   |   Gerard Nadal, Ph.D.   |   May 27, 2011   |   4:46PM   |   Washington, DC

Today, I’m privileged to present a guest article written by Father Steven E. Clark. Father Clark is Pastor of Saint Francis of Assisi Church, Mount Kisco, New York. He is a 1976 graduate of the United States Naval Academy, Annapolis MD, a former Marine Corps Major, helicopter pilot and naval flight instructor, as well as master of Sacred Scripture. He’s also a priest’s priest, best friend whom I met in the seminary and Joseph’s Godfather. He brings an important perspective to bear on this ongoing debate.

Here is Father Clark:

Recently Dr. Gerard M. Nadal, Ph.D., posted the blog entry, “Outlawing Abortion: Making the Case for an Incremental Approach.” The graphic is very apropos, and his reasoning I find very sound, quite in agreement with the moral Principle of Double Effect. Now before the “all-or-nothing” crowd blasts off to a region somewhere beyond the Plutonian orbit, let’s all take a breath and review the principle of double effect as I remember it from Msgr. William B. Smith’s course on Fundamental Moral Theology.

There are four conditions for the legitimate use of the principle of double effect.

First, the act itself must be morally good or at least morally indifferent (neutral). What could be better than working to save an innocent human life?

Second, the evil effect must not be intended for itself but only/merely intended. Here the person working to rescind the laws permitting abortion has taken a approach to incrementally rescind parts of the law(s) permitting abortions because for the past 30 years the all-or-nothing approach at overturning such laws has met with vociferous opposition and repeated failure. So, a person working to incrementally rescind/overturn abortion laws (I’ll call them “incrementalists” for the purpose of this article), intends to save lives within the realm of possibility, not directly intending the death of others, but looking forward to an eventual overturning of all laws permitting abortion.

In the book, “Schindler’s List,” by Thomas Keneally and in the Steven Spielberg movie, Oskar Schindler worked to save approximately 1,200 Jewish men and women from certain death, knowing that he couldn’t save all Jews he saw in the labor camp, directed by the sadistic commandant, Amon Goeth. Schindler worked to save the men and women he could save by running a bogus munitions factory run by Jewish labor, while looking forward to an end to the war when such atrocities would longer occur.

Third, the good effect of one’s actions must not be produced by means of the evil effect. Again the good desired is the saving of those lives with in the realm of possibility given the present circumstances and conditions in our society. The lives that are being saved are saved in the hope of one day overturning all laws permitting abortions, thereby preserving the possibility to life for all babies in the wombs of their mothers.

Fourth, there must be a proportionately grave reason for permitting (not agreeing with) the evil effect. For years the all-or-nothing approach to the repeal of abortion laws has been repeatedly rejected by those in who hold the majority in the legislative and judicial branches of government. Therefore, moving to first outlaw “partial-birth abortions”, then third trimester abortions and then earlier ones seems to be more workable and realistic, given the present attitudes of society. Dr. Nadal admirable puts forth this principle of incrementalism in his article.

We could talk about a judiciary unconstitutional wresting legislative power from our legislative branch and a legislative branch unwilling to justly discipline a judiciary run amok, but that would grist for a future missive on a blog dedicated to the explanation of the inner workings of our representative republic, we call the United States of America.

Oskar Schindler, at the end of the movie, is shown distraught at not having saved more people from extermination, dissatisfied with the number he had saved. The incrementalists are not satisfied with saving just a few lives, we want to save all babies from the abortionists. However, a frontal assault on the lucrative abortion industry has so far met with little success. Why not try the incremental approach at rescinding the laws permitting abortions with the intention of abolishing the abortion industry in the future?

Ladies and gentlemen the “all-or-nothing” approach to the repeal of laws permitting abortions in this country has so far been unsuccessful, whereas the incremental approach to repealing such laws has met with some success. We should focus on our victories and moving forward from the ground gained by such victories, looking forward to eventually taking the moral high ground once again where babies are protected during the first months of their lives in their mother’s womb. Let’s also remember to support women who have decided to keep their babies under difficult circumstances.