Two years ago I reported on the outcome of South Dakota’s attempt to ban all abortions that were not necessary to save the life of the mother.  The initiative was narrowly defeated (56% no; 44% yes).  Polls indicated that a majority of voters would have supported the initiative if it included an exception for rape and incest as well.  I wrote back then, that while I agreed with the initiative as written, tactically and practically speaking, SD would have been better off to include the exceptions for rape and incest. 

Why?  Is it because I believe children conceived by rape and incest do not deserve the protection of the law?  No.  They do.  It’s because to date, we have not been able to persuade a majority of our fellow citizens that the circumstances surrounding conception make no moral difference to the question of abortion.  But many people, including those in South Dakota, recognize that abortion should be outlawed in all other circumstances.  So why not write an initiative that outlaws the abortions that a majority of people agree should be outlawed, and then work on outlawing the rest later?  Considering the fact that less than 1% of abortions are due to rape or incest (for 2006, only 0.004% of abortions in SD were due to rape/incest), such a bill would save 99% of babies currently being aborted. 

It just so happens that SD has an initiative on the November ballot similar to the 2006 version, but adding exceptions for rape and incest.  In a perfect world I would not support such a bill, but in an imperfect world I would-and I think all pro-lifers should.  But not all pro-life groups see it this way.  South Dakota Right to Life does not support the initiative because of the rape/incest exceptions.  For them, it’s all-or-nothing.  Since this bill does not go for a complete ban on abortion, they do not support it. 

I think this approach is wrong-headed.  It makes a statement, but does not effect change.  An incremental approach to outlawing abortion is better than an all-or-nothing approach, because an incremental approach has the effect of preventing a lot of abortions, whereas the all-or-nothing approach has proven to prevent none!  If we are truly pro-life, we should support any bill that has the effect of saving babies.  It is morally indefensible to vote against a bill that would save 99% of aborted babies from abortion, just because less than 1% will not be protected by the bill. 

While I do not doubt the sincerity of those who oppose incremental legislation like the one SD is proposing, I do doubt their wisdom.  They seem more interested in making a moral statement than they do with making a moral difference in our world.  This is morally irresponsible.  Being pro-life is not a position.  It is a goal, and to get to that goal we have to chip away at the culture of death bit-by-bit, just like William Wilberforce did to slavery in England.  We should not be opposed to steps that are taken in the right direction, just because they do not take us to the destination we see as ideal.

But isn’t this about conscience?  Some will argue that their conscience will not allow them to vote for a bill that would explicitly allow the abortion of some babies.  I do not doubt that this is true, but I do doubt that such a person has a properly informed conscience.  After all, if one’s conscience commends them for voting no on a bill that could have saved thousands upon thousands of innocent babies from medical execution, on the basis that they stood up for the right principle, something is seriously wrong with their conscience.  Yes, they stood up for the ideal principle, but they did not advance life when they had the chance to do so.  A properly informed conscience would condemn such an act as an abandonment of the very people we say we want to save.  Allowing thousands to die when we have the chance to stop it is hardly pro-life.