Though I usually avoid internet confrontations, a controversy has surfaced that I must address. Apologia Radio, a group of internet broadcasters that offers “Christian radio programming” that “boldly confronts the hard issues of today,” posted an interview with Tony Lauinger, a man who has worked in pro-life organizations for over 35 years and is the state chairman of Oklahomans for Life, and subsequent commentary that is nothing short of defamation. Though it might at first seem shocking, Mr Lauinger and his organization have made public their opposition to Oklahoma bill SB 1118, a bill that would criminalize abortion in the state. He has reasons for opposing it, which he states in the interview and I discuss below. The purpose of this post is to call the people at Apologia Radio, especially Jeff Durbin and Marcus Pittman, to issue a formal apology to Mr. Lauinger for both misrepresenting his positions and unjustly attacking his character.
The title of the interview, as posted on Facebook and their website, is “Interview with Hypocrisy.” The accompanying text with the post calls the interview “shocking,” and in the comment boxes “Apologia Radio” and others associated with the organization call Mr. Lauinger a “coward.” They claim that he represents everything that is wrong with the pro-life movement and that he is responsible for the abortions in Oklahoma.
What is striking about the lead commentary and the comments on Facebook is the utter unwillingness for Mr. Durbin and others to correctly and honestly articulate Mr. Lauinger’s arguments. Mr. Durbin in his opening commentary on the interview video either completely misunderstands Mr. Lauinger’s argument or is deliberately committing a straw-man. I will discuss the arguments below.
But first I want my reader to just take a superficial look at both the interview and the public response from Apologia Radio. By all accounts, Mr. Lauinger is a gentleman, thoughtful, friendly, and respectful. And even Mr. Durbin comes off as respectful, gracious, patient, and courteous in the interview. In the end, one would think that there was constructive disagreement, mutual respect and friendliness between fellow pro-life workers. But no. Apologia Radio played the game of “gotcha.” They lured Mr. Lauinger in and got their sound bites, and then they proceeded to publicly denounce him and attack his character — calling him a hypocrite and a coward. It is all terribly unbecoming, and the reaction says more about the character of those at Apologia Radio than Mr. Lauinger. Some respect, at least, was in order for a man who has spent decades fighting to end abortion. Instead, we witness nothing but the typical millennial dismissal of age and experience. The use of this “gotcha” tactic against Mr. Lauinger, by itself, is enough to call Apologia Radio to issue an apology. Now on to the substance of the interview.
Mr. Lauinger made three main arguments, each either misrepresented or dismissed by the interviewer and his associates.
The first argument concerns the bill itself. Mr. Lauinger argues that SB 1118 is not only pointless but also counterproductive. The bill states that “a person commits murder in the first degree when that person performs an abortion in violation of the provisions of this section.” The provision states that “No person shall perform or induce or attempt to perform or induce an abortion after conception.” The bill effectively criminalizes all abortion.
One would think that the organization “Oklahomans for Life” and Mr. Lauinger would support this legislation, but they do not for specific and, I think, well-founded reasons. The bill is essentially an amendment of existing statutes, and the current statutes include both the Heartbeat Informed Consent Act and the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. The former act forces abortion providers to ask the mother whether she would like to listen to the unborn child’s heartbeat before performing the abortion, and the latter act criminalized abortion after “twenty or more weeks” postfertilization. SB 1118 changes existing law by eliminating the latter from law and amending the former making it “unlawful for an abortion provider to perform or induce an abortion if an embryonic or fetal heartbeat is detected.” (This seems to contradict the outright ban. I’m not sure how this plays out in the legislative process and law.) What is most important is that the ban on abortion at twenty or more weeks is no longer law, if SB 1118 passes.
Mr. Lauinger’s concern is that if Oklahoma passes SB 1118, the state and federal courts will declare both the complete ban on abortion and the amended Heartbeat Act to be unconstitutional. And if that occurs, the two acts that prevented some abortions will not return to the statutes. The pro-life cause then loses all that it has worked for. The result is the there will be more abortions than before, since the twenty or more weeks ban has been removed from state law. Mr. Lauinger’s argument is one that conforms to a clear principle of prudence.
Some have claimed that if the courts stall the implementation or strike down the complete ban on abortion, the other statutes will remain in effect. But even the language of the bill states otherwise. Near the end, the bill states, “The provisions of this act are severable and if any part or provision shall be held void the decision of the court so holding shall not affect or impair any of the remaining parts or provisions of this act.” The courts could, even according to the law itself, declare unconstitutional only the complete ban while leaving the elimination of the Pain-Capable Act. The result would be more abortions than before, since the removal of the ban on abortions at twenty or more weeks postfertilization remains removed from law.
When Apologia Radio folks are confronted with this argument, they respond with calls for armed resistance to federal tyranny, including having sheriffs, national guard, and civil magistrates take arms. Let’s assume that that is actually a principled response. Still, is it likely to happen? Is there realistic support among the people suggesting that they are willing to risk a violent confrontation with the Federal government? I doubt it. Perhaps there is, however. But nobody from Apologia Radio has offered anything resembling a plan to bring such resistance about.
One response is simply to dismiss Lauinger’s “incrementalism,” and perhaps there is a case against incrementalism in general, but when applied to this case, the anti-incrementalists show themselves incapable of reasoning clearly. Presented before us is a dilemma: either long-term incremental changes in laws and hearts and minds or a ban on abortion now at all costs. There is a third option: we do nothing. This one, of course, is unacceptable. So we are left with our original dilemma. As we saw above, banning abortion now by passing SB 1118 actually results in more abortions, at least that is Mr. Lauinger’s reasonable and supportable argument. At the same time, incrementalism has, even on Mr. Durbin’s admission, prevented some abortions. So the dilemma, when each one’s consequences are determined, is between preventing some abortions and preventing as many abortions as the third option prevents, which is zero. So it turns out that choosing “end abortion now” has the same result as if we did nothing. The do-nothing crowd, then, has, ironically, an ally in the end-abortion-now crowd. Choose wisely.
My discussion and expansion of Mr. Lauinger’s argument from prudence shows that the Apologia Radio’s accusation of hypocrisy is unjust. Hypocrisy, roughly defined, is failing to live up to one’s self-declared ideal. Mr. Lauinger would be a hypocrite only if he thought that passing the bill would actually accomplish his stated end. Since he does not think that it will, he is not a hypocrite for opposing it. Yes, the purpose of the bill is to end abortion, but the implementation of the bill is highly unlikely and would likely make matters worse. One is not a hypocrite for opposing something whose purpose would meet one’s self-declared end yet will not meet the end due to circumstances.
The second criticism of Mr. Lauigner is that he refuses to call the women who had an abortion a murderer. Now let’s be clear up front on his position. He fully supports the eventual criminalization of abortion, as he claimed in the interview. So he is united with Apologia Radio on the ultimate end of pro-life work. The difference concerns the means, as described above. Furthermore, the refusal to label the woman a murderer does not mean that one cannot call abortion murder. Even SB 1118 does not call the woman the murderer, only the one who “performs” the abortion. The abortion provider is the murderer, making an abortion a murder. The mother’s status is irrelevant to the labeling of the event. As he said in the interview, the classification of one’s culpability is based on circumstances, and the relevance of circumstance in culpability goes back at least to Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. Mr. Lauinger argued that quite often the woman is under pressure from her family, boyfriend, or husband to get the abortion; and workers in crisis pregnancy centers have told me that most women who come in are profoundly ignorant of what is in their body.
My purpose here is not to establish clear criteria of what constitutes murder and a murderer. I simply want to point out that it is not “shocking” that someone might not want to declare the woman who had an abortion a murderer. Given the history of moral reasoning and legal categories on the degree of culpability, it is not immediately obvious what the correct answer is. And Apologia Radio has provided no reasoned argument for their position. They have demonstrated only shock and moral outrage.
The final criticism of Mr. Lauinger is that he wants to use “secular” arguments against abortion with non-Christians, not call them to “repent and believe and Gospel.” Some find this indicative of belief in “neutrality” and others blame his Roman Catholicism. This criticism is not surprising. Those at Apologia Radio, to my knowledge, are committed to presuppositionalist apologetics along Van Tilian lines, so they naturally reject “neutrality” or common ground between Christian and non-Christian. I’m not going to directly engage this issue here. I simply will point out that most Reformed theologians, until recently, held to a sort of common ground – a realm in which both the Christian and non-Christian share the same knowledge of God the Creator and his laws. The Christian sees it all clearer, but, nonetheless, the non-Christian knows the principles of morality and justice. Calvin himself claimed that fallen man shows that he is not “devoid of the light of reason,” that he “cherishes” society, and is drawn to the formation of civil order and decency (See Institutes 2.2.13). Francis Turretin affirmed that there is “in man a natural law written upon each one’s conscience excusing and accusing them in good and bad actions, which therefore necessarily implies the knowledge of God, the legislator, by whose authority it binds men to obedience and proposes rewards and punishments” (Institutes of Elenctic Theology 1.3.5). He even says that the “heathen” can have virtue (1.4.17 & 10.5.2,6). Turretin also argues that “the manner of dealing with them [i.e., non-Christians] can be either theological (by arguments found in scripture) or philosophical, so that by the principles of reason the prejudices against the Christian religion drawn from corrupt reason may be removed” (1.9.23)
Much more could be said on this, but it is sufficient to say that the Reformed tradition has recognized a certain common ground in which we may operate to convince non-Christians or appeal to their moral sense of what is good and what is bad. I’m not sure what those at Apologia Radio would say to Turretin and the broader Reformed tradition, but at least they should not be “shocked” by the use of reason apart from revelation. Their own tradition (and I would argue most within that tradition) recognize the legitimacy of such philosophical inquiry and methods of argumentation.
To my knowledge, I have responded to the main reasons for Mr. Durbin’s shock and awe. By all accounts, Mr. Lauinger is a reasonable, prudent, and thoughtful man who deserves praise, not ridicule and attacks on his character. He is certainly not hypocritical. For these reasons, Jeff Durbin and all those associated with Apologia Radio need to issue a public apology to Tony Lauinger for both misrepresenting his arguments and unjustly attacking his character.