What happened to “rare”? (a lesson on compromising moral stands)

Those tricksy abortionists…

I was reading an article related to the booklet I am writing on abortion (Pray for me! It’s almost done! Sort of!), and it included an image of a pro-abortion protestor holding up a sign. Here’s a screenshot of the sign:

The words were very familiar—because the key phrase was 75% of a phrase I believe was coined back around the early 1990s by then-President Bill Clinton, who consistently said that abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare.” You’ll note the “rare” is now missing.

The absence of “rare” is important, and there is something we can learn from it. We understand (because God, in His mercy, shows us) that human life begins at conception. Aborting a child simply because he or she is “unwanted” is murder. But back in the 1990s, it was as contentious as it is today.

And Mr. Clinton’s phrasing was a masterstroke of political maneuvering. His supporters, in general, we very pro-abortion, but there was still, in our society in the U.S., a sense of connecting abortion with something morally wrong—or at least something to regret and to feel bad for. Yet, those who were pressing for more entrenched abortion rights and to secure abortion access from legal attacks from pro-lifers were on Team Clinton. And, man, did he deliver. By saying abortions should be “safe, legal, and rare,” he threw out something that sounded like a concession. It’s as if he were saying, “Look, you know I believe abortions should be allowed, but I also know that many of you don’t, and, honestly, we all know that it would be best if we were in a world where they didn’t have to happen at all. Don’t you agree that, even if they happen, they should happen rarely?”

It was a sort of verbal Judo that used moral force against abortion to promote abortion. For those who were already pro-abortion, it gave them permission to say “Yeah! I believe we should all have access to abortion, but… you know… of course, it should be rare…” Really, all those who pushed for abortion on demand cared about was that it be “safe and legal”—but by saying they also believed it should be “rare,” they could feel like they shared a bit of the moral high ground that their opponents occupied.

And for those who were against abortion, it felt like sort of a middle ground. To many of them, it felt like a way that they could compromise with the other side a little: “Well, I’m still against abortion. But, if you’re at least willing to make it something rare, I suppose that’s a good step in the right direction.”

Yet the word was empty. It was nothing but a political position meant to influence the results and the sentiment of people—to win over enemies and fortify allies, all while doing absolutely nothing substantial at all. The President’s administration never said just how rare abortion was supposed to be. And why it should be rare was not discussed, at all. “Rare” was simply an empty word used in a slogan to make both sides feel better about supporting abortion.

And, according to some accounts, it worked.

But it was always a ruse. And look at the sign now: “Safe and legal.” It seems that “rare” doesn’t even show up rarely anymore. “Safe and legal” are sufficient.

The Atlantic has argued that Mrs. Clinton, in her own run for the presidency ruined it for pro-abortionists by saying in a speech, “I believe abortion should be safe, legal and rare, and when I say ‘rare,’ I mean rare!” Her pro-abortion supporters took apparently notice, and those three “rares” may have been too much. As the LA Times noted during the campaigning, the “rare” then disappeared from her campaign, at least for a time. [I should note: I thought of the idea for this point all by myself, and I think The Atlantic stole my idea—apparently by traveling back in time two years, but, you know, it could happen.]

But the damage has been done. And the support for abortion-on-demand in one form or another—even if not the “free for all” it currently is as I type this post—is pretty broad in this country.

So, here’s my point. (In the event you were wondering if I had one…) The inclusion of “rare” was such a small change—so easy to add, yet having such a large impact. With one word, the way was paved for people to take one small step over a line in a terrible direction—becoming more supportive of the murder of children—and look at where we are today for it. We have large collections of state and national leaders in the U.S. arguing that a child should be able to be aborted all the way up to the very moment it is born at the mother’s will, with no restrictions at all. And they put their money where their mouth is, so to speak, by passing laws to support exactly that, as they did a year or so ago in New York.

Mr. Bill Clinton’s savvy wording was just the right ingredient to generate just enough compromise to further entrench one of our nation’s most obvious moral failings and to continue condemning more than 800,000 pre-born children to death before they ever see the light of day. And now, the ruse is abandoned. The pro-abortionists no longer argue for “rare.” They focus on “at will.” In fact, the very opposite of “rare,” which implies something that is, at least negative in some way, they focus on making sure that abortion is seen as virtually no big deal in any way at all—in fact, they sometimes highlight people who celebrate their abortions. And, as best I can tell from my, admittedly, cheap seats, the seduction of the word “rare” is a big part of what helped slide an entire nation further in this direction.

When someone wants to get you to compromise on a moral stand, they will often try to just nudge you. Just a little. They will make what they are saying seem reasonable. Dress their position up a little nicer. And the Bible warns us that the devil is capable of very subtle deceptions (Genesis 3:1). They may try to make you feel that you are not making a big step at all—you’re making only a tiny one. What could be wrong about a very tiny step? A teeny, tiny action in one direction over another?

Ask the fish who decided to take only a tiny nibble on the tempting-but-suspicious worm.

So, be careful out there. Those who want to deceive you may only throw in a word or two—they may only seek to have you take a small step in their direction. But a small step might be all they need.

Seek the mind of Jesus Christ and the express all of God as it is revealed in His word, and hold fast to that. Don’t look at how small and tempting the compromise is—look to the Rock of our salvation. Because it doesn’t move.