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A group of anti-abortion activists accuse Focus on the Family founder James Dobson of selling out the pro-life movement by applauding an April Supreme Court ruling upholding a federal ban on “partial-birth” abortion.

An open letter published as a full-page ad in two newspapers called the court’s April 18 ruling “wicked,” and called on Dobson to “repent” for misleading Christians into believing it does anything to help protect the unborn.

Dobson praised “pro-life” justices appointed by President Bush for the 5-4 ruling to uphold the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act signed into law by Bush in 2003, crediting them with “banning the Nazi-esque barbarism that is partial-birth abortion.”

But the open letter from pro-life leaders including Flip Benham of Operation Rescue and Judie Brown of the American Life League, took Dobson to task. “The justices you called ‘pro-life’ did not ‘affirm’ the life of the unborn but upheld a mere ‘regulatory’ law” under the Commerce Clause.

Instead of banning late-term abortions, the leaders said, the Supreme Court opinion gives legal preference to alterative abortion methods equally or more brutal than the particular medical procedure known as intact dilation and extraction.

The procedure was developed in 1983 as an alternative in late-term abortions to a more-common procedure called dilation and evacuation. In D&E, the cervix is dilated and the fetus is dismembered and removed with forceps or suction.

Some doctors believe intact dilation and extraction–where the fetus is partially delivered before the skull is collapsed just before passing through the birth canal–is safer for women in late-term abortions, but the Supreme Court found that medical consensus is lacking.

The pro-life leaders accused Dobson of being “a moral relavist and a legal positivist” and of helping to improve the public’s perception of late-term abortion. “You ‘applaud the court,'” they said. “We rebuke you.”

“Beyond the children, your praise helps destroy the souls of these wicked justices who no doubt take comfort in the approval of Christian leaders,” the letter said. “You help them feel safe as they violate God’s enduring command, ‘Do not murder;’ and then with hubris, they demand that abortionists follow their new regulation of how to murder a child.”

“We expect such evil from humanists,” the letter continued. “But for a Christian leader to give this false sense of security to judges and offi­cials at all levels of government is an affront to the holiness of God.”

The Washington Post labeled the dustup an example of “an old split between incrementalists who support piecemeal restrictions and purists who seek a wholesale prohibition on abortions.”

“Incrementalism is fine,” the open letter claimed. “Compromised incre­mentalism violates God’s enduring command, ‘Do not murder.’ When you compromise on this fundamental law, you undermine the pro-life goal of re-establishing the personhood of the child, and you cannot possibly foresee all the negative consequences. And now these kids will suffer more horrifically with this ruling than before, as we congratulate ourselves.”

The dispute concerned one Southern Baptist leader–Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary–enough that he brought it up Monday on his radio show.

“I am on the board of Focus on the Family,” Mohler said. “I am not disconnected to this. So I’m going to speak personally but also as a matter of principle to this.

“When you have a group like this that says there can be no incremental steps toward the goal we want, you have a group that has designated itself dead on arrival in terms of cultural impact.”

Mohler said Dobson and the group that criticized him share a goal of eliminating legal abortion, but the question is “how do we get there?”

“You have a group that says: ‘We can’t do anything. We can’t celebrate anything. We can’t acknowledge even the progress made on any front until Roe v. Wade is completely overruled and until every single state adopts legislation or the national government adopts legislation that criminalizes abortion.’ Well folks, that’s not the way change happens. That’s just not the way it’s going to happen.”

Mohler said Dobson’s position is “absolutely right” and is a position he shares with Dobson. “The Supreme Court’s decision, especially the majority opinion written by Anthony Kennedy, is one of the most welcome developments in a long time, especially since Justice Kennedy is one of the ones who wrote the atrocious–in fact he was the lead author of the atrocious decision in the case known as the Bray decision that basically affirmed Roe v. Wade.

“This language, adopted by a majority on the U.S. Supreme Court, in the decision handed down just several weeks ago, is the first indication at the level of the United States Supreme Court reflecting, I think, a general and growing consensus among the American people, is that there is a problem with abortion that has to be confronted, there are some limits that have to be acknowledged, even now, and because of that we should celebrate that as a victory,” Mohler said.

“Not that we rest on the laurels or are satisfied with where we stand today, but we understand that changing minds and changing hearts is a progressive process, and it doesn’t help to have this kind of internecine warfare among Christian conservatives, much less those who claim to be for the cause of life.”

Though pro-choice groups like Planned Parenthood protested the Supreme Court’s ruling in April, leaders now say it has galvanized supporters around the prospect that the court might try to reverse Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark ruling establishing a woman’s right to choose.

Unless Dobson repents in his support of the April decision, the open letter predicted, there may be another 15-year fundraiser, resulting in millions more abortions.

“Partial-birth abortion was one of the quickest ways to kill the baby, but it was also the most difficult to witness and contemplate, for the abortionist’s staff, for the politician, and for society,” the letter said. “Other more hideous late-term tech­niques are now legally preferred, although less visibly blatant, compared to a child killed once he is mostly outside his mother.

“This ban push­es the crime of late-term abortion back into the darkness of the womb, where it can lurk out of the public consciousness.”

The pro-life leaders called on Dobson to recommit to his 1990 pledge to oppose any effort that would intentionally “kill one innocent baby,” learn to recognized and oppose “moral relativism” in the law and to sign a Colorado Right to Life pledge titled: “40 Years/50 Million Dead/One Commitment.”

Bob Allen is managing editor of

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