Our friends at Pulpit & Pen have been looking into “AHA” for months and trying to find some dirt to expose and publicize to the world. And after all of that effort, this is the best they could do? Some bylaws? A trademark? I think our friends have become so self-absorbed in their opposition to “AHA” that they cannot see how absurd this whole purported exposé really is! Far from being the product of “extensive research,” the article is the product of extensive assumptions. Nonetheless, as these accusations have the potential to cause some confusion, it seemed that a response that actually sets the record straight was in order.
Much of what I write in this article I write from first-hand experience, both to the facts and events themselves, as well as to the motivations and reasons behind them. I have been involved with the abolitionist movement since 2011. I created and hosted the first version of abolishhumanabortion.com back in 2012, and have continued to serve as an administrator for that website since. I have written some of the content on that website. I am the architect and current president of the International Coalition of Abolitionist Societies (ICAS). I have been a part of the life and growth of the movement ever since its inception as a single abolitionist society in Norman, Oklahoma. In short, I know what I am talking about. I was there when many of the decisions were made and was often part of the decision-making process.
On the other hand, none of this can be said of Jeff Maples. He was for some time a member of the Abolitionism Facebook group, where abolitionists and prospective abolitionists discuss any and all issues related to abolitionism. But he was never “privy to” the reasons why certain organizational decisions were made. And the primary reason for this is that he never asked anyone who was involved in the decision-making process, as far as I am aware. In writing this article, he certainly did not contact anyone officially affiliated with ICAS to confirm that his conclusions were accurate.
We’ve never hidden anything from the abolitionist movement. There are two simple reasons why the organizational details of ICAS and other organizations haven’t been talked about much. First, abolitionists already know from their participation in the movement that AHA is not an organization, and many couldn’t care less about the structure of this or that organization within the movement that has little to no effect on their daily lives as abolitionists. Second, the ICAS story is a bit complicated and takes no small amount of time and effort to explain. There has never been a need to take the time to write it out in full, but I suppose we should all be thankful to Jeff Maples for providing the impetus for doing so.
Though there has not been an article explaining the situation in detail prior to now, the few abolitionists who have actually cared to ask questions about organizational details have always received straightforward answers. Why Jeff Maples did not join their ranks is beyond me. He made no attempt to contact either me or others who actually are “privy to” certain organizational particulars pertaining to ICAS, as well as the reasons why those particular particulars where chosen and how they fit into the broader AHA movement.
As such, the article in question is not an investigative report. There may have been some “extensive research” in the gathering of certain facts and documents, but they have simply been shoehorned into a narrative of Maples’ own creation without any demonstrable regard for the accuracy or legitimacy thereof. If Maples was truly concerned about the accuracy of his narrative and the application and interpretation of the facts he has collected, he certainly does not seem to have shown it by the way in which he went about writing and publishing his article.
What follows is a rather lengthy treatment of the issues at hand. It is lengthy because what is at hand here is no mere dispute over facts, or even so much their interpretation. Rather, what we have here is a clash of paradigms—a mindset that wants to interpret every fact through the lenses of institutionalism, on the one hand, and a mindset that many things can be done quite well without formal institutions, on the other. Writing from the latter mindset, I have intentionally belabored a number of points in an attempt to make them clear to those within the former.
My response to Maples is divided into three parts. This part introduces the subject matter and deals with preliminary issues relating to framing the discussion. Part II provides an informal organizational history of AHA and ICAS, at least in terms of the actual organizations I have been a member of. Part III then uses Parts I and II to provide a more detailed refutation of Maples’ allegations. So without further adieu, let us answer some preliminary questions.
Does It Even Matter If AHA Is an Organization?
Before addressing Maples’ allegations regarding the organization that supposedly is AHA, we should first ask why it matters if AHA is an organization or not. In one sense, it doesn’t. AHA is what it actually is, regardless of what anybody says about it. Whether or not AHA is an organization is one of the sillier issues to be debating and this whole discussion seems in many ways like an enormous waste of time.
However, abolitionists have been claiming for years that AHA is not an organization—particularly the people who are in a position to know whether or not it actually is one, such as T. Russell Hunter (hereafter “Russ”) and Toby Harmon (hereafter “Toby”). If such people have been knowingly propagating falsehoods, then there is indeed a problem with AHA. In Maples’ own words:
JD Hall at Polemics Report lists the warning signs of a cult operation. Specifically, cult warning signs #8 and #10 are especially applicable here. Cult warning sign #8 states, “Sub-Christian sects are dishonest about the details of how their organization or ‘fellowship’ operate,”
Ignoring the issue of whether or not JD Hall can be legitimately cited as an authority on what does and does not constitute a cult, accusations of moral turpitude are in play here. If leading abolitionists have indeed intentionally misrepresented the nature of AHA, then they have some serious wrongs to answer for, particularly if said misrepresentation was propagated in pursuit of some illicit advantage or gain.
Is AHA an Ideology or a Movement?
Abolish Human Abortion (AHA) is first and foremost an ideology represented or denoted by a particular symbol, known as “the AHA symbol.” As an ideology, it is a set of principles that describe the consistent application of vital Christianity to a culture that kills its children. All of this is explained in more detail on the AHA website.
Now, an ideology doesn’t count for much unless it has adherents—people who believe it and seek to implement it in practice. As such, the term “AHA” has also been used, by both critics and adherents, to denote the people who hold and practice the ideology. I am not personally opposed to the use of the term “AHA” in this way, as long as it is made clear that the group exists because of the ideology, and not the other way around.2 Another way to think about the term in this sense is that it denotes the ideology as practiced by its adherents, and is thus most visibly identified by its adherents.
Many AHA adherents use or prefer the terms “abolitionism” and “abolitionist movement” to denote the ideology and its adherents, respectively. I often use these terms myself in lieu of “AHA.” However, this can be problematic as the word “abolitionism” can mean many different things. However, the term “AHA” is much more specific. As such, “abolitionism” often has a better ring to it and is preferable to use when the context is clearly AHA or its adherents. However, where ambiguity is a concern, it is preferable to use the term “AHA” to make it clear which specific ideology is being referred to.
Different people within the abolitionist movement have different opinions on the use of the term “AHA.” As the movement is not an organization, there are no official rules on what terms to use in what contexts, and discussions on these kinds of matters occasionally occur. However, I believe that the term usage practices I explained in the previous paragraphs are representative of a large portion of the movement.
Is AHA a Movement or an Organization?
The term “organization” has some differences in meaning from person to person. However, Maples’ article does not concern the use of the word in general, but the allegedly-deceitful use by AHA leaders. As such, I will proceed by defining “organization” in the way that most abolitionists mean when they say “AHA is not an organization.”
When abolitionists say that “AHA is not an organization,” they generally mean something along the following lines. They didn’t have to fill out an application to sign up. If they asked what the sign-up requirements were, they were told that there aren’t any—because AHA is not an organization (yes, the refrain will get old, but that does not make it any less true or any less necessary to repeat). There are no membership cards. There is no membership roll. There are is no board making decisions on behalf of everyone else. There are no officers directing people to do this or that. There is no budget, and there is no bank account. There is no donate button. There are no fundraising letters. There is no headquarters. These are the things that lend the character of an organization to a group or entity. The movement as a whole has nothing of this form. And abolitionists aren’t stupid—after months of doing the work of abolition, interacting with other abolitionists both locally and around the country, they naturally come to realize that there is no national or international organization over all abolitionists or AHA symbol users. It simply doesn’t exist. And so abolitionists say that “AHA is not an organization,” because it is true. And so also abolitionist leaders say that “AHA is not an organization,” because it is true.
Now, the fact that the movement is not an organization does not mean that there are no organizations within the movement. Every local abolitionist society is an organization within the movement. Some societies are large, others are small. Some are formally incorporated, some are not. Some have formal officers and elections, others do not. Some have formal membership criteria, others have merely informal membership criteria. Every society that exists exists because its members took it upon themselves to start doing the work of abolition together in their local area. No abolitionist society was formed because a representative of a national organization traveled somewhere and set up a “chapter organization.” AHA is a grassroots movement in the truest sense of the term. And because AHA is not an organization, every actual organization within the movement is free to organize itself however formally or informally it wants to.
There are other abolitionist organizations within the movement that are not strictly abolitionist societies. Missionaries to the Preborn, for example, identifies itself as abolitionist with the AHA symbol. Some institutional churches consider themselves abolitionist churches. There are abolitionist podcasts and radio shows. All of this happened organically. None of it was either ordered or approved by a director of a national organization. People from across the country, both as individuals and as organizations simply decided to freely associate and collaborate in various ways.
And that is how the abolitionist movement functions in practice. People talk about things and occasionally decide to plan and organize projects together. There are no boards or officers involved: simply individuals and/or representatives of independent organizations discussing, sometimes arguing, and then deciding to either do or not do this or that thing. Though some may strain at gnats and attempt to say that such things constitute an “organization,” it is plainly clear to me (as well as to most abolitionists) that such things are the epitome of a grassroots movement, which is quite the opposite of a formal organization. That is why we say things like “AHA is a grassroots movement” and “AHA is not an organization.” It is quite telling when those insisting the most that “AHA is an organization” are also among those that have the least first-hand knowledge of and experience with how the movement actually functions in practice.
And as an aside, though it may be heresy to some within the institutional mindset, leadership by persuasion and example actually works. You don’t have to have a title or an office to lead others and accomplish things. The abolitionist movement is living proof of that.
But What about ICAS?
“Well,” you may say, “it’s all fine and good that you say those things about how AHA is not an organization. But Jeff Maples presented proof! He has bylaws! And those things clearly show that ICAS is AHA and is an organization!!”
Not so fast, my friend. Everything that Maples presented has a story behind it. It may even come as a surprise that at one point there was an organization itself called “Abolish Human Abortion.” Yes! It’s true! Unfortunately, Jeff Maples cannot get a scoop on that. Carole Novielli already beat him to it with this article from almost two years ago: Is Abolish Human Abortion (AHA) an Organization? While Carole is no fan of abolitionists, her article is clearly written with the intent of being objective and accurate, and the facts presented are not shoehorned into any self-serving narrative. Our friends at Pulpit & Pen should take some lessons from her. If they do, they might become something more than the tabloid writers of conservative Evangelicalism. One can always hope.
The organizational story of AHA and ICAS is a bit long, but that is because it spans six years and several twists and turns. Throwing around accusations and vague generalities is easy. Accurately recounting what actually happened and why over a period of 6 years is much harder. And largely unnecessary, except to respond to mud-slinging from our critics. The history has always been there, if you know who to ask and where to look. Maples insinuates that the story and details of ICAS have been hidden in a nefarious attempt to “to gain a following, as people believe they are joining a grassroots movement and don’t believe that they have anyone to answer to.” But in reality, these things have never been written down and explained in detail because it was never necessary to do so. As we will see in the following sections, ICAS has never officially operated or functioned (with one possible exception) and as such has had no effect upon the day-to-day function of the abolitionist movement. And, well, abolitionists have much better things to do than to sit around explaining how “AHA” is not an organization, when most people in the movement already know from personal experience that it is not.
I continue the response in Part II with an informal organizational history of AHA and ICAS.
Pretty much every abolitionist will tell you that they started doing the work of abolition and partnering with other abolitionists in that work because they agreed with the ideology, not because they joined some formal organization in the hopes of “making a difference” or “saving the babies” and then later learned the principles of the organization they were a part of after months of meetings, training sessions, and volunteer work.