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Setting the Record Straight on the Movement Known as “AHA” (Part II)

In Part I of this series, I addressed some preliminary issues relating to framing the discussion of Jeff Maples’ latest article, Polemi-leaks: Setting the Record Straight on the Organization Known As Abolish Human Abortion.  In this part, I provide an informal organizational history of AHA and ICAS, in terms of the actual organizations I have been a member of.
While discussing the history of AHA, it is helpful to keep a few things in mind.  First, it is helpful to distinguish the movement itself from any particular organization, which may even have the same name as the movement itself.  The fact that a formal organization exists does not say anything about how it relates either in principle or in practice to the movement it is putatively associated with.  When a particular organization is brought up and discussed, ask yourself:  how did the existence of this organization effect the movement?  How did its day-to-day operation affect the day-to-day workings of the movement itself?  How did its operation affect the daily lives of individual abolitionists?  Was the effect negative?  Or did it even have a tangible effect at all?
Second, it is helpful to distinguish between an organization and the use of its name.  Just because the name of a particular organization gets associated with something doesn’t mean that the organization itself had anything to do with it.  This is particularly true with abolitionists, who admittedly are not organizationally-minded and whose default paradigm of thought, generally speaking, is that of informal association, not institutional organization.
Third, keep in mind that patterns of thought change over time.  As such, vestiges of older patterns may remain simply as a result of not bothering to dismantle them, rather than because they are currently and actively being employed.  Yes, those of us who started this thing used to think organizationally and institutionally in a number of ways.  Some institutional vestiges from that time period still remain in various forms.  The fact they still remain in various forms does not mean we are actively using or employing them.
With those things in mind, let us proceed to an informal history of the organizations associated with the AHA movement as a whole, as pertains to the current controversy and related disputes.  Please note that this account is longer than it probably should be, but that I have added extra material and recollections to further illustrate the non-organizational way that things have been done, at least as far as things that I have been involved in.  The presence, success, and continued existence of both the abolitionist movement as well as the organizations within it are due solely to the grace and providence of God, as anyone who has seen the full story unfold can amply testify to.  It is my hope that this recollection, which is quite short with respect to all that could have been written, also further illustrates the working of God’s Providence to shape, mold, and direct the movement in ways that have always been well beyond our abilities and resources.  In the end, claiming that AHA is an organization is not simply an absurd accusation that betrays one’s ignorance of the movement and the way it operates—it is also, perhaps unintentionally, an attempt to rob God of the glory that belongs to Him alone, by ascribing this or that growth or success to the operation of this or that organization.  The world looks to the things of power, respect, and prestige to move and shape events in history, powerful organizations most of all.  But God has chosen what is weak in the world to shame the strong.  He has chosen what is foolish in the world to shame the wise.  He has chosen what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no man may boast in His presence.  For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.  To Him alone be the glory.

An Informal Organizational History:  2011

Abolitionism Reignited

It all started back in 2011.  On Februrary 27, 2011, Russ called the first abolitionist meeting to present the abolitionist ideology and discuss the formation of the Abolitionist Society of Oklahoma (ASO).  The attendees of that meeting were mostly members of the same church and residents of Norman, Oklahoma.  Nonetheless, Russ called the society the Abolitionist Society of Oklahoma, as opposed to Norman, because of the historical connections to the Pennsylvania Abolitionist Society, which was the first abolitionist society to be organized in America against the practice of slavery.

Photo from the first college outreach event of the Abolitionist Society of Oklahoma
That first meeting was similar to many other abolitionist gatherings that have happened since then:  Russ talked about the ideology, and went over the scheduled time.  However, as this was before overly-long meetings became a staple of abolitionist gatherings, he did send an email to those who attended a couple days later which included an apology for going late.  That email also expressed the intended purpose for the Abolitionist Society of Oklahoma:  to be a local society of abolitionists working to effect the abolition of abortion in their local community.  The emphasis was on doing the work locally—of agitating and assisting citizens of our local community.  Nothing was said about making a national organization or even having a traditional pro-life type of organization.  While there was certainly an expectation that the ideology of abolitionism would spread and other societies would form elsewhere, the expectation from the beginning was that these societies would be autonomous and do the work of abolition in a way that makes the most sense in their individual communities.
The first abolitionist society was quite organizational, though, at least in intent.  There was a board.  There were officers.  There was a budget with five different categories.  And there were plans for different various committees doing various different things.  Reading that email makes me laugh, as Russ (of all people!) mentions a committee for drafting a declaration of abolition, a committee for planning a picnic event, a propaganda committee, a petition committee, a fundraising committee, a Jumbotron event planning committee, and more.  Nothing much came of these committees, however, as even at this early stage of the movement, most abolitionists preferred to simply go out and do the work of abolition rather than sit around and talk about how to do it.

Shortly after the first ASO meeting, a Facebook page was started, as well as a blog.  The abolishhumanabortion.com URL was procured in April 2011 and originally simply pointed to the blog.  At this time, the Facebook page and the blog were loosely associated with ASO, but that was simply because it was the only abolitionist organization in existence.  Both the Facebook page and blog, from their inception, were primarily about the promotion of the ideology.  While both also featured some posts about abolitionist action, the primary purpose of such was to illustrate the abolitionist ideology in action, brought into active conflict with the world.  In 2011–2012, the Facebook page and blog were not about promoting an organization, recruiting members, or raising funds.  As such, this ideological focus of AHA social media (as opposed to an organizational focus that could alternately have been taken) set the tone for the future of the AHA movement—though the movement would have organizations, particularly autonomous local abolitionist societies, it would not be organizationally-driven.  The ideology and its application would always be front and center.  As time progressed and the movement spread throughout the country, more individuals were added as Facebook page administrators and blog authors, further separating those groups from the abolitionist society in Norman.

An Informal Organizational History: 2012

The Basileian Group

In March of 2012, Russ started to receive requests from abolitionists in the nascent abolitionist movement for abolitionist materials.  Now at that point the abolitionist movement consisted of the one society in Norman and a handful of individuals around the country whose primary mode of activism was engagement on social media.  A few individuals did abortion clinic ministry here and there, but most of the activities that are now recognized as distinctly (or representatively) abolitionist were either non-existent or only being done in Norman, generally speaking.  Some of the individuals who were connected via social media expressed a desire to have professionally-made materials to help spread the ideology of abolitionism in the physical world, not just the virtual.  After several meetings and discussions, Russ and I decided that the best way of providing physical resources for the abolitionist movement was to set up an LLC that would provide those resources to the greater movement at large.  We decided on the name Abortion Abolition Resources, because, well, it is a business that would provide resources to help effect the abolition of abortion.

Thinking about the purpose of this enterprise, however, we realized that seeking the abolition of abortion was only one instance of a more general form of Christian endeavor—that of bringing the Kingdom of Christ into conflict with the kingdoms of this world.  As the Great Commission is a command to make the nations Christ’s disciples, and not just make a few disciples here and there from the nations, our goal is ultimately to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, and in so doing teach the nations to obey all that Christ has commanded.  We believe in bringing the laws of man into compliance with the Law of God, and as such our ultimate goal is the obedience of all men to the Lord Jesus Christ in all things.  While establishing justice for the preborn fatherless is an immensely important aspect of this more general mission, it is not the only aspect.  And as such, we wanted the name of our enterprise to reflect what we saw as our mission in a more general sense.  We discussed the name “Kingdom Advancement Resources,” but in the end decided on “The Basileian Group” (TBG).  The word basileian comes from the Greek word for “kingdom,” and was more or less coined with the idea of connoting someone who is about doing the business of the Kingdom.

Brian Biggs, Russ, Toby, myself, and a couple of others founded TBG in May of 2012.  We started it with our own money, and by God’s grace have found that initial capital to be sufficient for our nearly five years of operation.  Now, some particularly ignorant individuals throughout the years have accused us (mainly Russ in particular) of running an abolitionist gear store in order to get rich.  How anyone in their right mind could think that you could get rich in a merchandise enterprise by rebuking and admonishing the vast majority of your potential customers1 is beyond me.  But like I said, such individuals are particularly ignorant.  That is, after all, the most charitable explanation.  The alternatives are far less flattering.

Now, TBG was formed to provide resources to the movement, and as such is clearly distinct from it.  No one takes orders from TBG. On the contrary, TBG takes orders from abolitionists, both literally and figuratively, as the enterprise exists to serve and supply the movement with abortion abolition resources.  Some critics have tried to conflate AHA and TBG (not entirely unlike how Jeff Maples has tried to conflate AHA and ICAS), but alas, the obvious truth is simply an inexpugnable obstacle to all such comers.  Ignorance is once again the most charitable explanation, but a combination of laziness, animosity, and a general disregard for the truth are far more likely.

ICAS

ICAS was founded a couple months later in July of 2012.  At this time, there were only one abolitionist society, though a few abolitionists around the country were discussing forming societies in their local areas. The original idea was to have a vehicle to facilitate cooperation and communication between autonomous abolitionist societies and organizations across the nation and across the world.

Now, remember that this is 2012. There wasn’t much of a national movement yet to speak of. The few of us who were involved back then were still thinking organizationally in various ways, and we didn’t have a vibrant national movement to look at, observe how it naturally functions, and then try to build an organization around those observations. We had very little conception of how abolitionists would in the next few years come together of their own accord to collaborate on projects and do various works all across the county. No, our thinking was much more childish at that point in time: if you want to coordinate local groups, you need a formal organization. Even if that organization explicitly acknowledges the autonomy of the local organizations it is helping coordinate, which is something ICAS has always been about even from its inception.

Now, that was the original idea behind ICAS—to help coordinate the national work of abolitionists who are a part of their own local autonomous societies. But with only one society, there wasn’t much of an international coalition to speak of. Recognizing this fact, ICAS was founded simply to have it there for whenever it would be needed, and was effectively mothballed2 at that point in time. There was an expectation that ICAS would be “booted up” whenever it eventually would be needed, but it essentially existed as a dormant organization for legal purposes until such time.

Now, a few weeks later, some trolls who had been blocked from the AHA Facebook page started making some noise about registering a trademark for the AHA symbol and using it to mean “Atheists Have Answers.” I specifically remember Russ calling me on my cell phone worried about it while my wife and I were in the middle of having dinner with friends. So, Russ and I got together a couple of days later and filed a trademark application using LegalZoom.  As such, the trademark registration was very much a defensive maneuver that we would very much have preferred not to have had to spend around $500 or so of our own money on.

At that time, there was some discussion about who to register the trademark to. We basically had four options: Russ personally, the gear store, ASO, or ICAS.  We wanted the trademark to be registered to a group representing abolitionism in some broader sense, and not just the Norman group. Likewise, we didn’t want to register the trademark to TBG, because we didn’t want to cloud or confuse the essential separation between the abolitionist movement and the gear store that provides resources to it.  Lastly, we didn’t want to register the trademark to an individual, as that could potentially make it more vulnerable than if it were registered to an organization comprised of a number of people.  As such, we decided to register the trademark to ICAS. At this point, ICAS was simply a board of 5 people: a mothballed organization waiting to be “booted up” at a later date when it was needed.  But, whenever it was booted up into a state in which it could be representative of a vibrant national movement, it made sense that was where the trademark should belong.

The First Abolitionist Conference

Now, in the fall of 2012, the local church that a number of Norman abolitionists were members of started renting an old dilapidated building that had previously been used to sell furniture.  The building was originally home to First Nazarene Church once upon a time, but had since become known to the community as Bill’s Used Furniture.  The church held its Sunday meetings there, and it was also home to the gear store.  As November approached, Russ had the idea of organizing a national conference for abolitionists from all over the country to come and meet in person.  This was held in November 2012, and was called the “What Must Be Done To Abolish Human Abortion” conference.  I like to refer to it as the first of the three Bill’s Used Furniture conferences, referring to the three AHA conferences held in that building in 2012–2013.  These conferences were not organizational in nature.  If anything, they were hosted by the local Norman abolitionist society, but there was no registration or fees.  People simply showed up, listened to the presentations, and participated in (sometimes vigorous) discussions.

There was one particular moment towards the end of a talk at the “What Must Be Done” conference when some of those in attendance asked a number of questions about this or that aspect of the ideology and its application.  But instead of the speaker simply answering them all, abolitionists around the room, many of whom were not from Norman, began to stand up and give answers (all respectfully and one at a time, in an orderly manner).  What began as a dialogue between a few attendees and the speaker turned into a dialogue with a room full of abolitionists, and it probably went on for a good 20 minutes at least.  What was striking about that was this was the first time I had seen many of these people.  There had been no training sessions, no seminars.  There were no information packets sent out ahead of time.  This was no top-down organization where a few leaders answer all of the questions and the volunteers simply nod in agreement and do as they are told.  This was a group of people who, through their own independent initiative,3

Screenshot from the first talk at the first conference “Reigniting Abolitionism in America”

had studied, discussed, and thought through the ideology, and were so well versed in it through applying it in abolitionist engagement both online and in person that they were confident enough to stand up and contribute something substantial of their own to a discussion that no one had any idea would take place.  And this was no isolated event.  Those who have been to other abolitionist conferences in the last five years can recall similar occurrences.

Once again, this is the abolitionist movement in a nutshell.  It is a grassroots movement of dedicated, passionate Christians who decide to fellowship and work together because they have thought through and understand what they believe.  This is no organization with a few professionals “shepherding” a veritable flock of volunteers who are united merely by a common emotional sentiment, such as wanting to “make a difference” or “save the babies.”  Of all the churches, conferences, and other Christian groups that I have been a part of, I have never met a group full of more people (proportionally speaking) who understand the ideology of the group and can explain and discuss it in depth than a room full of abolitionists.  It puts actual organizations to shame.  And all the more so because that quality of abolitionists is not organizationally-driven.  On the contrary it is Gospel-driven.  Abolitionists learn, study, discuss, and grow in their own independent understanding because they want to, not because anyone (other than God) tells them to.  The ardent initiative of 300 people who are motivated to do something because they love Jesus and their neighbor is to be had any day over the participation of 30,000 volunteers who are there to hear what the leaders have to say and to simply support them in saying it.

An Informal Organizational History:  2013

AHA the Organization

In February 2013, the Norman abolitionists hosted the second Bill’s Used Furniture conference, the theme of which was “Promote Redemption, Not Destruction.”  The conference featured talks by Juda Myers and Anna Richey, and was centered around the idea that innocent preborn children should not be killed for the crimes of their fathers.  The day after the conference, some of us had a meeting with Don Cooper, Todd Bullis, and a few other conference attendees wherein Russ and I explained AHA, the current organizational structure of the different abolitionist organizations, and our desire to recruit someone for the bureaucratic/organizational work of ICAS who would be a better fit for that sort of thing.  Some of us in Norman are better than others at administration, but none of us excel at it.  Note that at this time there were still only a handful of abolitionist societies. Still not much of an international coalition to speak of. Towards the end of the meeting, I suggested that Don Cooper take over ICAS and drive its “boot up” process. This led to an even-longer breakout session with Don, Russ, myself and a few others in which we went over the finer organizational details. Famishment and eventually ham sandwiches were also involved. But I digress.

Long time anti-abortion activist Don Cooper

Some time after that meeting, Don, Jeremiah Smedra, and a few others (then unassociated with ICAS or the Norman group) decided that the best path forward was not to boot up the mothballed ICAS, but rather to convert Don’s existing and already-operating organization World Life into an organization called Abolish Human Abortion. The idea was to add a few of us to the board, change the name to “Abolish Human Abortion,” and have a few full-time staff members to serve the movement in doing the work of abolition.  The purpose of this organization was to help fund and coordinate abolitionist projects as well as provide materials to abolitionist societies.  In this sense, the organization was intended to do much of what ICAS was intended to do, in terms of helping coordinate and facilitate collaboration between abolitionist societies on national and regional projects.  However, even with an organization itself called “Abolish Human Abortion,” the idea was only ever to serve the movement, not to try to take authority over it and rule or manage it in some way.

The change did not happen overnight.  Don Cooper made a video announcing the transition, a donate button was later added to the AHA website, and organizational-type material was written and published on the website.  A couple of us from Norman (including myself) were added to the board of directors.  For all of this however, AHA-the-organization actually did remarkably little. It paid Russ and Toby, as well as a couple of others, some money out of donations collected in 2013–2014.4  I believe that AHA-the-organization also helped pay for some signs and pamphlets used at the Church Repent conference in June 2013, which was also the third and last Bill’s Used Furniture conference.  AHA-the-organization also hosted the “All On Fire” conference in Portland, Oregon in November 2013.  However, beyond these things, I am unaware of anything else that AHA-the-organization did with respect to the abolitionist movement.

In terms of the movement itself, this organization didn’t affect very much. As I said before, there were only a handful of abolitionist societies at that time. None of them became chapter organizations or official affiliates of AHA-the-organization in any way, shape, or form. AHA-the-organization never handed down any directives, never commanded anyone to do anything, and never tried to exercise any sort of authority over the movement. Other than changing some content on the website, collecting and disbursing some funds, and hosting or helping facilitate a couple of conferences, all that it really did in its 6 months or so of existence, with respect to the movement, was to signal that a kind of professionalism was in play, wherein a certain group of movement-funded individuals would be financially supported to serve in this or that capacity.  However, that idea never caught on.  And there was some pushback from within the movement itself to the idea of the organization itself.

As December 2013 approached, some abolitionists within the movement began expressing concern and/or opposition to the existence of an actual organization called “Abolish Human Abortion,” particularly if it had 501(c)(3) status.  Don’s organization World Life had received 501(c)(3) status prior to adopting the name “Abolish Human Abortion,” but the IRS was refusing to recognize that the same organization with a new name was also tax-exempt under Section 501(c)(3).   What that meant in practice was that a full fundraising campaign could not really be put underway until a path forward was decided upon in regard to the tax issues. Up to that point in time, a few people had donated through the website,5 but there had not been any major fundraising campaign.  The few fundraising efforts to that point had been, in comparison with other pro-life organizations, quite reserved.

Toby Harmon, Don Cooper, Russell Hunter.
Screenshot from AHA-the-Organization Announcement video

With tax issues looming, board discussions began to take place on how best to address the problem and move forward. It was in these discussion, in part due to the pushback from within the movement itself, that some of us began to question not only whether 501(c)(3) status was itself needed, but whether or not AHA-the-organization was itself needed, or should even exist in the first place. Russ was the first official affiliate of AHA-the-organization to voice objections to its organizational trajectory, and these discussions eventually led to the decision in December 2013 to discontinue AHA-the-organization and revert the actual corporation itself back to something like what it was before adopting the name “Abolish Human Abortion.” I don’t know the particulars of what happened with that particular corporation after that point, as the vote to stop being an organization called “Abolish Human Abortion” was the end of my participation on that particular corporation’s board of directors.  However, those who had signed up as regular donors were notified of the change, and the merchant account was deactivated later in 2014.

The donate button was taken down off of the site, and various articles on the website were changed or modified to reflect the non-organizational nature of AHA. Of course, being a big website, not everything was corrected right away, as different people had written different things and were not aware of all that had been written. Even 6-9 months out, I would still get the occasional email about this or that paragraph on the site and think “how is that still up there?” A lot of the AHA-is-an-organization accusations in 2014 and 2015 originated from this period and this material. Of course, none of the people making those accusations were a part of the movement or knew from experience how it functioned, but when have our opponents ever let the truth get in the way of a good accusation?

Has AHA Ever Been An Organization?

Now, this is a good place to stop and make a few points in relation to Jeff Maples’ accusations.  Maples makes much ado concerning the fact that an organization holds the trademark to the AHA symbol, insinuating that statements to the effect that “AHA is not an organization” are efforts to deceive abolitionists.  However, just over three years ago, we actually had an actual organization called “Abolish Human Abortion.”  If there was ever a point at which you could make the accusation that “AHA really is an organization,” it would have been the latter half of 2013.  Indeed, many have used the events and circumstances of that time to make that very claim.  However, even at this point in time, it is exceedingly clear that AHA-the-organization was a distinct and different entity from AHA-the-movement.

First, consider that while there was an organization with the name “AHA,” this organization had little to no effect on the daily lives of abolitionists within the AHA movement.  Some abolitionists decided to donate money to help the work of abolition being done by those few individuals officially affiliated with AHA-the-organization.  But this had no impact on their daily work as abolitionists, other than whatever financial impact was created by the decision to donate.  No one received a membership card.  No membership rolls were created.  No societies were asked to become chapter organizations.  No chapter organizations were created.  No abolitionists or abolitionist societies received or followed directives from AHA-the-organization.  The focus was only ever on assisting autonomous local abolitionist societies through traditional fundraising methods, not managing a nationwide collection of chapter organizations.  Even though it had organizations within it, AHA itself, as a movement, had none of the characteristics you would expect out of a national organization, except for a website with a donate button.  The same is true of the abolitionist movement today, except, of course, for the donate button.

Second, consider the fact that there was pushback from within the movement to an organization existing called “AHA.”  Such a thing cannot happen unless the organization and movement are two distinct entities.  While a few individuals who were officially affiliated with AHA-the-organization eventually took up the concerns regarding its existence and 501(c)(3) status, we were not the first to voice such concerns.  Rather, those concerns were originally raised by abolitionists who were not affiliated6 with AHA-the-organization.

Indeed, there was no way for individual abolitionists (or abolitionist societies, for that matter) to officially affiliate with the organization of their own accord.  The two of us who were added to the board were added by the existing board members.  There were no provisions for elections to the board by abolitionists in general.  Likewise, the handful of individuals that were funded by AHA-the-organization were chosen by the board and the officers of the corporation.  No vote or formal consideration was taken from anyone else.  No other abolitionists within the movement had a say in any official capacity.  At most, AHA-the-organization only ever represented AHA-the-movement to the world.  It most certainly was not the movement itself, and was never over the movement itself.  AHA-the-organization, like ICAS, was an organization within the movement.  But that did not by any stretch make the movement an organization, regardless of how many exercises in logical gymnastics our critics engage in to try and make it so.

AHA was clearly not an organization even when there was an actual not-for-profit 501(c)(3) called “Abolish Human Abortion.”  Why then, should the abolitionist movement be an organization today when the organizations that do exist today are not nearly as easy to confuse with a national organization over the movement as AHA-the-organization was back in 2013?  The answer, of course, is that our critics make AHA out to be an organization because they cannot the stand the thought of it actually being a grassroots movement.  And the grassroots nature of the movement will only become more clear in the organizational history of the last three years.

An Informal Organizational History:  2014

Growth of the Abolitionist Movement

Abolitionists from all over the Country Amassed at the National Civil Right Museum in Memphis

2013–2014 saw the nationwide growth of abolitionism and the formation of many abolitionist societies. I created the AHA society map around the fall of 2014 and it probably had around 40 societies. Seeing the growth of abolitionism nationwide, Russ asked me to draw up bylaws for ICAS that summer so that we could get it up and running.  Prior to that time, the ICAS bylaws were a little over three pages of basic legal boilerplate that basically allowed the board of directors to draft and adopt new bylaws that would specify in detail how ICAS would actually function in practice.  The idea behind the new bylaws was to provide a vehicle for all abolitionist societies to collectively have a say in what the official AHA ideology is and make statements and proclamations on behalf of the movement as a whole.  I presented these bylaws at what was probably the most boring session of the “Against the World For the World” conference in Memphis in November 2014. The reception was generally positive, but there were a number of problems to be resolved before ICAS could become an active, functioning entity as I had envisioned it, some of which I was not yet cognizant of at the time.

Now at this point, there were a fair number of societies all across the country. Abolitionists were working together, communicating over Facebook. The Abolitionism Facebook group, which was created with the intention of being a group only for abolitionist society directors, was very instrumental in this regard. Of course, abolitionists, being abolitionists, did not limit the group to just society directors and invited a bunch of other abolitionists in, to talk about all sorts of things abolitionist. Even things not strictly abolitionist. Really, to talk about just about anything that had some relation to abolition in some remotely tangible way. The group admins7 attempted a purge or two of the group’s membership, but this did not have much effect. This is good, because I believe it is primarily through that Facebook group, though to a lesser degree through other Facebook chats and groups, that the abolitionist movement really came into its own. The seeds that had been planted time and again in the culture over the previous three years started to bear a fruitful harvest there.

If you want to see how the abolitionist movement functions in practice, you need look no further than that Facebook group. Because that group is, to a large degree, the abolitionist movement in practice. There is no top-down authority or censorship.8 There is no central planning committee. What happens happens organically as abolitionists talk with one another, reason with one another, and attempt to lead in various capacities by example, persuasion, and service. Things are not always cut-and-dry. Things are sometimes messy. Sometimes things are very messy. But I would rather have that mess any day than a top-down organization run by a handful of professionals who send down orders and directives to volunteers who understand very little about the ideology and are simply there because they want to “make a difference” and/or “help save the babies.” Of course, different abolitionists are at different levels of maturity and understanding of the ideology. But I would take 10 abolitionists any day over 1,000 run-of-the-mill pro-life volunteers. And I think they would make a much bigger cultural impact over the long run. That is because the culture/mindset of abolitionism is not one of letting the professionals do the work and simply supporting them in various sundry and servile ways. The culture of abolitionism is not to simply be a good worker bee who distributes this or that material but has to refer questions (and thinking in general) to the higher-ups. The culture of abolitionism is all about being a fully-equipped workman who does not need to be ashamed, because he (or she) can rightly handle the Word of Truth and apply it powerfully and appropriately to the evil of our age. This is what we expect of each other,9 and we daily seek to edify one another and sharpen one another so that we can be the best and well-equipped servants of Christ that we possibly can be. You don’t need an organization for that. You don’t need “authority” for that, at least in the sense of institutional authority. Indeed, some abolitionists would argue that such things are inimical to achieving such a result. What you do need is a few people who love Jesus and take His Word seriously, and that is what you have there.

Purposes of ICAS

So, that being in place, the question arises: what do we need ICAS for? That is a question I have been asking myself over and over again for the past few years. Well, when I drafted the ICAS bylaws in 2014, I wrote in the first section that the purpose of ICAS was three-fold: 1) To foster unity and cooperation among the various abolitionist societies that are a part of the Abolish Human Abortion movement; 2) To provide a platform for making statements and resolutions on behalf of the Abolish Human Abortion movement as a whole; 3) To define and protect the meaning of the Abolish Human Abortion symbol, and the ideology it represents. Purpose #1 has always been part and parcel of the ICAS agenda.  Note also that the official purpose statement explicitly distinguishes between the AHA movement and the corporation that is ICAS.  The ICAS bylaws themselves presuppose the existence of the movement, and ICAS exists within the movement because the movement exists.  Unlike how it would be if AHA actually were an organization, the movement does not exist within ICAS because ICAS exists.

As explained above, purpose #3 came about somewhat unexpectedly in 2012 from some trolls on the web threatening to register a trademark to the AHA symbol. Purpose #2 came from a desire to have a go-to person that reporters can contact when they have questions about this or that, as well as to be able to make general statements that would represent the coalition of abolitionists as a whole. Once again, at this time, we had not done anything media-worthy, at least on a state or national level.  Our thinking was immature in seeing that the only solution to these issues was to create a formal movement-wide organization to address them.

Here’s how ICAS is supposed to work, as detailed in the current bylaws. Every abolitionist society desiring to participate in ICAS would submit an application for official affiliation with ICAS, and in that process appoint an official representative. These representatives would vote in meetings of the ICAS General Assembly to decide various issues. The General Assembly would elect officers, as well as appoint members to standing committees. There would be one standing committee that would handle administrative affairs (such processing affiliation applications and making decisions on them) and another to formally define what the “AHA ideology” is for purposes of official affiliation. There is also a Board of Directors, but they don’t do a whole lot after the whole thing gets going except to step in if there is an issue with one of the committees or the General Assembly, as well as to make certain business decisions on behalf of the corporation itself.

The purposes of ICAS are fulfilled in the bylaws as follows.  One of the elected officers would have duties that are only concerned with making statements to the media on behalf of the coalition as a whole. Collaboration could be officially debated and decided upon in general assembly meetings. Affiliated societies remain autonomous, and the only power ICAS has is to say that such-and-such society is not officially affiliated with them anymore. ICAS could also pursue legal remedies in cases of trademark infringement, but that would only happen in extreme cases where you have groups or individuals clearly set on destroying the distinctiveness of abolitionism and trying to turn it, as represented by the AHA symbol, into something else.

After the Memphis meeting, I made changes to the bylaws in accordance with suggestions I received from the abolitionists there, and then the ICAS board met and approved the new bylaws. We also added four new members to the board from across the country.  One member who was no longer active in abolitionism also resigned at that time.  At that point, we decided that the board would handle the initial affiliation procedures until there were 25 affiliated societies, and then form the General Assembly and let things go on their own from there. There were still a number of things to decide at that point, such as the content of the affiliation application, what creed or set of principles should be held forth as “official ideology” for affiliation purposes, and so on. But just as we were beginning to discuss those things, one of the board members expressed objections to ICAS being a formal organization, and similar objections were raised within the Abolitionism group around that time as well.  ICAS got put on the backburner for the time being until such time as those issues could be appropriately resolved. But they never were. And new issues continued to pop up, in the form of various problems discussed in the following section. In short, we never got around to implementing ICAS because, frankly, ICAS was never necessary. We have never needed it.  We arguably still do not. And implementing it comes with a lot of potential baggage that myself and others are not willing to risk inflicting upon the movement as a whole.

An Informal Organizational History:  2015–2017

Problems With ICAS

Where shall I begin in listing the problems inherent to ICAS? How about with the fact that it is unnecessary for achieving its stated purposes (mostly)? Almost everything it was created to do can be done and is already being done unofficially in free collaboration between private individuals and local societies without any involvement of ICAS whatsoever. Take purpose #1. As of 2017, collaboration has already been happening on a national level for over 3 years without any top-down organization being involved. Just individuals talking with each other and planning what they want to do. Take purpose #2. This could be accomplished on a case-by-case basis by a resolution that is drafted and then signed or endorsed by the various abolitionists nationwide. The movement has had a Facebook page from its inception, and that page is administrated by people from across the country who do so apart from any organizational affiliation. That group of admins is simply a free association of individuals working together to promote abolitionism through social media. Media inquiries can be (and have been) received there, and are then forwarded on to the appropriate party, be it an individual or a particular local abolitionist organization. Lastly, take purpose #3. The symbol and the ideology can be defended in all but a court of law by the free collaboration of individuals known as the abolitionist movement. And it also has been defended by such in all but a court of law for as long as there has been an abolitionist movement. Some abolitionist somewhere is correcting someone about what abolitionism is and isn’t. This happens all the time. And most of us never hear about it, except when the person being corrected fancies himself a Christian celebrity and decides to make a stink. But I digress. The point is that the symbol and the ideology it represents can be and is being defended on a daily basis by abolitionists themselves, without any involvement of a top-down or movement-wide organization. In the rare case where legal action would be necessary, it is arguably preferable to have an organization to handle that, but that organization does not necessarily need to be ICAS.  Though, while ICAS still exists, the board of directors is capable of handling any such issues should they ever arise.

A major problem with ICAS (which has still not been solved) is the problem of how to have remote meetings with 50-100 individuals, conduct business according to formal parliamentary procedure, and still actually accomplish something. A formal parliamentary authority of the organization is listed in the bylaws to avoid any potential ambiguity down the road regarding parliamentary authority in case of a lawsuit. And therein lies the rub. If you are going to create a movement-wide organization and get lots of people actively involved in the decision-making process, you need to make sure that everything is clearly stated, out in the open, and documented. That means making documented decisions according to specific parliamentary procedure.  Which means bureaucracy. Lots of it. And not just by people who apparently have the spiritual gift of administration. Everyone would need to learn and follow the rules for the thing to work. And knowing abolitionists, I have my doubts as to whether it would. A little bureaucracy is necessary in any organization, but the actual day-to-day function of ICAS would be bureaucratic to the core. And I don’t think I’m alone in believing that abolitionists plus bureaucracy is generally a bad idea.  Particularly when said bureaucracy is arguably unnecessary.

Example of the way ICAS appeared on memes throughout this period

Another issue that arose a few months after the Memphis meeting was a marked rise in factionalism within the Abolitionism group. There were some sharp disagreements in the Abolitionism group that temporarily polarized the movement and caused some people to leave.  Others started leaving the group because they didn’t want to be associated with people who tolerate people who publicly hold this or that doctrine. While there have been a few legitimate doctrinal disagreements that have ended with people being removed from the Abolitionism Facebook group by the group admins after they clearly became hostile towards abolitionists, it became clear to me that a functioning ICAS could all too easily become a weapon for factionalists to attack and officially exclude others, as factionalists would be just the sort of people who would be more interested in doing the bureaucracy just so they could opportunity to kick certain people out, much more so than the majority of abolitionists who would prefer to just do the work of abolition and forget that the word “bureaucracy” ever existed in the first place.

Another, and perhaps the biggest, problem with ICAS, as such, is that the meaning of the name itself has been repeatedly misused, with the name “ICAS” or “International Coalition of Abolitionist Societies” being attached to all kinds of events and materials that had nothing to do with the actual corporation called ICAS.  Russ has (admittedly) been the main culprit, and others have simply followed suit largely (if not entirely) unaware of the inappropriateness of so doing.  Towards the end of 2014, Russ, as an individual abolitionist, started talking with other abolitionists and organizing a series of conferences around the country, called the “Project Nineveh” conferences.  These conferences were hosted by local abolitionist societies in the area of the cities in question.  For example, there was a conference in Dallas hosted by the abolitionist society of Fort Worth, a conference in San Diego hosted by the abolitionist society of San Diego, etc.

Now, the Project Nineveh conferences is where the misuse of the ICAS name began.  Russ designed some printed materials for some conferences that had the name of ICAS on them, and various conference hosts put the name of ICAS on their Facebook event pages.  Now, there was no ICAS to speak of at this time.  There was simply a board of directors that was stalled in figuring out the best path forward for doing the ICAS boot-up.  There was no budget, no bank account (for part of this time), and with one exception (which is discussed below), there were no corporation representatives arranging, scheduling, delegating, paying, or otherwise contributing towards organizing these conferences in any official capacity.  Rather, Russ and other abolitionists were using the name of ICAS informally, to denote the worldwide association and collaboration by abolitionist and abolitionist societies that happens on a regular basis within the movement.  There may have been a future component to that thinking as well, in that ICAS, when booted up, would come to represent that association and collaboration to the world, not unlike how AHA-the-organization represented the movement to the world back in 2013.  And so, just as it is necessary to distinguish between AHA-the-organization and AHA-the-movement when discussing events of 2013, it also is necessary to distinguish between ICAS-the-organization and ICAS-the-idea10 when discussing events of the past several years.

Most uses of word “ICAS” by abolitionists since the beginning of 2015 have been in reference to ICAS-the-idea, not ICAS-the-organization.  And as no official statements about ICAS-the-organization from ICAS-the-organization have been forthcoming since the end of 2014,11 ICAS-the-idea has taken on a life of its own.  Abolitionists have put “ICAS” on materials.  Abolitionists have put “ICAS” in the names of their conferences.  Abolitionists who have no affiliation whatsoever with the ICAS-the-organization have said that “ICAS” is this and that.  Because ICAS has never been booted up, there has been no actual ICAS-the-organization operating to correct whatever ideas that individual abolitionists have adopted regarding what ICAS supposedly is.  As a result, ICAS is a vague idea in the mind of abolitionists.  Most abolitionists associate the term with the informal collaboration and unity of abolitionists and abolitionists societies across the country and across the world.  Some abolitionists have a hazy notion of ICAS being some organization doing something somewhere.  But no one can point to a committee that someone is a part of, or a general assembly that meets on a regular basis.  No one can point to an ICAS officer who has told them to do this or that, or to stop doing this or that.  That is because ICAS has never been booted up.  Its problems and issues have never been resolved.  And as such ICAS-the-idea has taken over and permeated the abolitionist movement.  I personally think that using the term “ICAS” to mean ICAS-the-idea is fine as long as there is no confusion with ICAS-the-organization.  However, the fact that “ICAS” has been used so often to mean ICAS-the-idea presents yet another obstacle to a successful boot-up of ICAS-the-organization.

For another example, consider the ICAS Facebook page.  I’m not exactly sure who started it.  Or when.  And I’ve been the chairman of the ICAS board of directors since its incorporation in 2012, and “President” since the adoption of the new bylaws in November 2014.  Whoever started it was obviously not acting as an agent of ICAS-the-organization.  There are no board minutes authorizing the creation of a Facebook page, and no official directives of any type to do so.  So imagine my surprise to wake up one day (somewhere around the beginning of 2015, but I cannot remember precisely) and find a Facebook page titled “International Coalition of Abolitionist Societies,” of which almost all of its admins had no connection to or affiliation with ICAS-the-organization! Apparently, a group of abolitionists had taken it upon themselves to create a Facebook page for ICAS, which they apparently thought meant ICAS-the-idea and not ICAS-the-organization.12  Quite surprising indeed.  I complained and was added as an admin to the ICAS page a day or two later.  I think a couple of people have left since then, but as of the writing of this article, there are 13 admins, only three of which have any official affiliation with ICAS-the-organization, including myself.  I’ve had to edit maybe a post or two on there about ICAS-the-organization since becoming an admin, but almost every post is simply someone sharing something from another Facebook page.  All of this is to say that the ICAS Facebook page, both in its history as well as its content, only serves to illustrate the idea that “ICAS” means ICAS-the-idea for most abolitionists, not ICAS-the-organization.

Now, in April of 2015, ICAS performed what could feasibly be construed as its one and only official act.  There was a debate the last night of the Tulsa “Project Nineveh” Conference between Russ and Gregg Cunningham.  I actually corresponded with the event venue manager as the President of ICAS, and reserved the room for an ICAS event.  As the President of ICAS, I introduced the speakers.  But there wasn’t anything more to it beyond attaching the name to the event.  ICAS didn’t even pay for the event, because, ICAS didn’t have a bank account at the time I was reserving the room.13  So I personally wrote a check and paid the $200 for the venue that night.

ICAS and Money

And while we’re on the subject, the issue of money is where the non-organizational nature of ICAS becomes even more apparent, if it wasn’t apparent already.  Simply put, ICAS has never received or spent any money.  But as inquiring minds want to know, here is the grand and glorious financial history of ICAS.  Those of us who founded ICAS put $100 in to set up a bank account in July 2012. Brian Biggs accidentally swiped his ICAS debit card for a burger at Braum’s in September 2012, and then promptly deposited the amount back into the bank upon recognizing his mistake.  I put in another $20 in January 2013 to protect against accidental purchases taking the account below the minimum balance.  And then the bank decided to take all of our money.

As we didn’t have a building at the time we set up the bank account, we decided to have the bank statements sent to Russ’ house.  Which was a bad idea, because Russ doesn’t like to open bank statements, as we all learned later.  And so, unbeknownst to us, the bank upgraded our base-level checking account to a higher tier account without our permission sometime in April 2013, and then started charging us a monthly fee because we didn’t have enough money for the higher tier account minimum balance.  By the time I actually did find and open a couple of bank statements in April 2014, the account had already been overdrawn and closed.  But, ICAS wasn’t doing anything and there wasn’t any need for it, and as setting up bank accounts is a bit of a hassle, we just let it go for the time being.

A year later, in April 2015, we were still working under the expectation that ICAS would be booted up at some point in the near future, so we opened another bank account.  We put $150 in, of which $25 went to order checks.  Having learned our lesson, we did not have the statements sent to Russ’ house.  And not surprisingly, this bank account is still open, even though we did get hit for $15 last year for letting the account go dormant.  But, actually receiving the bank statements, I was able to put in a few dollars in time and stop the bleed.

So there you have it—the glorious financial history of ICAS!  All those checks written to “Abolish Human Abortion” and unscrupulously cashed.  All that money taken from the pockets of unsuspecting donors.  Or, in reality, all the scandalous fantasies of our opponents shattered upon the cold hard ground of truth.  Sometimes, the truth is really a lot simpler than fantasy.

And as far as money goes, having a central organization to collect is disburse funds is completely unnecessary.  Abolitionists already manage money collaboratively by giving to specific needs or specific projects as the need arises. This is done without the prompting of any movement-wide organization. Rather, because abolitionists give directly to the project or need itself, they can personally provide accountability and ensure that the money is used for its intended purposes. While it is certainly not the fast track to making lots of money off of rich donors looking for an end-of-the-year tax break, I believe the way we currently handle money within the abolitionist movement is far superior and far more honoring to God than the standard 501(c)(3) method would be in our context.  Now, there are a few 501(c)(3)’s within the movement, but they neither ask abolitionists for funds nor attempt to fund this or that aspect of abolitionism.  They are organizations that were formed prior to partnering and identifying with other abolitionists, and as such already have their own donor base that helps them cover their own internal expenses.

Abolitionist Conferences and the Emergence of Legislative Efforts

Abolitionists marching in Oklahoma

To make a long story slightly longer, 2016 saw the emergence of the so-called “AA” groups within the movement, such as Abolish Abortion Ohio and Abolish Abortion Texas.  These groups are independent and autonomous informal associations of individuals working to abolish human abortion in their state either through petition initiatives, dialoguing with legislators, or some combination thereof.  The trend was started when abolitionists from around the country came to Norman for the Abolish Abortion Oklahoma (AAOK) conference.  That conference was originally going to involve collecting signatures for a citizen petition initiative filed with the Secretary of State that Russ and I had co-authored.  However, the Oklahoma chapter of the ACLU found a few citizens to protest the measure and so prevent the collection of signatures.  Russ and I actually defended the measure during the conference with arguments that neither the ACLU lawyers, nor the Oklahoma Supreme Court justices, were able to adequately address.14  Nonetheless, the petition was finally struck down by the court after the conference because of the unconstitutional doctrine that US Supreme Court opinion is the supreme law of the land.  But I digress.

Since we couldn’t circulate the official initiative petition, we drafted a citizen opinion petition for which we collected around 10,000 signatures during the week of the conference.  These signatures and the activity surrounding their collection actually led to the filing of the first ever US state measure to abolish abortion as murder.15  While the bill was killed by pro-life Oklahoma Senate leaders, it was successful in bringing a measure proposing the complete and total abolition of human abortion as murder to a state legislature for the first time in US history.  The actions of the 150 or so abolitionists who assembled in Oklahoma at the end of February 2016 has borne fruit nationwide, as legislative and initiative petition efforts to abolish abortion as murder have been underway this year in multiple states.

Abolitionists in Texas pray before the start of the Abolish Abortion Texas Rally in Austin

Now, both the AAOK Conference and the efforts it has subsequently inspired are even more examples of the non-organizational nature of the movement.  One question that folks in the institutional paradigm like to ask is: how do you get 150 people to spend their own money and a week of vacation to come up to Oklahoma and spend time collecting signatures for a citizen opinion petition to abolish abortion in the state?  The answer: you don’t.  Abolitionists come together to do these kinds of missions because they want to.  There are no rewards or enticements other than the opportunity to enjoy good fellowship with fellow brothers and sisters in Christ while working to establish justice for the most vulnerable and helpless members of our society who are legally murdered by the thousands every day.  There are no organizations handing down orders.  There are no fundraising campaigns.  There are no organizational representatives asking for volunteers.  Just a couple hundred abolitionists talking on Facebook and deciding to do this or that project, followed by certain people stepping up and making it happen.

The Present and Future of ICAS

As of the writing of this article, ICAS still exists as the registrant of the AHA symbol trademark, but isn’t much else. As a legal entity, we (as in the board of directors) could take legal action if we needed to, but we have never needed to.  I am unaware of any groups or individuals that have been set upon destroying the distinctiveness of abolitionism and trying to turn it, as represented by the AHA symbol, into something else.  Most people who are opposed to abolitionists want to put as much distance between themselves and AHA as they can.  And none of the disputes that have occurred between groups and individuals that use the AHA symbol have risen to the level where legal action might be necessary.  Knowing abolitionists, any attempt to blur the distinctiveness of the symbol would be immediately followed by a number of independent comments, rebukes, and corrections by various and sundry abolitionists, and the matter would likely be resolved before legal action ever became necessary.  Unlike a number of institutional churches, we actually believe in taking every feasible measure to resolve disputes between (professing) brothers and sisters through persuasion, only turning to the legal system as the last resort.

As for the state of ICAS itself, it is still a mothballed organization.  No abolitionist societies have ever been accepted as official affiliates, or “members of the Coalition” as they are called in the bylaws.  Indeed, no official application document for that process has ever been decided upon.  And it may never be.  I have personally been mulling over an idea for the past couple of months of officially dissolving and replacing ICAS with an organization that will do the one thing we actually need an organization for: protecting the symbol in a legal sense. Nothing is official (or even officially proposed) yet, but I would prefer the term “ICAS” to officially be what it has become already in the minds of so many abolitionists: a phrase denoting the informal worldwide union and fellowship that we share in our Lord both in person and on social media, as we work together to abolish the great evil of child sacrifice in His Holy Name. What we have currently is a mothballed organization that is a vestige of bygone institutional patterns of thought.  And while its existence has been useful in illustrating the ridiculous depths to which our opponents will go to try and find any bit of dirt on us that they possibly can, I am not personally convinced that these paltry benefits justify its continued existence.

I conclude the series in Part III with direct responses to Maples’ specific allegations.

Footnotes

  1. Many who consider themselves opponents of abortion but support and advocate compromising efforts—i.e. pro-lifers.
  2. By mothballed, I simply mean that the organization was “stored away” in a state of dormancy until such time as it would be needed.
  3. Which I would ascribe to the shepherding work of Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.
  4. I was never paid and I never examined the financial records, so I cannot say anything more definite in regards to how money was used.
  5. I believe that somewhere around 50 people became regular/recurring donors through the site, but I cannot say what the exact number was.
  6. By affiliated, I refer to having some form of official membership status within the organization in question.
  7. For the record, as of this writing, I am currently not and have never been an admin of this Facebook group.
  8. Though I am not an admin, it has been my observation that the admin policy, generally speaking, is only to remove people from the group if it becomes clear they are there primarily to collect information on abolitionists for malicious purposes.  Posts are almost never removed, and maybe two or three have been deleted by the admins over the past several years, if even that.
  9. That we are actively opposed to “leaving the thinking to the leaders” by itself makes any accusation that AHA is a “cult” completely ludicrous.
  10. In this article, I use this term to mean the informal worldwide association and collaboration by abolitionists that happens on a daily basis without the involvement of any national organization.  As such, “ICAS” denotes the idea of this informal coalition in this sense, not any actual corporation.
  11. As ICAS has never been un-mothballed, it seemed unwise to make any such statements until the actual functioning corporation itself began to take shape.
  12. They called it a “Community” page and not an “Organization” page.  And the content on there is not organizational in nature.  If anything, it’s little more than a second-hand version of the main AHA Facebook page.  After all, they did just copy and paste content from the AHA Facebook page into the “About” section.
  13. We did get one set up a few weeks later.
  14. To be fair, the Oklahoma Supreme Court justices did not actually attempt to address our arguments, so the jury is still out on whether or not they would have been able to do so.
  15. Technically, the bill, SB 1118, was a heartbeat bill that was amended by its author, Sen. Joe Silk, after passing committee.  But as amendments that practically rewrote the bill were filed during the conference, it makes sense to informally speak of the bill itself being filed at that time.