Have Evangelicals Replaced Catholics as the Leaders of the Anti-Abortion Movement?

Pro Life Rally

Writing at New York Magazine, Ed Kilgore makes this argument.  He is correct.  This is not news, but it is certainly an interesting exercise in change over time.  In other words, when did evangelicals overtake Catholics as the leaders of the pro-life movement?

He does not have room in his column to develop the complex history behind evangelicals’ embrace of anti-abortion politics.  For that history I would recommend Daniel Williams’s Defenders of the Unborn: The Pro-Life Movement before Roe v. Wade (Oxford, 2016).   Williams was also our guest in Episode 2 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.

Williams describes how American evangelicalism embraced the anti-abortion movement after Roe v. Wade.  Before that, the pro-life movement was often understood to be a “Catholic issue.”

Here is a taste of Kilgore’s piece:

But there’s no question the religious community that is far more solidly in the anti-abortion camp is white Evangelical Protestants. In a 2017 survey that broke out this particular segment of the population, Pew found that 70 percent of white Evangelicals thought that all or most abortions should be illegal. Less than half of Catholics (44 percent), black Protestants (41 percent), white mainline Protestants (30 percent), and the unaffiliated (17 percent) agreed with this position.

This is remarkable in no small part because unlike Catholics, white Evangelicals have little traditional investment in the anti-abortion cause. They have no formal hierarchy, no teaching tradition, no papal encyclicals, and no “natural law” philosophy leading them in the direction of regarding abortion as grievously sinful. They purport to follow only the Bible, which never mentions abortion and only obliquely refers to fetal life. Evangelicals, moreover, were not as a group actively engaged in state efforts to keep abortion illegal prior to Roe; many (particularly among Southern Baptists, the largest white Evangelical denomination) favored “liberalized” abortion laws back then.

However you choose to explain the white Evangelical shift toward strongly anti-abortion views — as a moral “awakening” after Roe; a general rejection of liberalism and feminism; a nostalgic embrace of cultural conservatism in all its elements (including patriarchy); or a byproduct of a growing alliance with conservative politics — it’s unmistakable, and it has offset the gradual drift toward pro-choice views among Catholics.

Read the entire piece here.

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