The “Outer Limits” of a Pro-Choice Position on Abortion

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I applaud The Atlantic for publishing this piece and I appreciate Chavi Karkowsky‘s courage in writing it.  Whatever your position on abortion, it is worth your time.

Here is a taste:

One day about seven months ago, I was standing in a dark room in a hospital not far from Tel Aviv, performing an ultrasound on the taut belly of a woman well into her third trimester. She was 35 weeks pregnant, due in about a month. She and I felt the fetus kick, right under the ultrasound probe. “Strong one!” I said in Hebrew. She smiled. I managed to freeze a sweet picture of the bow-shaped fetal upper lip, and pressed “Print,” to give to her later.

Then I measured the fetal head, snug against her pelvic bone. The numbers on-screen suggested that it was too small. I measured it again. Still small. So I measured it again, and again, and again. Everything else in this pregnancy looked healthy: the volume of amniotic fluid, the general size of the fetus, the structure of the heart and brain. According to the woman’s chart, everything had been fine, all the way through.

At that point, I needed to tell her about that small head and what it might mean for her future child’s development. This is not uncommon; it’s a situation I’m used to dealing with easily. But in that room, I was overcome with a strong urge not to tell her what I’d observed, because I feared where that discussion might lead. I am an American ob-gyn. In most states in my native country, third-trimester abortions are illegal or nearly inaccessible. In practice, only a handful of facilities in the entire United States perform abortions after 26 weeks for nonlethal anomalies. But here in Israel, abortion is widely available and can be offered until delivery. A subtle abnormality, such as the one I saw in that ultrasound room outside Tel Aviv, can prompt a discussion of pregnancy termination. Even at 35 weeks.

Within the American abortion debate, I am pro-choice in a concrete way. Giving women information about their pregnancies and helping them assess their options, including termination, is part of my life’s work. When state legislatures in Georgia, Louisiana, and a host of other states have taken up bills to limit abortion rights, I have always known which side I am on.

But in that dark room so far from home, I was deeply uncomfortable discussing abortion with a woman 35 weeks into her pregnancy, when that fetus had no clearly lethal or debilitating problem. By then, I’d been living in Israel for about a year, and practicing medicine at a local hospital for about six months. In Israel, everything was different—perhaps including me. In that dark room, I felt lost, as I confronted the outer borders of my pro-choice beliefs.

Read the rest here.

When Does a Life Issue Demand Political Action and When are Just “Thoughts and Prayers” Enough?

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In the wake of the El Paso and Dayton shootings, conservative evangelicals are offering lots of thoughts and prayers.  Many of them are saying that we need to solve the problem of mass shootings through a spiritual reformation.  The real problem, they preach, is the moral degradation of our culture.  Guns don’t kill people, mentally disturbed and sinful people kill people.

Here are a few recent tweets:

R.R. Reno, the editor of First Things magazine, says that the problem is not guns, but marijuana, out-of-wedlock births, relativism, multiculturalism, progressivism, and a general “cultural collapse.”  In a strange turn in his piece, he randomly defends the late Southern Baptist segregationalist W.A. Criswell.

In some ways, these conservative pundits are correct.  We do live in a coarse culture.  I imagine future historians, if they are good, will see the rise of violent video-games, toxic social media, unprecedented access to unhealthy material online, intense political partisanship, and the presidency of Donald Trump as contributing to a culture that might lead to mass shootings. David Brooks is correct when he says that we have a culture problem.  And let’s not forget that the renewal of white supremacy and racism is also part of this cultural decline, something that Reno and most court evangelicals do not mention.

I agree that prayers are important.  We Christians have a spiritual responsibility to pray for those suffering in the wake of these horrendous shootings in El Paso and Dayton.  I am not entirely sure that calls for prayer and spiritual renewal will bring deep change in the culture (I am with James Davison Hunter on this point), but I do think that these things are important and our churches and pastors should be encouraging them.  I am enough of an evangelical to believe that anything is possible with God.

But I also worry that appeals to thoughts, prayers, and spiritual revival are often an excuse for not doing anything real and practical about guns in America.

Many Christian nationalists like to claim that our rights come from God.  They jump from Thomas Jefferson’s line in the Declaration of Independence about our rights coming from our “Creator” (1776) straight to the Bill of Rights (1791).  They assume that because Jefferson said it, it must be true for both founding documents.  But does the Bible really affirm a “right” to bear assault style rifles?  Did James Madison write the Second Amendment to reflect some kind of biblical mandate about self-defense, or was it written in the context of the colonial militia system practiced in eighteenth-century America, as historian Saul Cornell has argued?  (For the record, it is the latter).

The idea that the Constitution is a sacred document, ordained by God and informed by biblical principles, is popular among many American evangelicals.  As a result, sensible reforms in the area of gun control pose a threat to what is affirmed in a document that, for many God and country patriots, carries a level of cultural authority that is barely one notch below the Bible.  We can’t let those liberals take our guns!  Our right to bear arms comes from God and we must defend the document that makes us a Christian nation!  (See Carol Kuruvilla’s recent piece at HuffPost.  I was happy to contribute to it).

So we offer thoughts and prayers and calls for spiritual awakenings.  The problem is not guns, it is the people who use them.  Legislation will not solve the problem, so why bother with it?  Let a thousand assault rifles bloom.  It is our right to have them.  What did Charlton Heston say about his “cold, dead hands?”

I think most Christian nationalists would say that human life is valuable.  If this is true, then mass shootings are a “life issue.” Christians of all stripes believe that life is precious because God created us in His image.  This idea is at the heart of the anti-abortion crusade in America, but it has not gained any traction in the area of gun control.  When babies are aborted the Christian Right rarely talks about praying for the mothers who have the abortion or the families who have suffered through the decision.  Instead, they seek to solve the problem of abortion by trying to legislate morality through political organization, proposing bills, and voting for the right political candidates who will appoint the right justices who share their sacred (and borderline idolatrous) view of the Constitution.  (I have critiqued some of this approach in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump).

In other words, when it comes to abortion, conservative evangelicals act.  But when it comes to gun control, we just get thoughts, prayers, and calls for revival.

Over 600,000 babies were aborted in 2015.  What if evangelicals took the same approach to this large number of abortions that they do with mass shootings? If they took this route they would cease thinking creatively (and perhaps even legislatively) about this moral problem and retire to their prayer closets.  Why take the fight for the dignity of human life to the public square when you can just ask God to send another Great Awakening?

As Christians we must pray for God’s presence in our lives and culture.  May He heal our land and give us a glimpse of a coming Kingdom defined by love, peace, and justice.  But American history teaches us that reform usually happens when Christians act.  The two are not mutually exclusive.  Let’s pass sensible gun laws.

ADDENDUM:  A shorter version of this post appeared, with a different title, on August  7, 2019 at The Washington Post.

Michael Wear: “Democrats Shouldn’t Be So Certain About Abortion”

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When it comes to abortion politics, Michael Wear, an evangelical Christian and member of Obama’s faith-based initiative team, is one of our most important voices.  His piece in today’s New York Times is one of the best things I have read on the subject.  Here is a taste:

According to some progressives, Democrats need to learn from Mr. Trump’s style of politics and name enemies, draw harder lines and callously stoke the animosities that roil Americans’ lives for partisan advantage.

This emulation of Mr. Trump’s flattening of our political discourse to its extremes is evident in many areas, but perhaps nowhere more clearly than on abortion. There were several examples of this just in the last month.

In the first presidential debate, Senator Elizabeth Warren was asked if there was any restriction on abortion she supported; she could not name one, and no other candidate on the stage tried to either. Joe Biden was berated by his Democratic competitors and others for his previous support for the Hyde Amendment, which bans federal funding for abortion, and announced that he would now oppose it. And yet a Politico/Morning Consult poll from June showed that slightly more Democratic women support the Hyde Amendment (at 41 percent) than oppose it (at 39 percent). Overall, 49 percent of registered voters support Hyde, compared with 32 percent who oppose it. It is not so much that Mr. Biden was out of step with the Democratic electorate, but that the 2020 Democratic candidates are out of step with American voters, even Democratic voters, on the issue of abortion.

Read the entire piece here.

How Biden Can Separate Himself (Even Further) From the Pack Tonight

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I still stand by my belief that Joe Biden has the best chance to beat Donald Trump in 2020.  He is going to get hammered in these Democratic debates and the coming primaries, but if he can survive, and not screw things up, he can be the next president.

I was not overly impressed by anyone in last night’s debate.  Elizabeth Warren won the first half of the debate, but she seemed to fade toward the end.  Nevertheless, I think she controlled the stage and was clearly the overall winner.  Julian Castro did very well.  His team can build on his performance.  As I said to my daughter last night, I still don’t understand why Cory Booker is not polling higher.  I felt bad for Beto O’Rourke.  He did not look well last night.  I was wondering if he had the flu.  He looked pale and his eyes were very red and watery.  I like Amy Klobuchar, but Biden will take all of her potential votes.

I was struck by the question on abortion.  Every candidate on the stage upheld the Party line.  Here is Emma Green at The Atlantic:

The 2020 Democratic presidential candidates see abortion as a winning issue in the next election. That was clear from the first night of the party’s primary debates, where the politicians onstage vied to show how emphatically they support abortion rights. The candidates focused on fear: of the state-level abortion bans recently passed in places such as Alabama, Missouri, and Georgia; of the threat to Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that established a constitutional right to abortion. Multiple candidates affirmed their support for expansive abortion rights, citing widespread support among Americans.

The candidates also conveniently avoided the most controversial and contested aspects of abortion policy, including limits on the procedure at any point in a pregnancy. Whether this dodge was intentional or the natural outcome of a quick-paced debate, it stood in contrast to one of the most memorable moments of the 2016 presidential debates, when Hillary Clinton endorsed abortion through the end of the third trimester of a pregnancy. So far this cycle, Democrats have been running to embrace the abortion-rights positions that poll well with voters, and steering clear of tougher questions. In reality, however, these nitpicky questions about abortion limits matter: These are the policy areas where most abortion fights actually happen at the federal level.

Green correctly concludes: “Democrats are clearly willing to promote their party’s support for abortion rights; none of the nearly two dozen candidates has tried to use moderation on abortion to his or her advantage.”

Read her entire piece here.

Let’s see what happens tonight.  As many know, Biden has raised serious questions about federal funding for abortion, but he caves whenever he is pressured by other candidates.  What if Biden takes the opportunity tonight to provide a nuanced view on abortion by saying something about how he wants to reduce the number of abortions in the United States? He can do this without flip-flopping again on the Hyde Amendment or undermining Roe v. Wade.  If Biden takes this route, he will probably be the only candidate willing to make a break–however subtle–with the Party line.  I am not optimistic that Biden and his team will go this route, but I do know that most Democrats here in Pennsylvania would welcome such a move.

“A principled stance against abortion makes sense only within a matrix that ties together the economic and social ordering of society”

LifeAll pro-lifers need to read John Medaille’s piece at the Front Porch Republic.  Here is a taste:

The most inflammatory debates about abortion concern pregnancies resulting from rape or incest or those which endanger the life of the mother. But as serious as these cases are, they are a tiny portion of the abortion market (and it is a market, a business), and if it were limited to that, it would be a very limited market indeed. The wider market has other causes. According to the Guttmacher Institute, “75% of abortion patients in 2014 were poor or low-income. Twenty-six percent of patients had incomes of 100–199% of the federal poverty level, and 49% had incomes of less than 100% of the federal poverty level ($15,730 for a family of two.)” That would seem to make it an economic issue, and of course that is a large part of the problem, but not the whole problem. The Institute goes on to say, “The three most common reasons—each cited by three-fourths of patients—were concern for or responsibility to other individuals; the inability to afford raising a child; and the belief that having a baby would interfere with work, school or the ability to care for dependents.”

Again, this would seem to make it an economic problem. But I am going to make a leap here and assert that behind the economic problem lay a cultural problem, or rather three interrelated cultural problems: individualism, hedonism, and capitalism. Individualism means that we have only such responsibilities as we choose to have. But this works against women; men can easily walk away from their natural responsibilities without penalty, but women cannot. “Saddled” with children, she is no longer an “individual,” but a little community, and one that depends on support from the wider community, support that is frequently not forthcoming. In the same way, hedonism is also not an equal opportunity employer; it favors the male of the species. When men are encouraged to take their pleasures when they want and leave them when they will, contraception and abortion work as defense mechanisms.

And behind these two stands capitalism, their greatest champion and defender. For the logic of mass production flourishes best in a culture of consumerism—that is, hedonism—and it sends us messages 24/7 encouraging and normalizing the idea that we are what we consume. When a sandwich company can get away with screaming at us (literally), “I do what the ____ I like,” you know that they are not selling sandwiches, but a particular lifestyle and frame of mind, one which is destructive of community and family life by being supportive of individualism and hedonism. And capitalists feel no obligation to support the family through wages, but only to pay the lowest possible rate for labor, even if they have to go to Bangladesh to do it.

Hence the “pro-life” movement, by tying itself to the Republican Party, ties itself to the aggressive support of capitalism and to the party least likely to impose any controls or obligations on the system. Like the Fox channels, they have bracketed off the moral and cultural issues, so that they support with one hand what they oppose with the other. They oppose the culture of abortion while supporting the culture that practically demands it. This cultural/political schizophrenia lends credence to the caricature of the “pro-life” movement as supportive of pregnancy and birth but not of motherhood. After giving birth, she should get a job like everybody else and not be a drag on the body politic. The movement can help elect the slimiest president possible under the naïve belief that he will lift us from the slime. Understood this way, it is really no surprise that the most radical expression of the anti-abortion movement occurs in states like Alabama, a state with the lowest levels of support for mothers and the highest level of support for big business, a state that is ranked near the bottom in public support for healthcare, education, infrastructure, and many other things.

A principled stance against abortion makes sense only within a matrix that ties together the economic and social ordering of society. Apart from a social order that welcomes children and an economic order that supports families, the prohibition of abortion appears to be just an arbitrary denominational stricture, like fasting on Fridays or wearing a yarmulke. This lends credence to the charge that we are merely trying to enforce our religion on others. By treating it as a “single-issue” that overrides all other issues, the pro-life movement divorced the issue from the moral matrix which harmonizes it, thus making it appear self-contradictory. We have bracketed the issue from the very things that make it part of an intelligible whole. What Fox does in the name of profits, we do in the name of power.

Read the entire piece here.

HT: John Haas

Joe Biden on Abortion

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Emma Green is back with a piece on Joe Biden’s view on abortion.  He supports the Hyde Amendment, a ban on federal funding for abortions through Medicaid.  Yet last night one of his campaign directors claimed that he was supportive of Roe v. Wade.  As I tweeted:

Here is a taste of Green’s piece at The Atlantic:

…he still supports the Hyde Amendment, a decades-old ban on federal funding for most abortions through programs such as Medicaid. As a senator, Biden voted repeatedly to keep this ban in place; in the 1990s, as NBC reported, he wrote a letter to constituents affirming that Americans who oppose abortions should not have to pay for them. The other leading 2020 Democratic candidates have taken the opposite stance, calling for Hyde to be repealed, along with other expansions of abortion rights. Perhaps in response to the Democratic field’s move to the left, Biden has recently indicated that he might be willing to protect abortion rights with federal legislation.

While most voters likely do not recognize the term “Hyde Amendment,” the issue of using tax dollars to pay for abortion is fairly clear-cut. Even people who support legal abortion, including Democrats, may not believe the federal government should be paying for it. Biden’s continued support for a ban on federal funding for abortion sends a different message: This is the moderate Democrat who voters have known for decades. Abortion-rights advocacy groups are already calling out Biden’s position on Hyde, but unlike other 2020 Democrats, he is not prioritizing to those groups’ causes. In part by emphasizing his fight for “the soul of the nation,” as he has put it, over and above divisive social issues, Biden is making a bet that he can appeal to the widest range of voters in a 2020 general election.

Frankly, I would like to see Biden define himself as a pro-life Democrat.  As I have argued before, it is the most consistent position for a party that claims to care about the weakest and most vulnerable human beings in society.

And by the way, it is also possible to be pro-life and pro-women’s rights.  I am with Jimmy Carter on this.

Abortion and the Legacy of the Suffragettes

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Here is another example of how the study of history influences present debates.

Which side of today’s debate over abortion gets to claim the women’s rights movement?  Writing at The Atlantic, Emma Green tries to figure it out.  Here is a taste of her piece, “The Epic Political Battle Over the Legacy of the Suffragettes”:

A century after suffrage, the women’s movement is still fighting a battle over inheritance. Progressive feminists widely claim the mantle of suffrage activists, drawing on their imagery and channeling their energy in fights against Trump-era policies. But a range of conservative activists, especially in the anti-abortion movement, also identify with the early women’s movement. They see their values and ideas reflected in a version of feminism that predates, and remains separate from, the sexual revolution. In this tug-of-war over the suffragist legacy, both sides airbrush the parts of history that don’t fit their narrative, cramming suffragists into ideological boxes that simply didn’t exist in their time.

The movement for suffrage spanned from the mid-19th century to the early 20th, and was advanced by women with a range of political priorities and viewpoints. They were progressives, in the broadest sense of the word: They believed in pushing for social change and using politics for the betterment of humanity. Yet many of their views might seem shocking today, especially to Americans who identify with the same “progressive” movement of which suffrage activists were a part.

By and large, white American suffragists were racist, arguing that giving the vote to white women would cancel out the influence of newly enfranchised black men. This was as much a matter of political strategy as personal prejudice, says Liette Gidlow, an associate professor at Wayne State University who is working on an upcoming book on this subject. Poll taxes, literacy tests, and so-called grandfather clauses kept many black men away from the polls in the years following the Civil War, even after the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment gave them the vote. “Many leading … white suffragists were deeply afraid that … [if] the Susan B. Anthony amendment”—which proposed women’s suffrage—“would lead to the return of African Americans … to the polls, that would damage support for the amendment,” Gidlow told me. Even after the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified, many states passed laws limiting the voting rights of black Americans, including black women.

Many of the suffragists promoted temperance, or the banning of alcohol in pursuit of virtuous self-restraint—a principle that was enshrined in the Constitution around the same time as suffrage, although it was later reversed.

And many of these activists viewed the world through a gendered lens, believing that their distinctive, womanly insights would be an asset to the political realm. This is where suffragists diverge most sharply from today’s elite progressive feminists, who contest the idea that womanhood is distinctive and essential.

Some of the core causes of the contemporary women’s movement, such as abortion access, may have been puzzling or even unthinkable to women activists a century ago. Views on gender are one of the most electric dividing lines in American culture today, especially among women. Despite their familiarity with debates over women’s roles, if suffragists time-traveled to 2019, they wouldn’t have the language or intellectual framework to understand today’s controversies about the nature of gender.

Read the entire piece here.

Did 1000s of Women Die Every Year from Abortions Before *Roe v. Wade*?

Planned

Leana Wen, the president of Planned Parenthood, has been making this claim.

Glenn Kessler of The Washington Post decided to investigate.  Here is a taste of his piece:

Wen is a doctor, and the ACOG is made up of doctors. They should know better than to peddle statistics based on data that predates the advent of antibiotics. Even given the fuzzy nature of the data and estimates, there is no evidence that in the years immediately preceding the Supreme Court’s decision, thousands of women died every year in the United States from illegal abortions.

Wen’s repeated use of this number reminds us of the shoddy data used by human trafficking opponents. Unsafe abortion is certainly a serious issue, especially in countries with inadequate medical facilities. But advocates hurt their cause when they use figures that do not withstand scrutiny. These numbers were debunked in 1969 — 50 years ago — by a statistician celebrated by Planned Parenthood. There’s no reason to use them today.

Read the rest here.

Kristen Gillibrand’s Wacky Pro-Choice Theology

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Recently New York Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Kristen Gillibrand claimed that laws against abortion are “against Christian faith?”  This should raise a host of red flags for people who know something about Christianity.  Most American evangelicals, who the last time I checked were Christians, oppose abortion.  Roman Catholics also oppose abortion.  The Orthodox Church also opposes the practice.  So do many mainline Protestants.

So why does Gillibrand believe that a pro-life position on abortion is anti-Christian?  She claims that Christianity teaches “free will” and, as a result, laws preventing a women’s choice to abort a baby are not Christian.

Wow.  I just read a draft of this post to my eighteen-year-old daughter and she gave me a puzzled look before saying, “Wait, that’s not how it works.”

Most of the Christian bodies I mentioned in the first paragraph of this post also believe in free will.  Yet they oppose the practice of abortion because a person’s free will is always understood in the context of other principles–like the common good, the preservation of life, and duties to others, including the unborn.  When one becomes a Christian they are called to deny self for the life of others.  There are times when individual choice must be subordinated to larger moral issues.

Please note that this post is not an endorsement of the Alabama bill.  I have argued that overturning Roe v. Wade is not the best way to reduce the number of abortions.  Rather, this post is a plea to politicians to stop doing theology.

Why Jews and Muslims Might Claim a Religious Liberty Exemption to the Alabama Abortion Bill

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Steven Waldman, author of a new book titled Sacred Liberty: America’s Long, Bloody, and Ongoing Struggle for Religious Freedommakes a fascinating argument in a recent op-ed at Newsweek.  What happens when a pro-life position on abortion clashes with religious liberty?  Jews believe life begins at birth, not conception.  Muslims believe that life begins around the fourth month of gestation.  Are these deeply-held religious beliefs?

On the Christian Right, where anti-abortion legislation and religious liberty drive the political agenda of its members, heads are exploding.  What happens when religious liberty clashes with anti-abortion laws?

Here is a taste of Waldman’s piece “Alabama Abortion Law: Should Jewish and Muslim Doctors and Women Get Exemptions For Religious Freedom?:

There may be a strange, implied loophole in the Alabama anti-abortion law—that abortions can be performed … if the doctor is Jewish or Muslim.

Here’s the logic.  We are in a moment of history when the courts are leaning in the direction of providing religious exemptions to secular laws. This was the thrust of the Sisters of the Poor case, when a group of nuns said they should be exempt from the Affordable Care Act’s requirement for contraception coverage. They argued that the rule violated their religious beliefs so they shouldn’t have to participate. The “Bakers of Conscience” have made a similar argument—that they should be allowed to avoid making a cake for a same-sex wedding without being prosecuted under anti-discrimination laws—because their beliefs are grounded in religion.

The drafters of the law were at least partly motivated by their faith. “When God creates the miracle of life inside a woman’s womb, it is not our place as human beings to extinguish that life,”  said Clyde Chambliss, a sponsor of the bill.

So the question becomes: does the law infringe on the religious beliefs of the woman or the doctor?

Though there are many interpretations in the Jewish tradition, the most common is that life begins at birth, not conception. Reform Rabbis have decreed that abortion is permitted if there is a  “strong preponderance of medical opinion that the child will be born imperfect physically, and even mentally.” If you’re a Jewish woman, you could argue that this law forces you to abide by a different definition of life (with roots in Roman Catholicism). 

If you’re a Jewish doctor who has sworn the Hippocratic oath—to perform medically appropriate procedures without discrimination—then it may be your religious belief that you have a duty to provide a Biblically-sanctioned abortion. By blocking you from offering that service, the law is forcing you to violate your Hippocratic oath and the guidance from your religion.

Read the rest here.

Alabama Governor Signs Anti-Abortion Bill One Day and Plans to Execute Someone on the Next Day

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Alabama Governor Kay Ivey

Today I had a long conversation with New York Times reporter Adeel Hassan.  He was trying to figure out how Alabama could execute a convicted murderer on the day after the state passed a very extreme abortion law.  Here is his report:

A scholar of evangelical Christianity said that most evangelicals in Alabama probably feel no tension between support for the death penalty and opposition to abortion.

“Most conservative evangelicals wouldn’t think twice about executing someone and then going to a pro-life march the next day,” said John Fea, a history professor at Messiah College. He said their views have often been shaped by the political battles that have raged over social issues in recent decades, so that, for example, they also tend to oppose spending tax money on government programs that might reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies.

Progressive evangelicals see the issues differently, Mr. Fea said, but “they are a minority in the state of Alabama and most of the evangelical South.”

Read the entire piece here.

Joe Biden and the Catholic and Evangelical Vote

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How will Catholics respond to Joe Biden in 2020?  John Gehrig, Catholic program director at Faith in Public Life, has some thoughts.  Here is a taste of his piece at Religion News Service:

Data from the 2018 midterm election analyzed by Ronald Brownstein of CNN shows that Trump’s favorability among white working-class voters who are not evangelicals — think white Catholics in Biden’s hometown of Scranton, Pa. — has already fallen.

Catholic women will be a critical part of this demographic. Democrats, the analysis found, “ran particularly well this year among white working-class women who are not evangelicals, a group that also displayed substantial disenchantment in the exit poll with Trump’s performance,” Brownstein wrote. “Those women could be a key constituency for Democrats in 2020 in pivotal Rust Belt states such as Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, where relatively fewer blue-collar whites are also evangelical Christians.”

Right now a fired-up base of progressives is setting the tone in the Democratic primary, making Biden, with his baggage of Anita Hill’s treatment during Clarence Thomas’ Supreme Court hearings, a cozy relationship with the banking industry and his record of opposing busing to desegregate schools, a very tough sell.

But don’t sell him short. If Biden can emerge from the necessary challenges on his left to articulate a compelling vision for an inclusive America, one that honors the dignity of work and affirms the vital immigrant character of our nation, Catholic voters could punch his ticket back to the White House as the first Catholic president since JFK.

Read the entire piece here. I think Gehrig is right.

I also think  Biden is going to have to make some kind of an appeal to American evangelicals.  He will not win many of them, but he doesn’t have to win many to take the White House.  Biden is pro-choice, but he has often talked about his personal opposition to abortion.  This might be enough for some 2016 evangelical Trump voters to peel away and vote for him.  In 2016, there were many moderate evangelicals who were looking for a reason–any reason–to vote for Hillary Clinton.  Unfortunately, Clinton never gave them one.  I wrote about this here, two days before the election.

I also wrote about this in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump:

Though Clinton would never have come close to winning the evangelical vote, her tone-deafness on matters of deep importance to evangelicals may have been the final nail in the coffin of her campaign.  In 2015, when a conservative pro-life group published videos showing Planned Parenthood employees discussing the purchase of the body parts and the fetal tissue of aborted fetuses, Clinton said, “I have seen the pictures [from the videos] and obviously find them disturbing.”  Such a response could have helped her reach evangelicals on the campaign trail, but by 2016 she showed little ambivalence about abortion, or any understanding that it might pose legitimate concerns or raise larger ethical questions.  During the third presidential debate, she defended a traditional pro-choice position and seemed to dodge Fox News host Chris Wallace’s question about her support for later-term abortions.  There seemed to be no room in her campaign for those evangelicals who didn’t want to support Trump but needed to see that she could at least compromise on abortion.

Let’s hope Biden learns from the Clinton campaign.

What Will Future Historians Say About Abortion?

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I hate the term “right side” and “wrong side” of history.  No historian should use these phrases. They are moral, not historical, phrases.  When people use them they are usually saying more about their own politics or religion than the patterns of history.  When Martin Luther King Jr. said that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” he was making a theological statement.  It is a theological statement that I affirm because I am a Christian who hopes in a coming Kingdom where justice will prevail, and not because I wholeheartedly embrace the Enlightenment idea of progress.

Historians know that the story of humanity does not always bend toward justice.  Usually those who reference the right and wrong sides of history have a political axe to grind.  Historians, of course, are not prophets.  We cannot predict the direction history will move.  Christian historians should have eschatological hope, but we cannot pretend to claim that we know all that God is doing.  This is why we talk about humility and mystery.  We see through a glass darkly.

In her recent piece on abortion at VOX, evangelical feminist Karen Swallow Prior does not use the phrase “right side of history” or “wrong side of history,” but she does invoke a kind of ethical trajectory–a teleology if you will– that is born out of her Christian convictions and her belief in moral progress.  As a historian, I am trained to treat her predictions with caution.  As a Christian who believes we must reduce the number of abortions in the United States, I say let’s hope she is correct.

Here is a taste of her piece, “Abortion Will Be Considered Unthinkable 50 Years from Now.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last year that abortion hit its lowest rate since Roe v. Wade11.8 per 1,000 women ages 15-44, a dramatic decline from a peak in the early 1980s that approached 30 per 1,000 women. It’s unclear whether this decrease is owing to increased use of contraceptives; delayed sexual activity among young people; the declining number of doctors willing to participate in abortions; a growing inability to deny — thanks to ultrasound technology, prenatal surgical interventions, and extravagant gender reveal parties — the insuppressible personality of the child in the womb; or a combination of all these factors.

Whatever the cause, however, abortion is becoming less necessary and less desirable. Recent attempts in several states to expand access to late-term abortions in anticipation of the possible overturning of Roe not only violate the view of the majority (who support greater restrictions after the first trimester) but will be seen by future generations as a last, desperate show of stubbornness in the face of human progress.

Every age has its blinders, constructed, usually, through a combination of ignorance and self-interest. Many things such as bloodletting and wet nurses that are seen as good or indispensable in one age are unthinkable in another.

Our modern-day willingness to settle for sex apart from commitment, to accept the dereliction of duty by men who impregnate women (for men are the primary beneficiaries of liberal abortion laws), and to uphold the systematic suppression of sex’s creative energy and function are practices that people of other ages would have considered bizarre. As we enter late modernity and recognize the limits of the radical autonomy and individualism which have defined it, the pendulum will correct itself with a swing toward more communitarian and humane values that recognize the interdependency of all humans.

When we do, we will look back at elective abortion and wonder — as we do now with polluting and smoking — why we so wholeheartedly embraced it. We will look at those ultrasound images of 11-week old fetuses somersaulting in the waters of the womb and lack words to explain to our grandchildren why we ever defended their willful destruction in the name of personal choice and why we harmed so many women to do so.

Read the entire piece here.

This reminds me of what I wrote earlier this week about Jimmy Carter’s suggestion that the Democratic Party change its views on abortion:

I think there are a lot of pro-life Democrats out there who would agree with Carter, but they do not make their voices heard for several reasons:

  1. They do not want to be ostracized by the Democratic Party.
  2. They are afraid that if they defend the unborn they will be accused of not caring about women’s rights.  (This, I believe, is a false dichotomy).
  3. They do not want to be associated with the divisive and unhelpful “baby-killing” culture war rhetoric of the Right.
  4. They do not endorse the Christian Right/GOP playbook that teaches the only way to reduce abortions is to overturn Roe. v. Wade.

Jimmy Carter: Democrats Should Change Their Position on Abortion

Carter

Jimmy Carter teaching Sunday School

Jimmy Carter appeared on radio show of conservative pundit Laura Ingraham recently.  Here is what he said about the Democratic Party’s position on abortion:

“I never have believed that Jesus Christ would approve of abortions and that was one of the problems I had when I was president having to uphold Roe v. Wade and I did everything I could to minimize the need for abortions. I made it easy to adopt children for instance who were unwanted and also initiated the program called Women and Infant Children or WIC program that’s still in existence now. But except for the times when a mother’s life is in danger or when a pregnancy is caused by rape or incest I would certainly not or never have approved of any abortions.”

“I’ve signed a public letter calling for the Democratic Party at the next convention to espouse my position on abortion which is to minimize the need, requirement for abortion and limit it only to women whose life are in danger or who are pregnant as a result of rape or incest. I think if the Democratic Party would adopt that policy that would be acceptable to a lot of people who are now estranged from our party because of the abortion issue.”

Life News has context.

I think there are a lot of pro-life Democrats out there who would agree with Carter, but they do not make their voices heard for several reasons:

  1. They do not want to be ostracized by the Democratic Party.
  2. They are afraid that if they defend the unborn they will be accused of not caring about women’s rights.  (This, I believe, is a false dichotomy).
  3. They do not want to be associated with the divisive and unhelpful “baby-killing” culture war rhetoric of the Right.
  4. They do not endorse the Christian Right/GOP playbook that teaches the only way to reduce abortions is to overturn Roe. v. Wade.

The Number of Abortions in the United States is at an All-Time Low

Abortion

The abortion rate has declined by more than 25% between 2006 and 2015.  This is certainly good news for the pro-life community.

According to Sara Kliff’s piece at VOX, the decline in abortions can be explained by several things:

  1. Laws restricting abortion in certain parts of the country.
  2. Millennials oppose abortion at a slightly higher rate than older generations.
  3. Better access to and more effective forms of contraception.
  4. More women seeking birth control out of fear that they will lose it if Trump gets rid of Obamacare.  (This implies that if Obamacare is repealed there will be more abortions).

Read the entire piece here.

Historian H.W. Brands Paints a Scenario in Which the Battle Over Abortion Might Lead to Civil War

john Brown

H.W. Brands‘s piece at The Washington Post is worth pondering.  Here is a taste:

Suppose Roe is reversed, and the states are allowed to restrict abortion as they see fit. Red states reduce access to abortion, in some cases nearly eliminating it. Blue states maintain or even liberalize their existing laws. The red states proclaim themselves right-to-life, the blue states right-to-choose. Women seeking abortions travel or move to the blue states, leaving the red states redder still.

Having repealed Roe, opponents of abortion would be tempted to push for a further step: the restriction or outlawing of abortion nationwide. Just as Massachusetts abolitionists felt compelled to condemn slavery in Georgia, so anti-abortionists in Texas would feel conscience-bound to try to prevent abortions in California.

They might not succeed, but the effort alone would cause many Californians to ask themselves whether their liberties were safe any longer in a Union with such people. California’s economy would rank it fifth in the world if it were an independent country. Californians might conclude that they could stand on their own and vote to secede. Perhaps they would be joined by Washington and Oregon, adding Amazon, Microsoft and Nike to the economic heft of the Pacific republic.

What would happen then is anyone’s guess. Would the heartland fight to keep the left coast in the Union? Maybe not. It’s worth noting that when the South seceded in 1860-61, many Northerners, not all of them abolitionists, applauded its departure. Lincoln took the opposite view, but another president might have let the South go. In fact, another president did let the South go: James Buchanan stood by amid the first wave of secession.

Read the entire piece here.

 

Pro-Life Women for Beto O’Rourke

abortion

Earlier this month, New York Times religion reporter Elizabeth Dias did a story on evangelical women who are supporting Beto O’Rourke over Ted Cruz in the Texas Senate race.  One of the women quoted in that piece said “I care as much about babies at the border as I do about babies in the womb.”

Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa is a pro-life feminist and founder of an organization called New Wave Feminists.  In an op-ed in yesterday’s Dallas Morning News she explains why she just voted for Beto, a pro-choice candidate.  Here is a taste of her piece:

I run a large pro-life feminist group, not just a pro-life group. We were the ones removed as sponsors from the Women’s March back in 2017 because of our stance against abortion rights. And that was a real shame because while I am 100 percent pro-life, I’m also 100 percent feminist, and I saw the way Trump treated women as an absolute deal-breaker. Sadly, we were one of the few pro-life groups that took this position. 

However, during that election I started to see, as an independent, just how deep the GOP had its hooks in the pro-life movement. I saw the way these politicians used unborn children’s lives to get out the vote but then oftentimes forgot about those lives soon after. I saw the way pro-lifers compromised so many of their own upstanding ethics and morals to elect a man thrice married, who bragged about his infidelities and predatory behavior. And why? So they could get their Supreme Court seats.

And then I watched as they got two of those seats, and how they boasted that all of their compromise had been worth it because we now have a “pro-life” advantage on the Supreme Court and could possibly overturn Roe vs. Wade. All the while, Sen. Susan Collins was explaining that she voted yes to Kavanaugh only because he assured her Roe was “settled law.”

This was the last straw for me. That’s when the blinders came all the way off. This idea of eliminating abortion by simply making it illegal is far too low of a bar to set. Abortion must become unthinkable and unnecessary if we want to eradicate it from our culture. And the only way that will happen is by creating a post-Roe culture while Roe still stands.

Read the entire piece here.

The Price Evangelicals Will Pay for a Supreme Court Seat

Believe Me 3d

Ever since I released Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump I have been trying to get my fellow evangelicals to see that their bargain with Trump is bad for the Gospel and its public witness in the world.

Doug Pagitt, pastor of Solomon’s Porch in South Minneapolis, seems to agree.  Here is a taste of his recent piece in USA Today: 

Religious leaders have given up moral ground at every renewed show of support for this administration and Congress. They stood by as families were torn apart at our border, the children shipped off to remote detention camps in the middle of the night. They cheered as health care was stripped away from the poor and the sick. And they fell in line to support the newly confirmed Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who was credibly accused of harming multiple women. These are not positions informed by the teachings of Jesus Christ — to the contrary, they are antithetical to what Jesus preached.

So why are so many white evangelicals dead-set on supporting the Trump administration and current Republican Congress? Their insistence on walking in lockstep with the Republican Party often is primarily motivated by a single issue: abortion.

Many of us are taught from a young age that abortion is the issue on which our vote should always hinge. The hope among many evangelicals is to make abortion illegal. Evidence, however, suggests that criminalization does not reduce abortions. In fact, studies show that criminalizing abortion does nothing to protect babies, but instead endangers mothers.

Read the rest here.

What Will Evangelicals Do if Kavanaugh’s Nomination Fails?

Kavanaugh

An MSNBC White House correspondent believes that white conservative evangelicals will “crucify Trump” if the Brett Kavanaugh nomination fails.

Here is a taste:

MSNBC White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor said Monday that if President Trump loses his fight to put conservative Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court, his religious base may lose whatever faith they have in the man many of their sect believe was chosen by God to lead the country.

“Sarah Sanders is echoing a lot of the reaction of a lot of evangelical Christians when I asked them how they support President Trump,” Alcindor said. “They say this is someone who can be used even if he’s problematic, even if he in their mind has sinned, that he can still be someone who puts forth policies that can help people’s lives.”

But in the event that Trump fails to appoint Kavanaugh to the court, where he could be the deciding vote on an number of their political goals, conservative Christians will like flee, Alcindor believed. “This is one of the number one things that evangelical Christians wanted out of this president,” she said. “They wanted a Supreme Court that was going to try to overturn Roe v. Wade, that wasn’t going to be pro-choice, that was going to be a pro-life Supreme Court.”

I don’t see it this way.  If the Kavanaugh nomination fails, Trump evangelicals will blame the liberals.  They will not blame Trump.  Trump will nominate another conservative justice off the Federalist Society or Heritage Foundation list and we will go through all of this again.  A failed Kavanaugh nomination will not weaken conservative evangelical support for the president, it will strengthen it.