Was Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life?

According to this Saturday Night Live sketch, Susan B. Anthony believed “abortion is murder.”

But historian Daniel K. Williams, author of Defenders of the Unborn: The Pro-Life Movement Before Roe v. Wadewarns pro-life and pro-choice advocates to think twice before invoking Anthony.

Here is a taste of his First Things piece “Susan B. Anthony’s Contested Legacy“:

Pro-lifers’ appropriation of Susan B. Anthony has resulted in a distortion of historical facts. Claiming Anthony for either side in the modern abortion debate is highly anachronistic. As a historian, I think that it’s important to understand the past on its own terms without trying to make figures from the past fit the contours of modern debates. Efforts to try to make Susan B. Anthony fit the mold of a modern pro-lifer are certainly misguided.

At the same time, I think it may be worth citing the late-nineteenth-century feminists in order to question modern pro-choice feminists’ insistence that reproductive rights are an essential, nonnegotiable part of feminism. If Anthony and her late-nineteenth-century feminist colleagues were not pro-life activists, they were not advocates of abortion rights or sexual license, either.

Read the entire piece here.

You can also listen to Williams discuss Defenders of the Unborn in Episode 2 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.

Is Climate Change a Pro-Life Issue?

Litter

Yes.

Over at The Christian Science Monitor, Ben Rosen writes about the Evangelical Environmental Network‘s attempt to convince evangelicals that climate change is a “pro-life” issue.  The argument goes something like this: “if you value life from its conception, you should value a clean Earth for the rest of a child’s life and for future children.”

Here is a taste of Rosen’s piece:

Associating “pro-life” with “pro-environment” is just one branch of religious environmentalism, a movement that frames conservation in religious terms. The idea has been around for decades, but has only started to gain traction among evangelicals recently, especially among Millennials. Still, most Americans do not yet associate climate change with religion and morality, according to the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.

Groups like the Evangelical Environmentalism Network hope to change that. If they are successful, it could have a major impact on the way much of America views the issue, as evangelicals are estimated to make up nearly a third of the population. But some sociologists and historians doubt that reframing climate change as a moral responsibility can reverse deep-seated skepticism among some conservative Christians about environmentalism, especially among older generations of evangelicals who have associated it with the culture wars over abortion and same-sex rights.

Read the entire piece here.

I applaud the efforts of the Evangelical Environmental Network, but they have their work cut out for them.  Most conservative evangelicals are unwilling to see the death penalty, gun control, and the reduction of programs to reduce poverty as “pro-life” issues.  I imagine that the same is true for “creation care.”

 

Mark Silk: GOP is Not the Only Party That Makes Abortion a Litmus Test

Bernie

Over at his blog Spiritual Politics, Mark Silk chides the Democratic Party for get so bothered by the fact that Bernie Sanders backed a pro-life Democratwho is running mayor of Omaha, Nebraska.

“Abortion access is not a ‘single issue’ or a ‘social issue,’” said NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue in a statement. “It is a proxy for women to have control over our lives, our family’s lives, our economic well-being, our dignity, and human rights.”

Let’s stop right there.

For many Americans, abortion is no such proxy. They support equal pay for equal work and raising the minimum wage and a human right to health care and doing away with the death penalty. They believe in climate change and want there to be a serious effort to combat it.

Mello, like a lot of his fellow Catholics, is one of them.

Nevertheless, after NARAL issued its condemnation, the liberal website Daily Kos withdrew its endorsement. The Democratic National Committee began waffling.

But Bernie Sanders, the Independent who is now the Democratic Party’s biggest star, did not hesitate to show up at a rally for Mello in Omaha. And on Face the Nation yesterday, he stuck to his guns:

If you have a rally in which you have the labor movement and the environmentalists and Native Americans and the African-American community and the Latino community coming together, saying, we want this guy to become our next mayor, should I reject going there to Omaha? I don’t think so.

I don’t think so either.

After John Kerry narrowly lost the 2004 election, the new Democratic National Committee chair, Sanders’ fellow Vermonter Howard Dean, decided over the objections of the D.C. Democratic establishment to pursue a 50-state strategy. That involved recruiting candidates who were, yes, pro-life.

In 2006, the Democrats recaptured both houses of Congress.

You can be seriously pro-choice and embrace that approach again. Or you can mirror the Republican base and sacrifice all your other values on the altar of abortion.

Read the entire post here.  Robert David Sullivan, the editor of America, makes a similar argument.

A Tale of Three Protests

protests

This could be the first weekend of the Trump administration in which the country has not experienced a major protest march of one form or another.  As I write this on Saturday morning, the weekend is still young.  But I doubt that we will let our impulse for social reform get in the way of the Super Bowl.  After all, this is the United States. 🙂

All of these protests–the Women’s March, the March for Life, and the spontaneous gatherings in American airports to protest Trump’s immigration ban–all had one thing in common.  They were, in one way or another, defenses of human dignity.  In this sense, they were inextricably linked. A recent post by a immigration lawyers Melbourne team have illustrated this quite well, it’s worth a look.

Protests and marches of this nature have a long history in the United States.  Think about the Stamp Act Riots, the Boston Tea Party, the Whiskey Rebellion, the New York City Draft Riots, women’s suffrage parades and marches, the Bonus Army, the Civil Rights Movement, the Anti-Vietnam Movement, Stonewall, labor protests, the movement to stop globalization, the Million Man March, the present-day Tea Party Movement, and Occupy Wall Street.  (And this list only scratches the surface).  We can debate to what extent these historic protests brought real social change, but we cannot argue with the fact that such activity is part of the American tradition of free speech, freedom of assembly, and the defense of human rights and dignity.

The American protest tradition was at its best on Saturday, January 21, 2017, one day after Trump was inaugurated, when women took to the streets in major and minor cities all over the United States.  On the Monday following the women’s march, Press Secretary Sean Spicer said that “a lot of these people were there to protest an issue of concern to them and [were] not against anything.”  I realize that Spicer’s job is to spin events in favor of Donald Trump, but anyone who attended one of these rallies or watched the coverage on television knows that the people present that day were “against” something.  They were against the Trump presidency.  The day was a stunning rebuke to the new administration.

Spicer, however, is correct when he says that women (and some men) came to Washington for a host of different reasons.  As I watched the march unfold on my television screen, it became clear that the movement lacked any focus beyond the fact that everyone opposed Donald Trump.  People were there to unleash their frustrations. Only time will tell if the march translates into real political gain. I have my doubts.

I was saddened to see the organizers of the Women’s March try to separate themselves from women who opposed abortion.  I think it was a missed opportunity to find common ground and show that Trump’s degradation of women transcends the debate over abortion.  I know pro-life women who attended and felt a sense of solidarity.  I also know many who did not attend and who were troubled by this kind of exclusion.

Which leads us to the March for Life on January 28, 2017.

The Pro-Life Movement has a long history in the United States.  As Daniel K. Williams has argued in his excellent book Defenders of the Unborn (you can listen to our podcast interview with him here-Episode 2), the movement was once embedded within the Democratic Party.  Liberals such as Jesse Jackson, Ted Kennedy, Sargent Shriver, Bill Clinton, Paul Simon, Dick Durbin, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Herbert Humphrey,  Joe Biden, Ed Muskie, Dick Gephardt, Al Gore, Bob Casey, Daniel Berrigan, Jimmy Carter, Thomas Eagleton, John Kerry, Dennis Kucinich, and Mario Cuomo were pro-life politicians.  Many of them, as David Swartz notes in his book Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism, “flipped to a pro-choice position under party pressure.”

The history of this so-called “flip” is complicated and I would recommend reading Williams’s book (or listen to our interview with him) to understand it in context.  But I think it is fair to say that Democrats of a previous generation saw very little tension between their political convictions and their opposition to abortion.  Democrats have always been concerned about protecting the most vulnerable human beings in American society. This is a core tenet of the modern Democratic Party.

Back in September 2015 I turned to the pages of USA Today  to challenge then presidential candidate Bernie Sanders to say something about reducing abortions in America.  I wrote: “aborted fetuses are alive, they are vulnerable and they need protection.”  I did something similar, albeit in a more indirect way, in a piece I published in the Harrisburg Partiot-News about Hillary Clinton’s failure to reach out to evangelicals on the issue of abortion.

Democrats and Republicans, men and women, convened in Washington  to march for life. The march was not as large as the Women’s March the week before, but it was just as powerful. Bishop Vincent Matthews Jr., a bishop in the largest Black denomination in the United States, was perhaps the most inspiring speaker.  As I wrote about last week, his speech connected the pro-life movement to the Black Lives Matter movement. Jesse Jackson could have delivered the same speech in 1977.  In that year, as Williams notes in Defenders of the Unborn (p.171), Jackson wrote an article for Life News linking his opposition to abortion to his defense of social justice, poverty, and black personhood.

My only critique of the event was the way it politicized a great social sin.  The problems with abortion should be addressed in an apolitical way.  The Pro-Life Movement transcends Donald Trump, Mike Pence, Kellyanne Conway, and the Republican Party. Speeches by Conway and Pence gave the march a political flavor that distracted from the day’s message.

Finally, protest swirled on Sunday, January 29, 2017 in the wake of Donald Trump’s executive order banning immigration to the United States from seven predominantly Muslim countries.  Americans arrived at airports by the thousands to defend the human rights of immigrants and refugees who were detained by the Trump administration. They also cried out against the targeting of immigrants from a specific religious group.

The constitutionality of Trump’s executive order can be debated.  After doing a little reading it appears that certain parts of the order seem to be OK.  But after reading it a few times there seems to be no way around the fact that this order discriminates based on religion.  We will need to let the courts decide if such discrimination in cases of immigration is indeed unconstitutional.

Section 5b reads:

Upon the resumption of USRAP admissions, the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security, is further directed to make changes, to the extent permitted by law, to prioritize refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality.  Where necessary and appropriate, the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security shall recommend legislation to the President that would assist with such prioritization.

The order states that “minority religions” in these Muslim countries will get priority.  How can this be read as anything but an attempt by Trump (and probably Steve Bannon) to favor Christians (and other non-Muslim faiths) and discriminate against Muslims?

America has been here before.

In 1835, Samuel F.B. Morse, best known in American history for inventing the telegraph, was one of the nation’s foremost opponents of Catholic immigration.  He saw Catholics as a threat to American democracy and wrote about them as both a political and religious movement. In 1911, the Asiatic Exclusion League, an organization with a mission to deny all Asian immigrants access to the United States, described Asians as a people whose “ways are not as our ways” and whose “gods are not our God, and never will be.”  The members of the League argued that Asian men and women “profane this Christian land by erecting here among us their pagan shrines, set up their idols and practice their shocking heathen religious ceremonies.”

The difference between Donald Trump and Morse, the Asiatic Exclusion League, and other attempts in U.S. history to restrict immigration, is that Donald Trump is the President of the United States.  I am not a scholar of immigration history (although I do occasionally teach a class on the subject), but I cannot think of another case in which a POTUS tried to overtly stop immigrants to the United States based on their religious faith.  Some Presidents may have secretly wanted to do this, but they never acted on it in the way that Donald Trump has done.  The closest thing I can think of is the government’s decision in 1939 to turn away 937 European Jews fleeing the Holocaust, but this decision was not overtly framed in a religious way. (I welcome anyone who can think of an example of a POTUS doing this).

American immigration and refugee policy has always been at its best when it respects the human dignity of all men and women, regardless of race, ethnicity or religion.  Those who flooded American airports last Sunday were protesting the failure of the Trump administration to live up to these ideals.

Three protest marches.  Three defenses of human dignity.  Three signs of hope in an imperfect world and an imperfect country.

The Mind of the Evangelical Trump Voter

liberty-trump

Over the last several months I have had some good conversations (and some not so good conversations) with a few dozen of the 81% of American evangelicals who voted for Donald Trump. The more I listen to these evangelical Trump supporters the more I realize that they are divided over the new President’s policies regarding trade, job creation, and even Obamacare. While some of them mentioned their support of Trump’s policies on these issues, it was clear that they are secondary.

Here is what unites them:

Abortion:  Trump evangelicals believe that a Trump presidency is their best chance to overturn Roe v. Wade.  So far they are ecstatic about Trump’s support for last Friday’s March for Life and his efforts to end funding for international organizations that perform abortions.  They will no doubt cheer Trump’s forthcoming Supreme Court justice nominee.

These evangelicals limit their understanding of “pro-life” to the issue of abortion.  So, for example, they do not see Trump’s recent executive order banning refugees to be a “life” issue.  Many of them are outraged that protesters are making such a big deal over Trump’s decision to stop the flow of Muslim refugees into the country when thousands and thousands of babies are being killed in the womb each year

Religious Liberty:   Trump evangelicals are thrilled that the President is aware that thousands of Christians being persecuted for their faith around the world. I imagine Christian colleges are, for the most part, breathing a sigh of relief over the fact that they will no longer be discriminated against when it comes to federal and other types of funding.

So far we have heard very little from these evangelicals about extending religious liberties to Muslim refugees. As evangelical  Washington Post columnist and Trump critic Michael Gerson recently wrote, “In the long run, religious liberty is weakened in every case when it is weakened in any case. On this matter, hypocrisy is a form of self-harm.”

Fear:  Evangelicals want their country back.  Trump will not only make America great again, but he will protect them against internal and external threats.  Most Trump evangelicals I talk with love his recent executive order banning refugees from Muslim countries.  Man of them don’t want Muslims in America.  Some of them still think that Barack Obama is a Muslim.  They believe Muslim terrorists pose a threat to their lives, even though they are more likely to be killed by a moving train, flammable clothing, or cows than a Muslim terrorist.

Trump is delivering “big league” for his evangelical voters.  He is keeping his promises. It looks as if the 81% will not be going away anytime soon.

Ron Sider Endorses Hillary Clinton

siderI must have missed this when it was first published at Christianity Today last month. (Thanks to David Swartz for bringing it to my attention in the piece I blogged about last night).

Ronald Sider, perhaps the most well-known representative of the evangelical left, has endorsed Hillary Clinton president.  This is Sider’s first public endorsement of a candidate since he endorsed George McGovern in 1972.

Here is a taste of his endorsement:

So what about Clinton?

I have major disagreements with her. She and the Democratic platform are wrong on abortion—period. And I disagree with Clinton on gay marriage.

Further, I fear that Clinton will not retain the longstanding right (protected by Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama) of faith-based organizations that receive government funding to hire on the basis of their beliefs. She is too close to Wall Street billionaires and made a serious mistake using private email servers as Secretary of State.

But there is also much to like about Clinton. She has a decades-long history of working hard for racial and economic justice. One of her earliest jobs was working as a lawyer at the black-led Children’s Defense Fund to improve the lives of poor children. At a time when racial injustice and mistrust threaten to tear the nation apart, her experience and trust in minority communities is invaluable.

Clinton realizes that lower-income Americans have lost ground in the past 30 years, and has advocated concrete policies to alleviate the growing divide between rich and poor. Her $350 billion college affordability program would help lower-income students afford higher education. Raising the minimum wage to $12 and tax cuts (15%) for companies that share profits with workers would help. According to officials at One Sure Insurance, her proposed expansion of health insurance to cover all Americans is surely pro-life.

Clinton has a realistic and just way to pay for these programs. The middle class would get a modest tax cut, while those with annual incomes over $5 million would have a 4-percent tax increase. She has promised to close tax loopholes that allow corporations to avoid their fair share of taxes. Warren Buffett supports Clinton, saying she would help poor working Americans. The independent, bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget says Clinton’s plan would not add significantly to the national debt.

Read the entire endorsement, including Sider’s thoughts about Donald Trump, here.

Pro-Life Family Physician: Trump Is Not Our Man

Hillary_Obama

Matthew Loftus is a family doctor who works at hospital for women and children in South Sudan.  He is pro-life and believes that Donald Trump will do more to harm the pro-life movement than Hillary Clinton.

Here is a piece he published today at the conservative The Federalist:

If Hillary Clinton is taking shots at the culture of life from the outside, Donald Trump is a rot poisoning us from the inside. Any time he has spoken about abortion (which is not often, indicating how unimportant the cause is to him), he has only managed to embarrass the pro-life cause by associating himself with it. Some have suggested that Trump will be held in check or redirected by the “good people” he has surrounded himself with. But he has only managed to corrupt and debase those associated with him. He talks about “the evangelicals” like a pimp who owns them. In turn, far too many pro-lifers have acted like the Biblical character of Oholibah, who prostituted herself to pagan political powers in exchange for protection.

The most pro-life argument for Donald Trump revolves around his promise to appoint conservative Supreme Court justices, who would at some point find some way to overturn Roe v. Wade. But in the words of Leon Wolf, “If you believe that Trump has actual pro-life principles or that he will honor any sort of pledge to only appoint pro-life justices, then you have to be one of the most monumental suckers who has ever lived.” Trump’s promises to the pro-life movement are as worthless as a Trump University degree or one of his previous marriage contracts. There is simply no pro-life case for Trump.

But even in the best-case scenario, where Trump does win and does appoint a Supreme Court justice or two that’s favorable to the pro-life cause, his foolish antics will undoubtedly punish down-ballot Republicans in the next few election cycles (assuming that they aren’t battered hard enough this November). With Trump as the de facto standard bearer for the pro-life movement, any anti-abortion measures will have to overcome the gravitational force of his sleaziness to get anywhere. Despite claims that Trump would be a life preserver for the pro-life movement, he is a millstone around our neck. The only way to survive is to let go and keep swimming.

Read the entire piece here.

Perhaps Conservative Evangelicals Need to Consider What it Means to be Pro-Life

abortion

Timothy Gloege is a historian based in Grand Rapids, Michigan and the author of Guaranteed Pure: The Moody Bible Institute, Business and the Making of Modern Evangelicalism.  You may recall that Gloege made a visit to the Author’s Corner back in June 2015.

Over at The Twelve, a blog dedicated to Reformed thinking about the world, Gloege challenges conservative evangelicals to rethink what it means to be “pro-life” when it comes to the issue of abortion.

Here is a taste:

So, here’s my question, and I want you to answer it honestly. What matters more to you: making abortion illegal or reducing the number of procedures that occur each year?

Or let me put it another way. Which is the better society: one in which abortions are illegal and punished when they occur (because they will), or one in which the surgical procedure is legal, but largely unnecessary?

This is more than a rhetorical question. We already know how to decrease the abortion rate: make contraception easy to access. This is low-hanging fruit folks; other fellow pro-life evangelicals have pointed it out.

But there’s another thing we could try. Several studies have noted that the majority of women seeking abortions earn less than the poverty level (that’s about $16,000 annually for a family of two). In fact, while the abortion rate has dropped at other income levels, it has increased among those in poverty.

Correlation may not equal causation, but poverty reduction is a pro-life strategy worth exploring. So why aren’t pro-life advocates the loudest, fiercest advocates for anti-poverty programs in America?

We could easily go further. Why not advocate for a basic income (something arch-conservative economist Milton Freedman suggested years ago)? And throw in a few condoms. It’s a pro-life platform for the masses!

Seriously, why not? What are the risks?

Are we afraid anti-poverty programs will create dependent people? Afraid it will be too expensive? Afraid free birth control will lead to increased sexual activity outside of a committed relationship? We can argue about all that if you want. But let’s hold off.

Just remember: we are talking about reducing abortions. And abortion, you regularly tell me, is no different from murdering innocent children.

Think about that for a second.

Now tell me: do you really believe what you say? If so, isn’t preventing a holocaust worth a compromise in social or economic policy? Shouldn’t we be willing to pay any price?

Read the entire post here.

 

Tea Party Conservative Evangelical Changes His Mind on Guns

Rev. Rob Schenk is a pro-life, evangelical, Tea Party activist who is fighting for life in a way not usually associated with the people who make up his church constituency.  Here is a taste of Sarah Pulliam Bailey’s The Washington Post article on Schenk. 

 Following the excerpt is a trailer for “The Armor of Light,” a documentary about his quest to stop gun violence in America.

Schenck, who believes that most Christians should not own a firearm for defense purposes, is trying to encourage Christians towards becoming more visible in the gun use debate.
“Pastors and the church as a whole should be speaking very loudly into legislation on guns, especially on the state level,” he said. “Our voices are conspicuously absent from the discussion and the debate.”
Directed by Abigail Disney (the grandniece of Walt Disney), the “Armor of Light” film opens showing Schenck, a longtime antiabortion activist, carrying a dead fetus during protests in 1992.
“In my community we talk about the value of every human life. Usually that’s in the context of abortion,” he says in the film. “And if we believe life begins at conception there’s a whole lot of life beyond conception until natural death.”
Schenck was the original founder of D.C.’s multi-site National Community Church in 1994, but now he spends most of his time on Capitol Hill or in churches around the country. He leads a group called Faith and Action, saying that his natural constituency would be conservative, those who have Republican or Tea Party affinities.
Since the film’s premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in April, Schenck has been preaching at churches across the country about gun violence.
Schenck said that his organization has lost significant financial support over his activism. According to Faith and Action’s most recent financial statements from 2013, the organization receives about $1.9 million in contributions and grants, and Schenck’s salary that year was $168,333.
“There are some things worth the cost, so I’ve come to the conclusion that this is one,” he told an audience at the AFI DOCS film festival in Washington in June

//www.washingtonpost.com/video/c/embed/7bb90136-6b7d-11e5-91eb-27ad15c2b723

Defenders of the Unborn

I saw a mention of this book on Paul Putz’s twitter feed.  Daniel K. Williams, the author of God’s Own Party: The Making of the Christian Right, is going to get a lot of attention when this book appears in December 2015.

A description from the Oxford University Press website:

On April 16, 1972, ten thousand people gathered in Central Park to protest New York’s liberal abortion law. Emotions ran high, reflecting the nation’s extreme polarization over abortion. Yet the divisions did not fall neatly along partisan or religious lines-the assembled protesters were far from a bunch of fire-breathing culture warriors. In Defenders of the Unborn, Daniel K. Williams reveals the hidden history of the pro-life movement in America, showing that a cause that many see as reactionary and anti-feminist began as a liberal crusade for human rights. 

For decades, the media portrayed the pro-life movement as a Catholic cause, but by the time of the Central Park rally, that stereotype was already hopelessly outdated. The kinds of people in attendance at pro-life rallies ranged from white Protestant physicians, to young mothers, to African American Democratic legislators-even the occasional member of Planned Parenthood. One of New York City’s most vocal pro-life advocates was a liberal Lutheran minister who was best known for his civil rights activism and his protests against the Vietnam War. The language with which pro-lifers championed their cause was not that of conservative Catholic theology, infused with attacks on contraception and women’s sexual freedom. Rather, they saw themselves as civil rights crusaders, defending the inalienable right to life of a defenseless minority: the unborn fetus. It was because of this grounding in human rights, Williams argues, that the right-to-life movement gained such momentum in the early 1960s. Indeed, pro-lifers were winning the battle before Roe v. Wade changed the course of history.

Through a deep investigation of previously untapped archives, Williams presents the untold story of New Deal-era liberals who forged alliances with a diverse array of activists, Republican and Democrat alike, to fight for what they saw as a human rights cause. Provocative and insightful, Defenders of the Unborn is a must-read for anyone who craves a deeper understanding of a highly-charged issue.