Abortion has been at the forefront of the Religious Right for almost 50 years — since the landmark Supreme Court decision in 1973 that recognized a woman’s freedom to abort a fetus based on the constitutional right to privacy.
That case was decided by a 7-2 majority, with five of the Republican-appointed justices voting in the majority. Since that time, Republican presidents have added another 10 justices to the Supreme Court while Democrats have added only four. Nevertheless, the court voted 5-4 this year to strike down restrictions on abortion in the state of Louisiana.
Why has the so-called “right to life” movement been unable to outlaw abortion in these United States?
In part, because abortion is a smokescreen behind which its opponents hide.
Being against abortion gives many people a way to be righteously indignant about something, enough to match the fierceness of others who fight against poverty, sexual trafficking, racial injustice and environmental degradation.
Taking a moral stand against something makes us feel good about ourselves, lifts us from the trenches of self-interest onto the battlefield for justice, and camouflages the moral failures of our own life history.
Some people vote for anti-abortion candidates and policies even if they don’t know a single person who has ever sought an abortion, even if they cannot recount a single story of a woman coming into a clinic for pregnancy help. In fact, too many voters disassociate their position on abortion from the lives and loves of the people who most need that service.
That’s not all. The anti-abortion campaign gives people a cause that demands nothing, save perhaps a few hundred dollars now and then, sent to some organization urging our support of anti-abortion candidates. It rarely calls upon people to sacrifice something, or serve somebody, or support public or private efforts to care for the children born because no abortion is available.
If the right-to-life bunch were really concerned about such realities, they would do two things which, by and large, they rarely do: distribute contraceptives to prevent unwanted pregnancies and support policies that care for newborn children.
“In one of the clearest inconsistencies of our political environment, many anti-abortion people also crusade against birth control.”
In one of the clearest inconsistencies of our political environment, many anti-abortion people also crusade against birth control and against the very services that provide pre-natal and post-natal care for babies — like the Affordable Care Act.
Just this spring, the current federal administration, so intent on stacking all the federal judiciary with those opposed to Roe v Wade, went to court trying to dismantle the entire edifice of this first-ever national provision of health insurance for the poor. That is what I mean — and it is mean!
These cynical moves, more than anything, signal that too many anti-abortion people have something else in mind, something other than the prevention of abortion and the protection of life.
That “something” flies under the anti-abortion battle flag under which they can gather all their other, less-appealing social causes. With rare exception, the anti-abortion crowd also is in lockstep on other issues: favoring capital punishment and a strong military, resisting gun regulation and environmental protection, supporting incarceration policies and showing up at public events cloaked in every kind of deadly weapon one might imagine.
“If only they were as passionate about preventing pregnancy in the first place or caring for the babies they pray so hard to be born.”
This is what I see and sense when I watch these protesters demand an end to abortion. If only they were as passionate about preventing pregnancy in the first place or caring for the babies they pray so hard to be born.
Granted: not all pro-lifers, as we call them, fit this sorry stereotype; and here I mention many Roman Catholics. I admire the consistent life ethic of their church and the extent to which they invest in social services, for both the very young and the very old. Of course, they are as dead set against contraceptives as they are abortion, and it is difficult to determine their place on the moral scales I have been using.
Nevertheless, a question: Will this conservative, Republican, right-to-life crusade ever succeed in bringing to a halt the legal practice of abortion?
I doubt it. But until then, that abortion flag will camouflage the moral contradictions of the marching crowd while it advances a much larger constellation of commitments that undermines the flourishing of the human life they seek to protect.
Dwight A. Moody is an author, minister, scholar and radio host. He lives on St. Simons Island, Ga.