AFTER JUSTICE ANTHONY KENNEDY announced his retirement from the Supreme Court, I was gripped with grief for my nieces, nephews, and their children and for the unborn. Why? Because as an African-American evangelical woman, I knew that a more firmly conservative Supreme Court would likely continue to roll back civil rights protections, making African Americans and other people of color more vulnerable, physically and economically.
At the same time, even though ending abortion has been proclaimed as a key goal by the conservative movement, their strategy to do so is poised to fail because it ignores the link between poverty and abortion in our country, both of which are also affected by access to equal rights and opportunity for all. And, truth be told, because ending abortion was never their real goal.
Conservatives have argued that to reduce or end abortion in the United States, the country must outlaw it. The strategy has been to tip the balance of the Supreme Court so that politically conservative judges are the majority. When in power, so the plan goes, conservative justices will overturn the 1973 landmark case Roe v. Wade and the U.S. will outlaw and therefore be rid of abortion. But that strategy was crafted by conservatives intent on exploiting differences of belief in U.S. society regarding “hot-button” issues—including abortion, guns, separation of church and state, LGBTQ+ rights, and censorship—to achieve po-litical goals much broader than ethical concern about abortion.
As Randall Balmer explains in his seminal analysis of the Religious Right, Thy Kingdom Come, early 1980s evangelical leaders such as Pat Robertson and Jim Bakker, in partnership with political strategists including Paul Weyrich, aimed to leverage evangelical faith communities to build the conservative political movement, with the goal of pushing back against the gains of the civil rights era through a weakened federal government, few taxes (at least for the better off), and an expansive military. After a failed attempt to prohibit interracial marriage and protect segregation in the case of Bob Jones University v. United States, they shifted tactics. They turned their attention to abortion.
From ‘war on poverty’ to ‘war on drugs’
Something else shifted in the 1970s and ’80s. President Richard Nixon declared a so-called war on drugs in 1971 and trans-ferred resources from President Johnson’s “war on poverty” to federal drug control agencies. In 2016, Dan Baum wrote in Harper’s about a 1994 interview he did with top Nixon aide John Ehrlichman in which Ehrlichman confessed that the policy was not really about containing drugs. It was aimed at undercutting Nixon’s key “enemies,” African-American people and anti-Vietnam War protesters.
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