Roe v. wade
Lost amid the ongoing furor over President Trump’s travel ban, and the ecstasy (and agony) over his first pick for the Supreme Court, was another move on Jan. 31 that is starting to give social conservatives pause: Trump’s continuance of the executive order by President Obama’s policy that protects gay and transgender employees from discrimination while working for federal contractors.
And not only did Trump extend the protections, but he did so in powerful language that used the community’s own “LGBTQ” identifier, while vowing that Trump would be “respectful and supportive of LGBTQ rights.”
For much of its long history in the U.S., the Catholic Church was known as the champion of the working class, a community of immigrants whose leaders were steadfast in support of organized labor and economic justice – a faith-based agenda that helped provide a path to success for its largely working-class flock.
In recent decades, as those ethnic European Catholics assimilated and grew wealthier, and as the concerns of the American hierarchy shifted to battles over moral issues, such as abortion and gay marriage, traditional pocketbook issues took a back seat.
As a Christian who truly believes that abortion is a moral issue, I am deeply committed to dramatically reducing them. But criminalizing an often desperate choice is not the answer. We must also be deeply committed to the economic security, healthcare, and childcare choices that women need, which are critical to reducing abortion. I believe in the sacredness and dignity of life from womb to tomb. But a “consistent ethic of life” also ending poverty, human trafficking, the death penalty, ceaseless and senseless wars, and weapons of mass destruction.
Nearly a quarter-century after its last major ruling on abortion created a fragile balance between women’s rights and government restrictions, the Supreme Court appears ready for a rematch.
And like the last time, the debate would unfold in the midst of a presidential election.
The first act could play out as early as Nov. 13, when the justices may decide whether to hear a challenge to tough new limits placed on abortion clinics and doctors in Texas. The restrictions — forcing doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and requiring clinics to measure up to outpatient surgery centers — threaten to leave the state with just 10 clinics clustered in four population centers and along the Mexican border.
Abortion politics are never very far beneath the surface in American life, but every year around the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision, handed down Jan. 22, 1973, they take center stage.
The annual March for Life on Jan. 22 will draw more than 100,000 demonstrators to Washington. Religious conservatives will march in protest, firm in their belief that abortion should not only be considered a sin, but also a crime.
And religious liberals, though often skeptical about the morality of abortion, will affirm their belief that a decision to end a pregnancy should be left solely to a woman, her doctors, and her conscience.
In the years after Roe v. Wade, most evangelicals came alongside the Roman Catholic Church to oppose legal abortion. Mainline Protestants, at least among denominational elites, strongly advocated for abortion rights, even though mainline clergy are evenly divided on the legality of abortion and do not talk about it much.
But while conservative religious activists at the March for Life and progressive religious leaders supporting the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice do speak for a subset of the people they purport to represent, the absolutism of polarized activist elites betrays the more ambivalent views of rank-and-file Americans.
Arriving home from school on Jan. 22, 1973, Mary Wissink noticed her mother was unusually animated.
The dining room table was pulled away from the wall for a festive meal. The linens were ironed. The smell of turkey, dressing, and sweet potatoes wafted through the house. Mom was polishing the silver.
Wissink, then a sophomore in high school, realized her mother had come home from work early to prepare a feast.
“Mary,” her mom said, “today you have the right to your own body.”
It was the day the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the legality of a woman’s right to an abortion. Wissink and her family have been celebrating Roe v. Wade anniversaries ever since.
Evangelicals haven't always been part of the pro-life coalition. Prior to Roe v. Wade in 1973, the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution supporting abortion in certain circumstances. After Roe allowed any abortion for any reason, evangelicals began to change their stance and with Catholics formed the pro-life coalition we know today. The Washington Post reports:
The reality of abortion on demand and exposure to the logic of the abortion rights movement led to a fundamental shift in the evangelical conscience. By 1976 the Southern Baptist Convention would declare every abortion to be a “decision to terminate the life of an innocent human being.” Similarly, the large evangelical movement would develop an overwhelming pro-life consensus, seeing abortion as a great moral evil and a threat to the dignity of all human life.
In the past four decades, American attitudes have changed markedly on gay marriage, smoking, bullying, and a host of other cultural issues.
But on Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion, public opinion today looks much as it did back then.
When it comes to American views on the legality of abortion, “the trend lines look about as flat as they can be,” said Daniel Cox, research director at the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute.
Just a few years after the justices decided Roe, Gallup pollsters began asking Americans about abortion. In 1975, 54 percent said it should be legal only under certain circumstances; last year, that figure was virtually unchanged, at 52 percent.
And the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life this month found that 63 percent of Americans don’t want Roe overturned, a mere 3-percentage-point increase from 1992.
In more recent years, opinions on the morality of abortion have remained similarly stable, with about half of Americans (47 percent) calling it “morally wrong” and four in 10 considering it “morally acceptable” or “not a moral issue,” according to Pew.
This is a memorable week: on Monday the inauguration of President Obama on the holiday honoring Martin Luther King, Jr., and today, the 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision by the Supreme Court. Some people will celebrate all three with thanksgiving. Others will find nothing to celebrate – especially the decision of January 22, 1973 that struck down state laws banning abortion.
Another Inaugural Address
On Sunday, there will be another inaugural address – this one by Jesus at the beginning of his ministry (Luke 4: 14-21). After 40 days in the wilderness facing the devil, Jesus returned to his hometown of Nazareth and went to the synagogue. He took his place at the reading desk and someone handed him the scroll of Isaiah. The text says he “found the place where it was written.” Jesus read the text, handed the scroll back to the attendant and sat down. Everyone was looking at him – all those hometown folks who knew him as a child. Then Jesus said, “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” That must have been a shock because the Isaiah text Jesus read proclaims more than anyone could see: good news to the poor, release to the captive, recovery of sight to the blind, freedom for the oppressed – and the year of the Lord’s favor. The hometown folks would have recognized the year of Jubilee when debts would be cancelled, slaves set free and the land allowed to rest. Jesus was making a very big claim!
How shall we interpret what Jesus said in light of our deep divisions over abortion? Is the fetus in the womb oppressed or is the pregnant woman denied choices oppressed? Is the woman captive to laws that restrict her access not only to abortion but to contraceptives? Or is the fetus a captive threatened with death? We have grown so accustomed to shouting slogans at one another that it has become almost impossible to have faithful conversations across our differences.
Four decades after Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion, many opponents of the decision are in a celebratory mood while those backing abortion rights are glum, feeling that momentum is turning decisively against them.
Yet in reality, little has changed in the fiercest and most protracted battle of the nation’s bitter culture war.
Instead, what’s really going on is a case study in the psychology of movement politics, where activists have to rally supporters with cries of alarm without making them despair that all is lost. At the same time, they must offer evidence that their efforts are paying off without leaving them complacent.
It’s a difficult balancing act, and lately the abortion rights camp has been the one to sound the warnings.
Nellie Gray, the longtime leader of the annual March for Life, which protests the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion, has died at age 88.
The March for Life website said on Tuesday that Gray died “over the weekend.”
“Until the very last moment of her life, Nellie pressed for unity in the prolife movement,” the website states. “She firmly believed that not a single preborn life should be sacrificed for any reason.”
The Rev. Frank Pavone, a high-profile anti-abortion activist and national director of Priests for Life, has been a march participant since 1976.
“Every year since 1974, Nellie Gray has mobilized a diverse and energetic army for life,” he said. “Her own commitment to the cause never wavered. She was a tireless warrior for the unborn and her motto was 'no exceptions.’”
Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” radically reinterpreted the Declaration of Independence.
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech riffed on Lincoln’s lofty language.
And Ronald Reagan drafted King’s dream of a country where character outweighs color into an argument against affirmative action.
There are certain speeches, songs, books, letters, laws, and axioms that Americans appreciate enough to argue about, says religion scholar Stephen Prothero.
Like the Declaration of Independence, this almost consecrated canon inspires endless commentary about what it means to be American — and what “America” means.