Why are men so involved in what women do with their bodies?
With the nomination by President Donald J. Trumps of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, the question of abortion once again comes to the forefront. Will she reverse Roe v. Wade? Will she make significant changes?
We need to understand that infanticide and abortion have always been around. The first biblical example we have is in the Book of Exodus 1:15-22. Here, Pharaoh instructs the midwives to kill all the Hebrew boys. The midwives feared God and tell Pharaoh an excuse as to why this is not happening.
We seem to forget how bad it was before Roe v. Wade, with illegal abortions taking place in back street clinics or at the hands of a so-called midwife using unsafe practices or strange potions. According to the Guttmacher Institute, in those countries where abortion is still illegal, botched abortions account for eight to eleven percent of all maternal deaths, about 30,000.[i]
Abortion issues were never really a concern of the evangelical church. Almost all the anti-abortion activism came out of the Catholic Church. In 1971, delegates to the Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis, Missouri, passed a resolution encouraging “Southern Baptists to work for legislation that will allow the possibility of abortion under such conditions as rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother.” The convention, hardly a redoubt of liberal values, reaffirmed that position in 1974, one year after Roe, and again in 1976.[ii]
After the Roe decision, W. A. Criswell, the Southern Baptist Convention’s former president and pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas—also one of the most famous fundamentalists of the 20th century—was pleased: “I have always felt that it was only after a child was born and had a life separate from its mother that it became an individual person,” he said, “and it has always, therefore, seemed to me that what is best for the mother and for the future should be allowed.”[iii]
Race, Manipulation, and Control.
Without a doubt, the evangelical church in the United States was predominately white, privileged, and racist. Fear of the Black community had been a uniting force in the white church. With the advent of the Civil Rights Act of 1963 and the desegregation of schools in Brown v. Board of Education, churches closed ranks, white parents refusing to send their children to mixed-race public schools, many churches opened their own schools, thus excluding minorities.
The final blow came when in 1983, in the IRS v. Bob Jones University, the university lost its tax-exempt status because of its segregation policies.[iv] Private Christian schools also came under scrutiny.
The conservative movement saw itself losing the battle. It was not until Paul Weyrich, a religious conservative political activist and co-founder of the Heritage Foundation, saw abortion as a call to action for the evangelical church. Weyrich recruited Jerry Fulwell and James Dobson, carefully wording everything in moral terms, and the fight for the unborn began.
In 1992 another case came before the Supreme Court in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey. President George H. Bush, following on from Ronald Reagan, had loaded the court with conservative justices. The president was confident that this would be an opportunity to strike down Roe v. Wade. However, in a landmark 5-4 decision, the court upheld Roe v. Wade.
So, what made the patriarchy of the evangelical church so passionate about Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey? Surprisingly, it has little to do with the unborn, and more to do with the mother. Having lost the battle for racial segregation, they now saw themselves losing control over womanhood. In Roe v. Wade, the woman, under the Fourteenth Amendment, had the right to privacy, and in the Casey case, the court gave the woman the right to choose. She no longer needed to ask the man for permission or his opinion.
Patriarchy had now lost dominance over minorities and control over women; all that was left was manipulation and misinformation, much of which has little to no foundation in the religious texts.
Will the Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade? Unlikely, due to stare decisis. Stare Decisis is a judicial precedent. The court believes that there should be stability in society and that once laws are in place, a citizen should know what the law says. However, amendments may happen.
Pro-life and pro-choice are not opposites. As a pro-life Christian, it is imperative that life is sacred from birth to the grave. The very fact that God allows us a choice is a mystery and a wonder. Decisions made are not always perfect and may have consequences, but it is a choice.