Before 1979, evangelicals had little interest in stopping abortion. In fact, most felt that abortion was a “Catholic issue,” according to historian Randall Balmer. He says before, and several years after Roe v. Wade “evangelicals were overwhelmingly indifferent to the subject.” Instead, what brought them together politically is that they were more concerned with protecting segregation in their schools.
Political Strategist Paul Weyrich, and one of the founders of Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, said, “[W]hat galvanized the Christian community was not abortion, school prayer, or the ERA [Equal Rights Amendment]. I am living witness to that because I was trying to get those people interested in those issues and I utterly failed. What changed their minds was Jimmy Carter’s intervention against the Christian schools, trying to deny them tax-exempt status on the basis of so-called de facto segregation.”
As a Republican political strategist, Weyrich was searching for a way to involve evangelicals into the political system. They were a largely untapped source of voters who, at one time, believed in the separation of church and state. To get them interested in politics, Weyrich needed a cause they could get behind. At the time, racial segregation was it.
But once Falwell’s Moral Majority was formed, says author Jonathan Dudley, “its allies mobilized evangelicals to join Catholics in the fight against abortion by advancing a novel and tendentious interpretation of the Bible.” In fact, the Bible does not teach that life begins at conception.
In spite of Republican promises, abortion rights have remained mostly unchanged for over 40 years. And regardless of which party is in power, abortions have continued to decline since 1981, reaching an historic low in 2014.
More importantly, Weyrich finally found a way to bring the Republican Party into political power. By distracting millions of believers with the red herring of abortion, evangelicals have kept Republican politics – still predominately anti-human – going strong.
To keep their base happy, Republican lawmakers tangentially toss in morally tantalizing legislation, such as abstinence-only programs and the prospect of defunding Planned Parenthood. Yet, both prove to be counterproductive to the “pro-life” cause. For example, Republican-led, and federally funded, abstinence-only programs “positively correlated with teenage pregnancy and birth rates,” according to the National Institute of Health. In other words, abstinence-only legislation caused more unwanted and unplanned pregnancies among teenagers, who are then more likely to get abortions. Texas rates first in tax funded abstinence-only programs, and one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country.
The golden egg of anti-abortion Republicans is Planned Parenthood. Yet, “The vast majority of federal money that Planned Parenthood does receive goes toward preventive health care, birth control, pregnancy tests and other women's health services,” reports CNN. In fact, none of the money the agency receives from the government is allowed to be spent on abortions. It all goes towards education and medical costs associated with women’s health. Planned Parenthood overwhelmingly serves those predominately living in lower income, and underserved communities, who otherwise would not have access to healthcare, such as prenatal services for unborn babies.
If the Republicans make any changes to abortion laws now, they will do so against the will of the nation. Pew Research shows that nearly 6 in 10 citizens believe abortion should be legal, while 69% say Roe V. Wade should not be overturned.
The Republican “pro-life” movement has never been “for life.” The same people who vote to stop abortions typically vote for death penalties. The proliferation of guns, which cause thousands of unintended deaths and accidents each year, is, oddly, considered a liberal cause. “Pro-life” Republicans consistently vote against healthcare, Medicare, and social security, cut funding for mental health and veterans programs, and pour money into privatized prisons while giving tax breaks to oil companies and the rich.
Religious extremism rode into power this year on the coattails of white nationalism, xenophobia, racism, and sexism. Perhaps this is fitting for a movement that began in politics by riding on the coattails of racism and segregation in the 1960s. Now, as then, blatant bigotry escapes the notice of Christian adherents, enamored by what they believe is the will of God.
The pro-life ploy of the Republican Party keeps millions of religiously blind voters coming back to the polls to reinstate politicians that consistently work against their constituents best interest, and often against their deeply held moral values. For decades these voters have been led to believe they are voting for God. The Republican Party will do everything in their power to ensure they never find out the truth.