This article is part of TPM Cafe, TPM’s home for opinion and news analysis.
Roe vs. Wade lives on borrowed time. It’s only a matter of weeks, maybe even days, until the landmark 1973 ruling that legalized abortion nationwide is reversed. While most Americans support deerand many are deeply outraged by his likely demise, white evangelicals, the nation’s most anti-abortion right-wing voting bloc, celebrate as their decades-long consolidated effort to end legal abortion nationwide is about to bear fruit.
But this group wasn’t always the anti-abortion cheerleaders they became, even in the years before and immediately after. Roe vs. Wade. In the early 1970s, opposition to the legalization of abortion was mainly led by the Catholic Church, which helped fund more than half of thedeer, anti-abortion organizational efforts. Evangelical Christians largely viewed abortion as a Catholic issue, which did not interest Evangelical Americans. In fact, in 1971, the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution in favor of abortion, and that resolution was later affirmed in 1974 and 1976.
James Dobson, an evangelical leader who created the right-wing religious organization Focus on the Family, even said at the time that abortion was not even mentioned in the Bible and that an evangelical could be faithful and believe that “a developing embryo or fetus was not considered a full human being. Jerry Falwell, evangelical preacher and founder of the fundamentalist Liberty University and right-wing religious movement the Moral Majority, never preached against the abortion only in 1978, five years after deer has been decided.
It was not Roe vs. Wade it motivated Jerry Falwell to galvanize generations of American evangelicals to push for increasingly draconian restrictions on abortion. It was actually a 1970 Supreme Court decision, Green v. Kennedywhich removed the tax-exempt status of private Christian schools, created as a workaround after Brown v. Board of Education prohibits segregation, to continue a separate educational space for white families. On January 19, 1976, almost three years to the day after deer was decided, the IRS removed the tax-exempt status of Bob Jones University, a South Carolina-based evangelical college that refused to admit black students and prohibited interracial dating between students.
Falwell, prompted by Paul Weyrich, a conservative activist and co-founder of the Heritage Foundation, came to see something unique in abortion, a secret weapon that could allow the issue to serve as a means to an end. entirely different. Opposing abortion rights was the Trojan horse he and other Southern white evangelicals sought to push back against integration and reify the patriarchal power of white supremacy. What spawned the modern anti-abortion movement wasn’t even abortion — it was racism.
Today, this once fledgling movement is now poised to achieve the long-sought victory, overthrowing Roe vs. Wade. But the history and evolution of this movement has something else to teach us, something beyond abortion – it is about the fundamental worldview that this radical right-wing minority not only seeks to impose on Americans, but a worldview that in turn helped secure white people. the loyalty of conservative voters to the Republican Party as a whole for decades to come.
The religious right, of course, has become a political power, resulting in the elections of Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush and, more recently and catastrophically, Donald Trump. All of these presidents have delivered for opponents of abortion. Reagan ignored the growing crisis of harassment and violence outside abortion clinics and instituted the world’s first gag rule, ending US support for international organizations that support abortion; Bush signed into law the first voted abortion ban since deer and appointed two conservative judges to the Court; and, surpassing them all, Donald Trump – who during his campaign called for people who once had abortions to be punished. deer falls – appointed three far-right judges to the court, extended the Global Gag Rule to the family, cut planned funding and authorized the forced sterilization of immigrant women in a detention center. Now the Supreme Court justices appointed by those same presidents are the ones with the power, and they are using it to overthrow deer.
These presidents also championed racist rhetoric and helped enact racist and xenophobic policies that eroded the ground on which many civil rights gains were made. It was Reagan, after all, who coined the term “welfare queen,” a racist and sexist trope used to demonize black women who relied on welfare. Donald Trump outdid Reagan, calling Mexicans “rapists,” adopting horrific and racist immigration policies, and calling the white supremacists terrorizing Charlottesville, Virginia “very good people.”
Banning abortion is just one of many steps towards the commodification of a white supremacist patriarchal order. In order to control the nation’s demographic makeup, you must control who can spawn the nation. If women and people with wombs (especially black and brown people) can decide for themselves if, when and how to have a child, they have that ability.
Abortion was criminalized in the United States in the late 19th century largely in response to fears raised by new immigrants and recently enfranchised black people. While people had abortions before deer, most of those who were sure were white women, an obvious non-starter for racists who fear the declining white birth rate. The “great replacement theory,” a racist conspiracy theory that white people are being suppressed in America, is precisely the line of thinking racist and anti-abortion zealots espouse. Matt Schlapp, leader of the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC), recently embraced banning abortion as a response to dwindling white numbers when he said, “If you say there’s a population in a country, but you kill millions of your own people every year through legalized abortion every year, if that were to be reduced, part of that problem would be solved.
Restricting access to legal abortion and criminalizing those who seek abortion care (again, especially black and brown people) creates a state of fear and control that benefits a privileged few. It doesn’t take long to see who it is.
This is why abortion has become such a do or die issue for those on the right. It’s not about “life” or babies; it’s about controlling who becomes an American. This is about erasing the last 70 years of progress for black and brown people, for women, for queer people. It’s no wonder that during her confirmation hearing, Wendy Vitter, a Trump appointee who was confirmed as a federal district judge, refused to endorse Brown v. Board of Educationthe case at the heart of what galvanized Falwell and other evangelicals into creating the modern anti-abortion movement.
It may no longer be politically viable to assert outright support for segregation. But the policies and rhetoric that most white and evangelical voters espouse reveal a core belief in not only maintaining but also strengthening a white supremacist power structure. Seventy-eight percent of evangelicals voted for Donald Trump in 2020, and 81% view the Confederate flag as a symbol of Southern pride rather than racism. Evangelicals don’t just vote for banning abortion, but they support a host of restrictive and racist laws, like voter suppression against black and brown Americans and immigration. Support for abortion bans may seem like support for a single issue, but the effects of these bans are felt most harshly by black and brown women, the same women who have the highest maternal mortality rates in this country.
It’s clear which lives anti-abortion evangelicals care about and which they don’t.
Lauren Rankin is a writer, speaker, and author of “Bodies on the Line: At the Front Lines of the Fight to Protect Abortion in America.” Lauren is also a panelist participating in the TPM afternoondeer Abortion rights live chat event Thursday afternoon at 1:00 p.m. ET: “Roe v. Wade: What’s Next?” Register here.