National Journal is out today with a profile of the new kinder, gentler Religious Right, looking at the downfall of Richard Land’s career as a sign that the movement is turning away from aggressive culture wars and instead finding a less threatening political approach.
Reporter Tiffany Stanley interviewed Land, a former top Southern Baptist Convention official, who waxed nostalgic for the days when President Bush was in office…and especially for Bush’s commitment to nominating ultra-conservative federal judges.
“Alito and Roberts are the gifts that keep on giving, and we would have gotten neither one of those without our involvement,” Land said, predicting that Roe v. Wade will soon be “thrown onto the ash heap of history.”
The Religious Right has found great success in rallying its supporters against the menace of “activist judges” while stressing the importance of putting “strict constructionists” on the bench. Even during Mitt Romney’s failed presidential bid, many far-right activists told voters not to mind Romney’s apparent attempts to move to the center since he promised to appoint hard-line conservative judges.
The Supreme Court’s ruling this year in the Hobby Lobby case shows the Religious Right’s strong focus on the judiciary is paying off. And Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council told Stanley that conservatives will continue to use the courts as part of their strategy to keep “the barbarians at bay.”
“I love the guy!” Land says. In his office, he gets up from the conference table, goes searching for his cell phone, and pulls up a photo of W. and members of the Land family—his wife, two daughters, and son-in-law—at the Bush Library, which they visited while they were in Dallas for a wedding.
Land proved a valuable presidential ally. When Bush called for preemptive action against Saddam Hussein in Iraq, he was one of the few religious leaders to provide cover, writing a letter supporting the president’s plan with his version of just-war theory. In 2003, after Bush signed the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act into law, Land joined Falwell and other ministers in the Oval Office, where they prayed with the president. In 2004, Land launched the “I Vote Values” campaign, a mammoth get-out-the-vote operation, which distributed half a million voter guides to churches and included a cross-country tour in an 18-wheeler. According to exit polls, Bush won voters who said their top concern was “moral values” by 80 percent to 18 percent.
By his account, the alignment of religious conservatives and the GOP happened when Republicans more readily took on the antiabortion mantle: “What I’ve always said is … we’re going to be values voters, we’re going to vote our values and our beliefs and our convictions, and if that makes abortion a partisan issue, then shame on the Democrats.” He pushed for a commitment from the GOP so evangelicals would not just be another voting bloc but a constituency whose concerns were a priority. “One of my goals was to make certain that evangelicals weren’t used by the GOP in the way blacks were used by the Democratic Party,” he says.
And it’s undeniable that the alliance with George W. Bush carried benefits for evangelicals. Look no further than the Supreme Court, Land points out. “Alito and Roberts are the gifts that keep on giving, and we would have gotten neither one of those without our involvement,” he says. Land predicts that, if he lives out a natural lifespan, he will see Roe v. Wade “thrown onto the ash heap of history.”
The Hobby Lobby case is in many ways a model for the new strategy being pursued by the Religious Right. It represents a way to engage in politics that is less aggressive than the tactics of the previous generation of believers. Back then, the key phrase was “family values”; now, it is “religious liberty.” You see it everywhere—from contraception court cases to legislation to think-tank conferences.
“We’re not unrealistic,” says Perkins of the Family Research Council. “Our focus is more keeping the barbarians at bay, really.” His organization has started working more at the state level on freedom-of-expression laws. “We kind of saw that coming about three years ago and began shifting a lot of our emphasis on religious liberty.”
Today marks the 41st anniversary of the historic Roe v. Wade decision protecting every woman’s right to safe and legal abortion. Today, according to NARAL Pro-Choice America, seven in ten people support Roe v. Wade.
A poll conducted by NBC News and Wall Street Journal last year found that a record number of respondents supported a woman’s right to choose in all or most circumstances.
This support is especially important in light of the work conservative activists continue to carry out in an attempt to undermine women’s health and autonomy. As noted in our 2013 report, Chipping Away at Choice, from mandatory waiting periods to “TRAP” laws, the ability for women to access safe and legal abortions is under attack. People For the American Way will continue to work with our allies in protecting women’s right to choose.
The anti-choice movement has for several years been experiencing a quiet rift over extreme state-level measures would ban all abortions – and in some cases, in vitro fertilization and some forms of birth control – in a head-on challenge to Roe v. Wade. As Personhood USA and Janet Porter gain more and more success in pushing “personhood” and “heartbeat” bills at the state level, national pro-life groups who oppose the laws for strategic reasons find themselves in a bind.
In March, when North Dakota passed a “heartbeat” bill which would ban nearly all abortions in the state and strike directly at Roe v. Wade, it also passed two narrower measures banning abortion based on genetic abnormalities or the sex of the fetus. The national anti-choice group Concerned Women for America praised heartbeat the bill, while Americans United For Life issued press releases that ignored the bill and praised the narrower measures. National Right to Life went even further, actively speaking out against the North Dakota bill and similar “heartbeat” measures in other states.
In an article for the National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly this week, Americans United For Life’s senior counsel, William Saunders, lays out his fears of what would happen if the Supreme Court were given the opportunity to reconsider Roe v. Wade. While he praises the “admirable and inspiring” efforts behind the trio of new abortion restrictions in North Dakota, Saunders warns that a direct challenge to Roe will give the Supreme Court a chance to rewrite their 1973 decision on more solid “equal protection” footing.
Instead, he argues, anti-choice activists should target incremental measures at wearing away the opposition of Justice Anthony Kennedy, who voted to uphold the so-called “partial birth” abortion ban in Gonzales v. Carhart. “Can the statute be fashioned so as to make it as easy as possible for him (and the others) to go the one step (or two or ten) further than Gonzales in restricting abortion?,” he asks.
Taken together, these three laws provide significant food for thought.
While the persistent efforts of pro-life Americans at the state level are admirable and inspiring and must be encouraged, how does one evaluate the wisdom of any particular proposed (or enacted) law? First, I suggest, one must recognize the legal realities—what kinds of statutes will the courts certainly overturn? Of course, this is not to say that the courts should govern this matter. In fact, the usurpation of the political process by courts is, in my view, unconstitutional itself and should be resisted. However, if we know a law will be overturned by a court, we should consider the risk of such a decision. At least one significant risk is that the Supreme Court, in overturning a law, will entrench “abortion rights” more firmly in constitutional jurisprudence, perhaps under an “equal-protection”-based right, as Justice Ginsburg and three colleagues wanted to do in the Gonzales dissent.
Sad as it is to consider, Gonzales was decided by only one vote, that of Justice Anthony Kennedy. The opinion he wrote for the majority, while speaking of the right of the legislature to choose among divided experts in fashioning law and while recognizing that abortion harms at least some women, did no more than uphold the outlawing of one abortion procedure when others were available. Is such a person likely to uphold a ban on all abortions at any point in pregnancy? If so, what rationale for doing so (what basis) is likely to appeal to him? Can the statute be fashioned so as to make it as easy as possible for him (and the others) to go the one step (or two or ten) further than Gonzales in restricting abortion? Might a statute with a ban (or limit) early in pregnancy lead him to “protect” the “abortion right” and vote with Ginsburg and her colleagues in favor of a firm affirmation of a “constitutional” right to abortion? Is it better to move the ball gently, seeking to build momentum for the ultimate reversal of Roe/Doe, or to force the issue with a broad and early ban? While reasonable people can differ on the answers to these questions, the consequences of a possible forty more years of unlimited abortion due to another Casey-like decision by the Supreme Court counsels for very careful consideration of what prudence requires.
"I am my mother's child. The one she told one day many years ago, as I laid on a hospital table that, 'God did not intend for your life to be like mine!' The forms had been signed, we were in agreement and I was tearfully rolled into the very cold, unfriendly operating room.
"It was 1974, one year after the landmark decision Roe v. Wade legalized abortion. I was fourteen and my mother was twenty-eight, on welfare with five other children. Fourteen at the time of my birth, she was what we now call 'an unwed teen mother.' On this day, at that moment, the decision was not about legislation or white men in suits far away. It was not about the doctor, the nurse, or the technicians. It was just the two of us and God."
I wrote those words, published in In Motion magazine, 15 years ago. I had at that point devoted more than a decade to working with the black church to fight for reproductive rights in my home state of Louisiana and in Washington, making sure that girls and women like me have not only reproductive choice, but reproductive justice -- the choice to determine our own futures and the justice that comes from a system that respects us as human beings with equal dignity and equal rights.
Today, on the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, and after 15 more years of fighting and praying, I see many reasons to celebrate. I am grateful for those who continue to fight for women's rights in the halls in Congress and in front of clinics; to the doctors and medical staff who risk their own safety to care for women in need; to the women who must shut out the noise of politics to make the most personal of decisions; and to the family and friends who stand behind them. Behind an issue that inspires so much venom and shouting, it's easy to forget that there are countless men and women who are quietly fighting for justice on a small, personal scale.
But on the national scale we see a very different picture. In 2012, state legislatures passed 92 laws restricting reproductive justice and many more followed in 2012. Republican presidential candidates and their allies in Congress went after women's right to birth control, claiming that an employer should decide whether a woman's health care covers her contraceptive care. Prominent figures on the right dismissed the wrenching circumstances of women who become pregnant by rape, claiming it wasn't possible or that some rapes are more "legitimate" than others. While so many Americans grappled with their own and their loved ones' decisions with decency and grace, our politicians experienced a crisis of empathy and a deficit of facts.
Particularly galling is the campaign by some far-right groups to promote the idea that legal abortion is a "genocide" of African Americans. This campaign seeks to paint black women as passive victims rather than as fully realized human beings facing real, tough choices. In the process, it has helped to make the political debate about reproductive rights even more about caricatures of women and less about real women.
Polling consistently shows that Americans' personal views of reproductive rights are not always the same as their political views. A recent poll by Planned Parenthood found that 23 percent thought abortion was "morally acceptable" and 40 percent said it "depends on the situation." That "depends" is important -- as has been the case with the LGBT rights, civil rights, paycheck fairness and gun violence prevention movements, sometimes strongly held political opinions must bend when they run up against the real experiences of a real person.
I celebrate 1974 and the start of my "pro-choice, pro-faith" journey. I have hope for the future of reproductive rights. Roe v. Wade still holds in the courts. And last year, as attacks on reproductive rights reached a fever pitch, women across the country rose up with their votes. Women didn't ask our politicians to make the personal political. But we must continue to fight back by making the political personal. This is about choice and it's about justice -- for every woman, no matter her story.
What do you do to win over abortion rights supporters if you've spent your whole presidential campaign telling right-wing activists you're anti-choice? For Mitt Romney, the answer is simple: lie!
First there was the TV ad assuring women that under a Romney administration, they would have nothing to worry about. Then Romney told the Des Moines Register that no anti-choice legislation "would become part of my agenda." Then the right-wing Concerned Women for America -- one of the staunchest opponents of abortion rights out there -- backed him up with an ad saying that Romney could do nothing to overturn Roe v. Wade.
The main problem being, of course, that Romney's official position, which is on his website and which he has stated on video, is that he intends to appoint Supreme Court justices who will overturn Roe v. Wade, in effect criminalizing abortion in as much as half the country. The next president will likely get the opportunity to nominate at least one Supreme Court justice. If that president is Romney, the movement to overturn Roe will likely gain a majority on the Court.
But apparently the Romney camp thinks that just lying about Roe v. Wade is still the right way to go. Former Sen. Norm Coleman, who is campaigning for Romney in Ohio, told a group of voters yesterday that Romney would have no power to eliminate abortion rights through the Supreme Court:
“President Bush was president eight years, Roe v. Wade wasn’t reversed. He had two Supreme Court picks, Roe v. Wade wasn’t reversed,” former Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN) told a Republican Jewish Coalition meeting in Beechwood, Ohio. “It’s not going to be reversed.”
If Coleman were to do some simple counting, he would realize that Bush did not have the opportunity to put an anti-Roe majority on the Court. His appointments of Samuel Alito and John Roberts only got the Right very, very close to that long-held goal. Mitt Romney would unquestionably and deliberately put them over the edge.
But of course, Coleman knows that. And so does Romney. They're just hoping that they can tell anti-choice activists one thing and abortion rights supporters another, and somehow get away with it.
People For the American Way has been stressing the enormous importance of the Supreme Court in the next election, emphasizing that if Mitt Romney is elected, he has promised to nominate extreme right-wing judges who will limit our civil liberties and rescind equality measures. In a new ad, Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren echoes these concerns, warning that a Senate dominated by Republicans has the potential to approve a justice that would help overturn Roe v. Wade. Warren’s opponent Scott Brown has already voiced his support for Justice Antonin Scalia, naming the ultra-conservative judge as his favorite on the Supreme Court. We cannot afford to elect candidates like Mitt Romney or Scott Brown, who are sure to nominate and confirm justices that will take us back in time and turn back the progress we have made on behalf of women’s rights, worker’s rights, voting rights, and more.
Concerned Women for America is trying out a novel strategy in its fight to draw women to support Mitt Romney this November: denying that the next president can do anything to eliminate abortion rights. In a new TV ad, CWA counters a MoveOn.org ad featuring female celebrities talking about the issue of reproductive rights in the presidential election. In the CWA ad, women derisively call the MoveOn.org supporters “Hollywood women” and mock the contention that a President Mitt Romney would “overturn Roe v. Wade.”
“Have they ever heard of the separation of powers?” asks one Concerned Woman.
Maybe it’s CWA that needs the civics lesson. Mitt Romney has repeatedly stated that he would choose Supreme Court justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade. It even says so on his website. With as many as three Justices possibly retiring in the next four years, Romney might very well have the opportunity to shape a court that would take away the right to choose.
Which, of course, is what CWA has been working toward since its founding. A petition on CWA’s website calls for signers to support “any and all legislative efforts to overturn Roe v. Wade” and “support pro-life nominees to the courts.” A pamphlet the group distributed shortly before President Obama's inauguration said anti-choice advocates should work to "pass limits on abortion and appoint judges who will overturn Roe." And here’s the CWA’s blog discussing an Alabama Supreme Court ruling in February that challenged Roe.
This ruling has major implications for the pro-life movement. First, it clearly mirrors the growing sentiments of a majority of Americans who are pro-life, especially our younger generation. Second, Alabama has set a clear precedent that more states are expected to emulate. Finally, as state laws continue to represent Americans’ growing pro-life attitude, the U.S. Supreme Court will be called upon to reconsider and, ultimately, repeal Roe.
Unveiling the deception of Roe shouldn’t be a difficult task. Mario Diaz, Esq., Legal Counsel for Concerned Women for America, explains, “Legally speaking, Roe v. Wade is simply indefensible. It rests on the false premise that the ‘fetus’ is not a ‘person’ because the Justices say so. The scientific bases for that claim simply were not there in 1973, and they are not there now. In fact, JusticeBlackmun acknowledged that ‘[i]f this suggestion of personhood is established, [Roe's] case, of course, collapses, for the fetus’ right to life would then be guaranteed specifically by the [Fourteenth] Amendment.’ Advances in science have been proving just that: we are dealing with a baby, not a blob of tissue as some conveniently tried to tell us. This decision by the Alabama Supreme Court is another indication that Roe‘s house of cards is slowly tumbling down.”
Pro-life conservatives can only hope that the Supreme Court revisits the abortion question sooner rather than later. With a few more decisions like the one in Alabama, we may just hold the legal trump card when that time comes.
On Wednesday’s Family Talk, James Dobson hosted Lou Engle and other anti-choice activists to discuss an upcoming prayer rally, The Esther Call, Engle is organizing to pray for the reversal of Roe v. Wade. Dobson started the program by calling the day Roe v. Wade was decided possibly the “the most tragic day in world history”:
Dobson: There’s certainly debate over what is the darkest day in the United States’ history although I would think September 11th, 2001, perhaps would rank near the top or the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941, they are certainly contenders. Both are tragic and horrific moments in US history without a doubt but I would put forward another date for consideration to our listeners and that is January 22nd, 1973. That’s not only a tragic day in American history but may be the most tragic day in world history. I don’t think there’s been anything like it; 54 million babies have been murdered since that day in the United States when abortion became legal after the Roe v. Wade decision was handed down by the United States Supreme Court.
Later in the show, Dobson and Engle reminisced about their work on The Call rally in San Diego, California, to push for the passage of Proposition 8, and Dobson warned that America is “sliding into moral chaos.”
Dobson: Lou, you and I have worked together on occasions, primarily in San Diego when Proposition 8 was being considered.
Engle: It was great to have you there. The reason we hold these solemn assemblies is because it’s such a crisis and in the scriptures in those times of crisis He calls people to gather and to fast and pray and repent as the prescription for a returning. And so The Esther Call as Ann Quest talked about is an all-women’s gathering to fast and pray like Esther did to turn Haman’s decree, and now with abortion we need heaven’s help so Esther is going to appeal to the supreme court of heaven to believe that the supreme courts of Earth can change when we appeal to heaven. Dobson: Do you agree Lou that this year is absolutely critical to the future of this country?
Engle: No question about it.
Dobson: We’re sliding into moral chaos.