Abortion is back in the news. The Republicans are turning to their old standby -- "life issues" -- once again. It has worked for them before. It may again.
The 1970s Evangelical antiabortion movement that my father -- evangelical leader Francis Schaeffer -- Dr. C. Everett Koop (who would become Ronald Reagan's surgeon general) and I helped create seduced the Republican Party. By the early 1980s the Republicans were laboring under the weight of a single-issue religious test for heresy: abortion.
I was there -- and/or Dad or Koop was -- participating in various meetings with Congressman Jack Kemp, Presidents Ford, Reagan, and Bush, Sr., when the unholy marriage between the Republican Party and th Evangelical-infected "pro-life" community was gradually consummated. Dad and I -- as did many other Evangelical leaders like Jerry Falwell -- met one on one or in groups with key members of the Republican leadership quite regularly to develop a "pro-life strategy" for rolling back Roe v. Wade.
And that strategy was simple:
Republican leaders would affirm their antiabortion commitment to Evangelicals, and in turn we'd vote for them -- by the tens of millions. To help matters along, I organized the 1984 publication of President Ronald Reagan's antiabortion book with Evangelical Bible publisher Thomas Nelson. Reagan's book had first appeared as an essay in the Human Life Review (Spring 1983). I was friends with Human Life Review founder and editor: the brilliant Roman Catholic antiabortion crusader Jim McFadden. He and I cooked up the presidential project over the phone.
The president's book expressed his antiabortion "views" as ghostwritten by McFadden in order to cement the Reagan "deal" with the antiabortion movement. We called the book Abortion and the Conscience of the Nation. I suggested to Reagan's people that two Schaeffer family friends -- C. Everett Koop and Malcolm Muggeridge (a famous British writer/social critic and convert from far left politics to rabid far right Roman Catholicism with whom my father once led a huge anti-abortion demonstration in Hyde Park, London) -- provide us with afterwords to "bulk out" an other wise too brief book, which they did within a week or two after I called them.
Once they were "on board," Republican leaders like Senator Jesse Helms and Congressmen Jack Kemp and Henry Hyde (to name but three whom I met with often, in Jack's case in his home, where I stayed as a guest) worked closely with my father and me, and we (along with a lot of other religious leaders) began to deliver large blocs of voters. We even managed "our" voters for the Republican Party by incessantly reminding our followers of "the issue" through newsletters, TV, and radio broadcasts. For instance,
No one seemed to notice (or mind) that the Republicans weren't really doing anything about abortion other than talking about it to voters. And by the mid- to late 1980s the cause shifted: We Evangelicals paid lip-service to "stopping abortion," but the real issue was keeping Republicans in power and keeping Evangelical leaders in the ego-stroking loop of having access to power.
I was wrong when I was an antiabortion activist.
I changed my mind.
Today, I am pro-choice.
Today, I'm decidedly not pro-abortion.
I think abortion must be legal because women have a need to determine their individual futures, because many women find themselves pregnant without the support of a loving community and in horrible circumstances, because women have been picked on and kicked around throughout history as a result of religious beliefs related to "family values" that turn out to be anything but. I believe all this because of my aesthetic empathy for the women in my life, the women I love spanning a generational arc from my mother to my granddaughters.
The Republicans and Abortion
If the Republicans had wanted to prevent abortions, they would have...
- ...funded a thorough and mandatory sex education initiative from the earliest grades in all schools and combined it with the distribution of free contraceptives in all high schools, public and private (religious schools included)
- legislated generous family leave for both mothers and fathers
- provided federally funded day care as a national priority
- expanded adoption services, including encouraging gay parents to adopt children, and they would have encouraged gay couples to marry and adopt
- provided a generous tax incentive to have children and direct financial assistance and educational opportunities for all families, including single parents
- raised taxes to pay for these programs
- never equated stem cell research with abortion, much less with murder, thereby making the antiabortion position patently ridiculous...
Above all, they would have addressed the injustice of the growing gap between the superrich and everyone else and fought to raise the living standards of poor people. (Forty percent of women seeking abortions live below the poverty line of incomes of $10,000 per year)
What the Republicans did instead was misuse abortion--again and again and again--as a polarizing issue to energize their base. And they are doing it again.
Frank Schaeffer is a writer. His new book (in stores May 15) is Sex, Mom, and God: How the Bible's Strange Take on Sex Led to Crazy Politics--and How I Learned to Love Women (and Jesus) Anyway