By Carol Roye
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
The religious right's righteous condemnation of abortion began with anti-integration, anti-taxation efforts in the 1970s, says Carol Roye. Along the way it turned into the current assault on the needs of women and children.
(WOMENSENEWS)--The torrent of moral rhetoric that accompanies the current spate of anti-abortion bills would make you think that conservative Christians have never looked on abortion as anything short of evil.
In 1971 (two years before the Supreme Court constitutionally protected a woman's right to abortion in Roe v. Wade) the Southern Baptist Convention--which wound up becoming synonymous with the religious right and its anti-choice movement--issued a resolution that might surprise you.
It called for legalizing abortion in cases of "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 group was responding to grim statistics. Every year several hundred women (many of them already mothers) died from botched abortions and thousands more were seriously injured attempting to end their unwanted pregnancies. The Southern Baptists were taking a moral stand in order to protect women and their families.
Abortion wasn't a concern for the Christian right until the mid-1970s.
Jerry Falwell, the founder of the Moral Majority, did not preach a sermon on abortion until 1978.
The bedrock issue for evangelical Christians had always been simple--preserving the separation between church and state. Since colonial days, Baptists in America had insisted on this, believing that the Kingdom of God and the world of government each function better when kept apart. That's a far cry from today, when religious activists are doing all they can to control public health policy.
To understand how outlawing abortion became such a central cause, a brief history of the period can be cribbed from the book "With God On Our Side" by William Martin.
The Christian right first mobilized in the 1970s in response to a tax issue tied to white Southern Christian groups' antipathy to school desegregation.
After school integration became federal law, white Christian academies were formed in the South, in part to circumvent the law, enabling white parents to send their children to all-white religious schools.
During the Carter administration the IRS said these academies should be denied tax-exempt status because they did not conform to the law on school integration.
To fight back, some fundamentalist and evangelical groups came together.
This represented a joining of quite different sects. Fundamentalists believe that the Bible is the literal, true word of God. Evangelicals, on the other hand, have shades of gray in their belief system, allowing for a more nuanced approach to some scientific issues, such as climate change and evolution.
But in fighting for tax-exempt status for their all-white religious schools, important factions of the groups united to form the religious right.
They became very adept at raising money to advocate for their cause, and they became powerful. The IRS ultimately relented and allowed them to keep their tax exemption.
With that battle behind it, the religious right was ready for more.
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