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Monday, January 30, 2023
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It always comes back to power: Contemporary Christian activism on abortion

There’s a common misconception in the United States that Christians of various denominations have actively rioted against abortion for centuries — that during the times of taverns and double-edged swords there were also abortion-fighting Christians. In reality, even Roman Catholics were quiet in their disapproval until the 19th century.

That isn’t to say Christians were raising a glass and cheering for the idea. But as long as the abortion was early and private, there was little to no anger — let alone activism — on the subject.

However, then the need to maintain power got involved, and several divisions of the religion changed accordingly.

To understand how this expands outside one denomination, a brief understanding of American Christianity is necessary. There are two main Christian divisions in the nation: protestants, which group several denominations under one umbrella, and Roman Catholics. The Pew Research Center splits Protestants into Evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants and historical Black Protestants. Evangelicals and Catholics are the most common, making up a little under half of the nation’s Christian population.

Using Catholicism as an example, in the 19th century, Christian conflict began to impend on abortion. The century was a time of social and political change in the U.S., and that sparked a fear-driven need in believers to maintain social order in both the church and society. Many Catholics fell under this context.

The potential loss of control triggered more repressive ideas to circulate among the progressive ones. People felt trapped under this repression and began to develop more progressive ideas, and the circle continued.

The Catholic Church was in need of consistent ideas, so Pope Pius IX formed a doctrine called papal infallibility. In contemporary terms, it means that whatever the Pope states can never be wrong. This doctrine would lead down a road of statements from the Pope which developed rigid ideas on abortion and ignited anti-abortion activists from Christianity.

In this instance, power came from the leaders of the Catholic Church. Followers of the religion were in constant disagreement, so the Pope took it upon himself to provide a singular answer. Many feared a revolt that would change the way society was, and papal infallibility aided those fears. Without the doctrine, abortion wouldn’t have become so black and white in the religion. 

Evangelical history actively fighting abortion is more recent than Catholicism. The Southern Baptist Convention was passing resolutions that agreed with accessible abortion up until 1976 — three years after the ruling of Roe v. Wade. The religious group was known to have more conservative views that naturally swayed towards limiting federal regulations. They were far more concerned with desegregation at the time.

But then a conservative activist named Paul Weyrich rose to power. His goal was to mobilize Evangelicals and gain votes for Republican candidates. He believed utilizing a hot-button issue — like abortion — would unite Evangelical Protestants for his cause.

With multiple failures from the Republican party to push their agenda on maintaining segregation, as well as several white private schools being shut down on the grounds of constitutionality, Weyrich realized that desegregation was inevitable and would not be enough to mobilize the religious group.

So when Roman Catholics were openly protesting abortion — with a consequential win of Republican officials — Weyrich knew he found a new angle. It was a strong issue that could bring plausible changes. Thus, Weyrich began open dialogue demonizing abortion. He became an avid promoter for abortion regulation in hopes of it reaching Evangelicals — and it did.

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Tolerance is easier to change than acceptance, and abortion was just that for many Christians. Weyrich used campaigning tactics at the right time to persuade a large group of Christians to vote for conservative candidates. He used abortion as a power mechanism. It was because of this political history — not biblical teachings — that Evangelicals were pushed to become activists on the issue.

Putting aside religious citations and general morality, history shows that mass Christian anti-abortion activists are relatively new and have been persuaded by collective anger and influential figures. Ultimately, the motive behind these tactics has always been power.

LiLi Bicoy is a freshman staff writer majoring in Journalism and German. Do you think Christian anti-abortion activists in the United States emerged from the need to maintain power? Send all comments to opinion@dailycardinal.com.

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