Question & Answer
Q: By Carol
Several years ago, I was interviewed at a pro-choice event for Republicans. Being well past any likelihood of pregnancy, I linked my concern about my right to die with my right to decide about my fertility. Both ends of life are clearly the prime battlegrounds of the “Right to Life” groups, yet they assert that an embryo or a fetus and a person who cannot survive without heroic, indefinite intervention are fully alive and must be saved. I said then that I was as appalled at the notion that the government might decide if I should live or die, just as it might decide if my daughters could have an abortion within the reasonable parameters set by Roe v. Wade. People at that event thought I was “stretching it.
Since then I have been proven tragically correct. Attorney General John Ashcroft challenged Oregon on its right to death with dignity law. Abortion conditions continue to be eroded by the radical conservatives who seem to know better than the family in question what is best. People in nursing homes often have to be resuscitated at hospitals because, even with written directives otherwise, the nursing home is required to send the patient to the hospital to be “saved.”
Can you explain how it is that the Republican Party that has historically stood for limited government is now inserting itself into the most personal of issues?
A: By Rev. Mark Sandlin
Thanks for your question, Carol. As it turns out, the answer is both surprising and, ultimately, involves Christianity. Go figure, huh?
The surprising part begins with Roe vs. Wade. It was established in 1973 with seven justices voting in favor of it. That means it had the support of some of the more conservative justices. Even more surprising, the majority opinion was written by a GOP appointee, Justice Harry Blackmun, who was put into place by none other than Richard Nixon.
The reality is that Richard Nixon, Barry Goldwater, Gerald Ford, and George H.W. Bush were all pro-choicers. That’s right: until very recently, the GOP supported a woman’s right to privacy and believed abortion to be a private matter between a woman and her doctor.
Surprisingly again, the change toward conservatives being anti-abortion is also rooted in Roe vs. Wade. One of Nixon’s speechwriters, Rev. Pat Buchanan, convinced him that if he was going to get re-elected, he needed the support of the Church and would need to make a move toward being anti-abortion. In order to achieve this goal, they brought in conservative strategist, Phyllis Schlafly, who laid the groundwork for pro-family conservatism and its anti-abortion perspective that we still see trying to be part of the GOP agenda today.
The bottom line is that party platforms shift over time. Frequently, for all the wrong reasons. They don’t always make logical sense. Much like what looks like the modern Republican Party’s move away from being the party of small government. I’d even make the argument that what we are seeing is their move away from pro-family conservatism. It’s simply hard to have people believe you are pro-family when your policies pull families apart.
Which brings us back to abortion, because it should be hard to have people believe you are pro-life when your policies knowingly result in the death of so many people. But, like I said, politics don’t always make logical sense.
~ Rev. Mark Sandlin
This Q&A was originally published on Progressing Spirit – As a member of this online community, you’ll receive insightful weekly essays, access to all of the essay archives (including all of Bishop John Shelby Spong), and answers to your questions in our free weekly Q&A. Click here to see free sample essays.
About the Author
Rev. Mark Sandlin is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA) from the South. He currently serves at Presbyterian Church of the Covenant. He is a co-founder of The Christian Left. His blog, has been named as one of the “Top Ten Christian Blogs.” Mark received The Associated Church Press’ Award of Excellence in 2012. His work has been published on “The Huffington Post,” “Sojourners,” “Time,” “Church World Services,” and even the “Richard Dawkins Foundation.” He’s been featured on PBS’s “Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly” and NPR’s “The Story with Dick Gordon.” Follow Mark on Facebook and Twitter @marksandlin