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A Nutty Conspiracy Theory about Pro-Lifers

A pro-life marcher during the 46th annual March for Life at the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., January 18, 2019. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Via Charlie Cooke, I came across this deranged 2014 article in Politico purporting to show that modern religious conservatism began in opposition to racial integration rather than to abortion. It’s making the rounds again as Twitter users try to back the claim that opposition to abortion is really just cover for racism.

But Randall Balmer’s screed itself undermines that claim in at least three ways.

First, the argument requires that evangelical Christian voters be more hostile to abortion than to racial integration. Balmer is saying that evangelical leaders couldn’t mobilize people to support segregation but could mobilize them to oppose abortion. Which means that either there were many more evangelical voters who came to find abortion abhorrent than who supported segregation, or that voters who felt both sentiments felt the former more deeply, or both.

Second, Balmer himself shows that those evangelical leaders completely failed to defend the tax exemptions for segregated Christian schools that supposedly motivated them more than anything else — and had failed by 1983, with even the Reagan administration abandoning their position. At that point did they close up shop for the pro-life movement? Have they kept fighting ever since for the tax exemptions? No and no.

Third, Balmer notes that evangelicals came to oppose abortion in large part due to the persuasive efforts of Francis Schaeffer and C. Everett Koop. To his limited credit, Balmer does not attempt to portray these two as anything other than sincere in their opposition to abortion. He does not claim that they were segregationists, let alone that they used abortion cynically to advance segregation. (Trying to persuade millions of fellow citizens to oppose abortion in order to advance segregation does not seem like a strategy that would recommend itself to anyone.)

So . . . evangelical leaders who found abortion abhorrent persuaded a lot of evangelical voters to agree with them. Take away the argumentative nonsense with which Balmer surrounds it, and that’s the core story he’s telling. Which is not much of an indictment, or an indictment at all.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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