For Conservatives, Ending Legal Abortion Is Just a Pit Stop

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Culture & Conversation Politics

For Conservatives, Ending Legal Abortion Is Just a Pit Stop

Atima Omara

Conservatives have been working toward this moment for decades—and they’re not slowing down after, either.

The Supreme Court draft opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade and end abortion rights in this country is likely to be released formally soon, fulfilling a 50-year fear of activists—the official overturning of abortion rights in this country.

But that’s not where it will end with this conservative supermajority on the Court. They also want to erode: LGBTQ rights, voting rights, civil rights—and, yes, even with the horrific tragedy of the worst and most recent mass shootings—the little gun control that exists because this was always part of a larger plan.

I came to work in politics because of the many issues I care about—such as reproductive rights and justice—but my career came in part because of a deep interest and education in history. I wanted to know more about the people who worked so hard in their opposition to abortion rights, and it was there that I found my answer about how all this is related to movement to convert (or revert) our nation to a white, Christian nationalist country.

While Roe v. Wade became the law of the land in 1973, the religious community in the United States actually didn’t mobilize around abortion. In fact, they began to mobilize around race desegregation in their schools because a new civil rights law stated that schools that were deemed racially discriminatory could not qualify for IRS exemption. An astute, religious former political staffer (and then-recent co-founder of the Heritage Foundation) named Paul Weyrich had been toying with ways to organize conservatives in the religious community on issues including abortion, but nothing quite landed.

Roe is gone. The chaos is just beginning.

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In the IRS exemption fight, he finally found the pressure point with religious leaders, like Liberty University founder Jerry Falwell Sr., who did not want to desegregate their private white Christian schools. Weyrich believed deeply in fusing evangelical faith with politics, writing in 1970:

The new political philosophy must be defined by us [conservatives] in moral terms, packaged in non-religious language, and propagated throughout the country by our new coalition … . If the moral majority acts, results could well exceed our wildest dreams.

The words “moral majority” became the name of Falwell’s religious political organization, and thus the modern white evangelical conservative political movement was born.

In this white evangelical religious political movement, the origins of voter suppression as a tool to win can be found in a prescient speech Weyrich gave at a 1980 convention of white evangelical faith leaders, where Falwell and Ronald Reagan were in attendance.

“Now many of our Christians have what I call the ‘goo-goo syndrome.’ Good government. They want everybody to vote. I don’t want everybody to vote,” Weyrich said. “Elections are not won by a majority of people. They never have been from the beginning of our country, and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections, quite candidly, goes up as the voting populace goes down.”

In 1980, Reagan won the presidential election, and by the 1984 election, a rise in self-identified evangelical Christians voting Republican (partly in response to the social changes of the 1960s and 1970s) committed the GOP further to white evangelicals. In their 1984 platform, Republicans reversed their party’s once formal support for the Equal Rights Amendment, introduced support for a constitutional ban on abortion (which included support for federal judges who opposed abortion), and support for voluntary prayer in schools.

Over time, the Republican Party platform came to formally include opposing LGBTQ rights. And as we know, the Republican partnership with white evangelicals is felt to this day. Three-fourths of white evangelicals voted for Trump in the 2020 election, and they make up two-thirds of the party’s rank and file members, according to CNN. It was mostly Republican lawmakers who led the passage of 1,336 abortion restrictions in states across the country, 44 percent of which passed in the last decade alone. Republicans also passed a number of anti-LGBTQ bills across the country using the 2004 re-election of George W. Bush to push same-sex marriage bans in multiple states.

Today it’s anti-trans and nonbinary legislation. Combine this with the “Southern Strategy” that President Richard Nixon fine-tuned in the 1970s to pander to white racial grievance, and you end up with the GOP-manufactured Black woman “welfare queen” and the “war on drugs” in the 1980s, the conservative protests and legal challenges to affirmative action in schools in the 1990s, and today’s railing against critical race theory in public schools along with banning books that acknowledge race, gender, and sexual orientation in ways they refuse to accept—just so they can win elections.

Over the last 40 years, though, the white evangelical electorate decreased while racial, ethnic, and religious minorities (including atheism and agnosticism) have increased in number. Around the same time, the nation’s first Black president, Barack Obama, was elected in 2008. Conservatives’ panic for power kicked into high gear. Organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Commission—which was co-founded by Weyrich and is funded in part by the Charles Koch Foundation and Charles Koch Institute—equipping conservative legislators with model legislation, from lowering taxes and corporate breaks to anti abortion, anti-LGBQ, pro-gun legislation, now included even more voter suppression legislation tactics for gerrymandering districts after the 2010 census.

While the conservative political and legislative arms were mobilizing, a conservative legal network called the Federalist Society was coming into power. Formed in the 1980s to challenge perceived left-wing ideology permeating law schools and the legal system, by the 2000s, it was becoming the place to vet legal conservatives and effect judicial appointments. In 2005 it helped scuttle Bush’s appointment of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court, and in her place, he appointed Samuel Alito, the lead writer on the leaked draft opinion to overturn Roe v. Wade.

So it is unsurprising that the draft opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization also confirms the conservatives’ next logical steps. Using the 14th Amendment, Alito questioned Roe‘s legal grounding as he also questioned and cited landmark rulings on gay rights, Obergefell v. Hodges and Lawrence v. Gaines. To him, and, evidently, the Court’s conservative majority, they are not rights “deeply rooted in the nation’s history and tradition” and “implicit in the concept of ordered liberty.” The Supreme Court also used the 14th Amendment to establish the right to an equal education with the ruling of Brown v. Board of Education, the right to interracial marriage in Loving v. Virginia, and the right to contraception through Griswold v. Connecticut and Eisenstadt v. Baird.

All of these rulings and more, legal analysts surmise, are in danger. And given the National Rifle Association’s reach with the GOP, those same conservative justices are eager to use their long sought after perch to eradicate gun control laws in politically liberal governed states like New York because of their beloved Second Amendment.

White evangelical conservatives are a voting minority in this country. They can be outvoted at the polls—they know this, which is why voting rights suppression was a critical piece of their work to enact their white evangelical Christian nationalist agenda. But not everyone accepts this. There are many elected officials, pundits, journalists, and strategists who don’t believe our country can become this extreme—even after the January 6, 2021 insurrection attempt to stop the peaceful transfer of power.

Understandably, it’s shocking to absorb given how far we have come since the mid-20th century. But the United States can become a country where the rights and privileges of liberty are consolidated in the hands of a white Christian male-dominated nationalist minority—because quite frankly, we’ve been this country before. What do you think these folks meant when they talked about missing the good old days where “men were men and women were women” or things weren’t “sanitized with political correctness”? Their frustration over “identity politics” is because they don’t like when those who have been politically marginalized, like people of color, disabled people, and LGBTQ folks, start to finally have political and economic power.

The sooner everyone begins understanding that these are people who will fight tooth and nail against a multiracial, multireligious, and multiethnic democracy no matter what it takes, the sooner we can work to organize against them effectively and protect the folks who could be harmed.