Funny thing about the blackface scandals that have been erupting in Virginia lately: Gov. Ralph Northam had come under fire from conservatives just days earlier for his support of a bill that removes abortion restrictions in his state. Once it was revealed that Northam had appeared in blackface during the 1980s, though, many conservatives spoke more sympathetically, about the need to forgive those kinds of mistakes.
And I wondered: Is it the case that conservatives will defend racism more than they hate abortion?
Coincidentally, then, this story appeared on my radar:
In 1971, two years before Roe v. Wade legalized abortion, the biggest white evangelical group in America, the Southern Baptist Convention, supported its legalization. The group continued that support through much of the 1970s. And the late Jerry Falwell, founder of the Moral Majority, did not give his first antiabortion speech until 1978, five years after Roe.
Though opposition to abortion is what many think fueled the powerful conservative white evangelical right, 81 percent of whom voted for Donald Trump, it was really school integration, according to Randall Balmer, chairman of the religion department at Dartmouth.
The late Paul Weyrich, whom Balmer called the organizational genius behind the religious right, had long tried to mobilize evangelical voters around some hot-button issue: feminism, school prayer, pornography, abortion. But nothing lit a fire like the federal government’s threat to all-white schools. Only in 1979, a full six years after Roe, did Weyrich urge evangelical leaders to also crusade against abortion, Balmer said in an interview. That was, after all, a far more palatable, acceptable crusade, one with a seeming high moral purpose, unlike a race-based crusade against black children.
It is worth reading the whole thing.
I don’t want to suggest that anti-abortion crusaders are secret racists. I know many people who genuinely believe abortion is murder. But the history of the issue is interesting, to say the least.