Evan­gel­i­cal lead­ers down­play po­ten­tial Roe v. Wade re­ver­sal

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Obituaries / News - BY STEVE PEO­PLES As­so­ci­ated Press

For evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tian lead­ers like Jerry Fal­well Jr., this is their po­lit­i­cal holy grail.

Like many re­li­gious con­ser­va­tives in a po­si­tion to know, the Lib­erty Univer­sity pres­i­dent with close ties to the White House sus­pects that the Supreme Court va­cancy Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump fills in the com­ing months will ul­ti­mately lead to the re­ver­sal of the land­mark abor­tion case Roe v. Wade. But in­stead of cel­e­brat­ing pub­licly, some evan­gel­i­cal lead­ers are down­play­ing their for­tune on an is­sue that has de­fined their move­ment for decades.

“What peo­ple don’t un­der­stand is that if you over­turn Roe v. Wade, all that does is give the states the right to de­cide whether abor­tion is le­gal or il­le­gal,” Fal­well told The As­so­ci­ated Press in an in­ter­view. “My guess is that there’d prob­a­bly be less than 20 states that would make abor­tion il­le­gal if given that right.”

Fal­well added: “In the ’70s, I don’t know how many states had abor­tion il­le­gal be­fore Roe v. Wade, but it won’t be near as many this time.”

The sen­ti­ment, echoed by evan­gel­i­cal lead­ers across the coun­try last week, un­der­scores the del­i­cate pol­i­tics that sur­round a mo­ment many re­li­gious con­ser­va­tives have longed for. With the re­tire­ment of swing vote Supreme Court Jus­tice An­thony Kennedy, Trump and his Repub­li­can al­lies in the Se­nate plan to in­stall a con­ser­va­tive jus­tice who could re-de­fine the law of the land on some of the na­tion’s most ex­plo­sive pol­icy de­bates – none big­ger than abor­tion.

And while these are the very best of times for the re­li­gious right, so­cial con­ser­va­tives risk a pow­er­ful back­lash from their op­po­nents if they cheer too loudly. Women’s groups have al­ready raised the alarm for their con­stituents, par­tic­u­larly sub­ur­ban women, who are poised to play an out­sized role in the fight for the House ma­jor­ity this Novem­ber.

Two-thirds of Amer­i­cans do not want to see Roe v. Wade over­turned, ac­cord­ing to a poll re­leased Fri­day by the non­par­ti­san Kaiser Fam­ily Foun­da­tion. Among women of re­pro­duc­tive age, three out of four want the high court rul­ing left alone. The poll was con­ducted be­fore Kennedy’s re­tire­ment was an­nounced.

“The left is go­ing to try very hard to say this is all about over­turn­ing Roe,” said John­nie Moore, a South­ern Bap­tist min­is­ter who was a co-chair­man of the Trump cam­paign’s evan­gel­i­cal ad­vi­sory board. The more sig­nif­i­cant shift on the high court, he said, would likely be the help given to con­ser­va­tives in their fight for what they call re­li­gious free­dom.

Tony Perkins, who leads the so­cially con­ser­va­tive Fam­ily Re­search Coun­cil, said abor­tion was sim­ply “a fac­tor” in evan­gel­i­cals’ ex­cite­ment over a more con­ser­va­tive Supreme Court. He sug­gested that pub­lic opin­ion was al­ready shift­ing against abor­tion rights, al­though that’s not true of the Roe v. Wade rul­ing, which has be­come slightly more pop­u­lar over time.

Perkins agreed with Moore that the broader push for re­li­gious free­dom was a big­ger con­ser­va­tive fo­cus.

Many evan­gel­i­cals, for ex­am­ple, have lashed out against Obama-era laws that re­quired churches and other re­li­gious in­sti­tu­tions to pro­vide their em­ploy­ees with women’s re­pro­duc­tive ser­vices, in­clud­ing ac­cess to abor­tion and birth con­trol. Oth­ers have ral­lied be­hind pri­vate busi­ness own­ers who faced le­gal reper­cus­sions af­ter deny­ing ser­vices to gay peo­ple.

Yet sweep­ing re­stric­tions to abor­tion rights are cer­tainly on the ta­ble, Moore noted.

“There is a high level of con­fi­dence within the com­mu­nity that over­turn­ing Roe is ac­tu­ally, fi­nally pos­si­ble,” Moore said. He added: “Evan­gel­i­cals have never been more con­fi­dent in the fu­ture of Amer­ica than they are now. It’s just a fact.”

In Alabama, Tom Parker, a Repub­li­can as­so­ci­ate jus­tice on the state Supreme Court who is cam­paign­ing to be­come the state’s chief jus­tice, ex­plic­itly raised the po­ten­tial of send­ing cases to Wash­ing­ton that would lead to the over­turn­ing of key rul­ings, in­clud­ing Roe v. Wade.

“Pres­i­dent Trump is just one ap­point­ment away from giv­ing us a con­ser­va­tive ma­jor­ity on the U.S. Supreme Court,” Parker said in an in­ter­view on the ra­dio pro­gram Wall­builders Live. “And they are go­ing to need cases that they can use to re­verse those hor­ri­ble de­ci­sions of the lib­eral ma­jor­ity in the past that have un­der­mined the Con­sti­tu­tion and re­ally just abused our own per­sonal rights.”

De­spite Trump’s strug­gles with Chris­tian val­ues in his per­sonal life at times, skep­ti­cal evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tians lined up be­hind him in the 2016 elec­tion, and they re­main one of his most loyal con­stituen­cies.

The pres­i­dent’s stand­ing with white evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tians hit an all-time high in April when 75 per­cent of evan­gel­i­cals held a fa­vor­able view of Trump, ac­cord­ing to a poll con­ducted by the Pub­lic Re­li­gion Re­search In­sti­tute.

And now, as the fo­cus shifts to­ward the pres­i­dent’s next Supreme Court nom­i­na­tion, evan­gel­i­cal lead­ers who once held their noses and voted for Trump have lit­tle doubt he will pick some­one who shares their con­ser­va­tive views on abor­tion, same-sex mar­riage and other so­cial is­sues.

Fal­well in­sisted only that Trump make his next se­lec­tion from the list of prospec­tive nom­i­nees he re­leased be­fore his elec­tion. All are be­lieved to op­pose the Roe v. Wade rul­ing.

Any de­vi­a­tion from the list, Fal­well said, would be “a be­trayal.” He noted, how­ever, that he’s in weekly con­tact with the White House and has supreme con­fi­dence that the pres­i­dent will de­liver.

“This is a vin­di­ca­tion for the 80 per­cent of evan­gel­i­cals who sup­ported Trump. Many of them voted on this is­sue alone,” Fal­well said. “To­day’s a day that we as evan­gel­i­cals, and re­ally all av­er­age Amer­i­cans, can say we told you so.”


“In the ’70s, I don’t know how many states had abor­tion il­le­gal be­fore Roe v. Wade, but it won’t be near as many this time,” Lib­erty pres­i­dent Jerry Fal­well Jr. said.

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