In 2016, the "pro-life" movement and the religious right are almost synonymous. It's hard to imagine one without the other. But the religious right didn't start the "pro-life" movement. In fact, it wasn't even a part of the movement when it exploded onto the political scene after the famous Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade ruled abortion to be a federally-protected matter of privacy. On Monday's episode of Full Frontal, comedian Samantha Bee explained the origins of the religious right and its involvement in the issue of abortion.
Throughout her history lesson, Bee described how the religious right was brought into the "pro-life" movement by the will of conservative activists. According to Bee, the issue of abortion didn't "appear on most Protestants' ultrasounds" until conservative political activists like Jerry Falwell and Paul Weyrich, "having mobilized conservative Christians to defend segregationist Bible colleges, were casting about for another issue to keep the movement going."
Weyrich, founder of the conservative think tank Heritage Foundation, teamed up with preacher and Bible college founder Falwell to unite members of various Christian sects into one big voting bloc by getting them all on the same page regarding certain conservative policy goals. According to Bee, one of those issues had been segregation. Once that fell out of favor, it was replaced with abortion.
Bee pokes fun at the seemingly random process by which abortion was selected as an issue to keep religious citizens tied to the Republican Party. Her segment features a video of Randall Balmer, a professor of religion, explaining how the decision was arrived at. According to him, there was a conference call between Republican leaders, during which someone said, "How about abortion?" Bee's response: "I'm sorry, wait. Were they founding a movement or deciding what toppings to get on their pizza?"
So it was, and the effort to rally Christians of all stripes against abortion ensued. They recruited the assistance of filmmaker Frank Schaffer, who helped found the "pro-life" movement by creating videos depicting a world in which abortion is a hellscape wherein babies are locked up in cages or passed along assembly lines and chucked into the garbage. "Worst I Love Lucy reboot ever," Bee quipped, referencing the famous scene of Lucy and Ethel in the chocolate factory.
Initially, Schaffer told Bee, evangelicals weren't swayed by the films and didn't want to get involved: "They wanted to preach Jesus. They thought politics was dirty." Tides changed when former Representative Jack Kemp got 50 of his fellow Republican congressmen to see a film and take on the cause. Schaffer said that their participation gave the issue the "respectability" it needed to garner the support of evangelicals. And thus was the religious right born — not a natural birth (ironically) spurred by Roe v. Wade, but a politically-motivated creation of conservatives.