The History of Women's Health Being Used as a Political Pawn

Q. How did this whole debate about women’s health get started? How long have we been fighting this battle?

A: History actually shows us that by the end of 1973, the year Roe v. Wade was decided, most mainline Protestant and Jewish denominations were on record as being highly supportive of birth control. In fact, in a speech to the Planned Parenthood Federation of America in May 1966, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke in support of Margaret Sanger’s birth control crusade, making parallels with his crusade for equality.

About a decade after Roe v. Wade, Catholics for a Free Choice was formed as the American abortion divide was starting to grow wider. An ad they placed in the New York Times on October 7, 1984, cited data showing that only 11 percent of Catholics did not approve of abortion in all situations.

Women’s health became a political pawn in the late 1970s, early 1980s. Ironically, it started when Jimmy Carter – a staunch Christian – threatened to revoke the tax-exempt status of White Christian Academies.

Conservatives and Christian organizations were not interested in abortion as a political debate before that. In fact, these groups wanted a VERY CLEAR division between church and state, and considered abortion a private matter.

However, once the state began attacking the church’s tax-exempt status, the church created an organization to advocate for their pocketbook issue – restoration of their tax-exempt status. They asked for – and received – a lot of financial donations for this effort. After the tax battle was over, the newly organized groups needed a new cause, and they chose abortion in large part for its ability to rally their donor base when people thought their taxes were being used to pay for abortions.

You can clearly track this change in the Southern Baptist Convention that in 1971 advocated for and in 1974 – the year following Roe v Wade – re-affirmed the right of a woman to have an abortion under certain circumstances, including the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother, categorizing it as a health issue.

Despite this clear position, these groups changed their minds, and the gloves came off in 1980.  What Carter’s tax policy inadvertently started in the late 1970s, President Reagan continued into the 1980s.

That was when the Southern Baptists, and other religious groups, went after the overturning of Roe v Wade. And even then, it was all about money. They specifically targeted federal funds for abortion.

Q: Is it true that all religious groups and organizations are against abortion and birth control? 

A: No, it is not. Catholics, some Evangelicals and some other orthodox religions are against these things. However, other denominations and religious organizations are not so black and white.

While many other religions accept abortion in many circumstances, not all of them approve of abortion in all circumstances. For example, the Southern Baptist Convention in 1971 called for the legalization of abortion, “under such conditions as rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother.”

Today, they are vocal and very active in efforts to overturn Roe v Wade.

Bottom line: Women’s health is a health issue, not a political issue.