An opinion writer cites John’s National Affairs piece on Democrats and abortion. It’s too bad that Thomas Edsall didn’t take what he could have learned to heart. Edsall’s piece “Abortion Has Always Been About More Than Abortion” amplifies the Randall Balmer thesis that conservative (especially conservative Evangelical) concern over abortion is just a cover for racism. The fact that non-Evangelical Democratic women from New York played key roles in getting the pro-life movement going runs against that theory.
John submitted the following letter to the editor. While the Gray Lady has been publishing plenty of pro-choice letters on abortion of late, it has apparently passed on this chance to correct the record. Here’s hoping that at least a few folks clicked on the link in the original piece.
Thomas Edsall (“Abortion Has Never Been Just About Abortion”) has the origins of the pro-life movement figured out—it was just a ploy for votes that stemmed from a nascent Religious Right rooted in racism. Along the way, Edsall quotes my piece (“The Future of the Pro-Life Democrat” at National Affairs) for a list of Democrats who changed from a pro-life stance to supporting abortion rights.
Interestingly, they moved away from a right-to-life movement originally spearheaded by many Democrats. As historian Daniel K. Williams notes in Defenders of the Unborn: The Pro-Life Movement Before Roe v. Wade, the early energy came from traditional Democratic constituencies like Catholics and human rights activists who opposed killing both in Vietnam and in the womb. Indeed, the important 1976 presidential campaign of pro-life activist Ellen McCormack took place in the Democratic primaries.
While Edsall emailed many who could support his favored theory, neither Williams nor myself were on his list. History often holds surprises for the honest inquirer, but tarring pro-lifers with the segregationist sins of Jerry Falwell was apparently too tempting to complicate with competing narratives, even if true.