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Elle Hardy on how the Christian right plotted for years to overturn Roe v Wade and why they are not done yet.

How the Christian right overturned Roe v Wade

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The case that established the legal protection for people in the United States to choose to have an abortion has been overturned.

The majority of Americans support the right to choose, but trigger bans in several states across the country have made it immediately illegal to perform an abortion.

So how did a small minority of religious conservatives overturn the rights of millions to choose? 

Today, author of Beyond Belief: How Pentecostal Christianity is Taking Over the World Elle Hardy on how the Christian right plotted for years to overturn Roe v Wade and why they are not done yet.

 

Guest: Author of Beyond Belief: How Pentecostal Christianity is Taking Over the World, Elle Hardy.

 
Read Transcript

[Theme Music Starts]

RUBY:
From Schwartz Media, I’m Ruby Jones, this is 7am.

The case that established the legal protection for people in the united states to choose to have an abortion has been overturned.

The majority of Americans support the right to choose, but immediately, trigger bans in several states across the country have made it illegal to perform an abortion.

So how did a small minority of religious conservatives overturn the rights of millions of women? 

Today, journalist Elle Hardy, on how the christian right plotted for years to overturn Roe and why they are not done yet.

It's Wednesday June 29.

[Theme Music Ends] 

RUBY:
Elle, in the last week we've seen the US Supreme Court overturn Roe v Wade, which is the legal precedent that protects the right to choose to have an abortion in the US. Let's go back if we can, to when Roe v Wade was established - in the early 70s. What was the actual ruling?

Archival Tape -- Walter Cronkite:
“And tonight, a CBS Evening News special report. Good evening. In a landmark ruling, the Supreme Co urt today legalised abortions.” 

ELLE:
So in 1973, Roe v Wade came down on the Supreme Court and it protected a woman's fundamental right to privacy. 

Archival Tape -- Walter Cronkite:
“A majority in cases from Texas and Georgia said that the decision to end the pregnancy during the first three months belongs to the woman and her doctor, not the government.” 

ELLE:
It was a woman's decision and a decision with her doctor whether or not she wanted to keep the pregnancy.

Archival Tape -- Walter Cronkite:
“Thus, the anti-abortion laws of 46 states were rendered unconstitutional.” 

ELLE:
The right is certainly not absolute, but it certainly gave women a fundamental amount of autonomy over their health.

RUBY:
Mmm and its that right that has now been overturned. And Elle - it seemed like as soon as that happened, many US states very quickly were able to make abortion illegal. How was that possible, why did that happen so fast?

ELLE:
Sure. So they struck down Roe v Wade, but they also struck down the affirming precedent, which is Planned Parenthood v Casey, which came down in 1992. So it really shows that this is a very concerted and considered and long term effort. So a number of states had trigger laws. That meant as soon as Roe v Wade and Planned Parenthood v Casey was overturned that it made abortion entirely illegal in their states.

Archival Tape -- News:
“13 states, including Texas, previously passed trigger laws that ban abortion once Roe v Wade is overturned.”

Archival Tape -- News:
“Mississippi Attorney General Win Fitch has taken a step to activate a law that will ban most abortions in the state.” 

Archival Tape -- News:
“A Supreme Court decision means abortions will no longer be legal in Tennessee.” 

ELLE:
And others are now working on banning or strictly limiting abortion to the point where it is impossible. 

Archival Tape -- News:
“The decision by state officially banned all abortions except to save the life of the mother. There is no exception for rape or incest. Joining me now is….”

RUBY:
And when you say that this was a concerted, considered and long term effort, I mean, just how long term is it? And who is really behind the push to overturn Roe v Wade, to wind back the right to abortion?

ELLE:
It’s really worth going back to understaning the origins of Roe v Wade and the anti abortion movement in the United States.

The opposition to abortion,  particularly between white evangelicals and what we know today as the religious right, was never a white evangelical issue. It was a Catholic issue. And evangelicals frankly thought that Catholics were always a little bit weird. White evangelicals always thought of themselves as apart from and even above mainstream politics and society.

Archival Tape -- Reporter:
“It is one thing to espouse moral and religious values. Another to translate them into votes. Men like Paul Weyrich, a conservative organiser who has been called the architect of the movement. He spends much of his time urging ministers to get out the vote.”

ELLE:
A Catholic activist named Paul Weyrich, he'd been trying to get white evangelicals in the tent.

Archival Tape -- Paul Weywich:
“And so what we have here is really a new dynamics in American politics with the social precinct being really the area where you can reach them. And of course, the way to reach them is through the churches.” 

ELLE:
White evangelicals often didn't vote. He'd been trying to get all sorts of issues, realising there was this huge voting bloc of people that they could get to come and create this new right wing and really push back against the rising tide of liberalism.

Archival Tape -- Paul Weywich:   
“In the course of that conversation in Lynchburg, where Paul Weyrich made the famous statement to Dr. Falwell, I believe there is a Moral Majority out there ready to be organised.” 

ELLE:
You know, this was a time of civil rights and women's rights…

And they felt very threatened by it.

So they focus grouped a whole lot of issues again. And, you know, one thing, you call someone a good God fearing white evangelical, probably in the South and say, you know, all these different issues, prayer in schools. Yeah. Yeah. We think that that that should be an issue. But the one that really got people involved was when he said, hey, do you like killing babies? And they said, no, no, of course not. 

Archival Tape -- Jerry Falwell: 
“Right and wrong don’t change, nothing is relative in God’s economy, what was wrong 100 years ago is wrong today.”

ELLE:
And they decided that this was the issue. 

Archival Tape -- Jerry Falwell:
“Abortion has always been wrong it will always be wrong, pornography has always been wrong it will always be wrong…” 

ELLE:
To the point it's it is such a symbolic issue still, even within this religious right, this conservative coalition today, that only about half of Republicans support banning abortion, even though this has become the totemic issue of the religious right and even just the conservative right in America. 

RUBY:
And so this small group of conservative christian activists, who formed what they called ‘the moral majority’, how did they manage to become so influential that they actually now have managed to get Roe v Wade overturned? 

ELLE:
Sure. So what happened when these groups got together, they formed this group called The Moral Majority, 1979. 1979 was was just a pretty big year globally. That was the Iranian revolution. There was petrol crisis. And Ronald Reagan was was really coming up in politics.

Archival Tape -- Ronald Reagan:
“I can't tell you how you have warmed my heart with your welcome. I'm delighted to be here today. Those of you in the National Association of Evangelicals are known for your spiritual and humanitarian work.” 

ELLE:
And he, you know, started really getting involved with these very right wing political activist groups. 

Archival Tape -- Ronald Reagan:
“Thank you for your prayers. Nancy and I have felt their presence many times in many ways, believe me. For us, they've made all the difference.”

ELLE:
And so when the Moral Majority had gotten together and then Reagan came in in 1980, they had a seat at the table. Straight away. 

Archival Tape -- Ronald Reagan:
“I know what I'm about to say now is controversial, but I have to say it. This nation cannot continue turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to the taking of some 4000 unborn children's lives every day. That's one every 21 seconds.”

ELLE:
What they were really successful at was organising was understanding the levers of the state. So groups such as the Council for National Policy, known as the C and P, really got going in the early eighties. This is a very secretive, shadowy group that's membership is still supposed to be entirely secret.

What they've done since the eighties is, is really push in institutions like universities and courts to get their people involved. They've had, you know, programmes in universities to get, you know, young law students the best and brightest with conservative leanings into their programme, their particular way of thought, schooling them through internships and really basically indoctrinating extremists. 

The Republicans have just used every inch of power within their grasp. And that has really been pushed through by this Council for national policy. 

So when we're talking about the judges, the three judges on the court who really changed the tide of the court, so Gorsuch, Amy Coney Barrett and Brett Kavanaugh. They came through these CMP institutions. They were schooled from their time at university, all working towards this goal of overturning Roe v Wade.  

RUBY:
Ok and so Elle what exactly have the Democrats been doing this whole time? This hardly happened overnight, it was a plan that unfolded over decades.

ELLE:
Yeah, look, it's it's really difficult to understand exactly what's been going on. They just haven't wanted to wield power in the way that the Republicans have. 

Archival Tape -- Student:
“What would you do at the Federal level not only to ensure access to abortion but to make sure that the judicial nominees that you will be able to pick are true to the core tenets of Roe v Wade?”

Archival Tape -- Barack Obama:
“Well the first thing I’d do as President is sign the freedom of choice act. That’s the first thing I’d do.”

ELLE:
Barack Obama promised when he was was going for election in 2007, 2008, that he would codify abortion rights in federal legislation, 

Archival Tape -- Barack Obama:
“I’m absolutely convinced we’re going to win this election but we’re going to transform this nation. Thank you very much.”  

ELLE:
which has always been something that pro-choice activists have really been fighting for. When he got into power and he had the ability to do it, he refused to do it. 

Archival Tape -- Barack Obama:
“The Freedom of choice act is not my highest legislative priority, I believe that women should have the right to choose…”  

ELLE:
He didn't want to inflame tensions. 

Archival Tape -- Barack Obama:
But I think that the most important thing we can do to tamp down some of the anger surrounding this issue is to focus on those areas that we can agree on and that’s where I’m going to focus. 

ELLE:
He was a very cautious guy. I think he was pretty media savvy and he just didn't want to stir up the opposition while he had the opportunity to. So he refused to. 

The democratic power base in Washington is extremely old, they are pretty conservative kind of people. They just don't seem to want to grasp the moment and to really take a radical view of what's happening and an urgent view. 

In response to Roe V Wade Nancy Peolsi who is leader of the house read a poem and the Democrats all came out and sang god bless America on the steps. Joe Biden said he wasn’t going to do anything radical to overturn what had just happened. 

Archival Tape -- Joe Biden:
“It’s a sad day for the country in my view, the only way we can secure a women’s right to choose is for congress to install the Roe V Wade as federal law, no executive action by the President can do that.” 

ELLE:
He's known as sort of this great Senate negotiator since he's been in the Senate in the seventies. But I just don't think that he really understands how much it's it's changed.

You know, people are going to die. Women who have ectopic pregnancies, who need emergency lifesaving surgeries are going to die. This is literally life or death. And the Democratic Party just doesn't seem to be able to rise to the challenge of the moment.

Republicans aren't going to sit down and play ball. They are wielding whatever power they have. And now they have this extreme authority through the courts. And we're going to see a lot of other decisions in a similar vein that's really just completely rocking 40 odd years of progress in people's rights.

RUBY:
We'll be back in a moment. 

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RUBY:
Elle, in the wake of the overturning of the Roe v Wade decision, there are some very clear repercussions for people seeking abortions. But what else might happen? What other precedents could be overturned? And what does this, I suppose, mean for other rights that people, up until now, might have taken for granted under the Constitution? 

ELLE:
So in the concurring opinion that a lot of people are looking at, Justice Clarence Thomas suggested that the court should consider reviewing some other landmark court cases in the field of civil rights really. So Griswold versus Connecticut, came down in 1965 to guarantee married couples the right to use contraception. There's Obergefell v Hodges in 2015, which legalised same sex marriage. So these are really pretty fundamental rights that people, I guess, considered locked in that are now under threat. There's a real grass roots movement happening in the United States at the moment. We're seeing, you know, self-described Christian fascists going to harass gay bars and gay pride events. We're seeing a real emboldening of religious extremists and conservative extremists who are looking to go and overturn these issues, you know, by force with whatever means they have, which is, you know, gun rights, which are now, thanks to the Supreme Court as well, pretty much entirely unrestricted again. So, I mean, what we're really seeing effectively is, is what we thought of the rule of law just going out the window. This is the Wild West again. They see this decision as so much more than overturning abortion because, that's correct. This is emboldening them. They have the court on their side now and the court is really the ultimate authority in America. Now they are really considering, you know, that the courts are the root of their power and they believe that they have control of them. And and this decision shows that that they do. 

RUBY:
And can you tell me a bit more about the conservative extremists who are pushing for these kinds of changes? And to what extent is this, I suppose, a purely religious agenda? And what is their vision for for America that this this group of people have? 

ELLE:
Yeah, look, that's a that's a great question. They want an America that has very little federal oversight. They're really coming for any legislation that they don't like. Interestingly enough, I think Roe v Wade isn't even the apex yet. We're probably heading there in a couple of days this week. 

Archival Tape -- Reporter 1:
“In the next few weeks, the US Supreme Court will issue a major decision on the ability of the Environmental Protection Agency to set strict limits on greenhouse gas emissions from coal fired power plants. It will impact the fight against climate change and efforts to protect communities already feeling the effects.”

ELLE:
There's a huge decision that's coming down from the Supreme Court called West Virginia versus EPA, which is the Environmental Protection Authority.

Archival Tape -- Reporter 2:
“As climate costs mount, West Virginia's political leaders and energy companies are fighting to defend coal at the U.S. Supreme Court, which will decide this spring how far the federal government can go in regulating greenhouse gas emissions from coal fired power plants.” 

ELLE:
And it's believe that they are going to to strike down the right of the EPA to impose environmental regulations. 

Archival Tape -- Reporter 3:
“It has incredible potential to affect how EPA and other agencies write regulations for years to come.” 

ELLE:
And it's really going to turn America even further into a country that's ruled by its courts. 

You know, people will will then, you know, potentially just have to take fossil fuel companies to court to say that, you know, you're you're ruining our future and sue them.It's just going to become a country of of torts and and suing each other. And what it's really doing then is just throwing America into this absolute chaos. It's really going to become issues of states rights. 

So I think that we will see liberals states, you know, you California’s and until New York's really just start to bring in their own legislation and it's going to, you know, what is the United States of America anymore? It's it's a very powerful military and not much else. I don't have have a crystal ball myself, so I'm not sure what the future is. But it really is genuinely throwing the future of the United States of America into question. 

RUBY:
And, Elle, just finally, are there lessons here for the rest of the world, for Australia, when we watch rights and access get wound back in this way in what is the world's biggest liberal democracy?

ELLE:
Absolutely. Well, I'd start by saying the world's formally biggest liberal democracy. I don't think you can call America a democracy anymore. And but I think the real lesson here is that progress isn't linear. Once you affirm rights, particularly civil rights, particularly contentious ones, they're not locked in for life. These rights can be overturned, whether by the courts or legislation. 

And, you know, the decision now in America has really emboldens this activist right that has been fomenting for 40 years to do both, to do it by court. But but also now, but by legislation. 

It also shows what can be stirred up by a relatively small group of people who do not share the views of the majority. 

You know that things like democracies is sort of a cudgel that they might beat others with, but they don't necessarily believe it. And, you know, unfortunately, we catch a lot of American stuff downstream and are our courts going to be politicised? 

You know, our high courts being fairly apolitical appointments in the past, what if we get a similar kind of counsel for national policy pushing through agendas, really schooling young activists, people who go on to be judges in particular ways of thinking. 

So I really think it's just worth seeing what we can preserve in our institutions. And I think culturally this kind of stuff just isn't going to fly in somewhere like Australia. But I think it's also, you know, considering that that activism maybe isn't just for change, activism might have to be sometimes to preserve the gains that that you've made. Yeah, I think that there's a lot of work to do and and to certainly yeah. For, I think for everyone in political life, in activist life, to look onto America as a cautionary tale. 

RUBY:
Elle, thank you so much for your time. 

ELLE:
No worries. I wish I could have been here for something more pleasant.

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RUBY:
Also in the news,

The number of millennials in Australia has almost caught up to the number of baby boomers as the largest generational group in the Australian population. Data releases yesterday shows that there are only 5,562 more boomers than millennials in the country.

I’m Ruby Jones, this is 7am, see you tomorrow.

 

Host

Ruby Jones is an investigative journalist and host of 7am.

Guest

Elle Hardy is a US-based freelance writer.

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