With Donald Trump poised to choose Anthony Kennedy‘s replacement on the Supreme Court, the obvious assumption is that he’ll pick someone from his Federalist Society-approved shortlist. That is to say, he’ll pick someone who’s extremely conservative and who will vote against abortion rights at every turn.
That is what white evangelicals want. That is why they’ve supported Trump no matter what. That is why they are practically arms of the GOP.
But if their wish comes true, and Trump appoints a second arch-conservative who successfully overturns Roe v. Wade (or some effective equivalent of that), white evangelicals should be aware that this will come back to bite them in the ass.
The most likely scenario, as some pundits have noted, is not that abortion would become illegal everywhere, all at once. It’s that some states would make it (all but) impossible to obtain one, some states would allow it, and many would restrict abortions as early as they possibly could.
What would happen then? Probably something similar to what we saw in Ireland, where abortions were banned for decades.
Women who can afford it would travel elsewhere to obtain an abortion while women who can’t would have to suffer. (That would especially affect women of color, a group that conservative evangelicals have already alienated.) Women would obtain abortifacients online, whether or not the pills are safe — and you can bet some of them won’t be safe. Women would try to perform their own abortions, and some would die. Women who can’t properly care for their children will have babies who may struggle in important areas of development, with effects society won’t see for decades. Some women who have abortions will end up in prison, as will some doctors.
In short, making abortions harder to obtain will disproportionately hurt women who are poor, young, single, and unable to get the care they need. That will lead to more health problems, more suicides, and more preventable deaths.
This is the future that evangelicals want, whether they believe it or not.
These are the same people who oppose comprehensive sex education, access to birth control, emergency contraception, and socialized medicine — the very things that we know decrease the number of abortions.
Don’t think evangelicals won’t be blamed for it either.
Over the past decade, we’ve seen young people — well, everyone, but especially young people — leave organized religion. There are many reasons for that, but one of the more obvious ones is that prominent religious groups fought against LGBTQ rights. They opposed same-sex marriage. They screwed up the easiest moral question of our time. And when young people had to choose between their religion and their LGBTQ friends, the answer for many was obvious. They left organized religion and never looked back.
Abortion is already showing signs of the same trend. The younger you are, the more likely you are to support legal abortion.
That Pew Research Center survey from 2017 found that 65% of people under 30 supported abortion rights in most/all cases compared to only 53% of those 65 or older.
When conservative churches are the ones fighting the hardest to ban abortion, young people who remain in those churches will see it, realize they want nothing to do with such a heartless and ignorant organization, and walk away. It’s already happened before; it will happen again.
We saw it in Ireland. In 1983, 67% of voters agreed abortion should be illegal, in large part due to the Catholic Church’s position. Since then, people have recognized the Church as the hotbed of illegal, immoral activity it’s always been, and Catholics had no moral ground to stand on during this year’s referendum. The ban was overturned by a 2:1 margin.
The Catholic Church in Ireland has also lost members as their immoral positions became clear to the public. Between 2011 and 2016, the percent of Catholics dropped by more than 3% (a huge drop in raw numbers considering how most Irish people are Catholic). At the same time, the percent of people without organized religion jumped 73.6%. You can bet the Church’s dogmatic opposition to abortion — even as women died as a result — played a large role in that.
So overturning Roe could very well lead to a quicker exodus out of conservative churches. Evangelicals may get their Supreme Court pick, but their reputation will be forever stained. As bad as it is now, and as much as people already understand that churches are no place to go to for moral guidance, it will only get worse.
In many ways, it’s similar to the Faustian bargain the Republican Party has already struck. Sure, the GOP has all the power now, but aligning with Trump and everything he does is pushing young people away from the party at a rate we’ve never seen before. Yet party leaders continue down the same path because they’re blinded by the short term gains.
Not that evangelicals care. They’ll push for an anti-abortion nominee from Trump and a quick confirmation by the Senate. And then, in time, when their churches are emptier than ever, they’ll point fingers at everyone but themselves.
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