Jefferson Cowie, historian at Vanderbilt, argued in an email that “there are three dimensions to the issue of abortion.”
The first, he notes,
is an obvious and genuine concern for fundamentalist Christian morality among Southern politics. Some are clearly motivated by the obvious: they think abortion is wrong. These opinions are in the minority in this country, but they are strongly concentrated in the South.
The second, he continued, is
politicizing the issue to annoy the electorate. It is less a question of politics than of collecting votes outright. Obviously, there is very little support for neonatal care or reduction of the death penalty, so “pro-life” is a ridiculously misnomer. They are less pro-life than they are pro-politics – theirs.
The third, in Cowie’s opinion, is
The forgotten part: the deep resonance of state and regional sovereignty. Regional policy is still defined by resistance to federal authority. If the federal government can manage any aspect of culture or regional policy, according to logic, then it can manage everything. This has been a concern over just about everything since Reconstruction, including the lynching law, fair employment practices, the Brown decision, buses, prayer in schools, and abortion. This problem runs deep – think of the career of George Wallace who liked to say that the federal government put the courts in the schools and brought God out. It is the remnants of the lost cause that still blow in the political wind.
Darren Dochuk, professor of history at Notre Dame and author of “From Bible Belt to Sunbelt: Plain-Folk Religion, Grassroots Politics and the Rise of Evangelical Conservatism,” argued in an email that the strength of the opposition to abortion in the South arises unique tensions in the region between notions of virility and evangelical attempts to control the sins of men:
There has always been a tension in Southern life between the ideals of harsh masculinity and the expectations of evangelical decorum. At the start of the 20th century, serious preachers and parishioners did their part to curb the worst excesses of southern virility, whether related to alcohol, sex or violence; to wage war against sin was their calling, to protect the home and home, and to provide them with Christian male leadership, their main concern. This tension was also dynamic in that excessive sin also led to increased evangelical fervor; the greater the sin, the greater the salvation, which means that male indiscretions were subtly permitted, even celebrated, among the church crowd as justification for an equally aggressive response.
“Since the late 1970s, however,” Dochuk wrote,
Southern evangelism as a whole has become more welcoming to the kind of harsh masculinity that southern sinners of yesteryear often displayed. For theological as well as cultural and political reasons, the evangelical southern majority, whose prescriptions and sentiments now permeate every corner of southern rural culture, have increasingly embraced a muscular Christianity that considers home protection. and home and all facets of family values and notions. of life and freedom, associated with them a cause worthy of being carried out with all the force and abandonment required.
This accommodation is motivated, according to Dochuk, by the fact that the enemy is now, according to them, “an effeminate liberalism and its” secular humanism “”, which, in turn, means that
even leaders who might not display Christlike temperaments or standards are welcome in the fold. In a sense, evangelicals in the south have abandoned the New Testament for the Old Testament – the renewal for the rebuilding of society – and left plenty of room for the rampaging politician who can impose his will (see Trump as well as Lesser Enlightenment ) in order to remake the nation in their image.
In this environment, Dochuk observed,
The swaggering southern rural politician enjoys more freedom than ever to play hard even as he denounces the sins of abortion and feminism; as a saint and a sinner, he won the right and the freedom to lead the charge of family values against Washington and its soft liberal elite.
In milder terms, Rebecca Kreitzer, professor of public policy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and two colleagues argue in “The Evolution of Morality Policy Debate: Moralization and Demoralization” that as a problem becomes once polarized and “moralized,” it becomes more difficult, if not impossible, to resolve. In contrast, when an issue becomes “demoralized”, as has been the case with same-sex marriage over the past two decades, it becomes increasingly likely to achieve bipartisan consensus.
For 20 years, Gallup has asked, “Whether or not you think it should be legal, please tell me if you personally think that same-sex relationships are morally acceptable or morally wrong in general. In 2001, 53 percent said morally wrong and 40 percent said morally acceptable. In 2021, however, 69% said gay-lesbian relationships were morally acceptable, compared with 30% who described such relationships as morally unacceptable. The issue has been “demoralized” and effectively disappeared from the national debate.
Bad luck in the event of an abortion. During the same 20 years, Gallup questioned whether abortion was morally acceptable or unacceptable. In 2001, 42 percent said the procedure is morally acceptable and 45 percent said it was morally unacceptable. Over these two decades, the numbers have varied slightly from year to year, but have actually changed very little: in 2021, 47% said acceptable, 46% said unacceptable.
The bottom line: for at least the medium term, the issue of abortion is here to stay. On the contrary, the Supreme Court’s September 1 5-4 decision to refuse to block a Texas law banning most abortions demonstrated that the issue will remain in the spotlight with no resolution in sight.