The Christian Right’s Hypocrisy on Gun and Abortion Rights in Texas

The last couple of weeks have been eventful for the United States and for Texas in particular.

Yesterday the 6–3 conservative majority Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Texas law that amounts to a total abortion ban (without exceptions for cases of rape or incest) as I wrote about when the law passed in May.

In response, we are seeing conservative Americans praising the Supreme Court upholding a law that severely limits women’s rights in Texas — a law that has more resemblance to those enacted by the Taliban than it does constitutional laws imposed by the federal or state governments in the United States — as well as Texas’s “constitutional carry” law that went into effect on Wednesday.

Under the new law, anyone 21 or older can legally carry a firearm in public without a background check, permit, or training of any kind. Law enforcement officials have expressed their concern over the law, saying it will make it harder for them to do their jobs.

Dallas Police Chief Eddie Garcia said people open carrying firearms have made it harder for officers to differentiate a “good guy with a gun from a bad guy with a gun.”

“Known as House Bill 1927, the law applies to Texans age 21 and older and excludes people who are prohibited from legally owning a firearm, such as those convicted of a felony, assault, domestic violence or terrorist threats. Before the law went into effect Wednesday, residents could carry handguns only with a license and were required to complete training, as well as pass a written exam and proficiency test.”

Proponents of the law have argued that any restriction of the right to bear arms violates the Second Amendment. Governor Abbott has made it exceedingly clear that he intends to uphold that view and make Texas a “‘Second Amendment sanctuary state’, prohibiting state agencies and local governments from enforcing new federal gun rules.”

“We need to erect a complete barrier against any government official anywhere from treading on gun rights in Texas,” Abbott said during his annual State of the State address in February.

The same, however, cannot be said for a woman’s right to access abortion healthcare in the state, which is, of course, specifically protected by Roe v. Wade.

According to Cornell Law, Roe v. Wade and the related cases that followed reaffirmed the decision determined that (1) women have the right to abort pre-viability without undue interference from the state; (2) the state may restrict abortion post-viability; and (3) the state has a legitimate interest in protecting woman’s health and life of the fetus.

(The full text of Roe v. Wade can be found here.)

Despite the likely unconstitutionality of the abortion laws being passed by GOP state legislatures across the south, every piece of so-called “pro-life” legislation that hits presents a practical and financial burden for abortion providers in states in the Bible belt.

From January to mid-May 2021, 549 legislative restrictions — including 165 abortion bans — were introduced across 47 states. Of those, 69 have been enacted in 14 states, including a shocking 28 passed in a four day span and nine bans, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

The TRAP (Targeted Restrictions on Abortion Providers) laws and outright bans alike have forced the closure of clinics that do not have the resources to fight them or modify their buildings, staff, and policies to accommodate the stringent specifications outlined in them.

On the flip side, these kinds of statutes and restrictions have tremendous value in the court of public opinion for pro-life advocates, who see them as a win for their cause and a step toward their ultimate goal of reversing Roe.

Therein lies the hypocrisy.

For a group that argues for unrestricted gun ownership and public carry of firearms under what they believe is a constitutionally protected right (despite the vague verbiage contained in the Second Amendment and the statistically-proven negative effects of unlimited firearm possession) and sees any laws restricting it as an infringement on said rights, they sure don’t seem to care that a woman’s fundamental right to have an abortion is specifically and constitutionally protected under the strikingly clear guidelines set forth by Roe v. Wade.

Because almost every abortion law up to this point has eventually been ruled unconstitutional and in violation of the parameters outlined in Roe (specifically because they present undue interference from the state), Texas has elected to privatize the punishment of women who have abortions to get around those rulings.

According to the new law, anyone — even someone not connected in any way to the woman or fetus in question — can now sue the woman, the abortion provider, the person who drove her to the appointment, the rape counselor that gave her information on the procedure, and/or anyone who contributes to an abortion fund.

If they succeed, they are guaranteed a minimum $10k award in addition to the recovery of attorney’s fees. If they do not, and the court rules in favor of the woman or other defendant, that party has no recourse for recouping the legal fees related to the case.

Critics have pointed out that this financially incentivizes false allegations of “illegal abortion” from jilted lovers and disgruntled friends or family members in addition to creating another threat to be held over potential rape victims.

As a woman and a mother of a daughter, I cannot even begin to describe how incredibly frustrating — and terrifying — it is that an embryo with XX chromosomes has more rights than a girl that might result from that pregnancy ever will after she’s born.

While Texas does not have a waiting period for the purchase of firearms, women who are seeking an abortion in the state are required to wait 24 hours from the time of their state-mandated counseling, which includes medically inaccurate and biased information, until they are legally allowed to have the procedure. Due to the closures of clinics across the South in recent years, many women, especially those in Texas, have to drive hundreds of miles to obtain abortion care.

Firearms are also not registered in Texas, but a new website from Texas Right to Life has been created to “help enforce the Texas Heartbeat Act” in the form of a whistleblower tip line — literally, the site is called https://prolifewhistleblower.com/ — where people can submit “attachments of evidence” of the violation and even check a box to indicate whether they’re “currently elected to public office,” as if that leaves any room for doubt as to their true motives.

(The site’s anonymous tip form was inaccessible at the time this was written, likely because once the site went live and word of it spread on social media, pro-choice activists, Redditors, TikTokers, and general internet trolls flooded it with “Shrek porn” [yes, really] and false information, including hundreds of reports of Governor Greg Abbott having illegal abortions.)

UPDATE: The website’s host, GoDaddy, has now given Texas Right to Life 24 hours to find a new host for their whistleblower site for violating their terms of service regarding people’s privacy.

The website’s home page states:

“Any abortion performed in violation of the Texas Heartbeat Act is a criminal offense, and any individual or entity that aids or abets an abortion on a child with a detectable heartbeat in Texas is violating the law as well. This includes: (1) Abortion funds that provide financial or logistical support to women who kill their unborn children after a fetal heartbeat is detectable; (3) Doctors or medical personnel who provide abortion referrals after six weeks of gestation; and (4) Any other individual or entity that aids or abets an illegal abortion in any way.*

The Texas Heartbeat Act is unique because it calls upon private citizens to hold abortion providers and their enablers accountable. Any person can sue any abortion provider who kills an unborn child after six weeks of gestation — and any person can sue anyone who aids or abets these illegal abortions. All of these individuals must pay damages to the person who sued them of at least $10,000 for each illegal abortion that they perform or assist.

Texas Right to Life will ensure that these lawbreakers are held accountable for their actions. Use the links below to report anyone who is violating the Texas Heartbeat Act by aiding or abetting a post-heartbeat abortion. And report any person or entity that aids or abets (or that intends to aid or abet) an illegal abortion in Texas.”

(I’m not sure where list item number two went or what it included, or if it’s just a numbering error.)

Slate writer Mark Joseph Stern recently shared a video on Twitter of Texas Right to Life Director Elizabeth Graham advertising the tip line.

The video is complete with infomercial background music and a *wink, wink* reminder that when submitting information with “as many details as possible to stop abortion by protecting women and children from unsafe criminal abortions”, tipsters need to “be sure to protect the privacy and anonymity of the women, and we, of course, will do the same” — even though the form includes a section where images can be uploaded as evidence, and the entire purpose of the site is to identify women who they believe are violating the law so they can turn them in and/or bring legal suits against them.

At the end of the video, Graham, who maintains an oddly cold and expressionless visage that stands in stark contrast to her upbeat, PR-esque voice throughout, adds, “Those who worship at the altar of child sacrifice tried to shut down prolifewhistleblower.com, but the site is still functioning and active and awaiting your reports and findings.”

Not at all dystopian, indeed.

Given the recent (bad, wrong, and intellectually inaccurate) comparisons of mask and vaccine mandates to the Holocaust from leaders and voters on the political right, the notion that they’re literally crowdsourcing the prosecution (and persecution) of their neighbors for having abortions because they don’t agree with them is especially hypocritical.

To further put this into perspective, if Democrats proposed (much less enacted) similar legislation banning firearms that allowed victims of gun violence — or anyone with no vested interest in their lives — to sue anyone, from the sporting goods store owner who sold the defendant the gun to the Walmart where they bought the ammo, to the NRA and its members who contribute financially to the advancement of gun rights, right-wing politicians and voters alike would be rioting at the capitols — no doubt with military-style assault rifles strapped to their bodies.

Moreover, if the Supreme Court upheld such legislation, they would likely be pronouncing all nine of its members “liberal hacks” and “traitors to our democracy”, calling for them to be publicly hanged for treason…or something along those lines.

As it stands, pro-choice advocates and organizations across the country are currently gearing up to fight the ruling.

President Biden, whose Catholic faith has been called into question by the right-wing media on the issue (despite the obvious violation of the church/state barrier that would occur if he attempted to use his religious beliefs to influence federal legislation), has been vocal about the “unconstitutional chaos” that allowing the ban to stand will cause by “infringing on a right that women have exercised for almost a half-century.”

The Court itself issued a majority opinion that the decision was “not based on any conclusion about the constitutionality of Texas’s law” and allowed legal challenges to proceed.

While the women and men who represent the majority of Americans who believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases will undoubtedly fight to uphold Roe, the opposition it currently faces is as undeniable as Trump and his remaining political allies’ influence.

The Supreme Court decision was passed during a time when all but the most stringent Catholics regarded abortion as a medical decision to be made between a woman and her doctor.

According to a Politico article on the origins of the “Christian Right”, “In 1968…a symposium sponsored by the Christian Medical Society and Christianity Today, the flagship magazine of evangelicalism, refused to characterize abortion as sinful, citing ‘individual health, family welfare, and social responsibility’ as justifications for ending a pregnancy.”

The Southern Baptist Convention, which would eventually hold an enormous amount of political influence in the passage of conservative policies, maintained a similar view both before and in the years following the passage of Roe.

In their 1971 resolution on abortion, the SBC encouraged “Southern Baptists to work for legislation that will allow the possibility 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.”

When the Roe decision was handed down, W. A. Criswell, the Southern Baptist Convention’s former president and pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas — also one of the most famous fundamentalists of the 20th century — was pleased: “I have always felt that it was only after a child was born and had a life separate from its mother that it became an individual person,” he said, “and it has always, therefore, seemed to me that what is best for the mother and for the future should be allowed.”
— RANDALL BALMER

It wasn’t until after the formation of the so-called “Moral Majority” by Jerry Falwell, Sr. and Paul Weyrich (who also started conservative organizations like The Heritage Foundation and the American Legislative Exchange Council [ALEC]) in 1979 that Christian churches and evangelical voters alike began to change their tune on the issue of abortion, which evolved into the stance we’re familiar with today.

After the election of Trump in 2016, I don’t believe anything can be put past the religious right. Two-thirds of Republicans still believe that Trump won the 2020 election despite the multitudes of evidence against the claim, along with 28% of Independents.

These are not people who are easily swayed by facts or reality, whose entire political view is shaped by beliefs that have no basis in either of those things. After listening to Chris Mooney’s 2012 book “The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science — and Reality”, I can see exactly what lead up to the events of the last several years.

Studies in the social sciences have established a clear picture of conservative political psychology. A meta-analysis done in 2003 of 88 samples across 12 countries and including 22,818 cases, confirmed that several psychological variables predict political conservatism:

  • High levels of death anxiety, system instability, dogmatism–intolerance of ambiguity, fear of threat and loss, and needs for order, structure, and closure
  • Low levels of openness to experience, uncertainty tolerance, integrative complexity, and self-esteem

“The core ideology of conservatism stresses resistance to change and justification of inequality and is motivated by needs that vary situationally and dispositionally to manage uncertainty and threat.”

With the information crisis that began during the 2016 elections, researchers have also found that conservatives are more susceptible to believing falsehoods as well as more likely to double down on false information when confronted with factual corrections.

As a result, we’re dealing with a group of people who are highly motivated to believe false information that fits within their preconceived notions, especially because doing so is a mark of their political tribalism and to contradict it, at least publicly, comes at too high a sociopolitical cost for them. Their views are based on beliefs, feelings, and reactions rather than on verifiable facts and statistical data.

In its entirety, this means that despite the observable historical trend of abortions decreasing during Democratic administrations (because “access to contraception is more effective in reducing the number of abortions than regulation that controls access — and under Democratic leadership, access to affordable contraception has increased”), these voters are most likely going to keep voting for Republicans who focus on emotionally-driven rhetoric, abortion bans, and reversing Roe — none of which have had a measurable effect on the abortion rate given that the it “remained flat or at best decreased marginally under Republican administrations.”

In fact, the Mexico City Policy, which has been restricting U.S. foreign aid for Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) that provide abortions and participate in abortion-related activities (such as counseling on abortions) during Republican administrations since the ’70s and was reinstated by Trump in 2017 (and rescinded by Biden this year), was found to have decreased contraceptive use by 13.5% and increased pregnancies by 12% and abortions by as much as 40% in regions that were especially vulnerable to the funding restrictions.

The quantitative effects of these policies should, again, be enough to sway “pro-life” voters who say their goal is to reduce or stop abortions — but the fact is, many of them would rather have leaders that speak to their religious beliefs while enacting laws that paradoxically increase or have no effect on abortions than those who pass legislation that actually, measurably reduces them.

The reason I bring all of this up is because it is imperative to the understanding of the obstacles we’re facing when it comes to the abortion debate and the legislation that comes from it.

Despite the general public support of abortion in at least some cases, the minority voice is prevailing in Southern states, in part due to restrictive voting laws that disproportionately affect people of color and others who are more likely to vote for Democratic candidates. It would seem that restrictive abortion legislation and restrictive voting laws go hand in hand considering the kinds of bills we’ve seen proposed and passed in these states in recent years.

Therefore, I believe that it is vital that we safeguard our constitutionally-protected right to vote. Without our ability to vote, we have no say in changing the tide of anti-abortion legislation.

Secondly, I think we need to be clear in our messaging for the general public. We need to emphasize the effects of Democratic policies on the abortion rate compared to Republican ones — if their goal is to prevent abortions from happening, the Democratic Party’s platform is more effective in making that happen.

We also need to point out the extreme nature of these bills, like the fact that the Texas ban does not include exceptions for rape or incest — something that 77% of Americans support during the first trimester. Even if they broadly disagree with abortion on a personal level, few pro-lifers agree with such radical restrictions.

Rather than making it about the debate surrounding whether or not a fetus is considered a life and/or if it has constitutional rights, we need to focus on policies and their effects. I believe there is ground for compromise between pro-life and pro-choice, but likely not on the religious or philosophical issues.

Many on the other side seem to believe that pro-choice advocates are pro-abortion, that we somehow derive joy from it or see it as a frivolous decision. They neglect to understand that is not the case for the vast majority, and that the very reason the case for choice is so important to us is because we do recognize the seriousness and difficulty inherent in that decision.

The biggest difference, it seems, is that while we believe women to be fully capable of making those decisions for themselves with the advice of their doctor and family/friends, the people making these laws implicitly trust any random person on the street toting an assault rifle more than they do a woman who is seeking an abortion.

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