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Abortion Forever

SCOTUS to unborn: drop dead (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

I apologize for being late to post this. TAC was offline for a while this morning. The Supreme Court today, in a 5-4 decision, overturned Louisiana’s restrictive abortion law. Chief Justice John Roberts, the new Anthony Kennedy, provided the swing vote:

The Supreme Court on Monday struck down a restrictive Louisiana law that would have left the state with only one abortion clinic.

It was the first chance for a court reinforced by President Trump’s two conservative appointees to reconsider its abortion rights jurisprudence. But Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. joined the court’s liberals in striking down the law, saying it was required by the court’s decision overturning a Texas law in 2016.

“The legal doctrine of stare decisis requires us, absent special circumstances, to treat like cases alike,” Roberts wrote in concurring with the decision. “The Louisiana law imposes a burden on access to abortion just as severe as that imposed by the Texas law, for the same reasons. Therefore Louisiana’s law cannot stand under our precedents.”

The question was whether Louisiana’s 2014 law requiring doctors at abortion clinics to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals unduly burdens women’s access to abortion. Practitioners have said it has proven impossible for most of the doctors to acquire the privileges, leaving only one eligible to perform the procedure.

It is almost identical to the Texas law struck down by the Supreme Court in 2016, which said the requirement did not have a medical benefit. Now-retired justice Anthony M. Kennedy joined the court’s four liberals to form a majority in what was its most important endorsement of abortion rights in 25 years.

Ryan Anderson puts his finger on the moral insanity of this moment:

Two years ago, Roberts signed the dissent in the 2016 Texas case — a dissent that said the majority decision “exemplifies the court’s troubling tendency ‘to bend the rules when any effort to limit abortion, or even to speak in opposition to abortion, is at issue.’” Today, only four years later, Justice Roberts has Grown In Office™, and has voted to uphold the abortion status quo. Good Catholic Justice Roberts.

Can anyone understand SCOTUS abortion jurisprudence? Can it ever be applied logically? I think it can, if you understand this principle: Pro-lifers must lose.

I first heard about the decision when a pro-life Catholic lawyer e-mailed it to me, saying, “We vote for Republicans to avoid decisions like this.”

Another Catholic friend messaged: “Welp, looks like I’m done with the GOP.”

More:

Another reaction:

Still another:

You knew I would say this, but still, here it comes: This is why we need The Benedict Option!

It’s not that we should get out of ordinary politics. I have never said that, and in the text of the book, I deny it. (If you haven’t read the book, and have only been going on what you have heard people say about it, you should assume that you’re wrong.) The point is that ordinary politics are increasingly useless to small-o orthodox Christians. A conservative friend e-mailed this morning to say that he recently had an argument with his father about the Republican Party in the age of Trump. His dad said he was sticking with the GOP because “it all comes down to abortion.” Wrote the friend this morning, “That argument is null and void after today.”

We need the Benedict Option because we have lost this culture, and we are losing our children to this godless culture. The Supreme Court will defend the Sexual Revolution, no matter what. Our task as Christians is to construct ways of living and small communities in which the faith and its moral traditions will survive this collapse. Don’t come at me with this, “But they won’t leave us alone!” Of course they won’t. You think they’ll leave you alone now? You really think that voting Republican is sufficient? Are you aware of the great falling away from Christian orthodoxy, and from Christianity itself, among the younger generations?

Roe v. Wade will never be overturned. Civil rights laws will continue to be interpreted by the High Court to favor the Sexual Revolution in all its manifestations. We are no longer a socially conservative nation, and have ceased to be a Christian nation in any historically orthodox sense. The Christian leaders who told you to be cool, and trust the Republican Party and its judges — they were wrong. Maybe they meant well, but they were wrong. If you want to be a useful pawn for Conservatism, Inc., be my guest — but please stop deceiving yourself that this strategy is a winning one.

Maybe the Benedict Option gets some things wrong. But as Alan Jacobs wrote four years ago, what is the proposed alternative? He said:

The Benedict Option, as I understand it, is based on three premises.

  1. The dominant media of our technological society are powerful forces for socializing people into modes of thought and action that are often inconsistent with, if not absolutely hostile to, Christian faith and practice.
  2. In America today, churches and other Christian institutions (schools at all levels, parachurch organizations with various missions) are comparatively very weak at socializing people, if for no other reason than that they have access to comparatively little mindspace.
  3. Healthy Christian communities are made up of people who have been thoroughly grounded in, thoroughly socialized into, the the historic practices and beliefs of the Christian church.

From these three premises proponents of the Benedict Option draw a conclusion: If we are to form strong Christians, people with robust commitment to and robust understanding of the Christian life, then we need to shift the balance of ideological power towards Christian formation, and that means investing more of our time and attention than we have been spending on strengthening our Christian institutions.

I have to say that I simply do not see how any thoughtful Christian could disagree with any of these premises or the conclusion that follows from them. If any of you do so dissent, please let me know how and why — I would greatly benefit from hearing your views.

So what’s the problem? My sense is that many of you shy away from Rod’s rhetoric, which you believe alarmist. But in itself that’s a shallow reason for setting aside the whole BenOp argument. Rod has already begun to identify some of the communities which he believes to be doing the BenOp right — do you think they aren’t? Do you think they’ve gone astray? If so, please explain how.

The critical responses to the BenOp I’ve seen have struck me as merely visceral. I’d like to see more careful and thorough articulation of the critiques. But if you don’t believe that the three premises I’ve listed above are true, then I think you’re whistling past the graveyard. And if you accept the premises but don’t agree with the conclusion, then we definitely need to do some exercises in logic.

That was four years ago. Has anything that has happened since then changed the dynamic in a way that makes the Benedict Option less plausible?

Last year I sat in on a discussion among some Christian members of the Federalist Society who were concerned that there were so few religious believers among the younger generations of the Fed Soc. They were almost all libertarians of one sort or another. I thought about that on Friday when I read law professor Mark Movsesian’s essay about how underrepresented religious believers are on law school faculties. Movsesian wrote:

Intentional discrimination may explain part of what’s going on, but subconscious bias likely has a greater role in the underrepresentation of religious believers on American law faculties. (I don’t know enough about anti-discrimination law to say whether such bias would be actionable, though I doubt it). More than people realize, faculties are clubs that tend to self-replicate. Professors naturally hire and promote colleagues who resemble themselves in terms of demographics, educational background, and, especially, worldview. Indeed, human nature being what it is, professors often see such resemblances as neutral job qualifications. The fewer religious believers there are on a faculty, the fewer there will be in the future.

One intriguing possibility has to do with politics. Religion need not be politically conservative, of course, and a “Religious Left” exists in America. But surveys consistently show that people with strong religious commitments tend to identify with the Republican Party, while Nones and secular Americans tend to identify with the Democrats. (The numbers may well differ for some groups, like African Americans, a question that deserves greater study). Scholars like John McGinnis and others have shown that Democrats and progressives overwhelmingly predominate on law faculties, and it would be surprising if this fact didn’t have an impact on hiring and promotion decisions, especially the former. If faculties perceive religious belief as a proxy for conservative views, especially on social issues, that could help explain why religious believers are underrepresented on law faculties.

More:

… The comparative absence of religious believers makes a profound difference in American legal education. To be sure, with respect to some legal questions, religion is not especially relevant. Piety wouldn’t change one’s reading of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. And law professors have an obligation to teach our students the nuts and bolts of legal doctrine as it is.

But religious perspectives would enrich our discussion of law and offer our students perspectives they currently lack. For example, centuries of Christian reflection exist on many legal questions, in areas as diverse as contracts, criminal law, torts, property, legal ethics, and, of course, church and state. Few American law professors think to ask, though, what Christian learning has to say about these questions, and doing so would not be a good career move. With a few notable exceptions, elite law reviews have little interest in articles exploring Christian ideas about law, especially ideas that seem to align with a politically conservative perspective. Indeed, one recent study argues that articles that portray religion in a positive light tend to appear in less prestigious journals than articles that portray religion more negatively. For law professors to get their ideas heard, they must make themselves “part of the conversation,” and writing about religious perspectives is not a good way to do that.

Read it all. 

This is the future for us. This is the world in which we orthodox Christians are raising our kids. We keep fighting in ordinary politics as we can, but it is a fighting retreat. Go deep into the forest of the faith, and prepare for the long siege. As I noted here earlier this year, Ernst Junger wrote, of the “forest passage”:

When all institutions have become equivocal or even disreputable, and when open prayers are heard even in churches not for the persecuted but for the persecutors, at this point moral responsibility passes into the hands of individuals, or, more accurately, into the hands of any still unbroken individuals.

Wake up, people! What’s it going to take?

UPDATE: A Czech reader emails to say that maybe US Christians should withdraw from politics:

Pre 1989, especially in the late 80s, Czechoslovakia experienced a high rate of conversions of young atheists to Catholicism (to the chagrin of their parents). Nearly all my classmates at my university were catechized and baptized in their early 20s. Some of them even selected a semi-monastic lifestyle. Why? Because it was obvious that the Christians around them — the despised, ridiculed, and oppressed class with zero political power — had something they did not have but desired. As soon as the Church returned to the political arena, the trend reversed immediately. If American Christians did not have a hold on politics for the last two centuries but lived as Christians, you would not be having this discussion. Honestly, this is a self-inflicted wound.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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