The Briefing 01-24-17
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Tuesday, January 24, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Trump reinstates Mexico City Policy, a pro-life measure that prevents US aid from promoting abortion
Over the course of the last several presidential administrations, we’ve seen many historic actions taken by means of executive orders coming from the President. In the case of what happened yesterday from the White House, it was three executive orders in the specific form of presidential memoranda. The three executive orders handed down yesterday had to do with fulfilling three campaign promises that President Trump had made.
The first of them had to do with an immediate freeze on all federal hiring with the exception of the military. President Ronald Reagan had signed a similar executive order back in 1981 when he was first inaugurated as president. President Trump signed the order yesterday and in so doing not only fulfilled a campaign promise, but made very clear that he intends to restrict the growth of the government with the exception, as he pointed out in the actual signing ceremony, of the United States military, which he intends to expand.
The second executive order withdrew the United States from what is known as the TPP, that is a trade agreement that is known officially as the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Once again, this was a campaign promise made by then-candidate Donald Trump, and it is a point of similarity that drew together both the right and the left in American politics, the TPP being opposed by those who are not considered a part of the economic elite and generally supported by those who are. Very interestingly, President Obama as a candidate had been against this kind of agreement, but it was his administration that negotiated the TPP back when Hillary Clinton was his Secretary of State. She defended the TPP, actually claiming that it was the best trade agreement the United States had ever negotiated. The left was the first to cry foul in terms of TPP, claiming that it would lead to a loss of American market share and a loss of American jobs, especially in the manufacturing sector. Once the political pressure was on as then-Vermont independent Senator Bernie Sanders ran against the TPP even as he was running for the Democratic presidential nomination, Hillary Clinton decided that the agreement that she had first said was the very best ever negotiated for the United States was, after all, lacking, and she also came out against it. Donald Trump amongst the Republican candidates for the nomination back in 2016 was almost alone amongst the Republicans and coming out foursquare against the TPP, and he fulfilled at least that part of his campaign promises yesterday by signing an official withdrawal. By the way, this does not mean the end of the negotiations, but it does mean that the United States is withdrawing from the agreement even before the United States Senate would even have the opportunity to debate whether or not the treaty would be ratified. And that is likely at the relief of the United States Senate that now will not have to deal with this trade policy, at least until it is renegotiated.
But it was the third executive order or presidential memorandum signed yesterday by President Trump that from a Christian worldview perspective is most important because it deals with nothing less than the sanctity of human life. President Trump yesterday put back in effect what is known as the Mexico City Policy. This was put into effect by President Reagan back in 1984. It is named by Mexico City because it was in that year in that city that the Reagan administration made the announcement at an official population conference sponsored by the United Nations. The Mexico City Policy, it’s easy to understand its provisions, prevents any foreign entity receiving U.S. taxpayer funds from advocating for abortion. The role is furthermore extended so that no taxpayer funds can go to international family planning services, as they are known, that also in the course of their work advocate for abortion. Those on the left in the pro-abortion movement decry the Mexico City Policy as a set of gag rules against those who receive federal taxpayer funds. This particular executive order reminds us of the political ping-pong that can take place in terms of executive orders and, of course, that underlines what we often say, and that is that elections have consequences.
Back in 1984, President Reagan signed the Mexico City Policy into effect that was maintained by his successor in office and his former Vice President, President George H.W. Bush. When Bill Clinton was elected in 1992 and inaugurated in 1993, he reversed the Mexico City Policy, but then when George W. Bush was elected in 2000 and inaugurated in 2001, he put the policy back into effect. When President Obama took office in 2009, he once again rescinded the Mexico City Policy, and now eight years later, President Trump has put it back into effect. What we see here on the one hand is the partisan divide in terms of worldview, especially on the issue of the sanctity of human life. It’s virtually impossible to imagine a Democratic president who would support the Mexico City Policy. It’s on the other hand virtually impossible to imagine a Republican president who would not.
Christians considering the importance of what happened yesterday should also remember that there are three crucial federal issues involved in the taxpayer funding of abortion. The first was adopted in 1973, and it’s known as the Helms Amendment named for the late former U.S Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina. The Helms Amendment prevented the use of any federal funds from the United States in procuring an abortion. That was very important, and remember that was in 1973. The Helms Amendment came rather quickly on the heels of the Roe v. Wade decision that had come down earlier that year. And then in the year 1976, the United States Congress passed what is known as the Hyde Amendment, named for the late Republican congressman from Illinois, Henry Hyde. That particular law prevented the use of any United States federal funding from the procuring of an abortion here in the United States, particularly funds in terms of Medicaid.
Christians need to understand what’s at stake here. These three provisions—the Helms Amendment, the Hyde Amendment, and the Mexico City Policy—are all that stand between the American taxpayers and the federal funding of abortion. Without these three provisions, without any one of them, taxpayer money will go towards the payment for abortion, and of course we need to recognize that the Democratic Party in its platform is officially committed, as it has been for some time, to the federal funding of abortion.
And we also have to recognize as we go back to 1973 that the liberals in the United States government, not only those who were sitting on the United States Supreme Court, but also those who are in Congress at the time, were absolutely convinced that the federal funding of abortion in this country would follow rather automatically on the Roe v. Wade decision. The fact that it did not is indicative of the reality that the Roe v. Wade decision produced an enormous awakening in the United States in terms of the sanctity of human life.
Christians committed to the sanctity of human life, therefore, must be thankful for President Trump for signing that presidential memorandum yesterday, and we must be alerted to the fact that it could be reversed, as so many other executive orders, with the election of some other president. We also need to recognize that those two crucial acts of legislation, the Helms Amendment and the Hyde Amendment, are only in effect because they have not yet been reversed by a Democratic Party that is officially committed to doing so.
It’s also important to recognize that the executive order that President Trump signed on Friday having to do with putting at least a pause on the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as ObamaCare, likely has also sent a signal that the contraceptive mandate that was put into place by the Obama Administration, along with all of its violations of religious liberty, is likely also on hold. The timing of the executive order yesterday on the Mexico City Policy probably has everything to do also with the fact that the anniversary of Roe v. Wade—that decision was handed down on January 22, 1973—comes up very close to every presidential inauguration on January 20.
I was in Washington D.C. speaking at and participating pro-life event, including the March for Life, back in 1993 when then-newly inaugurated President Bill Clinton signed a series of executive orders reversing many of the pro-life gains made during the presidencies of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Similarly, this week in Washington D.C. there will be many pro-life events, including the March for Life and the Evangelicals for Life conference in which I will be speaking, which are also timed to coincide with a very sad anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision. Those gathered for the pro-life events in Washington D.C. this week will at least have the encouragement that has come from President Trump signing these executive orders.
NY Gov. Cuomo promises to expand access to free abortions that are "medically necessary"
But next, a reminder of what is at stake appeared in an article in recent days in the New York Times. The reporter Vivian Yee wrote, “Andrew Cuomo plans to widen access to abortion and contraception,” speaking of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo
The subhead of the article,
“A Leftward Tilt Contrasts with the National Mood”
In order to understand this, we need to go back not just last week but back to 1973 when the Roe v. Wade decision was handed down. Many American Christians thinking back to 1973 assume that abortion must have been illegal in all 50 states and only made legal in all 50 states by the Supreme Court in the Roe decision. That’s not true. Abortion on demand was already legal in many states, but they were clustered in the American Northeast and Northwest, including some coastal and very more liberal states. In the more conservative states, abortion was still very much illegal. That was what was reversed by the Supreme Court in 1973. But the state of New York was one of those early adopters of pro-abortion legislation. And this news from the New York Times tells us that the current New York Governor intends even to widen that state’s tax assisted support for contraception and abortion. Yee writes, and I quote,
“Stepping into a period of intense anxiety over the future of the American health care system and reproductive rights, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo plans to announce on Saturday that his administration will require health insurers to cover medically necessary abortions and most forms of contraception at no cost — essentially safeguarding protections currently afforded to women.”
That “currently afforded to women” means in New York State, and here we need to note this is a form of political posturing on the part of the Governor of New York, a liberal Democrat who has in more recent weeks been noticeably intending to run for president, or at least to set the ground game for a run, from the left of his party for the 2020 United States Democratic presidential nomination.
But this particular article includes some language we need to look at very carefully. Once again, the reporter tells us that the New York Governor “plans to announce on Saturday that his administration will require health insurers to cover medically necessary abortions and most forms of contraception.”
The three important words here are “medically necessary abortion,” because there’s a huge amount of freight that is carried by those three words. It comes down to this: what defines an abortion, as in this sense, medically necessary? Once again we go back to the two decisions handed down in 1973 on abortion, not only the Roe decision, but the similar Doe decision. By the time you put the two of those together, it put the government in the position of acknowledging the medical necessity of some abortions, even including psychological or psychiatric necessity. What did that mean? It meant that there was no necessity of any physical threat to the life of the mother in order for an abortion to be defined as medically necessary. A psychiatric condition or even the threat of a psychiatric condition by means of the pregnancy would be enough for many to declare it to be a medically necessary abortion.
This put very few constraints on what can only be described as abortion on demand. A woman could basically shop for a doctor who declared her condition physical or psychological to mandate a necessary abortion. The news article that appeared in the New York Times basically announces that Governor Cuomo intends to send the signal that his state will not only be pro-abortion, but will continue to be so pro-abortion as to pay for many of the abortions that take place in that state.
All this is another reminder not only of the stakes in terms of American electoral politics but also the worldview divide that not only separates two parties, but much of the United States by a map, a map, politically, morally, demographically that reveals the fact that if Roe v. Wade were to be reversed, or if 1973 were simply to be erased from our constitutional history, there would be some states that would be resolutely pro-abortion and others states that would be resolutely pro-life. It’s hard to imagine how in one country you could have so many states on an opposite side of such an urgent moral issue.
Is it good stewardship for a billionaire to fly a private jet to Puerto Rico to rescue 30 stray dogs?
Next even as we been thinking about the sanctity of human life, we need to understand that the distinction between the human creature and other creatures is absolutely necessary in order for us to understand why it is the human creature alone made in the image of God that possesses this sacredness of life. The crucial distinction between the goodness of the life of the creature and the sanctity of the life of a human being is one that is crucial to the Christian biblical worldview. In our modern secularizing society, one symptom of that secularization is confusion over this issue. A recent story that ran in the Palm Beach Post from Florida indicates this confusion. The reporter is Christine Stapleton. The headline is this,
“Ex-New York City Mayor’s daughter saves Puerto Rican dogs”
“Thirty scared, stray mutts living in poverty on the tiny island of Vieques off the west coast of Puerto Rico were loaded onto a private jet owned by billionaire Michael Bloomberg, the eighth richest man in the world, and flown to Palm Beach International Airport on Monday to begin their lives as the luckiest dogs in the world.”
Georgina Bloomberg, 33 years old, the daughter of the former New York City mayor said,
“I do it because I can.”
The mayor’s estimated to have a personal net worth of $43 billion. She said this,
“I was put on this planet to do good for animals and I do as much as I can with what I was given.”
Now let’s just consider this for a moment. Here you have 30 scared, stray dogs defined as “living in poverty.” That’s an interesting expression for dogs in the first place. But then we are told that these dogs from an island off of Puerto Rico were put on a private jet and flown to Florida by a woman whose father is worth $43 billion in terms of his fortune, who then declares that she was put on earth in order to help animals, and evidently this is how she’s doing it. The head of the local rescue center there in West Palm Beach simply said,
“These are very lucky dogs.”
Well, very lucky indeed. So lucky that of all of the millions and millions and millions of dogs in the world that can be rightly described—if any dog can—as living in poverty, they were plucked off of an island off of Puerto Rico and put on a billionaire’s private jet in order to be flown to Palm Beach by a woman who says she was put on this earth in order to help animals.
As Christians we understand that we are to be kind to all of God’s creatures, and to put it even more importantly in biblical terms, we are to be good stewards of all of creation. But the Bible makes very clear that distinction between human beings and animals. And just to state the obvious, it’s hard to imagine how in the scale of any stewardship it can make sense to send a private jet by a billionaire in order to pick up 30 stray dogs to bring them to a rescue center in the United States when there are very close at hand human beings who do not have enough to eat and children who desperately need adoption. The problem here is a massive confusion at the level of worldview that results in a story that is more frightening when you consider not only that this daughter of a billionaire did this, but that the Palm Beach Post wrote the article, evidently, assuming that this should bring adulation and applause on the part of the readers of the newspaper.
Ethics, resource allocation, and the call to stop searching for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
Finally along similar lines, an article that appeared last week on Inauguration Day and therefore was probably missed by many. The article is by reporters Russell Goldman and Michelle Innis. The headline,
“Ethical Questions in Calling Off the 3-Year Search for a Missing Jet.”
This has to do of course with the announcement that the international coalition that had for the last three years been looking for Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 has been declared to be over simply because there is no reasonable expectation that spending more money would lead to any improvement in airline safety. Of course, the most interesting words in those headlines were the two first words: “ethical questions.” It comes down to this, as Goldman and Innis reported,
“The nearly three-year-long effort to find the missing jet cost $160 million, the largest and most expensive search in aviation history. For the investigators who scoured 46,000 square miles the Indian Ocean seabed, there will be no answers. For the families of the 239 victims, there will be no closure.”
According to the New York Times,
“Their announcement has pitted victims’ relatives against the leaders of their countries, who said continuing the search was not worth the expense.”
Organizations that are close to the friends and family members of those who were on the flight said however that,
“Investigators are obligated to continue the search, family members said, to bring emotional closure, to provide the only concrete evidence to explain what felled the plane and to prevent similar accidents.”
The international coalition that had been conducting the search and finally ended it last week was very disappointed, of course, that the jet was not found and that there still is no conclusive explanation for why the Malaysian Airlines jet fell into the Indian ocean. However, the evidence is that it was a deliberate act undertaken by the pilots, or at least the aviation team that was behind the flight; the evidence indicates that the crash was a deliberate act undertaken by at least one member of the flight team.
An MIT professor here in the United States quoted in the article said that the plane had remained aloft for five hours on a consistent trajectory until its fuel was exhausted. Therefore, there’s no reason to expect there was any mechanical problem with the jet. Furthermore, even finding the wreckage of the jet would not produce any evidence on the flight recorders because given the fact that it flew in silence for hours, the silence is all that would’ve been recorded. Then the New York Times wrote this,
“Given that no living passengers can still be found, said Peter Singer, an ethics professor at Princeton University, resources should be reallocated to help the most people.”
“One hundred and fifty million dollars was already far too much to spend on the search for the missing plane, so calling off the search now is the right decision.”
He went on to say,
“It is estimated that by donating to the Against Malaria Foundation so that it can distribute more bed nets, it is possible to save a life for approximately $3,000,” he said. “If that is accurate, then the money spent on the search could have saved 50,000 lives. Would anyone think that finding the plane is more important than that?”
Peter Singer is generally one of the most reprehensible thinkers on the international scene today. But this is an indication that even on an issue like this, there is at least some clarity that it makes no moral sense whatsoever to spend millions and millions of dollars in what would be of no profit whatsoever. Once again the biblical worldview reminds us that we rightly honor the dead, but we allocate resources not to the dead, but to the living.
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