Monday, Jan. 22, 2018

Monday, Jan. 22, 2018

The Briefing

January 22, 2018

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

It’s Monday, January 22, 2018. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Today we’ll see that the political game is at a fever pitch with a limited government shutdown, we’ll see women march in cities across the United States and a record number indicate they’re going to run for office, on the 45th anniversary of Roe v. Wade we’ll look anew at the challenge we face, we’ll also see why the pro-life movement is now very much on the defensive, we’ll see science give a boost to the pro-life movement and the president of the United States address the March for Life.

Part I

Politics at a fever pitch as limited government shutdown is underway,

Well it’s been an interesting weekend. At 12:00 AM on Saturday morning, the United States government entered into what is politically described as a limited government shutdown. Now as oxymoronic as all of that might sound, it’s very limited and it is the government and it is to some degree a shut down. But it also is an inherently political process, and that’s really what we’re watching here, we are watching a manufactured crisis, a crisis manufactured in part by both parties, a crisis that is set in advance by deadlines adopted by Congress that require further authorization for federal spending. There’s an additional tripwire that Congress had set up in terms of the debt limit, or the debt ceiling as it is called. But as we’re thinking about this particular limited government shutdown and the failure of the United States Congress to come to a resolution and an agreement with the president of the United States, we’re looking at a high-stakes political game, or at least it should be a high-stakes political game. Both parties, the Republicans and the Democrats, are counting on the other party getting the blame, and they are also counting on the fact that if they do get the blame, their own party, the voters will have forgotten this particular crisis by the time the midterm elections come around later this year in November. It’s a moment of political risk for all parties involved, and that includes the president of the United States, and this is the first time that the government has experienced this kind of partial shutdown when one party is in control of both the White House and both houses of Congress. But this is where we need to look a little more closely because the Republican majority in the House of Representatives has been unusually unified; the house has adopted the measure that would have extended government funding and avoided the shut down. The political shut down in this sense took place in the United States Senate. It’s a very different game there. In the House of Representatives, all that is needed in the end is a majority, but in the Senate 60 votes are required for what’s defined as cloture, a sufficient super majority to move the matter to the floor, which is 51 Republican senators, that’s a very thin majority and not nearly enough for Republicans to move forward alone, some kind of bipartisan solution will eventually have to be found and it may be that as many as 10 to 12 Democratic senators will have to vote with the Republican majority or with the majority of the Republican majority in order to achieve a way beyond the impasse. But in the last 48 hours, we have seen some very interesting legislative leadership in the United States Senate. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell presented to the Democrats a House bill that involves nothing, in general terms, that Democrats have not both historically and even recently supported. Most importantly this included continuing funding for CHIP, that’s the Children’s Health Insurance Program, about a six year extension. That’s tantalizing for Democrats and yet they have thus far voted it down. Why? It is because the majority of Democrats, and now the Democratic leadership in the Senate under a good deal of pressure from the left-wing of its party and also from younger activists, has decided that the line in the sand is not the Children’s Health Insurance Program nor the federal government and a limited government shutdown but rather DACA, the dreamers and immigration.

Now as I have stated repeatedly on The Briefing, I believe it is the responsibility of both parties and of both chambers in Congress and of the president of the United States to achieve a legislative solution for the dreamers, as they are known; young immigrants who came to this country illegally, not by their own choice but by their parents, and who, by their very participation in the DACA program, they qualify for the kind of immigration we would want in this country. But that is the responsibility of Congress and the president, and I do not believe that it is most effectively going to be achieved by tying it to something like continued federal funding. In the give-and-take of politics, which is likely in this case to create yet another form of instability rather than stability. In any event, as of the last reckoning, we’re looking at another Senate vote at noon or as the Senate convenes at 10 o’clock more maneuvering that could lead to a vote even later or no vote at all. So the government of the United States is right now shut down or parts of it are shut down, the parts that are not shut down are those defined as essential government services, a phrase that in this context can only be expressed somewhat tongue-in-cheek.

Part II

As thousands of women march, record numbers file to run for political office

Next, January 20 marked the one year anniversary of the inauguration of Donald J Trump as president of the United States, and you’ll recall that in response to the president’s inauguration hundreds of thousands of women in the United States marched, first of all in what was known as the Women’s March on Washington but also in women’s marches in other American cities. It spread into something of an international movement, we are told that on the one year anniversary women’s marches occurred in cities including not only Washington, New York, and Chicago with many other American cities, but also world cities such as Osaka and Rome. I think it’s rather risky and politically pernicious to enter into the game that appeals to so many to argue exactly how many participated in demonstration A or March B. The point is there’s a general recognition that the numbers this year were significantly reduced from the numbers in 2017. I was a bit frustrated by the media coverage, which didn’t seem to give adequate attention to the fact that there are now rival marches and rival organizations that in some form begin to mirror the fissures within American and international feminism. That fissure between an older vision of feminism rooted in a very strong understanding of womanhood and a younger, at this point, apparently ascendant version of feminism, which is more deeply rooted in something like the now very popular #MeToo movement. A movement that is not really about projecting strength but is about lamenting a society of female victimhood.

As the USA Today story indicated, activists for the LGBTQ community and other issues ranging from police brutality to immigration are demanding a greater voice and visible presence within these marches. But as Susan Chira made clear in her report for the New York Times, one of the most interesting developments in 2018 on the one year anniversary on the March in 2017 is the fact that there has been a very real and now demonstrable mobilization of women, not only to vote but also to run for office. The numbers reported by the Times are nothing less than striking. Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University says that she has

“tallied 390 women who say they will run for seats in the House of Representatives”

in the midterm elections. Now let’s just think about that, that’s 390, remember there are only 435 seats; that’s an unprecedented number of women candidates. You should also note that some of those women are likely to be running against each other. The numbers tallied by Walsh also indicate that of the 390 women, 314 are Democrats and 184 those Democrats are running, they say, for seats currently held by Republicans.

Part III

45 years after Roe v. Wade decision, the American conscience remains unsettled on the question of abortion

But of course there was another very important march over the weekend, this also took place in Washington DC, and if you’re looking at a clash of worldviews over the last several days that clash has been very graphically demonstrated in the clash and contrast of marches and marchers. I’m talking about the March for Life, which took place once again in Washington DC, very close to the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion on demand in the United States. January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court handed down that decision, and that means 45 years ago today. Today marks 45 years of legal abortion in all 50 states in the United States by edict of the United States Supreme Court. Roe v. Wade was decided by the Supreme Court on a 7-2 vote. That appears to be overwhelming, but one of the most significant developments and realization that comes on the 45th anniversary of Roe v. Wade is that the decision that abortion activists were certain would bring the debate to a conclusion did no such thing. Looking back at the Roe v. Wade decision later in his life, Justice Harry Blackmun, who wrote the majority opinion in the Roe decision, made clear that he thought the decision and his opinion had been constructed in such a way that it would convince Americans to settle the issue of abortion on the terms of the Roe decision and to move on. But America didn’t move on. In one of the most remarkable political developments of the last century, the Roe v. Wade decision actually ignited a very powerful pro-life movement in America. A pro-life movement that is far more powerful in 2018, 45 years after Roe, than it was when Roe was handed down or when the process that brought about the Roe decision began in the late 1960s. Even in the late 1970s it looked like the abortion rights movement in America was on to the ascent, but as we now know in retrospect that was not the case.

The mobilization of pro-life conviction in the United States had a great deal to do with the election of Ronald Reagan as president of the United States in the 1980 election, and it has since become the most reliable issue separating the two parties, to the extent now that when you look at the 2016 platforms of the Democratic and Republican parties you’re looking at positions on abortion that are so contrasted and distinct it almost appears that they could not represent the same country. The Republican Party is now consistently pro-life in its platform and abortion is a central issue of Republican identity. The pro-life movement is so influential in the Republican Party, and it is unlikely that any candidate who would not be fully supportive of the pro-life cause could gain the nomination, a national nomination, in the Republican Party. On the other side of the equation, the Democratic Party has adopted a platform that not only support abortion under almost any conceivable circumstance but has gone so far recently as to demand an end to the Hyde Amendment and the resumption of federal taxpayer funding for abortion.

But back to the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. On the 40th anniversary of that decision in 2013, Kate Pickert of Time magazine in a cover story wrote that

“Abortion-rights activists won an epic victory in Roe v. Wade.”

But the next words in the subhead of her article,

“They’ve been losing ever since.”

Let me go back to that,

“Abortion-rights activists won an epic victory in Roe v. Wade. They’ve been losing ever since.”

That 2013 article indicated that there have been several developments that have fueled the pro-life conviction and its growing influence in American life, especially at the state level in many of our states. The reasons come down to this: First of all, there has been a political mobilization, but secondly, there has been a discernible movement amongst the American people on the question of abortion, and at various times a bare majority of Americans have seemed to support abortion on demand or abortion on demand under certain circumstances or a vaguely defined pro-abortion or pro-choice position, as it might be styled, at other times the majority of Americans have indicated some form of a majority pro-life sentiment. That really points to the fact that Americans have a troubled conscience on abortion and an unsettled mind. One of the ways I might describe this is to say that in a culture that worships rights, what’s styled as a right to an abortion starts out with a certain momentum, but pro-abortion activists have had to face the fact that when particulars are added to the equation, when the question is asked of Americans in such a way that they can limit abortion, a vast majority of Americans indicate a willingness to do just that. Make no mistake, a consistently pro-life position requires opposition not only to some abortions but to all abortions and beyond that a consistent pro-life ethic across other issues including euthanasia. But we also have to recognize that after Roe v. Wade it has been the pro-life movement, which has been able to chip away at existing abortion legislation in such a way as to argue for and at times achieve limitations and restrictions on abortion that have become increasingly plausible in subsequent Supreme Court decisions and in so doing have put the pro-abortion position very much on the defensive. And as this Time magazine article from 2013 indicated, this is a political vulnerability for the pro-abortion side because they are really forcing themselves into a position where they argue a consistently absolutist position, an absolutist position that is clearly not shared by a majority of Americans.

Part IV

How scientific developments have bolstered the pro-life argument

But the last development that was recognized in the Time magazine article is technology and in particular the ultrasound and the fact that science and technology have now affirmed the fact that the inhabitant of the womb is neither passive nor something less than human. As Pickert described in 2013, and I quote,

“The antiabortion cause has been aided by scientific advances that have complicated American attitudes about abortion. Prenatal ultrasound, which has allowed the general public to see fetuses inside the womb and understand that they have a human shape beginning around eight weeks into [a] pregnancy, became widespread in the 1980s, and some babies born as early as 24 weeks can now survive.”

I will simply insert here that in 2018 an even greater number of those babies can survive. This dimension of the abortion argument was brilliantly described in an article that appeared just in recent days at the Atlantic by Emma Greene. The headline,

“Science Is Giving the Pro-Life Movement a Boost.”

As Green reports in the Atlantic,

“Scientific progress is remaking the debate around abortion. When the U.S. Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade, the case that led the way to legal abortion, it pegged most fetuses’ chance of viable life outside the womb at 28 weeks.”

She also goes on to say that

“Today’s prospective moms and dads can learn more about their baby earlier into a pregnancy than their parents or grandparents. … they [can] see their fetus on an ultrasound, they may see,”

what she describes as,

“humanizing qualities like smiles or claps, even if,”

she says,

“most scientists see random muscle movements.”

She concludes,

“These advances fundamentally shift the moral intuition around abortion. New technology makes it easier to apprehend the humanity of a growing child and imagine a fetus as a creature with moral status.”

That’s a stunningly important sentence. That is exactly what the abortion debate must be about. It must be about changing the moral intuition around abortion held by Americans. That moral intuition must be reshaped so that there is an intuition to recognize the unborn child at every point of development as nothing other than a child, a human being, ethically speaking as a creature with moral status to use the terms of Green’s article. Green also describes the quandary, the irony, the deadly irony, of the fact that

“Medical teams spend enormous effort, time, and money to deliver babies safely and nurse premature infants back to health.”

Yet, at the same time, some of those same physicians support abortion, even late in the fetal development. That is nonsensical, it is contradictory, and it places the will of the mother or the will of the parents as the moral criterion here, something that isn’t even plausible on its face. Green goes on to describe the fact that the pro-life movement now has what’s described as objective science on its side, in a very interesting and important section Mark Largent, a science historian at Michigan State University, says,

“The cultural authority of science has become so totalitarian, so imperial, that everybody has to have science on their side in order to win a debate.”

Now, the Green article goes on to say there’s a split in the pro-life movement as to whether or not these scientific arguments should be used, but my responses to that is of course they should be used. The most fundamental opposition to abortion doesn’t rest upon a scientific argument, but changing the moral intuition of Americans will be greatly aided by and for that matter fueled by what we now know, what we now know about the fetus, what we know and see in the developing fetus.

The article cites Vincent Reid, a professor who has documented the fact that the fetus, in his words,

“isn’t a passive processor of environmental information. It’s an active responder.”

As we mark the lamentable 45th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, we should note that others are marking the same anniversary, one of those is Sarah Weddington, who at age 26 was the young lawyer who argued successfully for the Roe decision as it was handed down by the Supreme Court. In a comment made recently looking at the 45th anniversary, she said this,

“When I started the case, the research in 1969, if anybody had said, ‘You will still be talking about this in 45 years,’ I would not have believed that.”

Well, Ms. Weddington, we are talking about it 45 years later, and we’re going to keep talking about it until we change the minds of a sufficient number of Americans that Americans will develop the moral intuition to protect life in the womb rather than to destroy it.

Part V

As President Trump addresses March for Life, we pray for a shift in the ‘moral intuition’ of Americans

But Sarah Weddington is not the only American speaking to the issue of abortion near the 45th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the president of the United States also spoke to the issue of abortion in an historic appearance by satellite transmission to the March for Life becoming the first president of the United States to do so.

President Trump, speaking to the group from the Rose Garden in the White House said,

“Under my administration, we will always defend the very first right in the Declaration of Independence, and that is the right to life. We are protecting the sanctity of life and the family as the foundation of our society.”

Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush had addressed to the group by telephone in previous years, but President Trump became the very first president to appear by live satellite transmission or webcast, and in so doing he put his administration even more publicly in support of the pro-life cause. This came a day after the Trump administration had handed down very important new guidelines preserving religious liberty in conscience in policies of the Department of Health and Human Services, we’ll look more closely at those developments tomorrow. In the meantime what’s really important is to recognize that we’re living in one of the most fascinating times of human history. We’re living in a time when a president of the United States has appeared to the March for Life and given a very unequivocal voice of support for the pro-life cause nearly 45 years after the Supreme Court of the United States believed that the issue had by that very court been settled.

And as we’re thinking about a change in the American heart, mind, and intuition on abortion, President Donald Trump, just a matter of years ago, had described himself as very pro-choice, but now he can only be described in terms of his actions and statements as very pro-life. There is still much work to be done, especially the kind of work that can only be accomplished legislatively in support of human life, there is still much ground to be gained. Donald Trump is a very complex figure. I cannot dream of understanding exactly how he came from a pro-choice position to a pro-life position, but I do know this, he put himself very much on the line Friday in that webcast of the March for Life. He has also put himself and his administration on the line for the pro-life position in numerous executive orders and in developments just even the day before. I do know this, whatever happened in the thinking and in the heart and in the policies of Donald Trump over the last several years, is exactly what needs to happen amongst millions and millions of our fellow Americans. On the 45th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, let’s acknowledge that’s what we strive for, that’s what we hope for, that’s what we pray for, that’s what we work for.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information, go to my website at You can follow me on Twitter by going to For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to For information on Boyce College, just go to

I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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