briefing, Albert Mohler

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

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

It’s Wednesday, January 15, 2020. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Where Do We Stand on the Issue of Abortion at the Beginning of 2020? Issue 1: Current Threats to Conscience Protections for Medical Professionals

We need to take a look at the issue of abortion early in 2020 to gain some understanding of right now where we stand, where the culture is headed. And that’s especially important in an election year such as we now face with the presidency and control of Congress, and eventually control of nominations to the judiciary, all of that very much hanging in the balance.

One of the first issues I want to draw to our attention is a story from New York state. Back during the year 2019, the Trump administration announced new regulations in the form of executive orders that would require greater attention to conscience provisions, greater protections, especially for medical professionals. Now, there was a backlash on the part of many liberal states that immediately protested. Most importantly, the state of New York. And New York itself, of course, has veered far to the left in a dramatically proabortion position over the course of the last two years. Reminding us again, that elections have consequences.

But in New York, the attorney general filed suit against the Trump administration because of these conscience provisions. And at this point, a federal judge has sided with New York rather than the conscious provisions protected by the Trump administration’s order. Regina Frost, writing at the Federalist, tells us, “I am a doctor and a caregiver, but above all else, I am a woman of faith. It is my faith that drew me to become an OB/GYN, called me to open my own practice to treat women with dignity and compassion and that helps me navigate the daily challenges of my profession. But two months ago,” she writes, “Planned Parenthood in the state of New York convinced a court to strike down federal regulations that protect medical professionals like me from being forced to perform procedures like abortions and physician assisted suicide that violate our consciences.”

Now, to be very clear, the federal district court judge did not have the authority to nullify federal law in this respect, but what the Trump administration had done is important. The administration had drawn together various forms of legal protections for conscience into one unified policy, but that became one giant target for Planned Parenthood and activist attorney generals, such as the attorney general there in New York. Dr. Frost then writes, “If Planned Parenthood and New York succeed in blocking conscience protections for medical professionals, I may be forced to either perform procedures that violate my conscience or leave my practice and the profession entirely.” Later in the article, she writes this, and it’s very moving, “I cannot take the life of a child in one room and guide another child into this world in the next, nor can I care for one elderly woman while helping another end her life. That,” she says, “would not only undermine my most deeply held religious beliefs and my medical judgment, but also the oath I took as a medical professional.”

Dr. Frost’s argument is compelling. Her testimony is very moving, but looking back to the coverage when the state of New York and Planned Parenthood filed suit against the Trump administration, it’s really important for us to recognize the radical nature of this act. Letitia James, New York’s Attorney General said, “Healthcare is a basic right that should never be subject to political games.” So the attorney general of New York is dismissing conscience protections for doctors and other medical professionals merely as political games.

It will surprise no one that Planned Parenthood in New York also filed suit against the Trump administration. Alexis McGill Johnson, the acting president of Planned Parenthood at the national level, said that the Trump administration, “Was blocked from providing legal cover for discrimination.” The language here means everything. When Planned Parenthood accuses the conscience provisions of being legal cover for discrimination, that tells you exactly how they are going to make their public argument to the American people. That allowing anyone for any reason not to perform an abortion as an act of conscience is conspiracy and complicity with discrimination.

Now, one of the other issues that Christians simply have to note when we’re looking at the language games, is that using the word “discrimination” in this light is a very evasive act because every sane human being discriminates all the time. Even if you go into an ice cream shop and you order one flavor than another flavor, you have just discriminated against the flavor that you did not choose. Discrimination is a vital moral act. We have to make these decisions every day. We are, at least I hope we are, discriminating, morally discriminating, about the kinds of people with whom we would entrust our children. The list simply goes on. We have to be making discriminations all the time, but the word “discrimination” has become one of those hot buttons in our society because, of course, there can be, and often is, wrongful discrimination. But the discriminating conscience has to make the determination when is discrimination right and when is discrimination wrong?

But the use of the word “discrimination” in this particular context by Planned Parenthood opposing these conscious protections, is an indication of desperation. They do not want to say the truth. They don’t want to say, “Yes, we Planned Parenthood as an organization want to deny conscience protections to anyone who might be unwilling for any reason due to conscience to perform an abortion.” And Dr. Frost is right. It won’t just be abortion, it will be the full array of medical procedures that would include euthanasia amongst other things. And of course the same kind of conscience issues are now coming up with doctors who are being told that they must not discriminate and refuse to do something like a gender reassignment surgery.

You also have to notice not just individuals, it is also institutions. As we have seen on The Briefing, even in recent months, there are attempts in states such as California to force religious hospitals to violate the hospital’s own religious mission and the convictions that brought the hospital into being, also because they’re accused of discrimination on these very grounds. We see this coming up now over and over again. But we looked to this story first because it shows us just how coercive the abortion rights movement is determined to be when it comes, not just to the entire society, not just when it comes to taxpayers, more on that in just a moment, but when it comes to doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals.

Part II

Issue 2: Government Healthcare Plans that Fund Abortion Will Require a Separate Billing for Abortion Coverage—Yes, It Matters

But then this takes us to a second issue, a headline story that ran just before the end of the year in the Washington Post. The headline in the article by Ariana Eunjung Cha is this, “Why Millions of Americans, Including Men, Will Get a Separate Bill for Abortion Coverage Starting in June.” The June here is June of 2020 and the bill is for medical insurance in some states under some of the qualified Obamacare plans or state-sponsored plans in the marketplace established by the Affordable Care Act in 2009.

Now, in order to understand this, let’s just clarify what’s going to happen. The Trump administration has issued an order through the Department of Health and Human Services that those qualified marketplace plans that do include abortion, must separate abortion out as a separate charge on the insurance bill. That might sound like a technicality and the insurance business and the pro-abortionists are complaining loudly about it, but it’s actually a very morally significant act. It separates out as a separate charge, coverage for abortion. How did this happen? Well, the marketplaces, the entire Obamacare Affordable Care Act plan was adopted by Congress entirely on a party line vote back in 2009. It’s often called Obamacare. First, that was a term of derision named by Republicans because the plan was pushed by President Barack Obama and his administration. But President Obama later grabbed the name and used it as his own way of expressing the Affordable Care Act, referring through his administration also to Obamacare.

And one of the crucial issues that came down to whether or not the bill would pass—now remember, this didn’t even have anything to do with Republicans, it was an entirely Democratic vote. But to get a sufficient number of Democrats, President Obama had to come to terms with some pro-life Democrats or at least anti-abortion Democrats. They were a rare breed then, they are a far more rare breed now. A decade later, there are very few, if any, of those pro-life Democrats at the national level in the Democratic Party. But looking at what happened back in 2009, both in the House and in the Senate, a compromise of sorts was required. And the compromise was that no state could be required to offer abortion-included insurance in the Affordable Care Act marketplaces.

If that sounds technical, it is. And that’s the case in so many legislative compromises. That means that states could offer marketplace plans that did include abortion. But ever since 1977, the federal budget has prohibited the inclusion of abortion coverage in anything funded directly by the federal government. This is the Hyde Amendment as it has been known, that protects American citizens from being coerced through their taxes into complicity with abortion. But the Obamacare plan did not require abortion to be separated out. It was basically just put it into one big premium pot. But the Trump administration is requiring not only separation, but a bit of honesty here. The honesty that the abortion charge has to be separated, it has to be listed separately on the bill.

Now, this will not include the vast majority of Americans who aren’t covered by this regulation, but it will cover about three million Americans who are in those marketplace plans that do provide abortion coverage and they’re going to have to pay for it separately. By the way, they’re not going to have any choice as to whether or not they will pay for it. The fact is if they’re in the plan, then they actually joined a plan that includes abortion coverage. It’ll be interesting to see how many Americans, by the way, are first alerted to that fact when they receive those bills and might, for the first time, recognize that they actually are in a plan that includes abortion coverage.

Alex Azar, the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, describe this step as essential stating, “The separate billing requirement fulfills Congress’s intent and reflects President Trump’s strong commitment to preventing taxpayer funding of abortion coverage.” The action by the Trump administration was celebrated by pro-life groups. The opposition is itself very, very revealing. As Ariana Eunjung Cha writes for the Washington Post, “There were many objections to the new rule. Abortion rights groups argued that it would create stigma around abortion and make it more difficult for women to get insurance coverage for abortion.”

Very, very interesting. There’s that very important moral word again, “stigma.” Again and again, you see the proabortion movement trying to argue that there is no stigma about abortion, that there must be no moral stigma against abortion. But of course there is, because there is no denial that what it means is the killing of the unborn life within a woman’s womb. There is no way, under any circumstances, that in any morally conscious people, with any conscience or character whatsoever, that that can be an act free from stigma. But notice what’s really going on here. The particular complaint by the pro-abortion forces here is that listing abortion separately from the other issues of medical care makes very clear that it is separate and that in itself is a stigma, and they need to bear that stigma.

Once again, you won’t be surprised that Planned Parenthood shows up. Jacqueline Ayers, vice president for government relations for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said the rule is an effort to make legal abortion more difficult to access, according to the Post. She said, “This rule won’t just require separate payments, it further splits off abortion from other reproductive healthcare and puts up massive barriers to access.” Actually, regrettably enough, it doesn’t put up a single barrier to access. I wish it did, but what it does is require separate payments. It does, in her words, split off abortion from what she calls other reproductive healthcare. I prefer to put it in these more candid terms. It requires splitting off the killing of an unborn life from the care for an unborn life. Planned Parenthood certainly does not want to put the issue that way, but we must.

Part III

Issue 3: Democratic Presidential Candidates Put Radical Abortion Views on Full Display in New York Times Survey

Next, we turn to the Democratic Party and the presidential campaign with the issue of abortion. There were several major Democratic contenders on the stage in Des Moines last night for the debate. But long before the debate, the issue of abortion was already front and center in Democratic politics and in the 2020 race. Back before the end of the year, the New York Times, released results from a massive questionnaire sent to every one of the Democratic candidates on abortion, the print out of the responses is actually quite a thick document. The Democrats were very keen to respond on the issue of abortion and what these results demonstrate is not only that lurch to the left that we have noted, but the embrace, even the demand, for the most radical abortion positions imaginable, far outside what would have been expected in any previous Democratic presidential cycle.

Of all of the major contenders, only one, only one of them was willing to accept any potential hypothetical qualifications on abortion whatsoever. Any restrictions that, in her words, had to be consistent with Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood versus Casey. That was Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar. But you’ll notice she was quite restricted in her language about restrictions, but what set her apart is that none of the other candidates, of the major candidates, would accept any restrictions whatsoever. Furthermore, they are all now calling for the repeal of the Hyde Amendment. That’s that 1976 requirement that has been added to every federal budget and spending authorization since that requires that no federal government funds go directly to abortion.

There was even broad support for late term abortion with several of the candidates trying to argue that this represents only 1% of all abortions. And the candidates went on to argue that they were undertaken for reasons of medical necessity. Actually, the percentage may be true, but the explanation is patently false. When it comes to the percent, even given the figures that are reported by the proabortion group, the Guttmacher Institute, if this were only 1%, that would still be 12,000 abortions a year that would be in that very last stage of pregnancy. But as Alexandra DeSanctis of National Review points out, even if it were just 1%, “That means there are more post viability abortions each year than gun homicides.” None of the Democratic candidates were willing to concede that.

One other extremely interesting dimension of the responses to the New York Times survey had to do with whether or not Democrats should require absolutely a radical proabortion position for anyone to have influence in, or for that matter, a platform in the party. Interesting responses came from former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg who said, “Democrats believe every person has the right to make decisions about their own reproductive health and about their body.” In other words, yes, the Democratic party should make this a litmus test. Elizabeth Warren, Democratic Senator of Massachusetts said, “We should stand up to any politician who tramples on a personal decision that has health and economic security consequences for women, their future and their families.” Now, notice again, she says we should stand up to any politician and then she uses her own way of describing what would essentially be, in her view, a pro-life position. Or for that matter, any position that would allow any meaningful restriction on abortion whatsoever. That’s very, very telling.

Part IV

Issue 4: The Ever Widening Partisan Gap on Abortion

But it is also revealing when you consider how few of the national Democrats want to have anything to do, and this is the fourth issue of our concern today with one of the major pro-life Democrats on the national scene today. That’s John Bel Edwards, re-elected back in November as the Democratic governor of the State of Louisiana. If you take some of the responses that have come from the Democratic presidential contenders, they do not even want to allow someone like Governor Edwards to be in their party. The people and voters of Louisiana will have to decide just how pro-life governor Edwards is, but the point is, he’s far too pro-life for the Democratic candidates of his own party running for the 2020 nomination. It’s a very, very revealing moment.

If you go back just a generation in American politics, you had two species that have disappeared. You had pro-life Democrats at the national level and you had pro-choice or pro-abortion, more rightly stated, Republicans at the national level. Both of them have basically disappeared in any meaningful way. You might be able to find a contrary example here or there, but the example, the exception would prove the rule. But the most important thing is to recognize that when you look at the 2020 presidential race, if you look backwards any length of time in the Democratic party, if you look forward any length of time as well as backward in the Republican party, no one could be a contender for the Republican presidential nomination who is not avowedly pro-life, and no one can be a contender for the Democratic presidential nomination who is not avowedly pro-abortion, period.

Part V

Issue 5: The Fight for Vocabulary in the Abortion Debate—Why the Pro-Abortion Movement Hates ‘Fetal Heartbeat’

But before leaving Governor Edwards in Louisiana, I want to turn to the media coverage of his reelection back in November and subsequent conversation about fetal heartbeat bills and come to understand that when you look at national media coverage, we’re also saying another huge issue. This is issue five today. For example, if you are considering the language wars in the abortion debate, you have to look at an article like the one by Amy Harmon. The headline was, “Fetal Heartbeat vs. Forced Pregnancy: The Language Wars of the Abortion Debate. This appeared back in May of 2019 in the New York Times.

And indeed she picks up on two of the most loaded terms in America’s abortion vocabulary, “fetal heartbeat” and “forced pregnancy.” It is the pro-life movement that champions the use of fetal heartbeat. And of course, that’s the terminology. And the bill’s adopted by several states that put restrictions on abortion after fetal viability or the detection of a fetal heartbeat. The forced pregnancy language is used by proabortion forces in order to dismiss any kind of legislative restriction on abortion as an attempt to force women to be pregnant.

That’s a very sly use of the language. But here’s what’s interesting. The forced pregnancy language isn’t showing much traction with the American people, but the fetal heartbeat language is. And that comes back to the fact that when you are considering where Americans are in moral consciousness on the abortion issue, we have to recognize that there had been several developments in medical technology that have had unquestionably pro-life effects. The first and most important of these is the development of the ultrasound in which we can now look into the womb and we can see the baby and we can tell it is a baby, and the detection of the fetal heartbeat in a sophisticated way, to the point that now in those images you can often see beating of the baby’s heart.

So, fetal heartbeat bills, they’ve been rather powerful and that fetal heartbeat language has deep resonance with the American people. But it’s very interesting to see looking just at one newspaper, how that language is rather studiously avoided. In the New York Times, for example, in coverage about the reelection of John Bel Edwards, that was partly credited with the fact that he signed a fetal heartbeat bill. So, how will they describe it? Instead of using the term “fetal heartbeat,” at one point the New York Times reported that it was about embryonic pulsing, or later the term was, “the pulsing of what becomes the fetus’s heart.”

Listen to that again, embryonic pulsing rather than fetal heartbeat. You can tell exactly what’s going on here. And then requiring even more words, which is assigned by the way of rhetorical weakness, “the pulsing of what becomes the fetus’s heart.”

Christians looking at and listening to this language, we have to recognize what’s going on. This is a studious, extreme concerted effort to try to avoid stating what they know will actually underline the identity of the baby in the womb as a baby. Avoid using the word “heartbeat” at all costs. Once you accept the heartbeat, then that implies a heart and the heart implies a person. The heart implies a human being, the heart implies life. If you want to argue for abortion and against all restrictions on abortion, you can’t accept even the implication that this involves life.

But of course it does, and that’s why the term “fetal heartbeat” has resonance. If you are reduced to talking about embryonic pulsing or the pulsing of what becomes the fetus’s heart, you have to recognize you really are operating out of not only a rhetorically weak position, but a very morally dubious position. And in this case, it’s not just morally questionable, we’re talking about efforts to camouflage the language to do everything imaginable to deny the humanity and the personhood of the baby inhabiting the womb.

So here we are, early in the year 2020 and so many of these issues are swirling all around us. They’re only going to become louder and the issues are only going to become more important with the 2020 presidential election looming before us. What you need to note is that both sides in this election, both parties understand what is at stake. They understand that they’re going to have to try to convince the American people to support the nominee of their party. They’re going to have to understand that the issue of abortion, even though the pro-abortion movement can hardly believe it, it is still around. and not only around, but central to a presidential election process in the United States. Let’s just recognize that this does give pro-life Americans an opportunity that many others do not have. There is not a pro-life major party in Great Britain, there isn’t a pro-life major party in Canada. Those national elections take place largely with abortion settled in an abortion rights position that is unassailable by the democratic process.

That’s not true in the United States. And early in this presidential and federal election year, we need to understand it. And we need to understand that these issues are not limited only to the national level. The issue of abortion and the mandate to protect unborn life is going to be important at every single political level imaginable. And as much as we recognize that this is a political issue, inescapably, we as Christians understand it is far more than that. It is a part of our Christian witness, it’s a part of our Christian responsibility. We have to look at the issue of abortion, not only politically, not only morally, but theologically. And that means we’re going to have to do a lot of thinking in the year ahead.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’m speaking to you from Orlando, Florida, and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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