briefing, Albert Mohler

Thursday, May 21, 2020

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

It’s Thursday, May 21, 2020. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

An Ugly and Complex Story: Norma McCorvey from Roe v. Wade Said She Was Paid to Change Her Views on Abortion

By any measure, it is a blockbuster headline. Yesterday from the BBC, “Woman Behind U.S. Abortion Ruling was Paid to Recant.” The report from the British Broadcasting Corporation tells us, “The woman behind the 1973 ruling legalizing abortion in the United States is seen admitting in a new documentary that her stunning change of heart on the issue later in life was all an act. Norma McCorvey, known as Jane Roe, in the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade, shocked the country in 1995 when she came out against abortion, but in new footage, McCorvey alleges she was paid to switch sides.” There’s a huge amount of information here and it is a story that quickly demands our attention.

We are told that the woman identified as “behind the Roe v. Wade decision,” who came out against abortion later in life, was financially enticed to do so. Let’s look in the first place at the claim that she was, as Norma McCorvey, the woman behind the Roe v. Wade decision. That’s the way she’s identified. Is that true or is that false? Well, a little bit of both. It’s false in the sense that the decision would have come regardless of the name on the decision and the name was itself anonymous. She’s identified as Jane Roe. Her real name was Norma McCorvey. But at the same time, she was the single individual woman whose case was taken all the way to the Supreme Court that eventuated in the Roe v. Wade decision. One of the ironies is Norma McCorvey never actually had an abortion. She gave her babies up for adoption.

This also tells us a great deal about how this kind of case on a major constitutional issue makes its way to the Supreme Court. The two big cases were Roe and Doe, as they were known. Both of the cases had placeholder names in the place of the women, but the women had to be real women and they had to be granted some kind of real claim and real standing in order to have their cases heard. One of the things you need to keep in mind on big constitutional cases like this is that many of the activists actually shop for a certain kind of person to have as the lead plaintiff in a case. In this case, it was Norma McCorvey. They were looking for a woman, they had to find a woman, who was seeking an abortion in the state of Texas and been denied one. If they hadn’t found such a woman, there would have been no case.

But they were also looking, as they often do look, for a woman whose particulars will aid their case. And in the case, for instance, of the legalization of same sex marriage, activist groups were looking for just the right kind of same sex couple to serve as plaintiffs in that kind of case. But looking back at Norma McCorvey, it was clear in the beginning that this was a very awkward situation. It was awkward in the sense that she had already delivered the baby by the time the Supreme Court came even close to hearing her case. But the point is, this was a major question in constitutional law and her name, or the placeholder for her name, actually is what is emblazoned now in American history in a very infamous history when it comes to America and abortion.

But now the infamy, the shame in this entire case, the confusion over the entire case gets only deeper with this report that Norma McCorvey, who had later in life repudiated abortion, was actually paid to do so. That’s the claim that is made. The BBC report goes right to this video that is going to be released in a documentary later this week. We are told, “In her deathbed confession, as she calls it, a visibly ailing McCorvey says she only became an anti-abortion activist because she was paid by evangelical groups.” She’s quoted as saying, “I was the big fish. I think it was a mutual thing. I took their money and they put me out in front of the cameras and tell me what to say.” The BBC summarizes the situation later in the story, by saying that she had had a conversion in the mid 1990s to become a born again Christian. She, at that point, disavowed a woman with whom she had been in a relationship though she continued to live with the woman, but at the same time, she also emerged as a spokesperson against abortion. But the claim is that she did that while being paid to do so.

CBS News reports that particular this way. “McCorvey, the face of the abortion rights movement at the time, came out against abortion in 1995, after purportedly finding religion at the hands of an evangelical minister. She went on to publicly participate in anti-abortion rights protests for the next two decades and even published a memoir in 1998, explaining her decision to change sides.” During that time, she had given an interview to CBS Sunday Morning. Remember CBS is now reporting the story in which Norma McCorvey had said, “I’m on what I call the right side of the movement now because I’m fighting for life instead of death.” When asked if she thought Roe v. Wade would be overturned, she told CBS Sunday Morning, “Yes, I hope so.” CBS then goes on to say her decision was national news at the time and marked a major victory for the anti-abortion rights movement.

Now CBS News says what she has called her deathbed confession has “upended the narrative once again.” Well, yes, in a sense it has. It certainly raises some very crucial moral issues, including for evangelicals and the pro-life movement. It’s important also to look at the story and recognize that the media are pouncing on this as evidence of the fact that there’s a vast conspiracy to deny women what the vast majority of those in the media will assert is her right to an abortion.

You have to look at the story a little closer. It’s not prettier the closer you look. Norma McCorvey was always a troubled person. She acknowledged that. For one thing, whether it was the pro-abortion side or the pro-life side, both of them had to be very careful in using Norma McCorvey in public as the media reports have indicated if nothing else, because of her salty language.

Over the decades in relating her own story, Norma McCorvey told of many struggles and trials of sexual assault, which she had suffered as a young girl, and also the fact that even as you tell her story, she was not only married at one point, a relationship she said was also abusive, but she was also involved in LGBTQ relationships, including some related from her own telling of the story from when she was a child or a teenager and others from when she was an adult. One of the interesting claims made by some of the press reports is that she was a major figure in the pro-abortion movement until she switched sides. That’s not exactly true. She was not all that well known in many pro-abortion circles because after all, her case had been anonymous. But furthermore, that movement itself had not sought to put her out in front very often, an issue of which Norma McCorvey, often herself complained.

She complained that the abortion rights movement had used her case, but had robbed her of her voice. She certainly did have a voice when in the mid 1990s, she did to a great deal of publicity, switch sides in the argument. She also indicated that she had had a born-again Christian experience. All that did, of course, become a part of the evangelical story in the United States and it was a major development in the pro-life, anti-abortion movement.

The claims here are pretty sensational. The Guardian, a liberal newspaper in London, tells us that according to the documentary not yet released, Norma McCorvey “received at least $456,000 in benevolent gifts from the anti-abortion movement in exchange for her conversion.” Now again, a very interesting and troubling story. Is it true or is it false? Well, at this point, you have some of those who were involved in what she claims was a financial enticement for her to switch sides, or at least a financial enticement for her to talk about switching sides.

Well, even some of them apparently have affirmed that there was some transfer of money. What are evangelical Christians to think about this? Well, all Christians should recognize that it is never right to present something falsely in public. That’s just never right. It’s another form of misrepresentation, otherwise known as dishonesty. It’s never right to present something as what it is not, as something other than what it is. And in this case, we don’t know at this point, if Norma McCorvey actually did switch sides on the issue of abortion. We don’t know if she actually or believed herself to have had a born-again Christian experience. That’s what we were told at the time. We took it at face value. Now we know there was a financial incentive behind it, but they’re classified as benevolent gifts. We really don’t know if the gifts came after she had made this switch or before.

In any event it’s complicated, but the timing of all of this really would make a moral difference. The documentary is not yet released. We can’t make a judgment about it yet, but the news about it is already ricocheting around the world. Is this going to be a major embarrassment to the pro-life cause? Well, it’s an embarrassment even now that these stories have appeared. It will be a greater embarrassment if it appears that Norma McCorvey was paid to lie. The story, as it is revealed, I think will probably be a good deal more complicated than that, if only for the simple reason that Norma McCorvey was tragically, extremely complicated. That comes up in another way in the media reports about what she calls her deathbed confession.

For example, one of the most interesting statements in the entire documentary as reported in the media is when McCorvey was asked by the interviewer, “It was all an act?” Her response was this and I quote, “Yeah, I did it well too. I’m a good actress. Of course, I’m not acting now.” This reminds us of a logical and moral quandary that is as old as ancient Greece and it’s also cited by the apostle Paul in the New Testament. It is the Cretan paradox. If it is true that all Cretans are liars, then can you trust a Cretan when you are told that he or she is lying? The Apostle Paul’s reference to this Cretan paradox is found in the letter to Titus, Titus 1:12. The point is this. It is a very interesting logical question. If indeed, you are told that the person speaking to you is lying, then is that person to be trusted when that person says he or she is lying? Well, that’s the paradox you see here. When Norma McCorvey says she was lying, but she’s not lying now, how do we know?

She said, “I’m a good actress. Of course, I’m not acting now.” Well, it is the paradox all over again. When someone tells you they were acting, but they’re not acting now, how do you know who’s acting when? This does not in any way absolve any evangelical figure or any pro-life leader from the wrongness of misrepresentation and this is an ugly story. It’s complex, but it’s undeniably ugly.

Part II

How Do We Know Abortion Is Morally Wrong? Moral Authority Comes from Divine Revelation, Not Any Human Opinion

But there’s another even larger point that evangelical Christians need to keep in mind, especially looking at a story like this. The rightness or wrongness of abortion actually has absolutely nothing to do with what Norma McCorvey thought about it or said she thought about it at any point in her history. It has to do with whether or not it’s right or wrong. In a fallen world, when you have a public conflict over issues like this, stories matter, voices matter. Norma McCorvey’s stature being the individual behind the Roe v. Wade decision, it does matter. What she said in 1990 matters, what she said in the mid 1990s matters, what she said or is reported to have said in this documentary decades later, it does matter. But it doesn’t matter with relation to the question as to whether or not abortion is morally right or morally wrong. That’s settled by Scripture. It means that the rightness or wrongness of abortion is actually settled by God, the righteous Creator. It isn’t settled by any one of us. It isn’t settled by any one of us even if our names end up in a Supreme Court case or substituted for in a Supreme Court case. Abortion is wrong because it is the deliberate termination, the deliberate killing of a human life within the womb, an act that no human being has the right to make. Abortion as a phenomenon in the United States is one of the greatest moral scandals of all of human history.

And there it is, numbering now in the millions of murdered human beings in the womb. That’s just a matter of truth, regardless of even what Roe, that would be Norma McCorvey, thought about it at any time. But morality extends also to matters of honesty. Dishonesty is wrong and honesty is right, and that is not settled by the media, by politics, or by public opinion. It’s settled by the fact that God hates a lie and God is a God of absolute infinite truth. So here we see a blockbuster headline, a very ugly story, a complex situation that’s going to take some time, undoubtedly, to unravel. And it’s in the middle of a cultural war over the issue of abortion that erupted decades before and is likely to continue for a long time to come, which means every single headline is now a weapon in a long culture war.

But if nothing else, Christians just need to remember that regardless of what any one of us may think about abortion or say we think about abortion, it’s what the Creator tells us about abortion that is definitive, it’s true, it’s binding.

Part III

Training Doctors to Kill? A Look at the Residency Program for Turning Doctors into Abortionists

But next, before leaving the issue of abortion, one of the most interesting questions is how exactly is abortion understood by medical doctors, in particular, those medical doctors specializing in obstetrics and gynecology? What do they really think about abortion? Well, we do know this, the vast majority of obstetricians and gynecologists in the United States never performed an abortion. They have nothing to do with abortion. They keep themselves very far from abortion. In a Christian worldview perspective, that’s easy to understand. Why would anyone go into the specialization of delivering babies if you’re going to use the knowledge you gain in obstetrics and gynecology to terminate life in the womb?

But all of this has come to light in recent days, including here in the Commonwealth of Kentucky with the realization that there is an effort to try to entice doctors in training to be OB-GYNs, to have exposure to and gain expertise in abortion. The Family Foundation in Kentucky uncovered the fact that the School of Medicine at the University of Louisville has what’s known as a Ryan Residency Program. As I tried to look into that program, what I found is that it goes back at least to 1999, to an effort to try to bring more doctors into the industry of abortion.

An article that appeared in the July 2018 edition of the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology indicates an effort to try to make training and abortion more routine for physicians, in particular for young OB-GYNs. We then read in this report, “Prior to the implementation of training requirements, the proportion of programs reporting routine training had fallen from 23% in 1985 to 12% in 1992.”

So before even going further, what we are told is that between 1985 and 1992, there had been a falloff in residency training that had to do with abortion, down to 12% in 1992. Clearly that is a huge problem for the abortion industry. So what would they do? We then read that the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, that’s ACGME, had decided that effective January 1, 1996, there were to be additional requirements for accredited programs. The article tells us that there was an effort to advocate on the part of abortion and to bring change in residency programs. Advocacy came from groups such as Medical Students for Choice. But then we are told, additionally in 1999, soon after the American Council for Graduate Medical Education policy, “The Kenneth J. Ryan Residency Training Program and Abortion and Family Planning was launched.” The next sentence, “The Ryan program provides support for residency programs to initiate or expand dedicated family planning training.”

Well, you look further and further in the article and find out more and more about the Ryan Residency Program and what you see is a pattern, a pattern of how the abortion industry has now tried, rather successfully we discovered, to bring about change about abortion, expansion of abortion rights and abortion training, by changing the way physicians are trained. It also tells us something else. It tells us about a shadow program. It’s not shadow in the sense that it’s not public, it appears to be quite public, but shadow in the sense that it isn’t officially a part of the medical curriculum of many medical schools, so that those medical schools can say, they’re not actively involved in abortion or abortion training, but of course they are. They are through the Ryan Residency Program.

Looking further into this issue, I discovered an article that ran a few months ago in the Tampa Bay Times in Florida. The headline was “Young Doctors Find a Calling on Abortions Front Lines.” It’s by Claire McNeill, the reporter. It’s a very sad story, but it also makes the point. It makes the point that most physicians don’t want anything to do with abortion. The report tells us, “The medical field largely treats abortion as a specialty, not an essential part of a doctor’s toolkit and most OB-GYNs don’t perform abortions.” That’s a sign of common grace. That means that God’s common grace has restrained doctors from performing abortions the same way that thankfully God’s restraining grace as common grace also means that most doctors go into medicine, I say most meaning the vast majority, in order to heal, not to hurt, in order to save lives, not to end lives. But the whole point of this article in the Tampa Bay Times is a profile of young doctors who are actively, rather eagerly, going into abortion.

But the larger point is they are a small minority of the total number of young doctors going into this field of specialization. Later in this article, there’s a very different tone that is set. One of the young women, now a practicing physician doing abortions, profiled in the article, we are told, “wanted to remove the shame and make it all less clinical.” That means abortion, try to remove the shame from abortion. “She wanted women to look at her and see themselves.” The article continues, “She has done hundreds of abortions now and posts pro-choice links on Facebook, but fear lingers. She hasn’t yet told her mother what she really does on Saturdays. ‘You feel like you’re a hero, but you can’t reveal it. It’s like your secret identity,’ she said.”

Think about that. She says she’s trying to remove shame from abortion. You can’t do that, of course, because it’s inherently shameful. Those in the abortion rights movement often talk about the necessity of removing stigma from abortion. You never will because it is the killing of an unborn child in the womb. The basic human moral instinct rightfully says, that’s wrong, it’s horrifyingly wrong.

But then she says that she sees herself as a hero who wants to remove shame, but she doesn’t even tell her own mother what she does. Another telling part of the article, telling in every way, is where we are told that some of the young doctors involved in this program, “groaned about the Pensacola law maker, who calls fetuses quote, ‘unborn human beings.'” Well, let’s think about it.

Here you have a complaint about a lawmaker in Pensacola or from Pensacola who refers to unborn human beings as unborn human beings. After all, how else could they be described? Let’s put it this way. It can’t possibly be wrong. You know it’s not wrong. It can’t possibly be wrong to refer to the inhabitant of the womb at any stage of development as an unborn human being. That’s actually how that baby would have been referred to in the womb throughout all of human history, until the efforts to legalize, and now not only to legalize, but to normalize abortion.

Everywhere you look in what we’ve talked about today is just sad, but Christians know it’s not just sad. It’s sinful, it’s horrifying, it’s deadly. We’re talking about abortion after all. From the first of when we began today, until now, we’re talking about the intentional killing of an unborn human being in the womb. We’re talking about the history of how it became legal in the United States. We’re talking about the tragic history of the woman whose case made it all the way to the Supreme Court. We’re talking about the moral tragedy of the fact that there is now this residency program, the intention of which is to convince more doctors they ought to kill babies in the womb. And we’re also talking about the fact that in a fallen world, this fallen, everywhere you look on the issue of abortion, it’s just horrifying and that’s true in the case of Norma McCorvey, but it’s horrifying because abortion is wrong, absolutely wrong, objectively wrong, regardless of what those who founded the Ryan Residency Program think about it, regardless of what Norma McCorvey thought about it at any point in her life, regardless of what the Supreme Court or the United States declares about it.

One of the most haunting questions of the 20th century is how, during the time of the Holocaust and the Third Reich, how did so many German doctors change themselves from healers to killers? That’s a huge question. The Holocaust could not have taken place as it did without the complicity of so many in the German medical profession, but they had entered that profession to heal, not to kill. What did it take for them to overcome that impulse to heal in order to transform themselves into killers? How did that come about? Well, all we have to do is fast forward to our own times and look at the Ryan Residency Program to understand here’s one way that it takes place. You redefine the profession, or at least you try to, and in so doing, you say that your effort is to try to remove the stigma and the shame from abortion, but you can’t.

But here’s another point that is attributable only to God’s restraining, his common grace given to us and that is this: It evidently takes a lot more persuasion to convince a doctor to kill than to convince a doctor to save. That’s a very revealing truth and it shows the deadly intentions and the intensity of those intentions on the part of the abortion rights movement and the abortion industry. They’re clearly committed to do whatever it takes for as long as they can to get as many doctors into the practice of abortion as is possible. But I do believe this: the more their intentions are brought to light, the harder their job is going to be, at least I hope so.

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R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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