The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

It’s Wednesday, September 13, 2023. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Vice President Harris’s Calculated Evasion on Where to Draw the Line on Abortion: CBS Asked the Question, But Democrats Must Be Pressed for an Honest Answer

The Vice President of the United States went on CBS’s program, Face the Nation, on Sunday and basically said that it was false to say or to claim that any major Democrat, most importantly, President Biden or Vice President Kamala Harris supported abortion all the way up until the moment of birth. She was adamant about that. She appeared to be angry about that, and she faced down those who made such claims and said that it was ridiculous and simply not true. Marina Pitofsky for USA Today reports the story this way, “Vice President Kamala Harris rejected accusations from some Republican officials that Democrats want to allow abortion procedures up until a person gives birth.” As USA Today said, she called the claim ridiculous.

Now, I’ve watched the entire interview. I watched it twice just to make certain. I had not misunderstood what the Vice President said. The Vice President was very clear and at the same time, very evasive, and in this case, evasive to the point of what I can only describe as dishonesty. The Vice President said, “It’s ridiculous to claim that there are any Democrats who want to allow abortion procedures up until the moment of birth.” When she was asked what restrictions she and the President would allow or support, she just came back repeatedly and with increasing anger to say, “All President Biden and I support is putting back in place the situation of Roe v. Wade, putting Roe v. Wade back in place. That’s all we are demanding. It’s ridiculous,” she said, “to the point of accusing those making such claims of dishonesty to say that Democrats support abortion up until the moment of birth.” So what’s the reality here?

Well, we’re talking about a language game. When something like this is going on, you have to take apart the language. What’s the language game that’s being played? The Vice President’s game was simply to discredit those who say that Democrats want abortion rights up until the moment of birth, but what you need to note is that she did not accept any particular moment up until the moment of birth at which abortion should be illegal and morally unthinkable. The point is she could not identify a point after which abortion should be made illegal because her party is moving in exactly the opposite direction, and she should know because she has been one of the agents of moving her party in that ever leftward direction.

We’re talking about abortion here. We’re talking about the intentional termination of an unborn human life. We’re talking about Roe v. Wade basically allowing abortion up until the moment of birth under certain circumstances, and you need to note that those circumstances changed over time. Most importantly, when Justice Blackmun put together infamously the trimester scheme of Roe v. Wade, abortion was supposed to be basically available during the first trimester of pregnancy without any state intervention. In the second trimester, the state could intervene to a greater extent on behalf of the unborn life. Yet, in the third trimester, it was assumed that the state could outlaw abortion simply because of the argument about viability, the point at which an infant could survive outside the womb.

Now, just in medical terms, we need to note that that point of viability has been pushed back remarkably. That’s an amazing medical success story. The fact is that there are babies at a certain point of gestation who never would have survived outside the womb. A matter of, say, 1973 when Roe v. Wade was handed down who are routinely now surviving even after being born at an earlier stage of gestation.

But what even pro-lifers did not recognize at the time in 1973 was that there was a bomb included in the Roe v. Wade decision and in the Doe companion decision headed down by the Supreme Court that gave an exception for the health of the mother, and then that was extended by courts and by legislative action to include a mother’s psychological or mental health.

Now, at that point, you recognize that if you get the right doctor to write the right letter, you get the right doctor or medical facility ready to perform the abortion, that basically meant that with an argument about a woman’s physical or mental health, and you need to understand, by the way, the legal language is mental and emotional health, then you could basically seek at least legally to justify an abortion almost until the moment of birth, and I say almost because the fact is that even in an abortion regime, there were those who got squeamish towards the end of that gestational period, but nonetheless, it wasn’t a legal barrier or at least it wasn’t a legal barrier that would count.

We know this by the way, and we discussed this recently on The Briefing because some of the abortion doctors performing abortions have said that they were performing abortions right up until the very last stage of gestation, and you’ll recall, just in recent days, we cited one abortion doctor who said most of those were by no means medically necessary in order to save the life of a mother or even to save the health of a mother. They were not based upon a health consideration when it comes to a woman’s physical health, but we got to go back to the Vice President to the United States.

Couple of issues in political background here. The Democrats are very worried about their ticket for the fall of 2024. Presumably, that ticket is President Joe Biden at the top in Kamala Harris as Vice President. Why are they worried? Well, the reason they’re worried about the President is becoming increasingly obvious, and it has most to do with his age. One of the big developments in that story is the fact that even many people in the Democratic Party, most of them at this point, unwilling to be named, to be cited in public, they’re beginning to say out loud this is really not a good idea. But nonetheless, the President appears to be absolutely determined to run for reelection, and there doesn’t appear, at this point, to be any sufficient impetus or opposition in the Democratic Party to prevent that.

That would have to be the result of some kind of change in that game, but that does mean, even as one concerned democratic strategist said, a vote for Joe Biden for president, it really means a vote for Kamala Harris’ president, and for the Democrats, that’s a different kind of problem because as a politician, as an elected official, most specifically, as Vice President of the United States, Kamala Harris has not been particularly popular. Indeed, the more she talks, the less popular she becomes. That is why even some within the administration acknowledged that she was put on the CBS program Face the Nation as the face of the administration, and they had to know this question was coming.

I want to give credit to CBS. CBS pressed the question and pressed the question about three times. The problem is that the host for the CBS program simply didn’t ask the question as directly as it should have been asked which was, “Would you ever stipulate a point at which an abortion should not be then legally possible?” and the Vice President’s answer would have to be, “no,” because that is the adamant position nearly universal now, at least in the leadership of the Democratic Party, and so we really are looking at not just a clash of policy proposals between the pro-life and pro-abortion sides, we’re not just looking at a clash of worldviews, we’re talking about a matter of life and death, and yes, it is simply true right up until the moment that a baby is born.

So here’s where we need to turn the question, and here’s where we need to learn how to listen with discernment. We need to turn the question to this, “At what point would you believe that thereafter abortion should not be legally available? What is the point at which the fetus, the unborn baby has the right to life without the risk of an abortion by the mother’s decision? At what point does the life of that unborn child, that unborn human being, at what point does that life simply become so irrefutably important and urgent that a sane society would not allow abortion after that point?” That’s where we as Christians would say that moment is actually the fertilization of the egg and what was at least classically defined as the moment of conception.

That’s been medically confused thereafter, but you know what we’re talking about. When the two cells come together and God says, “Let there be life,” there is life, and that life deserves our support, our protection, and our endorsement and acknowledgement from that very point onward. But nonetheless, if there are those who say, “I’m for abortion, but I’m not for some kind of crazy position. I’m not for abortion, and no one is for abortion right up until the moment of birth,” then you have to ask the question, “Then, at what moment? Where’s that moment? Where’s that moment in which you say, ‘Before that, a woman should have a right to an abortion. After that, there should not be a right to abortion. The fetal life is to be protected and acknowledged?'”

The fact is that among Democrats right now, certainly the national level, that moment simply doesn’t exist, and we need to be very, very careful in asking the question more pointedly and understanding what we must hear and what we don’t hear when we think of the vast evasion that is coming to us with complicity, by the way, and many in the media. I do, again, want to give credit to CBS in this case. The question was pressed, but nonetheless, the Vice President was allowed to escape.

Part II

A Major Shift on the World Stage: Mexico’s Supreme Court Decriminalizes Abortion

Now, on the issue of abortion, we need to cross our southern border and go to Mexico. Headlines coming from Mexico include the fact that Mexico’s court, its highest court, its Supreme Court has decriminalized abortion nationwide. Now, there is a lot going on here. For one thing, every one of those words again matters. The decriminalization is not exactly the same thing as legalization. So decriminalization means that something that was a part of the criminal code is now no longer either a part of the criminal code or enforced as a part of the criminal code. That’s what decriminalization means. That’s why in the United States, that word is more often applied to issues like marijuana use. It was decriminalized in some jurisdictions before it was legalized, so it might even remain something that on the books was not authorized, but its misuse was not criminalized.

In the case of Mexico, something very similar is going on. When you say decriminalization here, it means that the high court has struck down a law that would criminalize abortion nationwide. The problem is what does nationwide mean? When the United States Supreme Court acts as it did in the Roe v. Wade decision of 1973, this means that all state laws must give way to the Constitution of the United States of America, and the problem for conservatives in 1973 was not that the court didn’t have the authority to interpret and make judgments by the text of the Constitution of the United States. The problem was the court invented a constitutional right that wasn’t in the Constitution, but in the case of Mexico, it’s a bit different.

What this actually means is that abortion has now been decriminalized in terms of federal laws in Mexico, so we have to be careful how we report this. Mexico hasn’t legalized abortion nationwide. It has decriminalized it in its federal code, but this means that in Mexico, the question now does reside at the individual states. In terms of the immediate impact of this decriminalization nationwide that is at the federal level of abortion in Mexico, the most important thing that it relates to would be medical facilities that are supervised by and funded by Mexico’s federal government. Then, by the way, you would also have, as you would have in the United States, at the federal level, the involvement of people who are wearing uniform in the Mexican military, in the government establishment, et cetera. But of the states in Mexico, 20 of the 32 still have laws that make abortion illegal.

Now, don’t take much comfort in that as pro-lifers understand that when you have a signal sent such as what was just sent by Mexico Supreme Court saying that laws criminalizing abortion are, according to Mexico’s constitution, unconstitutional, well, what you end up with is a logic that will inevitably filter down. This is a huge political victory. This isn’t so much a massive legal victory there in Mexico. It’s a massive political victory for the pro-abortion movement. It gives that movement momentum. It gives that movement an argument.

The other big issue here has to do with the fact that this is Mexico, and it is really, really interesting to see the rate at which many nations and cultures that had traditionally experienced moral restraint by the influence of Roman Catholicism are now moving in a more liberal direction very, very quickly. This is something that wasn’t really predictable even as recently as a half century ago, and even say 20 or 30 years ago, nations and cultures that had a very historic Catholic influence, certainly majority Catholic influence as is the case in Mexico and throughout Central and South America, they tended to have very conservative laws on sexuality, very conservative laws on marriage, very conservative laws that defended unborn human life, laws that sanctioned abortion and criminalized it.

What we’re seeing right now is that secularization has not only reached North America and Europe, more in Europe as a matter of fact, even in North America, but North America is fast catching up. That same process of secularization certainly on moral issues is now rushing into effect throughout much of Central and South America, and in other cultures that have been historically influenced by Roman Catholicism. The issue here of Catholicism is that Roman Catholics been really, really clear about marriage as being the union of a man and a woman.

It’s not only a moral teaching for Catholics. It is a sacrament of the church, and Catholics have been extremely strong in defending the sanctity and dignity of unborn life and even of traditional sexual morality. But increasingly, you see the breaking down of those barriers and even those legal, moral, and doctrinal defenses in lands that had been historically dominated by a majority Roman Catholic population. This is just a signal about how fast modernization and the more progressivist understandings of morality and redefinitions of human being are spreading. Even where you thought you saw defenses or, say, firebreaks or firewalls that might slow down that progressivist impulse, this headline news from Mexico is just reminding us that there is no place on planet earth in this modern age that is free from and safe from this kind of moral breakdown.

Part III

The Abortion War Rages in Kentucky: Race for Governor’s Mansion Runs Through Abortion Issue

Next, one of the developments we’re going to have to watch very carefully is how the issue of abortion is playing out in American electoral politics. Of course, the biggest story here is going to be the 2024 US presidential election. The issue of abortion is absolutely certain to be front and center, but we’re not exactly there yet where we can look at a race right now that matters on this issue. We can look to the Commonwealth of Kentucky and the race for the governor’s office in 2023. So this is just a matter of weeks away. Right now, on the issue of abortion, something of a television commercial war is taking place. Like we did with the Vice President on the CBS Sunday morning program, we need to take a closer look at what’s happening here in Kentucky.

So the big development right now is that the campaign for the incumbent Democratic governor, Andy Beshear, has been running an advertisement in which persons are saying that his Republican challenger, the current Attorney General, Daniel Cameron, holds to an extremist or an extreme position on abortion because he does not support exemptions of anti-abortion laws for pregnancies occasioned by rape and incest. So you have people who are seeking to support the reelection of the Democratic governor who, by the way, has even caught the attention of the national media because of his pro-LGBTQ and pro-abortion stances that evidently did not prevent him from being elected governor four years ago. The big question is, are Kentuckians sufficiently concerned about those issues to make it count in November of 2023?

We’re about to find out. But in that advertisement, the Jefferson County prosecutor, Aaron White, says this, “Nobody, no child should ever have to go through that,” and that is speaking of a rape survivor who is “forced to give birth.” Now, before we look at that actual political claim, let’s look at the moral issue that is behind it. The Christian worldview says you look at the prior question. The prior question is, “What difference does it make how a human being made in God’s image is conceived? What difference does it make?” The answer is it makes no difference. This is one of the reasons why the Christian worldview says there are no children who are accidents, and there are no children, there is no baby, there is no pregnancy that is in itself a wrong thing. That is to say the gift of life is a good thing.

That doesn’t mean that every pregnancy is convenient. It doesn’t mean that the circumstances that bring about a pregnancy are not themselves evil. That is to say we acknowledge the unspeakable evil of rape and incest, but the child in the womb is not an unspeakable evil and is actually made in God’s image and has just as much right to survive and to be recognized as fully human bearing full human dignity as any other human being, born or not yet born. But politically, what we’re looking at here is the fact that this is a scare commercial. No doubt about it. That’s exactly what it is intended to do. Its function is to scare voters and to say the Attorney General, Daniel Cameron, the Republican candidate for governor is an extremist on the issue of abortion.

You’ll notice the case they bring up. The case they bring up is a hypothetical nine-year-old rape survivor who would be “forced to give birth.” Now, when it comes to whether or not there should be exceptions for rape and incest in terms of abortion law, we’ve discussed what that means in moral and theological terms. In political terms, quite frankly, there are those who are pro-life who have voted for restrictions on abortion that would save most babies and have allowed those exemptions to stand. The issue in our consideration today is not whether that is right or wrong. It is to say that is not what’s really in play here.

When it comes to the current democratic governor of Kentucky, even the nationwide media recognize that he is a defender of abortion rights, and this is where the argument has to be turned back to the sanctity and dignity of human life. In response to the ad that was supporting the governor’s re-election and condemning the Republican challenger, that challenger’s campaign issued a statement that says that Governor Beshear “supports making it easier for minor children to get an abortion without their parents’ knowledge and vetoed a bill that would require doctors to provide life-saving care for an infant born alive after a failed abortion.”

So when I discussed the Vice President of the United States on CBS on Sunday morning, I said we have to learn how to force the question and rightly express the question. We have to learn to listen and understand what we are hearing. What we’re hearing basically from Governor Beshear’s office is strong support for abortion, strong support for abortion rights, and even as the Attorney General’s campaign has made clear, he did indeed veto bills that would require doctors to provide life-saving care to an infant born alive after a failed abortion, and he does support making it easier for minor children to get an abortion without their parents’ knowledge. When it comes to the Attorney General, he has historically held to a very clear pro-life position. That’s what has gained the attention of the governor’s reelection campaign and what it’s trying to use to its advantage, trying to go to what it would depict as the most unimaginable case possible and ignoring the fact that the governor’s main position would vastly enlarge abortion rights within the state of Kentucky which, right now, is under a very considerable anti-abortion law.

So the bottom line in all this, by the way, is that when it comes to political campaigns and whether that’s at the state or the national level, you have to understand that the political commercials, the television advertisements, and increasingly, those are digital, not just on television, those advertisements are not actually meant to present an argument. They are increasingly meant simply to state a case in order to try to dissuade voters from voting for the other guy. That’s basically what’s going on there. In terms of the health of our democracy, not a particularly healthy sign, but nonetheless, we need to know what we are dealing with.

Here’s something else that pro-life Christians need to understand. What we’ve come to learn since the Dobbs decision was handed down in June of last year, 2022, is that Americans are stunningly and disappointingly vulnerable or susceptible to that kind of scare advertising. It worked in Kansas for the pro-abortion side. It worked in Kentucky for the pro-abortion side in terms of a constitutional amendment, and it has worked elsewhere. Right now, the Democrats are counting on the fact that it’s going to work not just elsewhere, but everywhere, and you can count on the national ticket making that a big issue in the presidential election of 2024, and the Vice President’s appearance on CBS on Sunday was one opening salvo that tells us what that’s going to look like.

Part IV

Paper is Better: Research in Sweden Reveals Children Learn Better When Reading Print Copies of Books Rather Than Using Other Digital Formats

Finally, for today, a story coming from Sweden, and I’m just going to say, parents, please listen to this. The headline comes in The Guardian. That’s a major London newspaper, and the headline is this, “Sweden says back-to-basics schooling works on paper.” Now, let me just warn you in advance, that’s a pun, but it’s really a very powerful story because what this article tells us is that in Sweden, the school’s minister, Lotta Edholm, is now advising parents that students now, it can be documented, read digital books differently than actual paper books. Guess what? When it comes to reading paper books, they retain more, they learn more, and they actually enjoy it more.

So what we’re being told is that everything is going digital and that all reading is going digital. By the way, that has not proved the case with adults in the United States of America. Back about 10 years ago, even major publishers were assuming that the digital book was going to replace the physical book. That hasn’t happened. As a matter of fact, they were saying bookstores are going to disappear. Well, there was certainly a thinning of the ranks when it comes to bookstores, but the fact is that when most people want to read, they still want to read a physical book. Now, this article in The Guardian is telling us that there is educational research that makes very clear that it does make a difference.

Now, the interesting thing in this story is that the chief government minister about education is actually trying to reverse a government policy. Her own government had held the policy of trying to push electronic textbooks for school children there in Sweden, and even when it comes to children under six to completely end digital learning. That’s not because you put those two words together, and you have an oxymoron. There is some learning in digital learning, but the amazing thing is it isn’t the same as more traditional forms of learning.

By the way, in this article, some people are saying, “Look, this is just going to make conservatives happy.” Well, there is something very important here that is conserved. Conservatives understand that one of the goods to be conserved is the transmission of knowledge and the transmission of truth by the printed word, and the most efficient means of doing that, especially when it comes to long-term learning, is a printed book, and it turns out the schoolchildren are now demonstrating that by their own educational performance.

Sweden’s Karolinska Institute, which The Guardian identifies as “a highly respected medical school focused on research,” said in a statement in August of this year, “There’s clear scientific evidence that digital tools impair rather than enhance student learning.” Now, let me just jump across the Atlantic or remind you the newspapers like The Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times have been running reports about the loss of learning experienced by American students under the condition of COVID, and one of the things that is repeatedly said is that the shift to digital learning was expected, in some cases, to enhance learning. But now, we know that a tragic percentage of America’s school children did not get ahead. They have fallen behind. When it comes to catching up, it’s interesting how many Americans still say, “What we need is more laptops. What we need is more technology. What we need is more digital educational methodology directed to teenagers and children.” But now, you have a report coming from Sweden that is saying here’s a country that’s turning in the opposite direction based upon research and the fact, by the way, that children, and here’s something that parents really need to hear, really do like reading books and being read books.

The Guardian also reports very interestingly, “Online instruction is a hotly debated subject across Europe and other parts of the West. Poland, for instance, just launched a program to give a government-funded laptop to each student starting in fourth grade in the hope of making the country more technologically competitive.” Now, I’m not going to make the argument that it won’t have any effects in terms of making the country more technologically competitive, but I do want to note as an educator that that’s a very different thing than saying they want to make the country more highly educated.

Before leaving this for today, I also want to point out that the research also indicates that children who learn how to write on paper learn to write in a more highly developed sense than those who try to write on some kind of digital format. It turns out that even the tactile experience of putting a pencil or a pen on paper and moving the hand, it has an effect that is salutatory when it comes to education. Who would’ve thought it? I say that, of course, with a pen in my hand.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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Today, I’m in Cedarville, Ohio, and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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