Wednesday, March 6, 2024

The Briefing.

Wednesday, March 6, 2024.

It is Wednesday, March 6, 2024. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

A Dark Day for Life in France: France Enshrines Abortion in Its Constitution

Well, France has done it. The French Parliament, and with the cooperation of the President of France, Emmanuel Macron, and the nation’s Prime Minister, they have all worked together so that a woman’s right to an abortion is now enshrined in the French Constitution. France thus becomes the first nation on earth to explicitly include abortion rights in the nation’s constitution.

Now, that’s a dark story, but it’s also a huge development. It’s big news of course, because we are talking about amending the French Constitution. As I discussed previously on The Briefing, putting this in a nation’s constitution is a concrete way of saying this particular claim constitutes the nation. So, France is saying that abortion rights now constitute the nation. France is now indivisible from abortion rights. The French Constitution is inadequate, inoperable without abortion rights.

Now as we saw, Emmanuel Macron, the French president, actually referred to the Dobbs decision handed down by the US Supreme Court in the year 2022 reversing Roe v. Wade, as the impetus behind why France needed to explicitly affirm and include abortion rights in the nation’s constitution. Now remember, nothing happened in France to bring this about. Instead, it was a reference back to the Dobbs decision by the United States Supreme Court. That became the opportunity for political, well, opportunism on the part of the French president. And in complicity, the entirety of the French government. The French Prime Minister joined in the same thing, and an overwhelming super majority in both of the chambers of the French Parliament acted in such a way that it is now a part of the French constitution.

And again, just fundamentally, that’s just such a shocking thing. Because you put in your Constitution what constitutes the nation. And I think it’s almost impossible to exaggerate the impact of a nation putting abortion rights explicitly in the Constitution. In other words, abortion is the nation, the nation is abortion.

But there’s more to it than that, as you might expect. First of all, even as this happened on Monday at Versailles, think of the symbolism of that. This was Versailles, the palace of the French royalty. It is the seat of political authority. It is the grandeur, as France often refers to itself, the grandeur of France. All of that invoked in this constitutional action. But there’s more to it than that. Because even as the French president and the French government has now taken this action, there was no major movement on the part of any major French political party or person to reverse abortion rights in that country. Abortion rights were absolutely uncontested and safe. There was no threat to abortion rights in France. There is no organized and powerful political movement to restrict or eliminate abortion in the nation. No court in France had threatened to limit abortion. Nevertheless, the French move really is important precisely because of the opportunism in putting abortion rights in the constitution.

Here’s where we need to understand that political opportunism here is also incredibly morally telling. Because we need to understand that the pro-abortion movement in the United States laments the fact that it has not been able to do this. And by the way, it is at this point dubious that there will be any successful amendment along similar lines to the United States Constitution, and we should be very thankful about that. But that requires us to think historically as we will in just a moment.

But as you look at this situation, you realize that even conservatives as they are labeled in France, even conservatives, were basically for this. Marine Le Pen, the leader of the French opposition, the conservative opposition, very well known political figure in France, criticized the French president for this action saying that it was a publicity stunt. She said this. “It serves no purpose because no political movement is questioning abortion.” She said that the French president was pushing this for his own glory. But the most important thing to recognize is that she voted for the measure. She voted herself to put abortion rights in the French Constitution. So, that’s a reminder to us that conservative has to match in substance what it claims in label. And if you will not conserve human life, then what in the world are you conserving? That’s another footnote here to remind us that there is a moral and political distinction between conservatism and the right. Marine Le Pen is on the Right. But on this kind of issue, she demonstrates that she and her party are decidedly not conservative.

Now, I mentioned the symbolism of calling the government together for this action in a special session held at Versailles. The symbolism is also made clear when the French president Emmanuel Macron declared that on Friday, at the end of the week, even as the move was made in the beginning of the week, at the end of the week, the government is going to hold a ceiling ceremony for this legislative action related to the French Constitution. Now, a ceiling ceremony is a rare thing in France, only for the most important political decisions or policies or legislation. So, that tells you something. And it tells you that in France you have a government that is so pro-abortion that it is putting abortion rights in the Constitution. That even as there was no controversy really, sadly, over abortion in France, the French government saw this as opportunism and an opportunity they weren’t going to let pass.

But it’s also important to recognize that the French Constitution is a part of the story here. Now remember, if you’re talking the government of France, you are talking about a government that refers to itself as the Fifth Republic. Okay? Ask yourself the question, how many republics have we had in the United States of America? The magic number is one. You have the United States of America. But in France it is the Fifth Republic. And that only goes back to the late 1950s. This French Constitution in effect goes back to 1958. Since 1958, the French Constitution has been amended 24 times. The U.S. Constitution is much older, almost 200 years older, and it’s been amended only 27 times, and that since the 1780s.

The American Constitution, the US Constitution is not easily amended. And for that, we should be very, very thankful. We have a constitutional form of government. And one of the conservative barriers to say losing control of the government, the government acting outside its boundaries, the Constitution becoming just a malleable elastic document, one of the boundaries there, one of the protections is that it’s very difficult to amend the Constitution. Congress, let’s be thankful for this, cannot do it alone. It takes a super majority of Congress, but it also takes a super majority of the states. So, you’re not likely to see a constitutional amendment like this become truly politically threatening in the short run.

But we should be warned. This is exactly what the pro-abortion movement will work for in the long run. And remember that the long run really matters. The long run explains how the pro-life movement, which really began in the early 1970s and really only gained urgency after the Roe v. Wade decision was handed down in 1973. It took about half a century to get to the Dobbs decision reversing Roe. Well, the other side may be a little more confident that they can act quickly. But both sides need to realize, this is a very, very long battle.

But the other issue related to the American Constitution as compared to the French constitution is that the American Revolution and the French Revolution were radically different.

The American Revolution came first. And judged in the long history of revolutionary movements in the world, the American Revolution wasn’t really a revolution. It was a revision. It was a reformation. But the important thing to recognize is that even as the United States, of course at that point it meant the colonies gathered together, even as they did rebel against the British crown, as we’ve often discussed, they did so only after calling for rescue from the British crown over against Parliament. And rather than just replacing the entire British system, we created more or less the British government without a king. And then we created a presidency as basically something very close to an elected monarch. Even when it comes down to the House of Commons and the House of Lords, we have the House of Representatives and the Senate. The American Constitution is written. That’s a great advantage over the British unwritten constitution. But the fact is it’s based upon a similar, indeed a common law tradition, and a common constitutional tradition.

The French Revolution came, of course, let’s say a decade after the American Revolution in general terms. But it came as a very different revolution. The French Revolution came as an overthrow not only of the monarchy, but the overthrow of the entire aristocracy, the entire government, the entire system, the entire calendar, the entire history. And for that matter, even the language. Now, the French language continued, but there was a whole new vocabulary. You no longer had man and woman, Mr and Mrs. Everyone is simply citizen. But it was also an overthrow of the church. It was an overthrow of Christian tradition. It was a radical secularization. It was a revolution far more revolutionary in terms of a secular assertion of government as the guarantor and author of rights.

In the United States, the government doesn’t grant rights, it recognizes them. At least that’s classical American constitutional theory. In France, there’s nothing above the state. So the state, or as the French would say, the people, are the origin of the rights. That’s a huge distinction. And now you see why in France putting abortion in the constitution makes more sense, even just politically and historically, than in the United States.

But again, the pro-abortion movement in this country is going to do its best to catch up with France. And to do so through, first of all, national legislation. But then also through, of course, federal constitutional amendment.

But there’s one other issue here, and that is just basic hypocrisy, and it’s often wedded to basic ignorance. The pro-abortion movement in the United States is just giddy over this French development. It’s being held up as an example. An opinion writer in the Los Angeles Times more or less said, “Look at the French, sophisticated, liberal. Look at the Americans, backward, pro-life.” But in France, abortion is only legal up to 14 weeks of pregnancy. After that, abortion is very, very difficult to obtain. Which is to say that an awful lot of the blue, pro-abortion states in the United States of America are far more liberal on abortion than the France they’re now holding up as the beacon of liberalism. Now, that’s not to say that France has a magic number with 14. But let’s just face it, that 14 week limit right now is what many people are describing is absolutely radical. So, this shows you there’s a lot of misunderstanding, a lot of ignorance, and there’s a lot of willful intentional misrepresentation going on here.

So, what’s taken place in France is more troubling simply because moving a claimed right, which we believe isn’t a right at all to say the very least, moving that the constitution is intended to make it irreversible. Now, the French president said just that. He said that this means that forever abortion rights are officially safe in France. But just to state the matter as clearly and honestly as I can, if you are the President of France in the Fifth Republic, you better be very careful about saying that anything’s going to last forever.

One final reminder when it comes to France. France is now radically secularized. Because as you look at the issue of abortion and so many other moral issues, this would not be possible in a France that had, for example, the historic influence of Catholicism as France once had. This is a demonstration of what happens when secularization takes place. You don’t have a certain line in the calendar. And you have one side and then the other side. You might see that in retrospect. You don’t see it when it happens. But there are many people right now in France who are absolutely shocked at this development. But when you look at the numbers, there’s no excuse in this case for being shocked. This is what the secularization of a society produces.

Part II

The Law as Teacher: Why Legalizing Euthanasia IS a Moral Endorsement

Okay, next, I want to shift to the issue of euthanasia. But more importantly, to a pattern of thinking that Christians need to think about very, very carefully. That also has to do with the rule of law and the role of law. I want to tell you, I got onto this story in a rather backward way. I saw a letter to the editor published in a London newspaper. And it was so intriguing to me, indeed a bit infuriating, that I had to track back the issue. And I tracked it all the way back to an article that had been published in The Telegraph, again, a major London newspaper, and it was written by an American bioethicist by the name of John Keown.

John Keown is a professor in the Kennedy Institute at Georgetown University. And he had written an article, again, published in the Telegraph some months ago, entitled “Assisted Suicide Must Not Be Legalized through the Back Door.” And he’s making a good argument. He’s on the right side here. He’s against euthanasia or assisted suicide. And he points out that many governments are trying to smuggle it in through the back door. And one of the ways they’re trying to do it is by not prosecuting people who are the agents of assisted suicide. He is offering a rather detailed argument and he makes clear that the British government is in danger of legalizing assisted suicide, some form of euthanasia, through the back door, when politically they can’t yet do it through the front door. So, it’s a very good argument. It has to do with the law. He wants the law in England to protect the sanctity of life.

And remember, the Christian worldview principle is that we believe that human life is sacred and possesses dignity. Because of the Imago Dei, we’re made in God’s image. And that means from the moment of fertilization until the moment of natural death. So, that’s why it’s predictable. The Christian worldview tells us in advance. The biblical worldview warns us that if you see a subversion of human dignity in the beginning of life, you’re also going to see the same at the end of life. Because those are the two great questions. When does human life begin? When does human life end? And a secular worldview is going to attack the Christian convictions on these issues at the beginning and at the end. So, that’s why abortion and euthanasia are the bookends of the big crisis in bioethics and the collision between the culture of life and the culture of death in our lifetimes.

But there’s another issue just as fundamental that appears here. What I saw, as I said, originally was a letter to the editor in response to Professor Keown’s article. And it caught my attention. I want you to hear what he said. The letter writer here identified as David Milne from London. He wrote, “Professor John Keown’s expertise in ethics is unimpeachable, but he is wrong to suggest that allowing dying people to choose the manner and timing of their deaths would represent the state’s endorsement of that choice. It would be just as accurate to say that the state is endorsing the unnecessary suffering of dying people who would presently want to make that choice.” So, he goes on making this argument. And again, the argument he makes is that Professor Keown is just wrong to say that allowing something in the law means that it’s encouraged in the law.

But here’s something Christians need to understand. What Professor Keown represents is an historic long standing Western, and in particular English Common Law, and even more fundamentally biblical, understanding that the law is a teacher and the law is a restraint. And so, here you have a letter writer who’s identified, by the way, with an honorific title in Britain, and he makes the argument that, merely allowing something in the law is not offering moral endorsement nor encouragement. But I’m going to argue that the Christian understanding is that that’s exactly what the law would be doing.

Let me give you another example. Let’s get away from assisted suicide and let’s consider instead the question of divorce. Throughout most of Western history, divorce was very difficult to obtain. The dissolution of a marriage was almost impossible to obtain. Over a period of time, people claimed that we needed more liberal divorce laws. But even in the United States, that really didn’t come until the late 1960s and the early 1970s. And then you had the development of easier access to divorce, easier legal processes for a divorce, and also the declaration and invention of what was called no-fault divorce. Because previous to that, there had to be some official court finding of a marital fault. There had to be a guilty party, generally an adultery, for a marriage to be dissolved. But divorce became routinized and available in the late ’60s and in particular in the 1970s in the United States.

Now, people could say that was not the moral endorsement or the opening of a government’s endorsement of divorce. But that’s exactly what it was. That’s exactly how Americans interpreted it. It led to a predictable result, which is not only the fact that there were more divorces, but frankly a tidal wave, a tsunami of divorce. As a matter of fact, the change in the law insinuated, it implied, and this was eventually accepted more or less by the society, that marriage is now a matter of a commitment of convenience for a certain amount of time. When a couple stands and says I do, according to American law right now, it’s simply I do until one of us doesn’t.

And so, here we as Christians looking at this letter to the editor, we need to recognize, this is a fundamental issue. And it’s a wake-up call for Christians to recognize when someone tells us that if the law allows X or Y, it’s not endorsing X or Y, that’s a lie. That’s exactly what the government is doing. It’s what the government sought to do with abortion. Making abortion legal meant that, well, you had the majority of justices in the Supreme Court in the Roe decision, the majority opinion written by Justice Harry Blackmun officially said, right there in black and white, that this should settle the issue of abortion and remove it as a matter of public controversy. Of course, it did no such thing. But what’s important for us is to recognize, that’s what the Supreme Court was seeking to do, to use the law to say, “This is now no longer a moral issue.” Thanks be to God, they weren’t successful. They want to do the same thing with euthanasia. They did the same thing, and we see the fruit, when it comes to the issue of divorce.

Just a reminder to us that the law is not just something that has an allowance here and an allowance there. The law does teach. And in the most basic fundamental way, the law is going to teach the sanctity of human life, or it’s going to teach the subversion of the sanctity of human life. The law will do so in the beginning of human life or it will do so also at the end of human life. That’s a predictable pattern. And it’s up to Christians to recognize the issue is, of course, the sanctity of human life. But the issue is inescapably also the function of the law. And in this case, Professor Keown is exactly right and Mr. David Milne is exactly wrong. And we need to remind ourselves our understanding of this issue really matters.

Part III

The Moral Revolution’s Pill Becomes More Available: Opill, A Birth Control Drug, Will Now Be Sold Without a Prescription

Next, when it comes to the culture of death, one of its major tools and its toolkit is birth control. One sense or another, one way or another. And what you see right now that’s most revealing in moral and worldview terms is how the very same people who are pushing for access to the abortion pill available at your local pharmacy, even as we talked just days ago about the fact that Walgreens and CVS now both say they’re going to carry Mifepristone and make it available at least in the states where it would be legal, you also have the news that it is expected that within a matter of days, a birth control pill will be available for sale without a prescription.

In this case, now you’re talking about not only the fact that it’s legally available by prescription, this pill which is known as O Pill, is now going to be made available without the necessity of a doctor’s visit, without even the necessity of a prescription. Dana Singiser said–and by the way she’s co-founder of the Contraceptive Access Initiative–she said, “This is a historic breakthrough. Without a prescription, this becomes a game changer for people who can’t afford to go to doctor’s visits or hourly workers who need to take time off to schedule appointments.”

Now, there are a lot of issues here and Christians need to think them through. They’re complicated at times, and we’ve talked about them extensively on The Briefing. But what I want to come back to is the fact that the moral revolution would be impossible without these pills. A sexual revolution would’ve been impossible without removing the overarching issue of pregnancy. Where you had sex and reproduction inextricably linked, the chemical ability to interrupt that became a matter of what was declared to be moral liberation for the good of humanity. But now we’re talking about the secular culture basically celebrating a pill as rescue. Because the worst thing to be avoided is a baby. So even as we began with abortion, we end up with O pill, and we recognize that in worldview terms, these things are very much tied together.

Part IV

The Last of the Political Giants of the 1980s: The Death of Brian Mulroney

Finally, for today, the passage of time is often reflected in obituaries. And a full half page obituary in the New York Times reminds us this week of the death of Brian Mulroney, the former Prime Minister of Canada. Now, what makes this really important is to recognize that during the 1980s, there were political giants who walked the earth. And in particular, during that period, there was a troika of Western leaders who stood steadfastly together in a way that, frankly, we haven’t seen in Western unity since. Those three leaders were Ronald Reagan, President of the United States, Margaret Thatcher, the Prime Minister of Great Britain, and Brian Mulroney, the Prime Minister of Canada. Right now, you’re looking at an odd political unity between the liberalism of President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. But you’re not looking at a United International front, even on the liberal side, anything like the conservative troika that was represented by Mulroney and Reagan and Thatcher.

Now, remember that the times of the 1980s represented some of the hottest period of what was called the Cold War. And you saw the great worldview collision between freedom in the West and tyranny under the Soviet Union and its allies. And what made Mulroney and Reagan and Thatcher not only unified but of particular historic importance, is that they stood together for the cause of freedom and over against Soviet tyranny. It was, by the way, not by accident, the English-speaking nations. So, you’re looking primarily at Britain and Canada and the United States standing together on these issues.

And there was a deep personal friendship between Reagan and Mulroney and Thatcher. And it’s just important to recognize that political leadership is not just individuals who hold office and hold power. It is also human beings and the relationships among and between those human beings turn out to be historically important as well. You look back at the end of the 20th century and you look at the end of communism, and you simply have to invoke the names of Thatcher and Reagan along with Pope John Paul II, and you add to this the name of Brian Mulroney.

Now, by the way, he did not end as considered a political success story in Canada. He ended with something of a thud. But another reminder that in a fallen world, some leaders ride a stride history for a time only to be standing a stride history no more. But they leave their mark. And the Christian worldview underlines the fact that human beings play an important role in the flow of history, a role for which we are accountable. But a role in which we also see moments of genuine historical greatness, and looking backwards, strategic historical importance. The death of Brian Mulroney at age 84 means the death of the last of those political giants who walked the earth back during the 1980s. It ought at least to have our notice.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing. 

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I’m speaking to you before a live audience in San Jose, California. And I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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