Tuesday, April 9, 2024

It’s Tuesday, April 9th, 2024.

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

Part I

The Threat of Losing an Election Does Not Justify an Immoral Position: Former President Trump Reveals Political Expediency Position on Abortion

Over the weekend, former President Donald Trump had indicated through social media that he would be making an announcement yesterday morning about his campaign’s policy position on the question of abortion. As promised, yesterday morning in a video release, the former president did release his policy proposal and the bottom line is that it’s something of a muddle. But what’s really interesting is that while he claimed credit for, and deservedly, the appointment of conservative justices on the Supreme Court during his term in office, and pointed to the overturning of Roe v. Wade as a great historic significant achievement, all that’s absolutely right. Even as the former president was basically laying claim upon that as an achievement, he went on to say that as a presidential candidate, he was not calling for any kind of national legislation to limit abortion.

Instead, he said, and I quote, “My view is now we have abortion where everybody wanted it from a legal standpoint, the states will determine by vote or legislation or perhaps both, and whatever they decide must be the law of the land.” That’s a bit of a muddle because states don’t decide the law of the land, they decide what takes place within the state. And it certainly is not true that what everybody wanted in this country is for the question of abortion to be returned to the states. So let’s be clear, who did want that? Opponents of Roe v. Wade. So let’s be intellectually honest, those of us who were seeking for, praying for, working for the reversal of Roe v. Wade did want to see that question returned to the states because the most immediate effect of the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade is that pro-life states with pro-life legislation could put that legislation into effect saving the lives of unborn babies.

That was the first achievement. But the pro-life movement was never going to be satisfied with that, but was going to press on state by state. But the big political impact here is that the former president running for reelection said to fellow conservatives and implicitly, indeed, you might say even explicitly to pro-life conservatives, he went on to say, “We have to win elections.” In other words, we can’t assume a policy position that will cost us the election, otherwise, we lose everything. Now, it is at this point that Christians thinking through this issue understand that’s an understandable logic, but it’s a logic we can only take so far. We cannot possibly use that as justification to hold to a policy position we believe violates our deepest convictions. The threat of not winning an election cannot justify assuming an immoral position. Now, I want to be clear, at this point, former President Trump’s position on abortion is light years better than the position of the current President of the United States, Joe Biden, and we’re going to talk about that further.

As a matter of fact, in response to the Trump announcement, the President of the United States who claims to be personally against abortion based on his Catholic convictions, but for it politically as a constitutional right, quite frankly, President Biden has become the most avidly pro-abortion president in American history. And it is hard to come up with intellectual honesty with any abortion he would not justify. So, let me be clear, I am disappointed with President Trump’s statement and I am going to speak openly about that disagreement. At the same time, I want to acknowledge his position is still markedly more pro-life than that of President Biden and the Democratic Party. 

But I also want to state that the former president’s position against a national ban on abortion, and he had been at least indicating some interest in a national law against abortion at 15 weeks, he is now saying, no, he’s against any national legislation on abortion. And at least in part he seems to say that is for the political reason that the American people won’t support it, and might vote for another candidate if he were to stand for and to propose this kind of limit on abortion by nationwide law. He comes back and says, “In principle, the issue has been returned to the states. That’s where everybody wanted it.” Well, that’s not where the pro-abortion proponents of Roe v. Wade wanted it. They wanted it to stay with a Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. And that points to what I just want to underline is the biggest problem in the president’s position, which is quite frankly, that neither side is going to be able to ignore the imperative of nationwide legislation because let me just put it this way, let’s just say that pro-lifers say, “Okay, let’s leave it at the states.”

Well, the pro-abortion movement is going to be pressing for a legislative remedy to what they see as the reversal of Roe. They’re going to be pressing for nationwide liberal pro-abortion legislation. So there is actually no intellectually honest way that conservative pro-lifers can say, “We’re just going to be opting out of the question of national legislation.” Even if that were the right position to take, I don’t believe that it is, but I will say there’s at least a plausible political and constitutional argument for that particular position. But even if you do hold to that, the fact is that the other side’s not going to let you hold onto it because they’re going to be pressing for pro-abortion legislation. And if you have, Joe Biden reelected as President of the United States, and if he has a Democratic majority certainly in both houses of Congress, then you can count on the fact that he’s going to be bringing the most aggressive pro-abortion nationwide legislation imaginable.

And if you question if that is so, just ask him. Repeatedly, he tells us that’s exactly what he will do. By the way, there’s a bit of dishonesty in how he says it, because he says he wants to legislate to put Roe back into effect. But I guarantee you there’s no way the Democratic Party, in fact, there’s no way the Biden administration would actually propose legislation that would just put back Roe. Instead, it will be even far more deadly, far more pro-abortion. And again, you say, “Well, how can you say that?” It’s because if you listen to Democratic Party figures speak, that’s exactly how they speak. So I want to state, again, I am frustrated with the former president because I think he’s taken the wrong position here. I think it would be far more intellectually and politically honest to say, “We’re not going to have a choice over the fact that someone’s going to propose nationwide legislation related to abortion.” I want to be very clear that if there’s going to be nationwide legislation, I want it to be pro-life legislation. I’m going to oppose nationwide pro-abortion legislation. Let’s let it stand there. 

I also think it’s very interesting that the former president spoke so bluntly about his political motivation saying, “We have to win elections or otherwise, just about everything is lost.” Usually, a politician says, “I’m taking the stand on principle even as, well behind the scenes, the reality is it’s for political expediency.” Rarely do you see a national candidate say, “Okay, let’s just start with political expediency.” I’ll simply have to say to the former president, Mr. President, in this case, your logic does not help you morally. 

But before leaving this issue, we do need a bottom-line assessment of where we stand as of April the 9th, 2024. Here’s where we stand. We have a national election with the presidency at stake coming up in November. And at this point, you have an activist pro-abortion administration led by President Joe Biden that will further that agenda at every possible turn. And you have a former President Trump running for election to another term in office, who is not holding to a position that I believe is consistently pro-life or for that matter, is consistently in terms even of politics, honest. But at the same time, it will be markedly more pro-life, which is to say markedly less pro-death, than the opposing party. That’s where we stand. 

Part II

‘That Law Can’t Still Be on the Books, Right?’ — The Left Responds to the Comstock Act

But next, we need to look at a fascinating development about another nationwide law that has to do with abortion, and that is the Comstock Act. Why are we talking about the Comstock Act? It is because it goes all the way back to the early 20th century. Its logic goes all the way back to the 18th century. It goes back to a man by the name of Anthony Comstock.

And quite frankly, in American history, he’s a very controversial figure because he headed what was known as the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, started by the way, in 1873. So here you have New York and then the Society for the Suppression of Vice. What does that mean? For the suppression of evil, for the suppression of wrongdoing, but vice in this case, it had a specific sexual connotation. It had to do with sex trafficking, as we would say now, had to do with prostitution, had to do with prostitution across state lines, had to do with pornographic elements and entertainment, had to do with birth control and abortifacients, had to do with all these things. And very typical of America in the 19th century, and that tells you something about moral change, very typical of America, this is New York for crying out loud, you had a very powerful society for the suppression of vice. And eventually, it was so successful that it brought about nationwide legislation. And the shorthand for it is simply the Comstock Act named after Anthony Comstock. 

Now, the Comstock Act in terms of the language important to us does go back to the 19th century to 1873 when Congress adopted a law that actually made it a felony to send through the postal service, through the mail, “any article or thing designed, adapted, or intended for producing abortion.” Now, again, could language be more clear? Here’s the thing that may shock you, that law is still in the books. 1873, by the way, chillingly, exactly 100 years before the Roe v. Wade decision, Congress passed legislation, the president signed it into law that was intended to suppress vice, and one of the clauses is that it was made a felony to use the federal mails, the US Postal Service, to send anything that could be either designed or adapted or even just intended to produce abortion.

Now, as you think about the year 2024, of course, you’re also thinking about the fact that the majority of abortions performed in America right now are so-called medical abortions. That is to say, they’re not surgical, they are medical. They’re brought about by mifepristone or a combination of abortion-inducing drugs. And almost assuredly, they are sent through the federal mails or something that comes under the jurisdiction of the federal mails, and they are sent state to state which invokes the authority of the federal government. So you are looking at a huge problem here for the abortion industry and they know it. And by the way, this came up in recent debate at the US Supreme Court over the issue of abortion and the abortion pill. It came up just in recent days and weeks. And you know what was really interesting to see was an awful lot of pro-abortion Americans who woke up and said, “What do you mean we have a law that prohibits sending abortion pills or anything intended, designed, or adapted to be an abortion pill through the mail?”

As a matter of fact, that’s exactly the program that they’re calling for with the reversal of the Roe v. Wade decision after the Dobbs decision of 2022. They’re saying, “Look, the way around this is just to send abortion pills to women regardless of where they live.” And yet it turns out that according to the Comstock Act passed in 1873, still on the books, that is not only a federal crime, it is rightly understood as a felony. Okay, it’s really interesting, how is the Left responding to this? Well, one of the ways they’re responding to it is saying, “A law that old can’t really still be on the books, can it?” There have been subsequent laws, there have been court decisions. One way of dismissing it is the fact that there are pro-abortionists who’ve referred to the Comstock Act as a zombie law. It’s dead, but it’s still alive.

Well, the fact is it is still alive, and that is a point that was made by attorneys before the Supreme Court. It was also interestingly picked up by at least two justices of the Supreme Court, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas. And it is on the books. Go look it up, just Google it. It’s there. The Comstock Act is in place. Now, there are many people looking at it, particularly from the Left, going, “This is just absolutely reprehensible. How could a law like this have ever been passed?” Well, let me tell you, it does reveal a great deal about moral change in America. If you go and look at all the things that are rendered illegal by the Comstock Act, there goes an awful lot of American culture, including pornography through the mails, not to mention what we would now know as the internet. You just go down the list.

Yes, it is very clear that there was a very different moral reality operational in America in 1873. But then let’s say you all of a sudden have a secret strategy meeting of liberals who gather together and go, “How in the world did this happen? How did we not know it was there?” Now, it has leapt as if from the grave. The Comstock Act is right there. For crying out loud, the Supreme Court spoke it out loud just in terms of recent days, this is a real threat, guys, and they asked the question, “Well, why wasn’t it reversed?” Because you look at moral change in America and you say, “Well, it’s been remarkable since 1873.” And many of us would lament so much of what’s happened in terms of sexual morality, the subversion of marriage. You just go down the list all the way right down to the confusion of gender, not to mention the murder of the unborn.

You look at this and people are saying, “Well, why wasn’t this reversed?” And the answer is because Congress didn’t reverse it. 

And then ask yourself the next question, “Well, why didn’t Congress reverse it?” It is because Congress did not want to have to take a stand for vice rather than against it. So yeah, go back to, say, the middle of the 20th century, already there were those for whom the Comstock Act was an embarrassment, but you know what? They didn’t want to go down in the congressional record as being against a law, against vice. You fast-forward to the 1970s, you’ve got modern ideological feminism, you’ve got the pro-abortion movement, and all these things. And you know what they don’t want to head on? They don’t want to take on the Comstock Act because then you become that guy. 

Alright, so you fast-forward a little further, and I think we all have to acknowledge an awful lot of people just forgot the Comstock Act was there. But yes, it was there, and yes, it is there. But now you’ve got law professors saying, “If you look together at all these different laws, you patch it all together, you can come up with an argument that much of this was actually repealed by subsequent legislation. But you know what? So long as that bill is still on the books, well, here’s the obvious fact, it’s still on the books.” So, what does the editorial board of the Washington Post say about this? You got to love the headline, “Repeal the Comstock Act before the GOP,” that is the Republican Party, “tries using it to ban abortion.” That’s actually the headline published by the newspaper. Repeal the Comstock Act before Republicans try to use it to ban abortion. Well, sorry to say, by the time you write that headline, it is already too late.

So once again, this isn’t just an opinion piece published in the Washington Post, it is the official statement of the Washington Post editorial board. It includes this statement, “Later judicial interpretation prompted removal of the Comstock Act’s prohibition on mailing contraception, but its purported ban on abortion-related supplies is still on the books.” Now, I just want to draw attention to that statement because it’s fascinating for one reason, for one word, and it is the word purported. Let me just read to you again, the statement from the editorial board, “It’s purported ban on abortion-related supplies is still on the books.” I’ll just state this, it’s not purported, Dear Editorial Board. If it were merely purported, you would not be calling for the removal of the act. I know there are those who are making the claim that even though the words are there, it’s been changed by subsequent legislation and judicial decision, but the reality is the language is still there. It’s not purported, it’s readable.

It’s a fairly long editorial statement, but the last line gets to the point of the editorial board, “One way or the other, this obsolete misogynist law needs to be wiped off the statute books.” So it’s not like they’re not saying what they believe. They call this law obsolete, that’s one thing. They also claim that it is misogynists, that is to say, it reflects hatred of women. But you know what? If you were to go back to the Comstock Act and to the Congress that adopted it in 1873, they would say they were doing it to protect and honor women. So that just shows you how the world has changed since 1873. 

By the way, in another very influential paper, the New York Times, Tina Smith, a Democratic senator from Minnesota who’s also identified interestingly, and not coincidentally, as a former Planned Parenthood executive, she’s announced, “I hope to repeal an arcane law that could be misused to ban abortion nationwide.” Which is to say, once again, that this is a question that’s now unavoidable. Congress is going to face proposed legislation to repeal the Comstock Act. We need to call it out at every single point for exactly what it is. It is a law to remove the suppression of vice, which means that endorsers of the repeal of this law are the endorsers of vice, but you knew that already.

Part III

Is Abortion Endangered in the U.S. or Not? The New York Times Cannot Seem to Get Its Argument Straight

Well, next, as we’re talking about the mainstream media and the issue of abortion, sometimes there are patterns that just leap out and cry for attention. So here’s a pattern to which I want to draw attention. I’m going to go to an editorial board statement again, but this time, it’s not the Washington Post, it’s the New York Times. On March the 30th of this year, the editorial board, which means this is the paper’s full editorial authority, declared what it warned was “the persistent threat to abortion rights.”

The editorial board goes on to speak to “anyone concerned for the future of reproductive freedom in America.” The editorial board is sounding an alarm that there is a clear and present danger to abortion rights in the United States. They describe it as a persistent threat. They’re looking particularly at the pro-life efforts to try to reverse the FDA’s approval of mifepristone as an allowable and approved medication. They go on to say, “In eliminating a woman’s constitutional right to choose what happens in her own body, the Supreme Court claimed to be respecting the democratic process by allowing state legislatures to determine whether abortion should be legal and what if any limits should be placed on it. Roe v. Wade had been,” in the words of the conservatives, they mean here, “egregiously wrong.” But they believe that Roe was right. They conclude, “Any successful strategy to protect or restore abortion rights must understand reproductive rights and representative democracy is inextricably linked. That means understanding the stakes of the elections in November.”

Indeed, both sides better understand the stakes of the election in November. But here’s the big issue, and this is the pattern to which I want to draw attention, the New York Times editorial Board says that America faces the danger of persistent threats to what they identify as abortion rights. By the way, that’s exactly the phrase they use in the headline, “Abortion rights.” They get back to the more politically correct language of a woman’s reproductive freedom in their terminology later. But to get the attention and to make their point clear, they just get right to the point, abortion rights in the headline. But here’s the pattern, is it true that abortion rights are under persistent threat in the United States? Is it true that America is in danger from the pro-abortion position of having fewer abortions than ever before?

Well, if so, how do you explain the fact that as the Economist of London recently reported and as was actually reported by the very same paper, the New York Times, just a matter of a few months ago, here’s the headline, “Abortions Rose in Most States This Year, New Data Shows.” So that report was published in the New York Times. That’s the same paper. They can’t claim that they never saw the report, they published it, that says that abortions actually rose in the year 2023, also based in data back to 2022 after Dobbs. Well, again, are you trying to have it both ways? You’re saying here, “Here’s the news that abortion has actually increased in most states,” and then you come back and say, “But it is persistently endangered across the United States.” Now, my point is this, just to look at that pattern, this is the way the pro-abortion movement is lurching to and fro these days.

They’re coming out to say, “Look, the vast majority of Americans are for abortion rights.” And they turn around and say, “Look, here’s a government trying to take away your abortion rights.” They come back and say, “Abortion’s endangered in the United States.” And they come back and brag there were more abortions performed in the United States than in previous years, in 2023. Now again, which way is it? One of the things we need to watch is that people make the arguments they think will get them the greatest traction toward their desired end. And that’s exactly what’s going on here, it is moving to and fro. That’s the pattern. They make one argument. They come back and make what appears to be, if not a contradictory argument, at least a contrary argument. Whatever works. Getting to the pro-abortion end is all that seems to matter to the pro-abortion forces.

And this is where we need to understand this is what’s at stake. Pro-lifers need to understand this is exactly what is at stake, and it’s always been at stake. And it goes back to the issue of former President Trump’s proposal to avoid national legislation and just go to the states. Well, the fact is, as you see here, the reality is that leaving it at the states means that neither side is going to be satisfied, and both sides are eventually going to seek and demand and work towards national legislation. Because Roe v. Wade was reversed, quite frankly, the energy right now is more on the pro-abortion side. And you’re going to have pro-life states that are going to have to be on the defensive just to maintain the power to control, reduce, and regulate abortion within their own borders. But I want to avoid the intellectual and the moral problem of making one argument before one crowd and another argument before another crowd.

I want to press for a responsible total ban on abortion all across America. I think to affirm any other goal was, quite frankly, to hold to an inconsistent pro-life position if it’s really pro-life at all. We can talk about the exceptions, but it should come down in the Christian worldview to the only exception, if you’re going to use that language, actually coming down to what is a true threat to the life of the mother. And that’s where Christianity has had a consensus now for centuries. But we understand those situations are extremely rare, which is acknowledged even by the pro-abortion side. Donald Trump came back, and speaking about exceptions, said that there is broad widespread demand for exceptions that would include rape, incest, and some other causes. And you look at this and you recognize, well, okay, that is a political reality.

It’s one thing to name that reality, but I believe for Christians, to be very, very clear, we can never be satisfied with any end result that does not result in protection for unborn human life without exceptions other than saving the life of the mother, which is an extremely rare circumstance upon which Christians have been aggrieved for centuries. 

Which to state the matter another way means that Christians may be faced with, say, referendum, with an electoral option or with a political equation in which you can save some lives but not all unborn lives. And that might be the right thing to do in a particular circumstance, but it can never be done dishonestly as if Christians are satisfied, as if pro-lifers can be satisfied with that equation. It means contending for the dignity and sanctity of every single unborn life and being dissatisfied and taking no rest until the dignity and sanctity of every single unborn life is respected and protected. Events that have taken place over the last several days, even over the last several hours, just point to the enormous challenge we face. This is the challenge to which we’re called. 

Thanks for listening to The Briefing. 

For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to Boycecollege.com. 

I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

I am always glad to hear from readers. Write me using the contact form. Follow regular updates on Twitter at @albertmohler.

Subscribe via email for daily Briefings and more (unsubscribe at any time).