April 1, 2016
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Friday, April 1, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Trump reveals ignorance on historic pro-life position in interview, recants hours later
Once again, the issue of abortion is in the headlines of the nation’s newspapers. Two huge stories as the nation heads into the weekend, both of these stories actually quite unexpected, both in its own way very revealing. The first has to do with Donald Trump, the front runner for the Republican presidential nomination. In a statement made in an interview this week with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, Donald Trump was asked about what should happen once abortion is made illegal—he has declared himself now to be a pro-life candidate—in response to Chris Matthews, Donald Trump said,
“There has to be some kind of punishment” if indeed abortion is made illegal.Show Full Transcript
A stunned Chris Matthews then asked,
“For the woman?”
Mr. Trump then replied,
“Yeah, there has to be some form.”
Trump went on to argue that men who impregnate women who have an abortion should not be punished. What followed was an uproar from both sides of the abortion debate. And this led to a retraction by Donald Trump, who clarified that if he indeed is elected president and has a role in terms of making abortion illegal, he would criminalize the abortionist and not the woman seeking an abortion.
The big background of this story is the fact that the pro-life movement has never, ever called for the criminalization of abortion when it comes to the woman. The pro-life movement actually emerged out of the early feminist movement, something that many people in modern America do not remember. The early feminists argued among other things that abortion was something that was inflicted upon women by men at their own convenience and women, argued the early feminists such as Susan B. Anthony, were the victims of abortion along with the unborn children who were aborted.
The pro-life movement in America has consistently held to this position and has done so over time. What makes the statement by Donald Trump so absolutely revealing is the fact that Donald Trump, who declares himself a pro-life candidate, seems to know so very little about the pro-life movement and about the very significant moral arguments on behalf of the sanctity of human life that have driven that movement for a matter of decades now. On the one hand, the incident points to the character of Donald Trump as a candidate. The editors of the Wall Street Journal wrote,
“All candidates make mistakes, and we’ll credit the campaign statement as Mr. Trump’s genuine belief. But the gaffe is nonetheless telling because it shows how much the Republican front-runner’s campaign is a daily policy adventure.”
That’s a very interesting way to put it.
“As he likes to say,” said the editors, “he’s his own best adviser, and he doesn’t know what he doesn’t know. The result can be a refreshing sense of political candor, but as often as not he also hands his political opponents a sword.”
Leaders in the pro-life movement saw far greater danger. They’re not so much concerned about a presidential candidacy as they are about the power and integrity of arguments on behalf of the sanctity of human life. The blunder—and it can only be described as a blunder—is very telling. Ken Blackwell, senior fellow at the Family Research Council, told USA Today that Trump’s comments underscore the candidate’s lack of any in-depth involvement with the pro-life movement. Blackwell said,
“We have always considered the baby and mother as victims in abortion. He (Trump) has been all over the map on issues of principle. He has established a pattern that is indicative of his inexperience.”
But in this case Donald Trump’s policy proposals have not only been all over the map, the big thing is that they are indicating the superficiality of his arguments now that he is a pro-life candidate. Reporting on Donald Trump’s latest controversy, New York Times reporters Matt Flegenheimer and Maggie Haberman write,
“There does not appear to be any record of Mr. Trump’s shift on abortion rights before February 2011, the month he spoke at a conservative conclave and made clear he was considering running for president the next year.”
So here you have one of the most pro-abortion, one of the most liberal newspapers in America, pointing back to Donald Trump and saying there isn’t a shred of evidence that he held to any pro-life conviction until he decided to think seriously about running for President of the United States in the Republican Party. But there’s more to the story. Not only is there not a shred of evidence that Donald Trump held to a pro-life position until 2011, it is well documented that he held to a pro-choice or a pro-abortion position, at least before then, including the fact that when he talked about the kind of judge that he might appoint to the United States Supreme Court if he ever had the opportunity, he pointed to a judge who happened to be his sister, a sitting federal judge, who had actually struck down a law preserving the sanctity of human life by outlawing a partial-birth abortion. That’s just how radical her position is.
Speaking to the New York Times, Jeanne Mancini, the President of the March for Life Education and Defense Fund, said that efforts to punish individual women for seeking or having an abortion were, in her words, “completely out of touch with the pro-life movement.”
She went on to say,
“No pro-lifer would ever want to punish a woman who has chosen abortion. We invite a woman who has gone down this route to consider paths to healing, not punishment.”
Also speaking to the New York Times, Peggy Nance of the group Concerned Women for America spoke of Trump saying,
“He doesn’t understand pro-life people or the life issue. He instead became the caricature that the left tries to paint us to be.”
That is indeed the problem. This affords us the challenge of explaining that the pro-life movement, once again, has never called for the criminalization of the women, but rather for the criminalization of the one who kills the baby—that is, any doctor or other person who brings about an abortion of an innocent human child. But this also points to a deeper moral issue, and this is in the background to the pro-life movement’s position on the issue. It is this: those early feminists who were concerned that women along with their unborn children were the victims of abortion had a very important point to make, and that is that abortion is most often for the convenience, somewhere, somehow, of a man who is responsible for the pregnancy. As a matter of fact, even today, those who work in crisis pregnancy centers and observe what is going on in abortion centers will tell you that in many cases, women are brought by men for whom the abortion is the easy way out of a pregnancy. And far too many women, even today, not just back in the 19th and early 20th centuries, are being forced into abortion by the very men who are responsible for the child.
But as exactly might be predicted, the pro-choice, pro-abortion side has jumped on Trump’s statements. Nicholas Kristof, prominent columnist for the New York Times, wrote an editorial just hours after Trump’s statement entitled,
“Trump and Abortion.”
“Trump doesn’t seem to have thought deeply about the issue — what a surprise! — and he departed from the mainstream anti-abortion position of targeting not women but abortion providers. As one person said on Twitter: ‘He’s a walking cartoon parody of every leftist accusation against Republicans.’”
But the reason Nicholas Kristof’s article demands our attention is because later he writes,
“Trump’s comments about punishing women are worth pondering because they reflect the logical conclusion of equating a fetus with any other human being.”
So there we have the deep issue right before us, the inescapable issue that it is the moral status of the fetus that always is, always has been, and always will be the issue in abortion. And here you have Nicholas Kristof saying, look, Donald Trump was just stating the obvious. It is, in his words “the logical conclusion of equating a fetus with any other human being.”
But here’s where the pro-life movement returns back to say, who is the guilty party in an abortion? It is the person who brings about the death of the child. The woman seeking the abortion is not without moral responsibility, but she is not herself bringing about the death of the unborn human baby. That’s the crucial issue here, and that’s why the pro-life movement has consistently sought to criminalize abortion at the level of the person performing the abortion. That is, unlike what Nicholas Kristof argues here, a morally consistent argument and it has been consistent over time.
Obama's FDA modifies label on abortion drug making abortion-on-demand even more of a reality
But the second big headline story having to do with abortion has to do with a change in policy announced by the Food and Drug Administration. As Louise Radnofsky and Thomas Burton report for the Wall Street Journal,
“Federal regulators on Wednesday issued new recommendations on drug-induced abortions that may make it easier for women in some states to obtain the procedure, a move that comes at a particularly charged moment in the national debate.”
That is, if anything, a significant understatement. Sabrina Tavernise, reporting for the New York Times, wrote,
“The Food and Drug Administration has relaxed the guidelines for taking a pill that induces abortion, reviving one of the most contentious issues of the abortion debate. The change allows women to use the drug further into pregnancy and with fewer visits to the doctor.”
She goes on to say,
“The announcement on Wednesday came unexpectedly in the final stretch of the Obama administration and amid an election campaign in which both parties covet the women’s vote. Some abortion opponents charged that the new regimen was politically motivated. The FDA said its actions were based strictly on medical science.”
Well, just as yesterday we discussed the fact that claims that the Supreme Court is not a political branch of government are basically either naïve or dishonest, the same is true of every aspect of government life. None of it is nonpolitical. When the Food and Drug Administration says that its decisions are purely based on science, that flies in the face of the fact that so many of their announcements are clearly politically timed. And the New York Times in this case indicates the particularity of this timing—unexpected—as it came as the Obama Administration is coming to its closing months. This is a policy change that the pro-abortion movement had long demanded, and now the demands have been rewarded with this policy handed down by the Obama Administration. The political background and timing was affirmed by Tavernise when she wrote,
“The change was an unequivocal victory for abortion rights advocates who had been fighting laws in Texas, North Dakota and Ohio, among other states that require doctors prescribing the pill to follow the directions on the F.D.A. label for using it, which had been more stringent.”
The demand of the pro-abortion movement to make abortion not only legal for everyone, everywhere, under any circumstance, for any reason, has now been extended to making this pill—clearly an abortion pill—available, just like any other kind of medication. As USA Today reported,
“Abortion rights groups hailed the move as a long-needed dose of common sense given the history of the medication.
“President Ilyse Hogue of NARAL Pro-Choice America, a network of groups dedicated to protecting and expanding reproductive freedoms [just hold that title in your mind], said the abortion pill has proved through decades to be safer than Tylenol, Viagra and other common medications.
“‘It’s high time to put medicine back into the hands of medical professionals and take it out of politicians’ hands.’”
That’s the kind of argument we’re dealing with here, an argument that the abortion pill should be made as readily available as virtually any kind of medication, including, as these examples make clear, at least some over-the-counter medications such as Tylenol. With this announcement made this week, the FDA has not lifted the restrictions to that degree. But what it has done is to bow to pressure from pro-abortion groups to make the drug as readily accessible and available as possible. In the article in the New York Times, Amy Hagstrom Miller, the President of Whole Woman’s Health—that’s the organization, the abortion clinic, at the center of the case before the United States Supreme Court—she said,
“This will allow us to do two things immediately: Expand medical abortions up to 10 weeks of pregnancy, and cut out the unnecessary additional visit for the second dose of medication.”
Translated, that means that pro-abortionists are now excited given this FDA announcement that abortion will be even easier to obtain. The effect of this decision by the FDA assuredly means there will be more abortions of babies in the womb and more of them, we should note, by a pill. That’s the kind of society we not only are becoming, that is increasingly the kind of society we already are.
Time magazine uses pornographic cover for story on the harmful effects of pornography
Next, Time magazine is making news with a cover story as we go into the weekend. The cover story has to do with pornography, and the first thing we have to note is that the cover image itself has to be defined realistically as pornographic. It will be very interesting to see if retailers actually put this particular edition of Time magazine, one of the nation’s most venerable news magazines, on the newsstand where it can be seen by all. The headline on the article is,
“Porn: Why young men who grew up with internet porn are becoming advocates for turning it off.”
The article is by Belinda Luscombe, it is itself so graphic in terms of its detail that there is no way I can discuss it on The Briefing in the way that Time magazine presents it. Time’s interest is in a generation of young men who are now claiming that their sex lives themselves have been ruined by pornography. Without going into any of the details, the really interesting thing here is that Time tries to look at this as if pornography is not a moral issue. But even in doing so, it raises a host of issues. In the first place, it documents just how early American children and teenagers are seeing porn and how universal or ubiquitous pornography has become in the culture. The article documents so much of the damage that comes into lives by means of pornography, including young women and teenage girls, increasingly reporting that the young men and boys they date expect them “to behave like porn starlets.”
The universal access to pornography that now marks the digital age is reflected in this article with what is known as “rule 34.” The rule states this,
“If it exists, there is porn of it.”
That’s the society we have become as well. This cover story in Time magazine reminds us that it was William M. Struthers, a professor at Wheaton College, who years ago wrote the book entitled, Wired for Intimacy. How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain.
I did an interview with him and also published an article about his book. He was making the argument early on, an argument based in morality and physiology, indicating the damage that pornography does not just to human beings in general, but specifically to the young men who appear to consume so much of it. Now this Time magazine cover story comes back to document virtually the same thing argued by William Struthers, but in this case without the moral context. The Time article cites Professor Gary Wilson, who teaches at Southern Oregon University and has written a book entitled Your Brain on Porn. Internet Pornography and the Emerging Science of Addiction.
Several other academics are cited in the article and the main point is this: pornography is addictive just like drugs are addictive. One other expert cited in the article is Philip Zimbardo, emeritus professor of psychology at Stanford University. He makes the argument that porn often goes hand-in-hand with videogames and is similarly fine-tuned to be as habit-forming as possible. He then makes the statement,
“Porn embeds you in what I call present hedonistic time zone. You seek pleasure and novelty and live for the moment.”
Now remember the fact that out of the blue the word hedonism appeared in the Wall Street Journal in an article I cited on The Briefing yesterday. Now just one day later, Time magazine brings that ancient competitor to Christianity, hedonism, back into a moral context in an article that appears to ignore that very context. One of the most revealing aspects of this cover story in Time magazine is that even as the magazine and so many people cited within it point to the grave dangers of pornography and the reality of sexual addiction and the harm that it brings into so many lives, they are clear,
“The one thing that these young men are not suggesting is an end to porn, even if that were possible.”
One of the young activist cited in the article said,
“I don’t think that pornography should be legislated or banned or restricted.”
“In any case,” the magazine says, “legislating porn has always been fraught [that means difficult or complicated], and today that’s not just because of the First Amendment but also because of technology.”
One of the other really sad aspects of this article is the documentation of how many 12-, 13-, and 14-year-olds have what is described in the magazine as “access to unrestricted and endlessly novel Internet porn way before they discover that it could potentially have harmful side effects.”
You need to take the word “potentially” out of this. There is no way that pornography can be safely consumed. But this also tells us something else. The entire article, the way Time magazine approaches this, is as if somehow safe is defined merely in physical, in health, or in physiological terms. That is absolute nonsense. What is missing here is the understanding that pornography affects not only the body and not only the brain, but also the soul. But that requires a Christian worldview. And that’s what’s absent in our secularizing culture and that’s why it’s represented in the fact that Time magazine comes out with an article, a cover story on pornography, with a cover image that is itself pornographic; how Time magazine comes out with an article suggesting the problems of pornography, acknowledging even a public health dimension to pornography, but trying to deal with it without any moral dimension whatsoever; an article that documents the danger of addiction to pornography and even its physiological aspects in terms of the male brain and then comes back to argue: but all that having been said, not even those who document the problem want to make pornography anymore restricted not to mention illegal.
So in this case, Time magazine has come up with a cover story on the problem of pornography, but the cover story is itself a problem. And this is where Christians looking at a major development like this, a cover story in Time magazine, need to ask the crucial question: not only what’s here, but what’s not here. What’s not here in the entire equation of this article is anyone who is really concerned for these young people and who is responsible for them. If we’re talking about 13- and 14-year-olds, we should be talking about parents who have the responsibility to protect them from danger, including the danger of pornography. One of the scariest things in this article is where we read about young adolescents or, for that matter, older adolescents or, for that matter, anyone who has unrestricted web access. In almost any case that’s just a bad idea. It is particularly a bad idea when it comes to young children and teenagers where parents ought to be in control, where parents—Christian parents in particular—have a moral responsibility to protect their children in so far as it is in any way possible from all danger, including the danger of pornography.
Of course, Christians looking at this have to understand not only is the family and our parents absent but so is the church. And this is where for Christians, for Christian young men in particular, there has to be security and belonging to the body of Christ and in the body of Christ being accountable to each other, to one another and to the church at large, under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, called to faithfulness together. All that is missing from this article, but it had better not be missing where Christians are found.