May 5, 2016
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Thursday, May 5, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Moral opportunists seek to overturn amendments that protect tax payers from funding abortion
Major news out on the abortion front this week with a report about the closing of abortion clinics—but as Five Thirty Eight points out, abortion clinics are closing in blue states as well as so-called red states. This is a very interesting pattern. It turns out that abortion clinics are closing even in states dominated by liberal Democrats who are extremely pro-abortion in terms of policy. There’s more to the story as you might expect. Madeleine Schwartz, reporting for Five Thirty Eight, tells us,
“Twelve clinics have closed in California since 2011, along with three in Washington and a number in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.”Show Full Transcript
She goes on to define these states as considered relatively favorable to abortion rights because of their legislative policies. If anything, that’s an understatement. According to Nikki Madsen, executive director of the Abortion Care Network, a national Association for independent abortion care providers, she says,
“For every three independent abortion clinics in her network that close in more conservative states, about two have closed in more liberal states over the past five years.”
Now the fact that that study was originally published in Bloomberg BusinessWeek should tell us something very, very important in worldview and moral terms, and that is this: abortion is big business. Abortion has the interest of Bloomberg BusinessWeek precisely because abortion clinics are moneymaking propositions. The reason why many of these are closing, especially in liberal states, is because the moneymaking has become an issue; and there’s a story there as well. As it is reported here,
“In 2011, 94 percent of abortion procedures, including both surgical and medication abortion, took place in clinics.”
—that according to statistics taken by the Guttmacher Institute, that’s a research organization that is rightly described here as advocating for abortion rights.
Now, by the way, one of the interesting things in the abortion debate is that both sides tend to use the statistics from the Guttmacher Institute, because even as it is very pro-abortion in terms of its stance, it also is quite authoritative in terms of the numbers, and the numbers here are telling a very big story. Abortion clinics are on the decline, and it’s not because of legislation in this case; it is not because the court decisions; it’s not because of legal restrictions on the abortion clinics; it is because new economic realities point to the even bigger story. That big story has to do with the fact that in many of these states, we have to redefine what it means to be pro-abortion. It’s not just that abortion is legal in these states, it is that the state, in terms of its own authority, has decided to use its own Medicaid funds to pay for abortion, which is to say in these states, the states are not only pro-abortion in the sense of making it legal, they are pro-abortion in paying for the abortion. Let’s take the state of New York, one of most pro-abortion states in the union, according to this report,
“A first-trimester surgical abortion costs the clinic $400 to $425.”
“A cash fee of $500 covers the cost of the entire procedure.”
However, Medicaid in that state pays about $330-$340. This is one of the saddest stories I’ve seen in a long time, because you know exactly where this is going. It’s a moral alarm for all of us, because what you’re really seeing here is a play for increased tax payment for individual abortions, increased taxpayer assistance of abortion as an industry. That’s a big part of the story behind the Planned Parenthood videos. One of the reasons why there has not been more outrage about those videos is because the entire industry of abortion is so lucrative. You’re talking here about millions of abortions being performed at such an expensive rate and, even as you now have these clinics saying it’s hard to make money on the abortion, it’s clear many of them still are.
The financial issue is very much forefront in the fact that what you see are these abortion providers making a play for increased tax subsidy of abortion. But this is where the story turns even more urgent for us, because the original story at Bloomberg BusinessWeek and the story at Five Thirty Eight both point to the fact that in 1976 the United States Congress adopted what was known as the Hyde Amendment, and that was signed into law by President Jimmy Carter; that was a law that stated that no taxpayer money at the federal level can go directly as a subsidy for abortion.
The theory behind the Hyde Amendment, named for the late Illinois Republican Congressman Henry Hyde, was that the American taxpayer should not be put in the position of paying for the killing of unborn human life. The kind of case made for abortion and for taxpayer funding of abortion is very apparent in the Bloomberg piece, in which I read,
“At no time since before 1973, when the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion, has a woman’s ability to terminate a pregnancy been more dependent on her zip code or financial resources to travel. The drop-off in providers—more than one every two weeks—occurred in 35 states, in both small towns and big cities that are home to more than 30 million women of reproductive age.”
So what’s the point of the article? The point is not subtle. It is to imply that if we just got rid of the Hyde amendment and the federal government would just begin once again paying for abortion, these abortion providers wouldn’t have to close. Just consider what that would also mean. It would mean that every single American taxpayer would be paying for the murder of unborn children. The story is already a reminder that taxpayers in many states at the state level are already doing that, including the states made focal in this story of New York and California.
But this is where a second major story, this one from National Public Radio, comes to expand the situation to the international scene. Jasmine Garsd, writing for NPR, tells us that the United States is now under increased pressure to pay for abortions internationally as a part of international medical aid. The question asked in the headline at NPR,
“Should The U.S. Reconsider Its Stand On Foreign Aid For Abortion Clinics?”
The Hyde Amendment that prevents taxpayer payment of abortion in the United States directly at the federal level goes back to 1976. But the legal situation on the international abortion front goes back earlier, three years earlier, to 1973, to then Republican Senator Jesse Helms, who provided an amendment adopted by Congress and signed into law by then-President Richard Nixon stating,
“No foreign assistance funds may be used to pay for the performance of abortion as a method of family planning or to motivate or coerce any person to practice abortions.”
And what you’re seeing here is the use of the Zika virus as an argument for eliminating the Helms Amendment and beginning to allow the federal government to pay for abortions internationally. You can see how the momentum for the abortion movement is now growing and how the financial arguments are now being used in one week, both domestically and internationally, where the Hyde Amendment and the Helms Amendment are both targeted in these articles as the problem.
Furthermore, both of these stories remind us what’s at stake in the 2016 presidential election. Both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders on the Democratic side have said that they would move to eliminate the Hyde Amendment and thus to allow—and that means to require—the federal government to pay for abortions at the federal level. And furthermore, both of them have called, also not coincidentally, for removing the Helms Amendment, allowing the United States to fund abortions internationally. And in the most radical position yet staked out, Bernie Sanders has actually said, according to NPR, that,
“He would fund global abortion providers by executive action” if elected President of the United States.
So two big lessons from these stories: the first is a lesson that what we’re watching is the economic argument for abortion being made, both internationally and domestically as if it is the responsibility of the American people to make sure that abortion clinics stay in business; the second big thing is to note that you have one party that is declaring itself ready right now not only to repeal both the Hyde Amendment and the Helms Amendment, but as Senator Bernie Sanders has said, if he’s elected actually, to defy them by executive order.
When looking at the abortion issue in the United States, not only will the issue not go away, the issue won’t stand still. That’s the way it is in a time of moral change when a basic moral shift is taking place in the society around us. You’ll notice that what we see here is the effort to redefine abortion away from even medical terms, much less moral terms into financial terms. But you also see here the kind of moral opportunism that drives this kind of moral change: the arrival of the Zika virus, just in time to allow those who have long been arguing for eliminating the Helms Amendment, arguing that now is the time because of the arrival of the Zika virus to require the American taxpayer to pay for abortions—not only in this country by eliminating the Hyde Amendment, but everywhere in the world by eliminating the Helms Amendment.
The disappearance of moral courage in America is leading to a collapse of liberty
Next, an important story in National Review on the disappearance of moral courage in America: This is one of those stories to which we had better pay very close attention. David French, writing at National Review yesterday, wrote about the day before when he read Rod Dreher’s blog at the American Conservative, and as he says, “stumbled across yet another dispatch from the utterly absurd bathroom wars.”
Then he writes this,
“One of his New York City readers wrote in to say that her 14-year-old daughter had just finished dressing in a city locker room when a grown man stepped from the showers wearing only a towel. Girls as young as seven were present, and they were staring at the man with “concerned expressions.” The reader ends her e-mail with, “It [we’ll use the word stinks] to be a parent these days”—she said something different, that’s the word we’re going to use.
David French shares the parents concern,
“Especially when you know that even your friends and alleged allies are simply too timid to act.”
He cites Rod Dreher describing two parents who tried to organize resistance to these new bathroom policies but found that they “couldn’t get anybody interested.”
“I’ve had the same conversation with other frustrated parents. They look for help in the fight — even from people who they know oppose this idiocy — and no one will stand up.”
In the most important paragraph in the article, David French writes and I quote,
“This is how culture wars are lost: through the slow accumulation of individually defensible but collectively unjustifiable decisions not to resist. It’s the decision that objecting during diversity training simply isn’t worth the hassle. It’s the decision not to say anything when you see a colleague or fellow student facing persecution because of their beliefs. It’s a life habit of always taking the path of least resistance, keeping your head down, and doing your best to preserve your own family and career. The small fights don’t matter anyway, right?”
He writes about further examples, including employees required to experience so-called diversity training who simply don’t protest at the most absurd moral claims even the most absurd biological claims, and yet when asked why they didn’t speak up one said,
“No one wants to deal with HR”, meaning Human Resources.
French then writes,
“On campus, liberal students find no shortage of progressive professors who are willing and eager to enable their advocacy, and even join in campus protests. Conservative students, by contrast, find that their few ideologically sympathetic professors tend to shun controversy. Even fellow conservative students largely stay out of campus battles, preferring to keep their heads down, graduate, and join the “real world” with their records intact.”
One of the most important dimensions of David French’s article is that he makes his main point so persuasively, and then backs it up with some amazing but all too understandable real-life situations. It’s the person who doesn’t speak up in the so-called diversity training; it’s the student who doesn’t speak up when someone with whom the student agrees is belittled on the basis of that belief. And also in one of the most interesting illustrations in the article—it has to do with soldiers in an Army counterterror briefing who received training from a trainer detailing all the ways soldiers can protect themselves and their families from off-duty domestic terror threats. As French says,
“Notably missing from the briefing slides was a recommendation that service-members — each of whom is trained in the use of a weapon — obtain concealed-carry permits or use personal weapons in any way.
“As the training droned on, a hand shot up. “Sir, why are we not being told to purchase a weapon for self-defense?” The response was instantaneous and politically correct: ‘Because that weapon is more dangerous to yourself than your attacker.’”
Now the point being made here is that the group to whom the trainer was speaking are the very people in whom the United States government has entrusted the use of weapons, precisely because, at least in theory, the weapons are more dangerous to the enemy than to themselves. This is how moral change goes unchecked, with the loss of moral courage, and yet sometimes that moral courage does erupt in an unexpected way. Once a trainer made that statement about the weapon being more dangerous to the soldier then to an attacker,
“The room erupted, and within minutes, the trainer had backtracked and admitted that he carried a handgun when off-duty. It was a tiny victory in the grand scheme of things, but cultures are won and lost through tiny victories and defeats, and for a generation, the vast majority of those victories have gone to the left.”
In another very insightful sentence, David French says that in a time of this kind of moral turmoil,
“The ‘reasonable’ people”—he puts reasonable in quotation marks—“made the easy choice to go with the flow of cultural upheaval.”
And we come to understand exactly how that argument is made. It is a form of moral rationalization; we should simply go along and protect our own interest; we should let the words go unspoken and the acts go uncontested. But David French is exactly right. It is the loss of moral courage that explains all of this, and that loss of moral courage is leading to a collapse of the very liberties that we prize and the human dignity that we understand to be God’s gift.
But perhaps unintentionally, David French points to a kind of moral courage that he doesn’t explicitly identify, or for that matter more pointedly, a loss or a lack of that moral courage. Who, after all, would allow a 14-year-old girl, along with girls as young as seven to be in a place where a naked man wearing only a towel can be expected to appear? That one illustration, originally from Rod Dreher and now carried to us by David French in this article in National Review, raises the obvious question, what does our society look like if there is such a loss of moral courage that we allow that kind of thing to happen and say that it’s just inevitable?
But this is where Christians also have to understand that a loss of moral courage points to a more fundamental loss of theological courage and of conviction, because the Christian worldview tells us that it is that conviction that produces courage. Courage means literally to take heart. It means that the heart is emboldened to do the right thing, to act where otherwise it would not act, to speak where otherwise it would not speak. Courage in the Bible is described as acting and thinking rightly, but it is the acting rightly that follows the thinking rightly. And for the Christian that means understanding that theological conviction produces what the Christian would understand to be courage in a biblical sense. But that also points to the opposite. Where there is no such theological conviction, you can’t expect the courage to survive.
Death of moral courage: Former SS guard admits witnessing atrocities, standing by in silence
Finally, there are massive moral and theological issues that arrived with a story that appeared in the New York Times on April 30, that’s last Saturday. The headline,
“‘Sincerely Sorry,’ Ex-Auschwitz Guard Says at Trial.”
Now there are huge issues here, including the nature of forgiveness and the demands of justice. But there’s something else behind it that links to the previous stories and to much of our conversation on The Briefing this week. Years ago, Allan Bloom, writing in his book The Closing of the American Mind, said that there was one thing that everyone could know that was forefront in the minds of American college and university students, and that is that there is no such thing as an objective moral fact. In other words, it was an assumption of moral relativism.
Now we also have the reality that several professors have talked about the inevitable way that moral relativism makes it almost impossible for many people to make moral judgments—even, we should note, about something like the Holocaust. Just a few years ago, a professor at the University of Chicago wrote an essay in which he said that his own students were so affected by moral relativism that even though they believe that the Holocaust was wrong, they found themselves with great difficulty using the term evil. But if you can’t use the word evil when applied to the Holocaust of the Nazi regime against the Jews, then how can use the word evil at all? For that matter how can you maintain any kind of moral sanity? But move from that background to the story that is detailed in the New York Times, the reporter is Melissa Eddy, she describes,
“A 94-year-old former SS guard on Friday told a German court that he was ‘sincerely sorry’ [those are his two words] for failing to do anything to prevent the suffering and deaths of tens of thousands of prisoners at the Auschwitz death camp, breaking his silence after weeks of sitting motionless in the face of pleas by survivors for him to speak.”
Now keep in mind that when we say Auschwitz we’re talking about three camps; the three camps together are believed to have been the site as death camps where between 1.25 and 1.5 million people were executed. They were murdered by the Nazi regime, and this included, in terms of the vast majority, Jews of all ages. The bigger story here is one that we have recounted on The Briefing before and that is the fact that with so many of those who had responsibility for the Holocaust now reaching the very final years of life, there are going to be fewer and fewer of these trials. But every one of them is important, and every one of them is very, very illuminating. In this case, the man at the dock in this case is Reinhold Hanning who was, now we know, at Auschwitz as an SS guard during the time that at least 170,000 human beings were murdered. After sitting emotionless and wordless throughout the trial, the 94-year-old finally said on Friday,
“I am sincerely sorry.”
We have to ask the question, what does that mean? As parents we quickly come to understand that when a child is required to say “I’m sorry” and says it, it doesn’t mean that there is necessarily any sorrow in the “I’m saying I’m sorry” at all. We come to understand that political apologies in the culture are often the very same thing. They are apologies for getting caught, not a statement of sincere moral regret, much less repentance. In a statement read by the man’s lawyer, Johannes Salmen, he said,
“Nobody talked to us about it in the first days there, but if someone, like me, was there for a long time [he means at Auschwitz] then one learned what was going on. People were shot, gassed and burned. I could see how corpses were taken back and forth or moved out. I could smell the burning bodies; I knew corpses were being burned.”
He did nothing. He did nothing to protest what was going on, and there’s absolutely no evidence he wasn’t directly complicit in the deaths of at least 170,000 people during the time that he served at Auschwitz. His statement, quote,
“I am sincerely sorry.”
The Holocaust in the middle the 20th century set off some of the most significant moral conversations that human beings have ever had. Included in those conversations were questions about the nature of forgiveness. Holocaust survivor and eventual Nobel prize winner Elie Wiesel argued from a Jewish point of view that there is no way to extend forgiveness to those who perpetuated and conducted the Holocaust because, in Wiesel’s statement, forgiveness can only be offered by the victims and they are now dead, unable to forgive. One of the survivors who faced down Mr. Hanning in his trial was a woman who was an infant when she survived the Holocaust. She said,
“People like you, Mr. Hanning, made the hell of Auschwitz possible! People who looked on and took part, without asking any questions.”
One of the most interesting aspects of the story, even as it raises the questions of justice and forgiveness, is the fact that the scale of both justice and forgiveness in this article are entirely human. They are limited to a human plane of justice and to a human expression of forgiveness. But Christians looking at a story like this have to remind ourselves that the human plane of justice, though important, is never going to be satisfactory. And the fact that when it comes to issues of justice and forgiveness, every single human being is going to find final justice on the day of judgment before the throne of God. That is where every single human being will be found guilty of an infinite burden of sin, and forgiveness will be found only in the righteousness of Christ imputed to the believer by faith. But as we think about the necessity of trying our very best to achieve human justice in this life, there is the understanding of this trial as absolutely necessary, that this verdict is absolutely just. But there will be no sentence that can actually fit the crime. The limitations of human justice are made very clear by another survivor, Leon Schwarzbaum, who simply said,
“God will punish him.”