Editor’s note: Yesterday, the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good released a statement entitled ‘A Call to Christian Common Ground on Family Planning, and Maternal, and Children’s Health.’ The NEP document defines family planning as ‘the freely and mutually chosen use of a variety of contraceptive methods to prevent or postpone pregnancy. It does not include interventions that take place after pregnancy is established.’ (p. 5) Professor Hall was a signatory to this statement, and we hope that you will click over to read it as well as her comments here.
When Richard Cizik of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good wrote to ask if I would sign this document, I agreed.
I knew that I would need to explain myself to some beloved friends. Of course, I also have other beloved friends who are sad that I still even have friends who do not support family planning. Friendship is complicated. But the NEP press release is out, so here goes my explanation.
One of the most existentially chilling discoveries during my research on eugenics for Conceiving Parenthood was how many beloved progressives had taken up the eugenic mindset. Reformer Jane Addams, Rev. Harry Emerson Fosdick of the Riverside Church, Margaret Sanger, even the stalwart union activist Father John Ryan each, for a time, accepted eugenics. How did this happen? As Jean Bethke Elshtain narrates in her intricate treatment of Jane Addams, Addams came to see the women she was helping more as kin than as charity, and other on-the-ground reformers rejected top-down eugenic schemes after a time. But, for others, their mistake was clumsy thinking. People intent to “do good” get busy, and we sometimes lend aid or legitimacy to a notion or movement that we would not, with more thought, endorse. Especially in the case of Father John Ryan, it appears that perhaps he was not paying terribly close attention to the aims of the organization to which he was lending his good name. (As I relate in my book, Ryan’s concise case against eugenics in one pamphlet was one of the most compelling I found in all my digging.)
Texas didn’t make it into the top ten listing of “conservative” states, according to the latest Gallup poll. I am not sure what to make of this read on the land of my childhood. I am, frankly, completely baffled by what “conservative” means these days. Corey Robin has a new book I need to read that will likely help. But, in the meantime, I am paying particular attention to the rhetoric around “progress” and “technology” in this Republican primary season. This makes for some whacky reading, as Newt Gingrich seems to match dear old Gene Roddenberry in his unbridled faith in technology to make our world a shiny, happy place. (Or should I say to make the solar system a shiny, happy set of places?) When Gingrich starts in about colonizing the moon, for instance, he seems less “conservative” and more, well . . . “progressive,” only we don’t usually use that word for someone who also wants to teach impoverished children a lesson by making them clean toilets. Yet there are some time-worn, icky connections between faith in scientific progress and disdain for people who seem not to progress.