Reluctant Recruits: Evangelicals, Right-to-Lifers, and the Challenges of Building a Broad-Based Movement, 197280

Saturday, January 5, 2019: 3:50 PM
Stevens C-5 (Hilton Chicago)
Allison Vander Broek, Boston College

Although presently considered to be natural allies and though evangelicals are now reliably loyal when it comes to opposing abortion in the political arena, the right-to-life movement and evangelicals have not always had such a happy union. In fact, it took years of concerted effort and repeated failed attempts on the part of many right-to-lifers to convince evangelicals to join their burgeoning movement. While many scholars have addressed the relationship between evangelicalism, the Religious Right, and the abortion issue in the 1980s, scholars have paid less attention to the work of the right-to-life movement to reach out to evangelicals and win their loyalty on the abortion issue in the years immediately before and after Roe v. Wade.

My paper will examine the attempts by the right-to-life movement in the 1970s to broaden their base of support and begin their appeal to evangelicals. It also seeks to recover the voices of those early evangelicals who first spoke out against abortion and who worked to convince their fellow evangelicals to join the cause. In examining this process within the right-to-life movement, I will shed light on the relationship of American evangelicals to some of the touchstone political events of the 1970s including the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade as well as the 1976 Presidential election. I will also answer the question of how Catholics, evangelicals, and liberal Protestants overcame their differences to work together within the right-to-life movement in the 1970s, setting the stage for the movement’s heyday in the 1980s as well as its enduring influence in contemporary politics. Given the ongoing entanglement of American evangelicalism and conservative politics, as evident in obstinate evangelical commitment to the antiabortion cause, scholars must understand the ways evangelicals first came to hold such views and how the right-to-life movement courted their support.