Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter recently called on the Democratic Party to back abortion-reduction efforts and restrictions on abortion rights.
On a media tour promoting his latest and most unique book – NIV Lessons from Life Bible: Personal Reflections with Jimmy Carter – the former President had this to say about abortion during an interview with conservative radio host Laura Ingraham:
“I never have believed that Jesus Christ would approve of abortions and that was one of the problems I had when I was president having to uphold Roe v. Wade. And I did everything I could to minimize the need for abortions. I made it easy to adopt children, for instance, who were unwanted and also initiated the program called Women and Infant Children, or WIC, program that’s still in existence now. But except for the times when a mother’s life is in danger or when a pregnancy is caused by rape or incest, I would certainly not or never have approved of any abortions.”
“I’ve signed a public letter calling for the Democratic Party at the next convention to espouse my position on abortion, which is to minimize the need, requirement for abortion and limit it only to women whose life are in danger or who are pregnant as a result of rape or incest. I think if the Democratic Party would adopt that policy, that would be acceptable to a lot of people who are now estranged from our party because of the abortion issue.”
Earlier this week, I blogged about Southern Baptist Seminary president Al Mohler’s interview with President Carter. During that interview, Carter brought up the subject of abortion on his own. Here’s what he said to Mohler:
“I have one problem in my political service with my faith and that is concerning abortion. I have never believed that Jesus Christ would approve abortion and so I had to interpret my duties as president compatible with the Supreme Court ruling in Roe vs. Wade, but with my religious beliefs I did everything I possibly could to minimize a need for abortion by liberalizing adoption services and by starting a program—it’s still in existence, by the way—called Women and Infant Children, WIC programs where, because one of the—the key reason for abortions around the world is when a pregnant mother doesn’t think she and her baby will be cared for. So I did everything I could to minimize abortions because I don’t believe that Jesus would approve of a liberal interpretation of that law.”
In a separate post, I offered my thoughts on the Mohler-Carter interview. Putting Carter’s remarks on abortion in a moderate Baptist context, I wrote:
I wish Mohler had asked President Carter – now that he’s long gone from the White House – whether he thinks that abortion rights should be curtailed? Does Carter believe that the Roe ruling should be further reformed or even repealed?
In light of Carter’s comment that he “[doesn't] believe that Jesus would approve of a liberal interpretation of that law,” I wonder what the former President would say? After all, Carter’s view is the view of most moderate Baptists during the early 1970s. Beginning in the late 1960s, Baptists in states such as Texas started calling for legal reforms that would allow for abortion in extremely limited circumstances such as rape, incest, and physical health of the mother.
What many Baptist leaders like former SBC president Jimmy Allen (who Carter was close to) did not want was (more or less) unrestricted abortion rights or “abortion-on-demand.” Southern Baptist conservatives like to trot out the names of several prominent moderate leaders who were in fact supportive of broad abortion rights. However, these viewpoints were still minority ones among moderates just as W.A. Criswell’s initial support for abortion rights was a minority perspective among Southern Baptist conservatives.
Most moderates shared the convictions of President Carter on abortion and abortion rights. The moral critique of these Jimmy Carter Baptists was that they generally remained relatively silent on this issue despite believing – like Carter – that Jesus would not approve of abortion and expansive abortion rights.
So now we know. President Carter does, in fact, back restrictions on abortion rights – restrictions consistent with the popular moderate Southern Baptist perspective on abortion during the 1970s and 1980s.
The truth is that platforms of both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party are not representative of what most Americans believe with regard to the legality of abortion.
The most recent Gallup poll from July 2011 found that only 26% of Americans believe that abortion should be legal under any circumstances. Only 20% of Americans believe that abortion should be illegal in all circumstances.
Meanwhile, a majority of Americans – 51% – believe that abortion should be legal only under certain circumstances.
This is the Jimmy Carter position. A healthy majority of Americans have supported this position for 35+ years.
See Gallup’s graph tracking these historic trends.