The Christian right is coming for divorce next

“Before the 1960s, it was really hard to get divorced in America.
Typically, the only way to do it was to convince a judge that your spouse had committed some form of wrongdoing, like adultery, abandonment, or “cruelty” (that is, abuse). This could be difficult: “Even if you could prove you had been hit, that didn’t necessarily mean it rose to the level of cruelty that justified a divorce,” said Marcia Zug, a family law professor at the University of South Carolina.

Then came a revolution: In 1969, then-Gov. Ronald Reagan of California (who was himself divorced) signed the nation’s first no-fault divorce law, allowing people to end their marriages without proving they’d been wronged. The move was a recognition that “people were going to get out of marriages,” Zug said, and gave them a way to do that without resorting to subterfuge. Similar laws soon swept the country, and rates of domestic violence and spousal murder began to drop as people — especially women — gained more freedom to leave dangerous situations.

Today, however, a counter-revolution is brewing: Conservative commentators and lawmakers are calling for an end to no-fault divorce, arguing that it has harmed men and even destroyed the fabric of society.”

“It’s worth noting that though the no-fault laws initially led to spikes in divorce, rates then began to drop, and reached a 50-year low in 2019, CNN reports. But today, an end to no-fault divorce would cause enormous financial, logistical, and emotional strain for people who are trying to end their marriages, experts say. Proving fault requires a trial, something many divorcing couples today avoid, said Kristen Marinaccio, a New Jersey-based family law attorney. A divorce trial is time-consuming and costly, putting the partner with less money at an immediate disadvantage. It can also be “really, really traumatizing” to have to take the stand against an ex-partner, Marinaccio said.

There’s also no guarantee that judges will always decide cases fairly. In the days of fault-based divorce, courts were often unwilling to intervene in marriages even in cases of abuse, Zug said.

No-fault divorce can be easier on children, who don’t have to experience their parents facing each other in a trial, experts say. Research suggests that allowing such divorces increased women’s power in marriages and even reduced women’s suicide rates. A return to the old ways would turn back the clock on this progress, scholars say.

“We know exactly what happens when people can’t get out of very unhappy marriages,” Zug said. “There’s much higher incidences of domestic abuse and spousal murder.””

Opinion | Why Christians — and Republicans — Should Reconsider the Premise that ‘Life Begins at Conception’

“The belief that abortion is murder is founded on the premise that life begins at conception. That premise drove my evangelical politics as a zealous young convert, and it continues to motivate millions of Americans when they go to vote in local, state and national elections. It is also the foundation of the recent ruling by the Alabama Supreme Court that classifies frozen embryos created during IVF as human persons.
Chief Justice Tom Parker’s opinion in the case, which draws on the Bible, Christian manifestos, theologians such as St. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas and the Reformer John Calvin, is an openly theological document. Parker argues that since life starts at conception, humans, especially lawmakers and judges, are called to implement policies and make decisions that will protect the sanctity of human life, whether in utero or outside it.

So it’s easy to think that the premise that life begins at conception is a timeless theological component of Christian belief. But it’s not.

The idea that life begins at conception is neither a unanimous belief in the history of Christianity, nor a classic American Protestant doctrine. When Parker writes about protecting the sanctity of life from the moment of conception, he is not carrying on a longstanding Protestant theological tradition by basing his decision on stalwarts of American evangelicalism like Cotton Mather or John Wesley or Jonathan Edwards. Those Protestant forefathers were more likely to believe that abortion, while inadvisable, was not murder until the “quickening” of the child — when the mother feels it move — somewhere near 18 weeks of the pregnancy.

Instead, Parker is repeating a political mantra concocted by Republican operatives in the late 20th century in a successful effort to create a conservative Catholic-Protestant voting bloc capable of taking over the GOP — and implementing their religious-political vision throughout the country.

In fact, within the lifetimes of many of today’s evangelical Christian believers, their churches either supported abortion rights or were neutral on it. In the 1960s and 1970s, Southern Baptists and other historically conservative Protestant denominations held that abortion was not only permissible, but also should be left to individual choice. In 1968, a group of evangelical leaders from a variety of denominations wrote in a document titled “A Protestant Affirmation on the Control of Human Reproduction” that they could not agree whether or not abortion is sinful outright, but they could agree “about the necessity of it and permissibility for it under certain circumstances.” They even argued that “the preservation of fetal life … may have to be abandoned to maintain full and secure family life.””

“The famed evangelical theologian Norman Geisler put it in the clearest terms in the 1971 and 1975 versions of his work Christian Ethics: “The embryo is not fully human — it is an undeveloped person.”

It’s not Protestants, but Catholics in the United States who, as a religious community, have opposed abortion forcefully going back to the 19th century, and it is in Catholicism that we find the view that life begins at conception. Starting with an 1869 document called Apostolicae Sedis, Pope Pius IX declared the penalty of excommunication for abortions at any stage of pregnancy.

Yet, prior to 1869, there were varying approaches to abortion and the understanding of when life begins even within the Catholic Church. (And to this day there are many Catholics who, in disagreement with their Church, advocate for reproductive choice.) There are certainly church documents and early church theologians who argued that abortion is infanticide because life begins when the embryo is conceived. However, there were also forceful and influential voices that argued fetuses did not become persons until they were “ensouled,” or when God gave the developing fetus its soul, and therefore its life. This was the view of St. Augustine, the most important theological source in early and medieval Western Christendom. In his commentary on Exodus, Augustine argues that “abortion of an unformed fetus is not murder, because the fetus is not yet ensouled, that is, not yet a human being, and that abortion of an unformed fetus is therefore a less serious offense than abortion of a formed and ensouled fetus.”

More examples abound. There are Irish “saints” who performed abortions in circumstances of rape and fornication, and who considered it, in some cases, a less serious offense than oral sex. And then there is Thomas Aquinas, the most influential Catholic voice of the medieval period, a thinker whose work continues to shape Catholic theology today. According to scholar David Albert Jones, Aquinas believed that “the body was formed gradually through the power transmitted by the male seed but the spiritual soul was directly created by God when the body was ready to receive it. Thus the embryo was believed to live at first the life of a plant, then the life of a simple animal, and only after all its organs, including the brain, had been formed, was it given, by the direct and creative act of God, an immortal spiritual soul.”

Conservative Catholic and Protestant theologians will argue either that contrary to these passages, other works by Augustine and Aquinas reveal a belief that life begins at conception, or that these theological giants were simply wrong on this issue. But this is the point exactly: There is a widespread and nuanced theological debate about the beginning of life in the history of Christianity. The idea that life begins at conception is far from a universally agreed upon matter of historical Christian doctrine. When viewed in the long history of the Christian tradition, it is actually a minority opinion.”