The Liberal Origins (and Conservative Trajectory) of the Pro-Life Movement: A Political and Theological History of the American Campaign against Abortion. Dan Williams gives the second of two talks for the Christian Perspectives in Science Seminars on the topic of the pro-life movement in the US.

Today American pro-life organizations are usually strong allies of conservative Republicans, but the movement originated as a liberal human rights cause in the mid-20th century, and many of its early leaders were New Deal Democrats who favored an expanded social welfare state to assist women facing crisis pregnancies. This talk will examine the pro-life movement’s early grounding in Catholic social theology, and will examine why this theology of human dignity found a home in the Democratic Party for several decades. The talk will then examine how the pro-life movement responded to changes in American liberalism in the 1970s that eventually strained the link between Catholic social teaching and the Democratic Party, and it will explain why the movement eventually allied with the Republican Party.

Evangelical Protestants played a critical role in the political reorientation of the Catholic-inspired pro-life movement. The talk will examine why evangelicals belatedly joined the pro-life campaign and how their view of abortion and politics differed from those of their Catholic allies. The talk will conclude by examining what this history means for Christian practice today, and what tools the history of Christian theology might offer for approaching the issue of abortion policy in contemporary American politics.

Dr. Daniel K. Williams is Associate Professor of History at the University of West Georgia, with an MA and PhD in history from Brown University. Dr. Williams's research focuses on the intersection between politics and religion in modern America. He is the author of God’s Own Party: The Making of the Christian Right (Oxford University Press, 2010) and Defenders of the Unborn: The Pro-Life Movement before Roe v. Wade (Oxford University Press, 2016).  He is currently writing a study of cultural conflict in the 1976 presidential election, which is under contract with the University Press of Kansas for publication in the American Presidential Elections series.

Co-sponsored by Calvin College’s History, Political Science, and Biology Departments, the Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity and Politics, the Sexuality Series, and Christian Perspectives in Science seminars.

October 2018
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