9. Roe v Wade Legalized Abortion
The final straw, though, was the 1973 Supreme Court decision in the landmark Roe v Wade case, which ruled that states could not prevent a woman from getting an abortion. Abortion was now effectively legalized. Catholics had long been opposed to abortion, as it devalued the sanctity of life. In the decade before the Supreme Court decision, Billy Graham had begun taking action aimed at opposing abortion. Yet when the Roe v Wade decision was made, the Protestants who would come to make up the religious right less than a decade later were largely ambivalent.
However, there was a fundamentalist pastor in Lynchburg, Virginia who had been building a large church and was testing out the waters of political engagement. His name was Jerry Falwell, and for him, Roe v Wade was the final straw. It became a catalyst for him to begin organizing his church and those who listened to his weekly radio program, “The Old Time Gospel Hour,” to re-enter public life. He began launching his own crusades, styled somewhat after Billy Graham’s anti-communist movements but focused on bringing America back to God. His focus was not only on personal salvation, believing that a redeemed individual would redeem the culture, but on large-scale political engagement.
Ironically, Falwell did not preach a sermon on abortion until 1978, five years after the Roe v Wade decision. Some commentators have argued that his decision to start preaching against abortion and galvanizing Christian voters around the abortion issue was the result of his interactions with a conservative activist named Paul Weyrich. Some have even doubted the Christian nature and sincerity of his motives, given that his opposition to abortion may stem from political rather than religious convictions. However, given the force of the movement that he dedicated the rest of his life to, one has to conclude that at some point, he decided that he really did believe that opposing abortion on a political level was a religious duty.