Culture Friday: Bowling alone

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Friday, the 1st of February, 2019. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher.

AUDIO: So how late in the third trimester would you be able to do that?

EICHER: This is an exchange in a Virginia House committee on Monday over a bill to liberalize abortion law.

The bill’s author, Delegate Kathy Tran.

Questioning her, committee chairman Todd Gilbert.

AUDIO: How late in the third trimester could a physician perform an abortion if he indicated it would impair the mental health of the, of the woman?

—or physical health.



I’m talking about the mental health.

So, I mean, through the third trimester. The third trimester goes all the way up to 40 weeks.

OK, but to the end of the third trimester?

Yep. I don’t think we have a limit in the bill.

So, um.

EICHER: Seven seconds of awkward silence follows here. Then, the chairman bears down. He asks, Right up to physical signs the woman’s about to deliver. She’s dilating, he says. Would your bill allow an abortion even then? Finally, a simple declaration: My bill would allow that, yes.

That was Monday. Wednesday is “Ask the Governor” Day on radio station WTOP. Putting a question to Governor Ralph Northam is news anchor Julie Carey. Northam is also a pediatric physician.

CAREY: Do you support her measure? And explain her answer.

NORTHAM: Yeah, I’m, you know I wasn’t there, uh, Julie, and I certainly can’t speak for Del. Tran. But I will tell you, one, uh, first thing I’d say is, this is why decisions such as this should be made by providers, ah, physicians, uh. And, uh, the, uh, mothers, uh, and fathers that, that are involved. Um. There are, you know, when we talk about third trimester, ah, abortions, these are done, uh, with the consent of obviously the mother, with the consent, uh, of the physicians—more than one physician, by the way. Um. And it’s done in cases where there may be severe deformities, there may be, uh, uh, a fetus that’s non-viable. So in this particular example, uh, if a mother is in labor, I can tell you exactly, uh, what would happen. Um, the infant would be delivered. Uh, the infant would be kept comfortable, uh. The infant would be resuscitated if, if that’s what the, uh, mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother. So, so I think this was really blown out of proportion. Uh, but again, we want the government not to be involved in these types of decisions. We want the decision to be made by, uh, the, the mothers and their providers and, and, this is why, Julie, that legislators—most of whom are men, by the way—shouldn’t be tellin’ a woman what she should and shouldn’t be doin’ with her body.

EICHER: It sounded like active infanticide. The governor’s office indignantly accused Republicans of playing politics with women’s health. He put out a statement reiterating that he was talking about non-viable pregnancies or severe fetal abnormalities and the mother went into labor, and that this whole thing is being blown out of proportion.

And at the end of the day it all underscores, quoting here from the statement, “exactly why the governor believes physicians and women, not legislators, should make these difficult and deeply personal medical decisions.”

Now, to clear away any smoke that may remain here. Virginia law currently allows third trimester abortions when a woman’s life or health is at risk and that risk is certified by three physicians—a physician and two consulting physicians.

The bill, which was tabled in the Republican-led House, would change that to one physician. And it would eliminate any required showing of severity of the health risk to the mother. The governor supports the bill, even though as a doctor he thinks second opinions are a really good idea.

It’s Culture Friday and John Stonestreet joins me now. He’s president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. Good morning.


EICHER: We talked about this last week, that should the Supreme Court reverse Roe v. Wade, the most likely outcome is the matter returns to the states, and there begins a state-by-state persuasion drama. We got a taste of New York, where there’s a powerful pro-abortion majority. This week, a taste of Virginia, where the argument is still in play.

STONESTREET: Well, I think we need to correct what we said last week. It’s not just if the Supreme Court reverses Roe v. Wade this goes state by state, but now what we have is kind of this remarkable shift that’s taken place in this whole pro-abortion, pro-life debate. And, you know, basically you had Roe v. Wade, which was considered settled law here for a couple decades, and so the pro-life movement got smart and went state by state by state while the pro-abortion forces just kind of rested on this kind of settled federal law. Now there’s this idea that Roe v. Wade is going to be overturned because of the remaking of the Supreme Court and now you have pro-abortion forces going state by state. So suddenly Dems have become federalists. This is an interesting development.

But that’s exactly what happened in New York and that’s exactly what’s happening in Virginia. This is not because anything is at risk of changing. It’s because of, really, two things. Number one is the Democratic Party has become so radically pro-abortion, they’ve eliminated any pro-life Democrats in their party that they could. I think there’s maybe one or two remaining. And they’re also kind of trying to preempt and shore up on the state level these rights, these so-called reproductive rights in case Roe v. Wade gets overturned.

But just to be clear, what we heard from the governor this week is exactly what they mean. What they mean is abortion rights, including if the mother does not want her newborn baby to survive because of abnormality—I’ll even give them that—that doesn’t take away the horror of this, then it’s up to the doctor about whether to actually provide any sort of resuscitation or help or care, along with consultation of the mother.

We’ve always said that there’s really no difference except for 18 inches and an environmental factor between babies in the womb and babies outside of the womb. And this is exactly the logic. And, look, the honest pro-abortion bioethicists have said this for a long time. Now we have a political leader who also is part of the medical profession who says it as well. So, look, no one is twisting any words here. Like, he literally said it. Unless he turns around and goes, “Look, I shouldn’t have said it. I was wrong.” This is what he said.

And I also want to say this: We try not to make this all about voting and politics and that sort of stuff, but you gotta know, if you vote in a pro-abortion politician right now, you need to understand that because of the drive that women’s sexual rights take precedence over the life of the child in every circumstance and they’ve only said so much, but now we have kind of the first kind of idea that it might even include really messy births with children with disabilities or whatever, deformities, but, like, this is what you’re going to get. This is what you’re going to get state-by-state with pro-abortion politicians. This. This is what you will get. People need to be very clear on that.

EICHER: John, we reported yesterday here the conclusion of a 16-month inquiry by the FBI into the mass murder in Las Vegas. This was 2017. A gunman from a 32nd floor suite, fired 11-hundred rounds into a crowd. He killed 58. Almost 900 people injured. But strikingly, law enforcement couldn’t figure out a reason why. The attacker’s brother said, quoting here, “No affiliation. No religion. No politics. He never cared about any of that stuff.”

I read a piece by an opinion writer, Timothy Carney, who suggested those 14 words may really be crucial. That finding nothing may tell us something. Carney said,

“This was a man untethered to society. He was unmarried. He was unchurched. He was unrooted. He was adrift.”

It may not be a motive, but it’s certainly a context.

John, what do you think about that?

STONESTREET: I think it’s fascinating that Tim Carney in his opinion piece talked about being untethered to society in terms of not being married and not being churched. I mean, these are two values or two lifestyle choices or two whatever you want to say that have sort of obviously been on enormous decline over the last several decades. And all of this corresponding with what Robert Putnam called “bowling alone.” That more people are bowling but fewer people are joining bowling leagues. And he’s talking there about one of those mediating institutions—although I would suggest not nearly the most important—this idea of belonging to a local club or a local group that gives people some sort of belonging.

But the most important institution of civil society is the family. And the second most important is this idea of church or religious affiliation. And as those two things go down, it’s actually evidence of the fact that people are more and more and more and more alone. We could talk about the so-called deaths from despair when you don’t belong to anyone. Life is not meant to be lived this way.

And of course this is one of the great contradictions of modern society that we have more means to be connected than ever before and more people feel lonely. We have more ways to communicate and more people are isolated. We go into our house and we put down the garage and we look at a tube and we’re informed about what’s happening around the world.

And this was what has long been talked about in terms of kind of classic conservativism is that it’s not just about the individual citizen and it’s not just about the state, it’s also about these local affiliations, these local belongings, these institutions of civil society that connect people to one another, that especially in the case of the family, teach people to be good citizens. And when that doesn’t happen, then something goes wrong in the moral formation of an individual.

Now, obviously, this is an extreme case from 2017, this mass shooting in Las Vegas, and it’s so far beyond the pale that we think, well, it doesn’t make sense. But it’s an extreme example on the same trajectory. It’s an extreme example of the sort of character that a society like ours that lets people indulge in everything that they want and obviously it’s not pretty. This is horrific. But, you know, in between here and that example are others of fathers who don’t take care of their kids and neighbors who don’t take care of each other and so on and so on and so on.

I hope this is not an indication of what’s to come, but short of rebuilding some of these institutions of civil society, it’s hard to believe what other resources we have to produce the sort of citizens that are going to be able to maintain the sort of society that we want to have.

EICHER: John Stonestreet is president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. It’s Culture Friday. And, John, thank you.

STONESTREET: Thanks, Nick.

(AP Photo/Steve Helber) Del. Kathy Tran, D-Fairfax, applauds a speech on the floor of the House during session at the Capitol in Richmond, Va., Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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