Culture Friday: Freedom without virtue


MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Friday, the 23rd of August, 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. Planned Parenthood announced this week it’s getting out of the government’s Title X family planning program.

AUDIO: And just this afternoon, Planned Parenthood announced it will withdraw from Title X … the federal family planning program. 

Planned Parenthood will no longer accept funding.

Tens of millions of dollars. 

So if you receive those funds, under the new rules, you are not allowed to refer a patient to abortion. 

Planned Parenthood received about $60 million. 

Reproductive rights advocates have called it a gag rule. 

The new rule means that some low-income women who go to their clinics would then have to go somewhere else. 

“We refuse to engage with an administration that is going to force us not to deliver the best possible care.”

Let’s say I go into a clinic and I say, ‘What can you tell me about my options regarding an abortion?’ You are allowed to say exactly what? 

Nothing. 

The president has championed the rule for months with religious conservatives. 

“Planned Parenthood for years has been abusing Title X as a marketing slush fund.”

Yeah, that is, that is very confusing. So this rule, though, takes effect tonight. 

Yes. 

What will the consequences be?

This is not the full measure of federal funding Planned Parenthood receives, not by a long shot. Most of it comes from Medicaid.

So what happened this week has to do with family planning funds and abortion referrals. That’s Title X.

REICHARD: Right. The new regulation was issued in February. Specifically, it prevents taxpayer dollars from funding organizations that provide or refer women for abortions. Which is what Planned Parenthood does. 

So what does it mean? Maybe not very much. More than 20 states have sued to stop it, some may step in to make up the difference. But it is a ripe political issue.

EICHER: An important cultural issue as well.

It is Culture Friday. John Stonestreet is here. He’s president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview.

REICHARD: John, welcome. Good morning.

JOHN STONESTREET, GUEST: Good morning.

EICHER: Historically, President Reagan—as I looked at it—was the first to issue this Title X restriction. Later on, President Clinton undid that restriction. In other words, important as it is, this is sort by definition a political football. Meaning, I move the ball, then lose it to the other side. The other side moves the ball. I get the ball back, etcetera.

Culturally, though, I’m thinking there’s an educational component to this battle that’s helpful, but what does it teach?

STONESTREET: Well, I think probably a number of things. First is we like to say that culture is upstream from politics, but politics is also a big part of culture. And political footballs matter, at least for years at a time and that means elections matter and that means politics matter in terms of making things thinkable. And so this is important. 

So, the idea that Planned Parenthood is untouchable has been around now for at least 8-10 years through the last administration and into the early years of this one. And it seems to me like congressional Republicans seem to believe that because as many sources of federal funding as there are that go to Planned Parenthood, most of them have seemed untouchable. 

And so this is kind of the movement that we have to actually make this—at least limit some of this funding from going to this abortion provider. I think this should teach voters that there’s possibilities here and these possibilities mean that we need to hold those who run on platforms of defunding Planned Parenthood to their word. 

But I think it also tells us, culturally, that there’s a vulnerability to Planned Parenthood as well. And as well as this talking point that at some level they use when it’s convenient and disavow when it’s no longer convenient about only three percent of what they do is abortions. Well, if that’s the case, then this little bit of federal funding shouldn’t make a big difference to them. And it really seems to and I think it’s because it’s revealing that the numbers game that they have been using reveals—below that—that at least the financial impact of abortion services on their budget is certainly a lot greater than three percent.

REICHARD: John, I’m wondering just concretely how might Christians speak to friends and family about these breathless headlines that make it sound like this is a straight-on attack against Planned Parenthood.

EICHER: That’s an excellent question, and I just want to put a fine point on it: The breathlessness, it seems to me, has to do with the notion—and we heard it in the media montage—that this is going to hurt poor people the most. We’re talking poor neighborhoods where the only healthcare, supposedly, is available in these Planned Parenthood clinics.

STONESTREET: Well, I think it’s a good question and there are a number of things that we can say. First is we need to clarify that the funds haven’t been withdrawn from clinics who help impoverished women and impoverished communities. In fact, they’re still available to those clinics who do provide services and there are other ones other than Planned Parenthood that do that, that aren’t committed to targeting these communities with abortions. 

That’s the second point I think we can actually bring up which is that Planned Parenthood has a history. It goes back to the ideas of their founder, which is specifically to target poor communities with birth control and that quickly morphed into adding abortion as an option as a way to control the poor population. And the racist undertones of Planned Parenthood is something you won’t find on their current website, but you don’t have to look very far to find it in Margaret Sanger’s original ideas and in the strategy and practices that they’ve employed since the very beginning in terms of living out their “cause.”

And the third point is that Planned Parenthood is a nonprofit and the rest of us nonprofits have to raise money. And if there’s this commitment to actually providing these services, this small amount of federal funding—and it really isn’t that much in the larger scheme of things—could easily be replaced with the sort of fundraising arm that they have and that they often utilize.

EICHER: John, let’s switch gears. I want to talk about a bill in Congress designed to curb the power of social media.

REICHARD: Yeah, I talked with one of our reporters about this. It’s a bill sponsored by Missouri’s freshman senator, Josh Hawley.

In brief, it would require a 30-minute warning on continuous use. It would ban infinite scroll. Basically, churning up more content just to keep you flicking through  screens. It prohibits auto-play videos.

EICHER: Listen, I’ve taken matters into my own hands here and deleted both Facebook and Twitter from my phone. I’ve got to look at these things and I do. On the computer, for a fixed period of time. I’ve basically set mine up to serve as a news wire, and that’s part of the job. It’s handy for breaking news.

But I did find myself mindlessly scrolling through, hoping something valuable would pop up and then discovered how much time I was wasting. So I got rid of it on the phone as kind of a first step. 

But I think here’s the point. I didn’t need a law to save me from this. The libertarian in me really recoils from these kinds of things.

And, ah, one of our listeners on Twitter said:

I’m fully on board with wanting to battle social media and screen addictions, but using the power of the state to force this is authoritarian, @HawleyMO. Terrible idea!

REICHARD: But, Nick, I have a thought about that. You remember Mr. Rogers, you know, the Mr. Rogers? He had a line that went something like: “Before you say or do anything, think about the effect on children.”

So I see an entire generation brought up on purposefully addictive devices. Why not get some incentives from the government to curb that? 

This can’t just be about adults, can it?

STONESTREET: That’s a great question. I kinda lean with Nick that, look, if we’re going to actually curb the impact that this is going to have on us, we need individuals to choose that themselves. And the people that are going to have the most impact and the best impact on children are going to be their parents. 

And this is a classic example of what Abraham Kuyper talked about with sphere sovereignty, that God has ordained different aspects of society and these different aspects have their own intrinsic authority. And when the authority of one creeps into the authority of the other, then it really becomes problematic. But it’s not always because there’s a creeping authority that’s aggressive. A lot of times it’s because the authority within a sphere has been abandoned or has broken down. 

That’s certainly what we see with the government stepping into so many different areas of the family. And I completely grant the fact that they’re stepping in because parents by and large in so many different areas of the country and different arenas have abandoned their own responsibility. But, still, everywhere that I see the government has stepped in, it’s caused a great bit of harm. I’m sure there are exceptions to that and I’m overstating it. But that’s something that we’ve talked about a lot, which is that you cannot sustain freedom without virtue. When virtue breaks down, the government does step in. It’s an inevitability. It’s not even like they should or we wish they would or we wish they wouldn’t. It’s just the way things happen. It’s like the eternal law of things. If people don’t govern themselves on the inside, then the state governs on the outside. I think we should fight that as long as we can. But it seems to me that something like this, as much as I disagree with the policy, it’s probably going to be inevitable in the long run.

REICHARD: I have to push back on that. My kids were born in the 90s. I could not understand the technology. It was like a tsunami of technology hit me. I couldn’t control what they were doing. I didn’t understand what was going on and now my kids are grown and I can’t get back all that lost time that they were on their devices and I didn’t know what to do about it. I would have done anything to have some help from somebody to help me understand the issue and get them off of their devices and into something else. So, what do you say to people like me? And I’m talking as a mom, not as a lawyer.

STONESTREET: I definitely feel your pain and I think parents of the 80s wish they could take back the VCR and parents in our generation wish we could take back other things. It seems to me that this is a wonderful place for Christians to step in and provide leadership. And, by the way, I think there are organizations that are trying to do that and trying to do it really effectively. I know for many of us the cat’s out of the bag, but newer smartphones have a remarkable set of resources that actually give control back into the hands of parents. 

What I’m finding is in so many cases parents just think it’s scandalous for them to check their student’s viewer history or to take their phone away before they go into the bedroom or to provide parental controls or to know their kid’s password. And, if you ask me, that’s the same as knowing what your kid’s class schedule was 15 years ago. It’s just part of parenting today and to not do those things is just no longer an option.

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

STONESTREET: Thanks, Nick and Mary.


(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer) A sign is displayed at Planned Parenthood of Utah Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2019, in Salt Lake City.

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