Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Daniel K. Williams's "Defenders of the Unborn"

Daniel K. Williams is an associate professor of history at the University of West Georgia. He is the author of God’s Own Party: The Making of the Christian Right.

Williams applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Defenders of the Unborn: The Pro-Life Movement before Roe v. Wade, and reported the following:
For my first book, God’s Own Party: The Making of the Christian Right, the Page 99 Test worked perfectly. A reader opening God’s Own Party up to page 99 would encounter a discussion about Billy Graham’s political relationship with Richard Nixon and would immediately be confronted with the central theme of the book: the tension-filled alliance between the Republican Party and conservative evangelicals.

But a reader opening up Defenders of the Unborn to page 99 would likely be puzzled, especially if she had read the introductory chapter beforehand. As the introduction makes clear, Defenders of the Unborn challenges conventional assumptions by demonstrating that in the early 1970s, before Roe v. Wade, there was a vibrant pro-life movement that won political victories in dozens of states. In fact, the movement succeeded precisely because it was a liberal movement that employed human rights ideology to forge an ecumenical, bipartisan coalition that gained endorsements from Ted Kennedy and Jesse Jackson. Its leaders included self-identified feminists, antiwar activists, and a Boston Methodist physician who was the first African American woman to graduate from Harvard Medical School.

But page 99 presents an apparent contrast to this revisionist narrative. The entire page is devoted to an analysis of pro-life Catholics’ failure to gain support from Protestants in the late 1960s – a phenomenon that seems to belie the picture presented in the introduction. What is going on here?

In reality, page 99 depicts a pivotal moment of crisis in the movement that eventually led to a strategic recalibration. Catholic opponents of abortion won critical victories in the early 1960s, and they would have even greater success in the early 1970s, but the late 1960s were “wilderness years” for the movement – a time of political defeats that led to soul-searching moments. A reader who read only page 99 of Defenders of the Unborn would not have much idea of the book’s central argument, but she would nevertheless get a sense of the challenges that the pro-life movement faced in the late 1960s. Maybe she would be intrigued enough to want to read the rest of the book to find out how the movement surmounted those challenges and found a way to appeal to Protestants, thus producing the pro-life coalition that continues to shape American politics today.
Learn more about Defenders of the Unborn at the Oxford University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: God's Own Party.

--Marshal Zeringue