The problem with conservatives, as with Americans in general, is historical amnesia. How can one conserve the traditions one doesn't know about? That is even more true when those actual traditions are obscured by the nostalgia of invented traditions. Corey Robin has pointed out how, for centuries now, conservatives as reactionaries have been anti-traditional.

Abortion is a great example. In the early to mid 20th century, most Americans, specifically most Protestants, were pro-choice; including Republican and evangelical leaders. When Paul Weyrich spoke at the inauguration of the Moral Majority in 1980, he admitted that if most Americans voted the religious right would never win an election.

Even if the constitutional issue is more important, according to a particular conservatism. That is a lot less clear than American conservatives typically acknowledge. The Constitution is notoriously vague with vast gaps that allow for diverse interpretations. That was intentional because, if it had been too specific, there wouldn't have been enough agreement. It's vagueness allows people to project upon it what they want to see.

Also, it ignores that Federalism was only one half of America's founding and early leadership. The radical Anti-Federalists gave us not only the Declaration of Independence but also our first constitution, the Articles of Confederation and the Bill of Rights. Also, keep in mind that, maybe in following the example of the Quakers, the Anti-Federalists advocated a living constitutionalism.

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I had another thought. If we are to take seriously original intent, even ignoring the frame of Federalists vs Anti-Federalists, we could offer observations on the founder's views on abortion. It apparently was a non-issue at the time, as was the case for most of American history.

Benjamin Franklin even published a piece that gave advice to women in seeking abortions. It was part of the Enlightenment mentality that inspired the entire revolutionary spirit that persisted into the 19th century. This was what liberalism meant back then as much as what it means today.

Put this in context. The vaginal sponge was invented and marketed in the 1920s, the vulcanized rubber in the 1930s, sexual education seminars became popular in the Antebellum period, and before the Civil War one in five pregnancies was being aborted.

None of this was considered a constitutional issue, one way or another. But there was a reactionary backlash, during that era of more women entering college and the workforce, as urbanization and industrialization transformed American society, economy, and culture.

The backlash, though, didn't gain full force until after the Civil War. For example, laws were passed banning the selling and shipping of sex toys through the U.S. mail. Some states did start banning abortions as well, although it was rarely enforced as the culture remained generally pro-choice.

Abortion would never have become a political football to any great degree if not for the religious right picking it up. Paul Weyrich explained their reasons. They had tried to organize around racism, specifically the exclusion of blacks from Bible Schools as wealth segregationists paid a lot of money and so it was a cash cow for the right.

The problem is that most Americans in the post-WWII period no longer identified with open racism. It was a failure as an organizing tool. So, as Weyrich explained, they seized upon abortion to rile people up, but that required a propaganda campaign to change the religious right toward anti-choice.

If none of that had happened, it never would have been pushed to national attention. It was the threat of nationally banning abortions that led to the nationally legalizing of them. But liberals would prefer to not politicize culture war issues in the first place. Interestingly, younger Evangelicals now also oppose politicized culture war.

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