My Take: Culture war overtakes budget battle
An antiabortion ran in several publications on Thursday.
April 8th, 2011
09:15 AM ET

My Take: Culture war overtakes budget battle

Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

Anyone who still believes that the Tea Party is about economics is not paying attention to what Tea Party partisans are drinking.

When it comes to money, the difference between the budgets that Democrats and Republicans want are miniscule - a few billion or so in a budget that will eventually come in at roughly $3.8 trillion. So why is this tiny difference worth shutting down the government? Because this game of chicken is not about money.

The old Religious Right put its cultural agenda front and center. It staked its identity on resisting the sexual libertinism of the 1960s. So it opposed abortion and homosexuality and stem-cell research.

Tea Party partisans have the same cultural agenda, but this incarnation of the Religious Right proceeds by stealth, in this case with riders to a budget bill - riders they know no Democratic president or Senate can ever accept.

So the current stalemate isn’t about the money. It’s about the determination of Republicans to cut funding for Planned Parenthood, National Public Radio and the Environmental Protection Agency - efforts that have absolutely nothing to do with the deficit.

Of all these hot button issues, the hottest concerns Planned Parenthood, a network of approximately 800 women’s health centers.  Some of these centers (fewer than half) offer abortion services, but none actually uses federal funds to perform abortions, since using those funds for that purpose is already illegal.

All told, Planned Parenthood receives $330 million annually from the federal government. Assuming a budget of $3.8 trillion, cutting Planned Parenthood loose would reduce the federal budget by a whopping .0087%. To put that figure in perspective, A proportionate cut in the annual budget of the median American household would save each family a whopping 45 cents per year.

So we are not talking real money here. The ad that ran yesterday in Politico, Roll Call, The Hill and other publications calling for the "privatization" of Planned Parenthood and attacking its founder Margaret Sanger has nothing to do with money. It has everything to do with an effort to revive the culture wars - to return to the bedroom politics of the old Religious Right.

I have no objection to cutting the budget. I am not sure this is the time to do it, given how precarious the economy is. And I do find it hard to take budget cutters seriously when they refuse to consider raising revenues, since when my household budget comes under strain I always try both to cut back on spending and to find a little more income.

But that is not my complaint here. My complaint is that the people the American people have sent to the Capitol to pass a budget are not focusing on that task. They are not following the money to be budgeted for 2011. They are following a script written by social conservatives in the early 1980s.

As the Bible says, there is a time and a place for everything: "For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven" (Ecclesiastes 3:1).

Regardless of what you think about the abortion question, you have to admit that this is not the time to revisit that question. It is not the time to debate Planned Parenthood. And it is not the time for an 11th-hour effort to prohibit the District of Columbia from using Medicaid funds to pay for abortions—something all states are permitted to do.

So please don't tell me that the Tea Party is focused like a laser beam on lowering taxes and cutting the budget. And if the government shuts down tonight, please don’t tell me it’s about the money. It’s not the economy, stupid.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: Abortion • Culture wars • Economy • Opinion • Politics • Tea Party • United States

soundoff (274 Responses)
  1. Guncinjutriet

    Dankie vir die interessante inligting

    May 22, 2011 at 12:05 am |
  2. brad

    We really can't expect the PP people to contemplate the personhood of a fetus. "Potential" person is the best rhetoric they've managed to come up with. But maybe they can contemplate this: during the past generation they have contentedly been participating in the elimination of millions of "potential taxpayers". Now the PP paragons are wondering where their tax money is going to come from. I guess the kids my wife didn't terminate will just have to work harder.

    April 12, 2011 at 9:59 am |
  3. MarineMom

    I am not an active participant in the current budget debate and although I abhor it, I am not even 100% sure that abortion should be illegal. I am however active duty military and a mother, and though I know that the logic is faulty, I would like to say that if by not receiving a pay check for several weeks, I could save the life of one unborn child, I would gladly go without pay. Just throwing that out there.

    April 11, 2011 at 12:11 pm |
    • bill

      I'll do you one beter. Why not stop the killing in the middle east and then no one would have to worry about who will tell your children why they have no mother?

      April 11, 2011 at 2:01 pm |
    • Christian Adeline

      Bill, Americans are fighting in the Middle East so that everyone can obtain human rights and freedom everywhere. Existence of any type of tyranny is a threat to USA.

      April 12, 2011 at 6:07 am |
  4. Christian Adeline

    The Bible commands God's people to do what is right regardless of seasons. Fighting against infanticide and immorality is for every Christian for all seasons.

    April 10, 2011 at 11:40 pm |
    • bill

      Absolutely right. Stop the killings!
      Oh wait we weren't talking about ending the wars in the middle east were we?

      April 11, 2011 at 1:59 pm |
    • Christian Adeline

      Bill, fighting against enemy combatants in warzones is a different thing. Refusing to fight to protect one's own homeland is immoral although there are exceptions.

      April 12, 2011 at 6:05 am |
  5. AGuest9

    Well, let's see. I AM sick and tired of MY tax dollars supporting an overcrowded prison system. I AM sick and tired of MY tax dollars supporting third-generation welfare recipients. I AM sick and tired of MY tax dollars supporting systems that sustain and educate children who should have never been born because their "parents" were unfit to raise them. Tell me again why YOU wish to defund the only agency standing between society, and more of the above???

    April 10, 2011 at 10:20 am |
    • AGuest9

      Where is either quote wrong? If the first was wrong, there would be no reason for genetics research! Why study something to fix it if EVERYONE truly believes in leaving "God's children the way they were intended". Given the choice between a healthy newborn and a deformed, impaired newborn, you know which you would choose (if there was such a choice to be made) EVERY TIME! Don't lie and say "it doesn't matter". The decade of hospital and doctor bills destroy lives and marriages and families EVERY YEAR.

      If the second was wrong, you've never studied global cultures, or paid attention to Northern Ireland for the past four decades. You also must enjoy long waits at your local ER and watching your local taxes pay for forms in multiple languages so that the illegals can apply for "assistance".

      April 10, 2011 at 10:34 am |
  6. LoneZero

    "So the current stalemate isn’t about the money. It’s about the determination of Republicans to cut funding for Planned Parenthood, National Public Radio and the Environmental Protection Agency – efforts that have absolutely nothing to do with the deficit."

    The GOP campaign on jobs and listening to the American people and the first thing they do is hold us hostage for tax breaks then try push abortion restrictions to restrict federal support for abortion even though the federal government has already made it specifically illegal to pay for abortions with federal funding, then create budget cuts that lose jobs and all they have to say is "so be it"? Since November they have failed in creating any jobs.

    Risking goverment shut down for three items that don't even affect the budget for a small miniorty radicals in a religion and the insane tea party knowing full well shut down will cause thousands of jobs lost and the end of aid for those who need it is completely ridiculous, why don't they care for the majority that voted them in and not a small insignificant group? The Gop even have the nerve to blame the dems for holding military hostage and the cause for the shutdown. Completely insane.

    If November was the "shellacking" for the dems, I hope 2012 is utter destruction for the gop/tea party.

    April 10, 2011 at 12:25 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Good grief, my old civics teacher was right .... it is a pendelum effect.

      The question is though, you can't say that the Republicans are not doing what a part of their backers want them too. Maybe where you and me come from they do not but the folks that sent them to Washington I have too look at like the folks who sent Obama to Washington for Health Care.

      We can't be like the extremes and pretend that other counter to our own views folks do not exist. They wake up and go to work and feel they are doing the right thing.

      If we see countries around the planet cutting back, did we think that pill was not to come our way here in the states?

      Why can't they just do a flat cut? Every government department 10 or 20% off of funding. That way everyone gets hurt and no one will feel that they need to attack or that their being attacked.

      This is basic parenting 101.

      April 10, 2011 at 2:03 am |
    • Webbie

      It has barely begun. Look at the new Republican budget bill. Every cut is at the expense of the middle class and poorer people. And, it destroys Medicare for our seniors, puts it in the hands of the insurance companies who have ripped us off over and over. It is both heartless and senseless.

      April 10, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
  7. Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

    Oh, but that would involve providing funds to support PP and they provide services to women who have s3x. Can't have that, can we?

    April 9, 2011 at 10:39 pm |
  8. Gail White

    One of the simplest ways to make a small income appear bigger is to refrain from having children.
    I see nothing wrong with helping people to do this by providing contraceptive advice and services, especially
    in hard economic times.

    April 9, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
  9. Peace2All

    From the Article:

    "So the current stalemate isn’t about the (money). It’s about the determination of Republicans to cut funding for Planned Parenthood, National Public Radio and the Environmental Protection Agency – efforts that have absolutely nothing to do with the deficit.

    Of all these hot button issues, the hottest concerns Planned Parenthood, a network of approximately 800 women’s health centers. Some of these centers (fewer than half) offer abortion services, but (none) actually uses federal funds to perform abortions, since using those funds for that purpose is already illegal.

    All told, Planned Parenthood receives $330 million annually from the federal government. Assuming a budget of $3.8 trillion, cutting Planned Parenthood loose would reduce the federal budget by a (whopping .0087%.) To put that figure in perspective, A proportionate cut in the annual budget of the median American household would save each family a whopping (45 cents per year.)"


    This just absolutely boggles my mind that they(apparently the 'republicans'-most predominantly the 'tea partiers' or radical 'Christian right') would literally be willing to shut down the government because of wanting to push their 'policy agenda' vs. funding the government.

    There is always time to discuss these 'social agenda' issues at other times... but to be willing to shut down the government...?

    I just don't get it... Most of you that know me...my postings tend toward being respectful, fair-minded and balanced, but this action by the republican party, I just don't understand...?

    Maybe someone can shed some light for me on this...?



    April 9, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
    • An Answer Appears!

      They are insane. Duh.

      April 9, 2011 at 7:53 pm |
  10. Tom Langer

    Why do the Deomocates/Liberals/Progressives have to attempt to discredit and label everyone that disagrees with them? Now it's the Tea Party because they oppose the wasteful spending of our government. The Tea Party is trying to keep our money in our pockets! What's so bad about that? As far as the Republicans pushing a social agenda, the forced social agenda is with the Democarates already who are using OUR tax dollars to pay for their social agenda outlets...global warming research, educ,, etc., for Planned Parenthood, and for keeping the propaganda flowing through NPR etc. As long as they are using MY money for their agenda, I will fight them. I want to say how MY money is spent. Let those outlets support themselves, then there will be no one pushing a social agenda.

    April 9, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Planned Parenthood give access to birth control to poor women. Better access to birth control means that fewer unwanted children are born. Fewer unwanted children means less people on the government dole, and as a nice byproduct, it also means fewer abortions. Planned Parenthood is thus efficient use of government funds. It's a fairly simple equation, once you understand the facts.

      April 9, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      You don't get a say in how your money is spent anymore than I do, ya jackwagon. You vote for people to represent your interests and hope they will vote as you want them to. Too bad if more people vote FOR those who support giving poor women access to health care than vote as you do.

      Tough toenails, bub.

      April 9, 2011 at 2:12 pm |
    • David Johnson

      The Republicans are the puppets of the Religious Right. The Religious Right appears to be tired of waiting on Jesus' return, and wants to achieve a Christian Theocracy, through political means.

      The Christian Right / Republicans have targeted Planned Parenthood, because abortions are offered through them.

      The Dems were able to save Planned Parenthood this time, but I don't know about the future i.e., next year's budget and the debt ceiling.

      If abortion is illegal, women will seek back alley remedies. We, as a society, must take away as many of the reasons women seek abortions as possible.

      We need to make adoption easier and make it financially possible for a woman to keep and care for her baby.
      Obama has a program to do this. More needs to be done, but with the Republicans controlling the House, funds won't be forthcoming.

      Most of all, we need to make birth control available free of charge, to all women. We need to educate the women on these birth control methods. Remember, the best way to prevent an abortion, is to prevent unwanted pregnancies.

      Psalm 127:3 – Children are a gift of the LORD
      Hmmm... Well, the bible says it, so I believe it. Children are god's gift!

      Notice how god doesn't check to see if a woman is capable of raising a child, before he gives a baby to them?

      Women in poor countries bear children, only to have them die, because Mom has no food.

      Women addicted to drugs are given babies, when they are totally incapable of taking care of themselves, much less a child.

      Girls are blessed with a baby they don't want. Why are babies given to women who don't want them?

      If god would be more careful with giving out gifts/children, abortion wouldn't be needed.

      And remember, there are a lot of women, who god refuses His gift. They would be overjoyed with god's gift. No abortions in their homes!

      God sure does works in mysterious ways. It's almost as if...Never mind.

      We should start real $ex education in school. Not abstinence only. Real education about the use of birth control.

      We will never totally eradicate abortions. Only a god could do that, and he either does not care, or does not exist.


      April 9, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
    • Webbie

      I had lunch with a prominent Republican on Thursday. I won't say who, because i don't have his permission to quote him in public, but he is an honest conservative and very tough-minded. He made the point that the problem with the Tea Party is that they see no role for government. No role. Consequently, they are a major detriment, not just to Republicans, but to congress, which is supposed to define roles for governing the country.

      April 10, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
  11. Gail White

    The Rigidly Righteous Right backs the Vatican every time. When are people going to realize that if you're opposed to abortion, contraception is your best friend? We should be parachuting condoms into AIDS-plagued African countries and giving them out on the street corners here at home.

    April 9, 2011 at 12:44 pm |
    • Robert

      thank you.

      April 9, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Are you a fan of Robert Burns, too? Love his poem about the Unco Good and the Rigid Righteous. Come to think of it, it describes Heaven Sent and her pal Freddy to a T.

      April 9, 2011 at 2:10 pm |
  12. Reality

    From the Gutt-macher Inst-itute:


    Percentage of women experiencing an unplanned pregnancy

    Method........... Typical

    Pill (combined) 8.7

    Tubal ste-rilization 0.7

    Male con-dom 17.4

    Vase-ctomy 0.2

    Periodic abstinence 25.3

    Calendar 9.0

    Ovu-lation Method 3.0

    Sympto-thermal 2.0

    Post-ovulation 1.0

    No method 85.0"

    (Abstinence) 0

    (Mastu-rbation) 0

    The failure of the Pill as noted above results in one million unplanned pregnancies every year because women basically fail to take it once a day as prescribed. Is there a literacy problem that Planned Parenthood fails to recognize?

    The failure of the male con-dom results in another one million unplanned pregnancies every year basically because many men, as per Gutt-macher, fail to use them even though they have them in their pockets or billfolds. Maybe we should have Planned Parenthood in our bedrooms to ensure proper use of their condoms?

    Said failure to use con-doms also results in what would call self-inflicted S-TDs.

    Then there are these additional facts:

    from the CDC-2006

    "Se-xually transmitted diseases (S-TDs) remain a major public health challenge in the United States. While substantial progress has been made in preventing, diagnosing, and treating certain S-TDs in recent years, CDC estimates that approximately 19 million new infections occur each year, almost half of them among young people ages 15 to 24.1 In addition to the physical and psychological consequences of S-TDs, these diseases also exact a tremendous economic toll. Direct medical costs as-sociated with S-TDs in the United States are estimated at up to $14.7 billion annually in 2006 dollars."

    Conclusion: currently, a perfect birth control/disease-prevention barrier system does not exist. Time to develop one. In the meantime, mono-mas-turbation or mutual mas-turbation for heterose-xuals are highly recommended for those at risk. Abstinence is the another best-solution but obviously the se-x drive typically vitiates this option although being biological would it not be able to develop a drug to temporarily eliminate said drive?

    April 9, 2011 at 12:36 pm |
    • norm

      while i totally agree that phrasing the de-funding as 'budget cuts' is bogus, there is a problem with your numbers. i do not know what the exact numbers are, but if condom failure rates are twice that of pill failure rates, and pill failure results in 1,000,000 unexpected births, shouldn't condom failures result in 2,000,000 unexpected births? (or 1,000,000 from condom failure and 500,000 from pill failure)

      April 9, 2011 at 8:59 pm |
    • Reality

      Some added facts about co-ntraceptives from



      Con-traceptive method use among U.S. women who practice con-traception, 2002
      Method....... No. of users (in 000s)....... % of users

      Pill 11,661 30.6
      Male condom 6,841 18.0 "

      The pill fails to protect women 8.7% during the first year of use (from the same reference previously shown).
      0.087 (failure rate)
      x 62 million (# child bearing women)
      x 0.62 ( % of these women using contraception )
      x 0.306 ( % of these using the pill) =
      1,020,000 unplanned pregnancies during the first year of pill use.

      For male condoms (failure rate of 17.4 and 18% use level):

      1,200,000 unplanned pregnancies during the first year of male condom use.

      The Guttmacher Insti-tute (same reference) notes also that the perfect use of the pill should result in a 0.3% failure rate
      (35,000 unplanned pregnancies) and for the male condom, a 2% failure rate (138,000 unplanned pregnancies).

      o Bottom Line : The failures of the widely used birth "control" methods i.e. the pill and male condom have led to the large rate of abortions ( one million/yr) and S-TDs (19 million/yr) in the USA. Men and women must either recognize their responsibilities by using the pill or condoms properly and/or use other methods in order to reduce the epidemics of abortion and S-TDs.

      April 9, 2011 at 11:39 pm |
    • Brad

      @Reality Check

      I would check your statistics. To count the number of flaws in your logic is not worth the time because you would refuse to believe it anyway. But I would aruge that "failure" rate in condoms does not automatically lead to unplanned pregnancies. I, in my younger days, had condoms "fail" more than once. And, luckily for me I suppose, I did not have to deal with my girlfriend having an unplanned pregnancy. In addition, examine the number for the "failure" rate of pregnancies (miscarriages) and you will also see a sharp reduction in the number of unplanned pregnancies.

      You obviously failed victim to the old adage "lies, damned lies, and statistics." Blindly multiplying percentages by raw numbers as you did is not a true reflection of the actual numbers of unplanned pregnancies.

      The sad part it, these numbers you trot out, which you are oblivious to the statistical problems inherent in them, were obviously put together by someone with a knowledge of statistics and manipulated so gullible people like yourself would use them to argue a cause which the true evidence does not support.


      April 12, 2011 at 9:41 pm |
  13. tallulah13

    Has anyone pointed out to the tea partiers that Margaret Sanger has been dead for 44 years and really doesn't influence the current policies of Planned Parenthood?

    April 9, 2011 at 11:39 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      It won't matter to those dopes. They only read, see, and hear what suits their agenda. Kind of like the fundies who only quote the Bible bits that support their hatred of those who aren't exactly like them.

      April 9, 2011 at 1:53 pm |
  14. Rach

    I don't think you get the point Rich, attempting to attack abortion in this manner is ineffective and stupid. Planned Parenthood only performs the proceedure in less than half of its clinics and even then they are not using federal funds. Sure you can say that the fact that federal funds pay for other services, allowing them to use the private money they have for abortions, but those other services are vital for limiting the number the abortions by providing women with contraception to avoid unwanted pregnancies. Besides, as stated, cutting the funding would not have actually made any kind of a dent in the budget and when faced with a government closure that would have resulted in our Troops not receiving paychecks, the issues should have been tabled for a more appropriate venue.

    April 9, 2011 at 9:51 am |
  15. Rich

    I'm sorry you "think" that way, but IT IS ALWAYS THE RIGHT TIME to revisit that question. The bible says "your thoughts are foolishness to God" and "Gods ways are your not your ways", since you seem to at leat be able to quote something from the Bible.

    For those that believe life is sacred and ordained by God, how can those that believe so put millions, billions, or even trillions before belief in the protection of life. Shame on the Republicans that caved on this matter and shame on the Democrats that put the rights of selfish adults (those that worked on the conception of the baby) before the life of the baby.

    April 9, 2011 at 8:58 am |
    • billybob

      are you really that stupid?

      April 9, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
    • ReligionIsNotTheAnswer

      spoken like someone who truly knows nothing of the issues at hand and only has a one way myopic viewpoint, some people call that christian, most call that ignorant...

      April 11, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
    • bill

      So if you truely believe that way then why are you not telling your representatives to stop funding the two.5 wars we are currently involved in?

      If killing is killing then stop killing and stop trying to justify the one while preventing the other.

      And while we are at it if you really believed your new testament then you'd be a socialist who sold everything they had and lived in a commune and praised god every day while taking care of the weak. You wouldn't be fixing cars or be a lawyer, detist or work in a grocery unless it was so you could provide food for yourself and everyone else you lived with in that commune.

      But I digress as I strongly suspect you'll find weasel words to get out of following the example of early christians because then you'd have to give up your wide screen TV.

      April 11, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.