Evangelicals take Planned Parenthood fight to 2016 trail

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Story highlights

  • Christian and conservative leaders discussed what's next in the Planned Parenthood fight at the two Nashville conferences this week
  • Conference speakers told attendees that keeping this issue before lawmakers is their Christian duty

Washington (CNN)The release of incendiary videos of Planned Parenthood officials has energized opponents of abortion, and those politically active evangelicals and social conservatives are pushing the issue to the forefront of the 2016 Republican primary race.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal told the RedState Gathering on Friday, a conservative convention in Atlanta, that if he is elected president, he will use the federal government to investigate Planned Parenthood.
"Not only am I going to send the Department of Justice and the IRS, I will send (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration), the (Environmental Protection Agency) and every federal agency I can think of to go after Planned Parenthood," he said.
    Earlier this week, ahead of two giant confabs of evangelicals in Nashville, Joe Carter, an editor of The Gospel Coalition, wrote that the next election could have a shaping impact on the future of abortion in America.
    "If there is a pro-abortion president in the White House and 60 pro-abortion lawmakers in the Senate, then they will block the appointment of any justices who might vote against pro-abortion laws," he wrote. "The result is that a pro-life loss in the next election may mean the opportunity to overturn Roe v. Wade will be lost for another two generations."
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    A week after a Senate bill failed to block federal funding of Planned Parenthood, Christian and conservative leaders discussed what's next in the fight at the two Nashville conferences held by the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant body in the United States. Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush called for Planned Parenthood's defunding at one of the conferences. And presidential candidates hoping to appeal to social conservatives discussed the issue during the first Republican debates Thursday.
    "The pro-life movement has not only persisted but thrived because the pro-life movement didn't give up on politics," Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, the politics and policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, said Wednesday.
    While anti-abortion activists have consistently been vocal since the rise of the Religious Right, the issue has risen to the forefront of political debate following the release of undercover videos that accuse Planned Parenthood of illegally selling organs and tissues from aborted fetuses.
    Planned Parenthood denies that any laws were broken and dismissed the anti-abortion group releasing the videos as "right-wing extremists." But for many conservative Christians, the timing of the videos presents an opportunity to overturn Roe v. Wade.

    Calls to perform Christian duty

    Speakers at the Nashville conference told attendees that keeping this issue before lawmakers is their Christian duty to ensure that Planned Parenthood is defunded.
    "Christians should seek public policies that reflect the realities of human nature made in the image of God," Jennifer Marshall, a vice president of The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, told attendees. "Remember that for the Christian, citizenship is about stewardship. Sitting on the sidelines is not an option."
    And on the day of the Gospel and Politics: The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission National Conference, conservative Christian blogger Erick Erickson tweeted to make presidential candidates address the defunding of Planned Parenthood.
    "Dear Pro-Life movement, (due) to 2015 August recess townhalls what Obamacare opponents did in 2009. Demand defund of Planned Parenthood," said Erickson, who was a panelist at Wednesday's conference and RedState's editor-in-chief.
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    Other speakers suggested Wednesday that conservative Christians have lost influence because their approach has been filled with anger and vitriolic language. According to a recent poll, evangelicals' support for Donald Trump, who has spoken openly about his faith, is increasing.
    "We as Christians have a place at the table. We can speak in the public square in this democracy, but when we do so, we can't give up the character of Christ," said Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family, a group advocating for socially conservative policies.
    But panelists warned guests from falling for disingenuous politicians who know how to play to evangelicals just to get their votes.
    "The Church as a tool is a church of fools," Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson said Wednesday. "If you are an instrument in someone else's game, there's something incomplete or wrong."