Faculty and Graduate Student Seminar: Aborting America: Eschatology and the National Debt in Tea Party Republicanism

This event requires registration. Readings will be emailed two weeks prior to the event. Register online by October 22. 

Beginning with the rise of the Tea Party and extending into the Trump era, far-right Republicans have forced a series of debt-ceiling crises and government shutdowns over the alleged federal funding of abortion and birth control. Although perplexing from the point of view of mainstream fiscal conservatism, the issues of the national debt, taxation and the unborn have been intricately connected in religious right discourse and evangelical eschatology since the 1970s. This seminar will look at the first arguments linking the national debt, deficit spending and abortion in the 1970s and concurrent efforts to undo federal funding of abortion and birth control for low-income women. Particular attention will be paid to Howard Phillips, cofounder of the New Right and reputed godfather of the Tea Party, who attempted to single-handedly undo the Office of Economic Opportunity and low-income family planning services under Nixon. I show how religious-right opposition to single-payer health insurance was informed by a fear that ordinary taxpayers would be forced to fund the abortions of others, and how a self-consciously natalist, anti-eugenic language was leveraged to justify an implicitly nativist view of the future American citizen.

This confusion of arguments explains why Tea Party activists could obsess over a black president’s birthright (accusing him of being Muslim, socialist, a Nazi) and simultaneously argue that Obamacare, through its eugenic funding of birth control, must be opposed because it serves the racist goal of aborting poor, minority children. In the meantime, the religious right’s conviction that America’s national debt can be liquidated by defunding and outlawing abortion explains their willingness to bring the US to the brink of default over the funding of Planned Parenthood.

Readings will include secondary critical texts and primary sources — archival documents and extracts from evangelical eschatological texts on money and debt.

Melinda Cooper’s research focuses on the broad areas of social studies of finance, neoliberalism and new social conservatisms. Her monograph Family Values: Between Neoliberalism and the New Social Conservatism, was published in Zone Book’s Near Futures series in 2017. She is currently working on two research projects. The first is an ARC-funded investigation into the politics of public debt with a particular focus on Virginia school public choice theory and supply-side economics. The second project focuses on the economic politics of the far-right.


This event is co-sponsored by the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies, Department of Sociology, Department of History, Department of Geography, Berkeley Network for a New Political Economy, and the Program in Critical Theory.