Transcribed interview by Christiania Amanpour of Frank Schaeffer, filmmaker & son of anti-abortion evangelical scholar Francis Schaeffer

by faithgibson on August 6, 2023

in Post Roe World, Women's Reproductive Rights

This program originally aired on the Public Broadcasting Company (PBS) on May 5, 2022.

Christiania Amanpour interview of Frank Schaeffer, son of the famous and very influential evangelical scholar, Francis Schaeffer. As a young man, Frank adopted his father’s anti-abortion beliefs and used his talents to make a number of very popular anti-abortion films that were misused by Pat Robinson, Jerry Falwell, and other televangelists for partisan fundraising and other nefarious political purposes.

As a father and now as a grandfather of several children, he became convinced that women themselves are the best judge of their ability to bear and raise a child. Mr. Schaeffer now believes his anti-abortion activities were misguided, and came to actively support the provisions of Roe v Wade, which provides access to safe and legal abortion servicesHe acknowledges both the need and the right of a woman to lawfully terminate an untenable pregnancy during the early, non-viable stage.

He was very opposed when-President Trump appointed Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barrett to the Supreme Court, and correctly prophesized that its three new and archly conservative justices would overturn Ros v Wade.

To his great distress, he was proved right just six weeks later on June 25th, 2022.

Introduction of Mr. Schaeffer by Christiania Amanpour:


Americans on both sides of the abortion issue are fired up in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Jun 24th vote to end a women’s right to choose after nearly 50 years.

The Governor of Oklahoma has now signed a law banning abortion after 6 weeks. It’s modeled on a controversial Texas law that allows citizens to collect pay (a bounty) for helping with enforcement.

Abortion is at the center of the US culture wars, a battle for dominance between conflicting values, and has long split the two political parties and the country. But how did it get this way?

Evangelical Christian groups have rallied to limit access to abortion for years, but it wasn’t always a political issue for them.

Enter Francis Schaefer, an evangelical scholar whose son Frank encouraged him to campaign against Roe versus Wade with literature and movies that they were producing. It is an extraordinary story, for without the Schaeffers this culture war might not have so fired up.

Frank is joining me now from Boston; his latest book is called:

Fall in Love, Have Children, Stay Put, Save the planet, Be happy”.

Frank, welcome to the program. I’m smiling a little bit because that title is really very very chilled, compared to some of the more apocalyptic literature and movies that you put out. I’m correct in assuming, because you stated it, that you are now very regretful of your role in this movement.


“Yes, and it’s like hearing about someone else’s life conducted on a different planet. You know, I did the work with my father and the pro-life movement in the 1970s.

I’m now pushing 70 years old, this is 50 years ago, and as I look back I can only say that not only do I regret the impact we had, which of course it was completely unforeseen, all the way up to including the murder of abortion doctors, the fact that now it looks like Roe V Wade will be rolled back by a Supreme Court dominated by republican operatives that have taken what we did back in the 1970s and extrapolated that out into a future 50 years later, that I find shocking.

I would describe myself as a progressive, someone with liberal political views. I’m a father and grandfather and from this perspective in my life, I look back on what I did in my youth maybe the way I guess some people would at wartime experiences or maybe political experiences in the 1930s in Europe if they had joined one of the fascist parties and lived to see it play out in a World War and what happened

I feel that level of regret and culpability.


So let’s talk about what exactly you regret and how exactly you were culpable. So there you, are a young man, you have your father who you know as Christian, and you decide to convince him to oppose Roe versus Wade. Why did you do that? How did you do that? What were your father’s actions and your actions at that time?


Well, I had made a film series with him on art and culture called “How Should We Then Live” which was not about Roe V Wade, but was about a Christian view of art and philosophy to counter what (my father) regarded as “secular humanism{ — the threat of secular humanism.

After we made that series, in shooting the last episode, Roe v. Wade was handed down. At that time Everett Koop, who then was surgeon-in-chief of Philadelphia Children’s Hospital and a few years later would become Ronald Reagan’s surgeon general as a political appointee was a friend of my families also an evangelical Christian.

He came to my father’s ministry, which was in Switzerland by the way even though it was an American English-speaking ministry, called “L’Abri Fellowship”. {Everett Koop} talked me, as someone barely out of my teens, into a very staunch anti-abortion position. He said “Look, you talk about Roe v. Wade in the last episode of “How Should We Then Live”. You need to make a whole series now.”

I have to be honest, and it saddens me. At the time it was also the idea of another paycheck. I was newly married, I was a teenage father, talking about teen pregnancy and abortion when I was kind of living it. My wife Jeannie and I — we’ve been together 52 years now and it worked out — but back at the time we just had this little girl Jessica and I was saying: “Well you know we kept our child, abortion is horrible”. I listened to C. Everett Koop, and I was convinced.

I was sincere, and so I talked my father into making the series and of course, one of my regrets, looking back, is it was totally unfair. We were living in a community, we had the support my parents, who were helping me, we were living free of charge in the mission.

The kind of idea that somehow we had had this child, and everything turned out OK, and so everybody ought to be able to do this was really, well you had to be a kind of an idiot 20, 21, 22 year-old that I was, at the time, selfish, self-involved, not be able to understand that was not the position most people who were facing difficult pregnancies were in.

So that’s how it started. I was convinced by Everett Koop, and then I convinced my dad.


And you went on from there to make this film with C Everett Koop … called: “Whatever happened to the Human Race”. Again, it was an anti-abortion sort of doctrine. Here he is in the clip that we’re about to show, standing near the Dead Sea surrounded by hundreds of baby dolls plastic baby dolls and this was, you know, to symbolize supported fetuses.

This is what we’re going to play from your film”

{Shot of a man standing on a beach, surrounded by plastic baby dolls in the water around him}

“Salt … this is the site on which the city of Sodom once stood, here on the Dead Sea in Israel.

Once here, under this surreal field of salt, Sodom was the most humanly corrupt city on earth, a place of evil and of death.

Sodom comes readily to mind when one contemplates the evils of abortion and the death of moral law.”


So Frank, it it’s a pretty extraordinary sight and it does conjure up a whole dystopian world, but you are not a particularly well-known filmmaker, you’re a young man. How did this film impact and galvanize the anti-abortion movement?


“Well, first of all, you’re right. And the only reason I was directing the movie — I’d been making super-8 films for people who remember movies back in the day — since I was about 12. I got the job producing “How Should We Then Live” and then went on and directed “Whatever Happened to the Human Race” and wrote the screenplay for my father and Dr. C. Everett Koop for the book version.

It was nepotism, pure and simple. You know, me and the Korean leaders. I was a Schaeffer, my father was a big evangelical star, and so I got the job. And it turned out that I had enough talent to make a strong piece of propaganda that was very effective.

It was effective with evangelical audiences, but here’s the thing that I think most people don’t understand. At the time we brought this out in a seminar series from in about 1978 through to 1980, evangelicals were not interested! Not only that they didn’t want to know, our friend Billy Graham, the great evangelist, was pro-choice.

Most evangelicals don’t know that he refused to participate with us in our seminars even though he and my father were friends. He said:

Frank, you know you’ve made a mistake. I think people women ought to have a choice.”

Doctor Chriswall of the Southern Baptist Convention, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention, and for Americans they will understand that’s the most conservative group of evangelicals in America. He was pro-choice, he even preached sermons on choice.

We had to convince evangelicals. You know, I think a lot of commentators looking back think somehow this was always part of the evangelical movement. It was not. Abortion was legal in the United States up until the 19th century and into the early 20th century when the American Medical Association tried to push women out of the midwife business, as it were, and take this (i.e. providing abortion services) over for professional gynecologists. …. it had not been part of American history to be anti-abortion. It was a new phenomenon that we had to talk evangelicals into.

But once we talked them into it, the reason it became “a thing” is Republican leaders like our friend Jack Kemp, Gerald Ford, the president my parents were friends with, would stay in the White House {while} his son Mike was living in my house his wife Gail who was babysitting our daughter Jessica etcetera, etcetera. We were very connected with the early stages of the religious right.

Once other evangelical leaders saw this as an easy fundraising tactic to keep people angry — babies are being murdered — we can raise money. And when people like Jack Kemp and Ronald Reagan and other people we knew realized that the apathetic evangelical majority that didn’t even care about voting suddenly could be energized because they had lost the fight on segregation and these segregationists like Jerry Falwell now we gave them something new to fight for.

And so two big agendas happened — anti-gay agenda and an anti-abortion agenda. The anti-abortion agenda became the litmus test, became the “red meat”.

That’s why it caught on. It caught on because of money fundraising by evangelical leaders and it caught on because the Republicans suddenly said:

“Aha, this apathetic group that barely votes, and half of them vote for Democrats, we can energize them if we can create this into a moral crusade.”

So it was a very convenient thing for Republican leaders


And I think all these decades later, it is extraordinary to learn from you that it was not a political issue for the evangelicals, it pretty much was really the Catholics who were mostly in the forefront.


Yeah, not only was it, not a political issue, you have to understand our big fight was with evangelicals — the editorial board of Christianity Today magazine, the bastion flagship of evangelical Christianity, they were pro-choice at the time, and they refused to endorse our film, Billy Graham, Dr. Chriswell, on and on and on. It changed when it became a matter of convenience for people like Paul Wyrick, and other right-wing activists.


So the time period are we talking about, we just mentioned that C. Everett Coop was President Reagan’s surgeon general, and that was at the same time as the rise of what’s known as the moral majority with Jerry Falwell and others. What actually changed? You’ve talked about people realizing that it (abortion) was a fundraising issue, and they could fire up the base so to speak, what was the process of making it into the issue that it is today?


We made a good film series if you want to call it “good” in the technical sense. It had a huge impact on people, and as the audience began to grow and we were getting picketed by people like the national NARAL and other pro-choice organizations, and it started getting into the news.

But what really changed was my father and I would go around talking to people like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, the televangelist, and convincing them that this was going to be a big thing, an issue they had to be talking about.

That’s where my father really played an instrumental role on two fronts. One was tens of thousands of evangelical Christians started watching these films in seminars and then in churches and schools and in high schools and so forth. The next thing that changed was we began to convince them through the films, which were very effective as propaganda.

And then the next thing that happened was that leaders like Jerry Falwell, who had been a segregationist, decided his next big issue would be to fight the gay rights movement and the pro-life movement.  He would adopt these things as a kind of a Clarion call to his people.

They were talked into this by my dad; before that, they had not been in this camp


And they used your films, as you yourself say, very effectively. Actually, well-made visual propaganda that you were able to use, and they were able to use. I do think something is extraordinary that maybe our viewers won’t remember, that Falwell and also the moral majority, they were trying to oust from power and deny a second term to then-President Jimmy Carter. They were trying to get Ronald Reagan in, and of course, Jimmy Carter was the first evangelical Christian to be president.


You’d think they would like that. The weird twist is why were they so, you know, focused on getting him out and Reagan in. Well, Jimmy Carter was too decent to a human being. He was compassionate to women, he was pro-choice, he was not a racist, he believed in integration, and he wanted to increase voter rights for African Americans. Jerry Falwell was a segregationist, he was a far-right winger, he was a homophobe and a nasty piece of work, it’s as simple as that. And basically, Jerry Falwell and these other guys could not manipulate Jimmy Carter, who was an evangelical Christian, and a Bible teacher literally in Sunday school. But in their view, he was the wrong kind of Christian, because they had already so politicized their vision of the gospel.

They were far more interested in the politics than they were, if put in evangelical terms, sharing the love of Jesus. This is not what interested these guys anymore, they wanted to win elections, they wanted access to power, and they got it.

And of course in Donald Trump, you have the hypothesis of this 50 years later, where this group — not these individual people but the group that they left behind — became totally politicized. They were no longer even a religion anymore, but a political movement of the far right and a very very effective legal movement too that has waged this campaign, and has now got to where you mentioned Donald Trump. Well, they got him in (the White House) based on a promise to name anti-abortion judges, which he did, three of them, and this is where we are right now.

I just want to read … a statement after the leak of this SCOTUS ruling by the National Association of Evangelicals. They say:

“Evangelical commitment to protecting the unborn stems from our deep understanding that God created human beings in his image and that every human life from conception to death has inestimable worth.”

You know, one has to, of course, take into account the religious beliefs, the moral beliefs, some would even say some of the scientific beliefs, in this statement because that is also part of this story. There’s a big part of the country and the world that believes precisely that.

Yeah, well first of all, the evangelicals do not believe that, because if they did, they would be fighting for paid parental leave so fathers and mothers could go home and be with their children instead of women going back to work three low-paid jobs with a terrible minimum wage, while they’re still bleeding from a cesarean section.

Evangelicals don’t care about that, or they would not have fought, as the Republicans did, against the child tax credit that for a brief shining moment lifted millions of American children out of poverty. But they’re not going to spend that money, they want to get rid of it, (the child tax credit), they call it socialism.

If this group of people was pro-life and, actually were consistent in their pro-life position, you could have some admiration for them, while disagreeing on the matter of choice. But they are an anti-family group of people, who put the welfare of billionaires in this country ahead of children, ahead of women, ahead of poor people, ahead of families.

They’re not even for paid parental leave, they’re not for the child tax credit, and they do nothing for children in terms of schools and education. They have never raised the minimum wage; they believe in people working two and three jobs on the margin of poverty, and tough luck, you’re on your own, so the minute that child is born they are anti-life. They’re not just anti-choice, so this is a hypocritical movement.

And then I want to say a second thing. When it comes down to these moral issues of choosing life, it all is a matter of trust. Who do we trust?

Do we trust judges on the Supreme Court or the federal bench put there by Donald Trump in a bargain with people like Ralph Reed and the other evangelical leaders, like Franklin Graham who said: “Look, here’s our list from the federalist society, you appoint them and we’ll bring you millions of voters, and it worked.

Or do we trust women? We have to trust someone’s opinion, and me personally, if I’ve learned anything over the last 70 years of being a father and grandfather and someone who does childcare for my own children and grandchildren, it’s this:

“If you don’t trust women, why would you trust a gynecologist, a male white gynecologist? If you don’t trust women to make choices, why would you trust a group of nine judges instead of the individual woman making the choice?”

I trust women. Does that mean I think women, or men, or non-binary people, always make the right choice? No, but you’ve got to give someone the choice in these matters, all matters where their educated child decides who to marry, be pair-bonded with, live a gay lifestyle, be non-binary. Whatever these choices are, they belong to individuals, they do not belong to the state, and so when you see what’s happening now, you understand that it’s not going to end there.


Well, that’s what I was going to ask you Frank — taking choices away — that’s what I was going to finish up with. Because you’re very passionate now, you obviously regret deeply how your talent got the US to this point in terms of a culture war.

But what do you think will happen next? We spoke to the opposing view yesterday on this program and gave her plenty of time to lay out her position. She said “no, no, no” — the fact that we don’t want abortion doesn’t mean that we’re going to lobby to turn back you know gay marriage interracial marriage or any of the other human rights issues adjudicated by the Supreme Court.

Do you believe that?


Of course not! Look at (Supreme Court Justice) Gorsuch. Look at these people who sat there in this in the Senate confirmation hearings and looked right into the eyes of the senators and said:

“We believe that this is a stated principle that will not be changed”

They gave their word, they said they would not change it. These people are political ideologues, and the same ideology that takes away the right to choose is going to take away the right to gay marriage.

The same ideology that is now changing the law in statehouse after statehouse not only in favor of Republican gerrymandering but the kind of thing that Donald Trump said, where he’s still claiming to be president, that somehow the vote was stolen.

Now all of a sudden voting rights themselves are in question.  If you had gone back 40 years ago, and asked Gerald Ford or any of these people are you ever going to be part of a Republican Party that’s going to push against voter rights for African Americans, he would have said “That’s never gonna happen”.

It’s happening now!

I have to explain something to you (address Christiania personally): I know you have an Iranian background, so you’re going to get these words. These people (i.e. the far-right Republican party) are not just fighting against Democrats, but anybody who believes in democracy.

{These are} People who believe in a theocracy … they want a Christian white nationalist version of what you have in Iran and Saudi Arabia today.

So if you want to live in that (kind of) country, then that’s where we’re headed!


Frank Schaefer, you were there at the beginning!

It’s really interesting and hugely instructive to hear this story.

Thank you very much for being with us tonight.


Frank Schaeffer

Frank Schaeffer is an American author, film director, screenwriter, and public speaker. He is the son of theologian and author Francis Schaeffer. He became a Hollywood film director and author, writing several internationally acclaimed novels depicting life in a strict evangelical household including Portofino, Zermatt, and Saving Grandma. Wikipedia


Born: August 03, 1952, Champéry, Switzerland

Other names: Francis Schaeffer, Francis A. Schaeffer, Franky Schaeffer

Parent(s): Francis Schaeffer, Edith Seville


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