I would like to add three comments about Chronicles Editor Paul Gottfried’s acute analysis of America’s historical conflicts over abortion (“Feminism Left and Right Drove America’s Permissive Abortion Laws” January 2022 Chronicles).
First, as I have documented in numerous publications, while I would never discount the influence of the women’s rights movement of the 1960s, we mustn’t forget that the population control movement also played a pivotal role in paving the way for acceptance of legalized abortion in the 1970s. Indeed, late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg not so long ago conceded that worries about population growth in the early 1970s likely influenced the justices of the Supreme Court in their Roe v. Wade decision.
Moreover, the overwhelming evidence shows that in the lead-up to Roe v. Wade, the ranks of abortion advocacy groups like the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (NARAL), the National Organization for Women, and Planned Parenthood Federation of America were full of population control activists who frequently invoked population growth as a justification for legalizing abortion. As the 1970s wore on, the official rationale of these groups for legalized abortion increasingly emphasized individual rights rather than social goals. But the road to Roe v. Wade unfolded against the backdrop of mounting worry that America and the world were overpopulated and that abortion was one of several methods for curtailing fertility.
Second, by correctly noting that prior to the 1970s, Republicans like Ronald Reagan and Nelson Rockefeller did not oppose legal abortion, Prof. Gottfried doesn’t do full justice to the enormous sea change that has occurred in Republican ranks since then. The growth of the religious right and pro-life movement in the 1970s has transformed American politics to this day. In 2019, when the Senate voted on Donald Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to SCOTUS, only one Republican—Senator Lisa Murkowski from Alaska—voted against him. Pro-life activists have been disappointed mightily over the years by Republican failure to overturn Roe v. Wade, but the country now has a huge patchwork of abortion-restriction laws, all due to Republican lawmakers.
Third, Prof. Gottfried would be a tad more optimistic about America’s battle over abortion if he lived in Canada. Here, there are no abortion laws whatsoever at either federal or provincial levels. The current Liberal government under prime minister Justin Trudeau has decreed that no Liberal Member of Parliament is free to vote his conscience on legislation that has to do with abortion. And Trudeau announced last year he doesn’t support conscience rights for health care personnel who don’t want to perform either abortions or medical mercy-killings. The opposition Conservatives, for their part, frequently issue statements pledging that they will not introduce any abortion legislation in Canada’s Parliament.
So things could be a lot worse for Americans who view abortion as an ethical and social disaster. They could live in Canada.
Prince Edward Island, Canada
Regarding the editor’s article on abortion, I believe abortion is a crime against humanity and should be outlawed. We need to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision and get back to cherishing life in this country. A country that murders its children cannot be far from self-destruction.
In 1973, the Supreme Court decided to legalize abortion by a 7-2 vote. Five of the seven justices in the majority were Republican appointees. Back then, the Republican motto was “government is best that governs least.” Hence, the Republicans giveth and the Republicans taketh away.
In his January Chronicles column (“Feminism Left and Right Drove America’s Permissive Abortion Laws”) Editor Paul Gottfried takes a cheap—and unfair—shot at Ronald Reagan, asserting that Reagan was not genuinely pro-life when he was president. That is untrue, as Prof. Gottfried would have discovered had he researched the actual history of Ronald Reagan on the abortion issue.
Indeed, as Governor of California, Reagan did sign proabortion legislation in his early months in office. As Paul Kengor writes in The Judge, his 2007 biography of one of Reagan’s most trusted advisors, William Clark, Reagan “admitted that abortion had been ‘a subject I’d never given much thought to.’” Judge Clark, who was staunchly pro-life, educated Ronald Reagan on the abortion issue, and Reagan completely changed his heart on the importance of the protection of innocent human life.
Kengor writes that Clark said
Reagan was shocked at the unintended consequences of his signature [approving California’s 1967 Therapeutic Abortion Act]and left with an “undefinable sense of guilt” after abortions skyrocketed in California. It was “the only time as Governor or President that Reagan acknowledged a mistake on major legislation.” Clark called the incident “perhaps Reagan’s greatest disappointment in public life.”
Ronald Reagan was the strongest pro-life president in my lifetime. As a Reagan appointee, I personally witnessed actions by the president that reflected his pro-life convictions. His beliefs on this issue were deep and sincere, in spite of the efforts of Nancy, his proabortion wife, to change his position.
President Reagan led the way to turning the GOP away from its pro-abortion stance into a pro-life party. It is true that many Republican elected officials are pro-life in name only, George Herbert Walker Bush and George W. Bush being prime examples. But, that was not the case with Ronald Reagan. He had a true conversion of the heart of that issue, thanks in no small part to the influence of Bill Clark.
Reagan Administration Director of
ACTION (now known as AmeriCorps)
Port Aransas, Texas
Prof. Gottfried replies:
I did not mean to suggest that President Ronald Reagan did not identify himself with the right-to-life cause. Indeed he went so far in taking that stand as chief executive that he favored a right-to-life amendment (which of course had no chance of passing). Whether he also wanted to be seen addressing the March for Life remains an open question.
What is more relevant in any case is that by the 1980s, opposing abortion was an almost exclusively Republican campaign issue, something it had not been when Reagan signed his Therapeutic Abortion Act in California in 1967. I do accept the view that Reagan “evolved” on that issue, and I apologize if my editorial suggested otherwise. But I see no reason to downplay the seriousness of the bill that Reagan signed as governor. Under the guise of providing a “therapeutic” solution to, among others, the emotionally distressed, it opened the door to easily accessible abortion procedures nationwide. As Governor Reagan noted with alarm, the number of “therapeutic abortions” surged in California from 518 in 1967 to 15,339 two years later. I’m sure that Mr. Pauken is correct that Reagan later regretted his support for what was then one of the two most abortion-friendly laws in the country. What must be kept in mind is that by the time Reagan became president, the GOP had already become the right-to-life party. In 1980, no Republican who was not emphatically against abortion would have received the presidential nomination. That was not the case when Reagan was governor of California and Nelson Rockefeller governor of New York.
Thanks for printing Patrick Casey’s excellent essay, “Conservativism has Conserved Nothing” (November 2021 Chronicles), in which he correctly refers to the former Bruce Jenner’s possessive pronoun as “his” and not “hers.” But I note Casey introduces Jenner as “Caitlyn (formerly Bruce).” Jenner’s name change was done legally, so Casey is not inaccurate. But why recognize a legally permissible name change under the circumstance of a biologically impossible sex change?
For the sake of courtesy, one could refer to Jenner as “formerly Bruce (legally known as Caitlyn).” Referring to him as Caitlyn is still playing along with, if not actually ceding ground to, the left, which Casey writes that we shouldn’t do. It’s a few extra words, for which writers and editors are always on the watch, but it’s more precise. Calling Jenner “formerly Bruce” is historically accurate and doesn’t even commit the newly-minted supposed sin against trans rights, that of “deadnaming.”
The Woodlands TX