When Lawrence Hogan was first elected to Congress in 1968, abortion was just a blip on the radar screen at the state level, and a total non-issue at the national level. But during his six years in Washington, abortion would permanently enter the national arena, and no one in Congress fought more valiantly for the cause of life than Hogan. It’s a pity he isn’t more remembered.
In 1970, New York legalized abortion, and did not require state residency to obtain one. This meant that someone in any of the 50 states with enough money for a round trip plane ticket to NYC could now legally have an abortion. Only three members of Congress seemed to notice, let alone care. The first two, John G. Schmitz (R-CA) and John Rarick (D-LA), were the sort of ultraconservative conspiracy theory-spouting cranks that no one pays much attention to. It was left to Hogan to be the ‘mainstream’ voice of the pro-life cause.
That cause would truly become national later that same year. The military, without approval from Congress or the president, authorized hospitals under their control to perform abortions, even if abortion was illegal in the state the hospital was located in. Hogan looked into overturning this policy by statute, but was ultimately able to convince President Nixon to unilaterally end the military policy. For the next two years, he, Schmitz and Rarick did their best to alert Congress about abortion’s march. In 1971, the big story was the Supreme Court’s ominously ambiguous ruling in United States v. Vuitch, and in 1972 the principal warning sign was a report from a federal family planning commission which recommended the legalization of abortion. As before, no one cared.
On January 22, 1973, Roe v. Wade hit the American government with all the fury of a diseased fruit fly (to shamelessly steal a phrase from Dave Barry). Nixon made no statement. On Capitol Hill, only two Congressmen immediately reacted. Feminist Bella Abzug (D-NY) gushed happily about the ruling, while James Allen (D-AL), a conservative Senator, gave a brief speech calling the decision morally wrong. After that, silence reigned for an entire week.
On the 30th, Hogan at last rose to speak. “I address the House today still badly shaken,” he began. “I cannot accept that it can be right – that it can be legal – to end one human life for the personal convenience of another.”
“I have lived 44 years, and I have always deeply loved my country. This is the first time in all those years that I have been in deep despair over the future of my country.”
“My initial reaction to the Supreme Court’s decision was that I did not want to be a part of a government which abandoned all respect for life. I seriously considered resigning from Congress. But I decided that the preferable course would be to stay and do whatever I can to remedy the Court’s action.”
His speech continued on, and proved prophetic in many instances. Most editorial pages in the country opined that Roe had ended the abortion controversy. Hogan correctly predicted that they had only inflamed it. Additionally, he correctly discerned, at a time when most were under the delusion that the ruling was moderate, that the decision had made abortion legal for any reason in all nine months of pregnancy. Also in the speech was a comparison to the Dred Scott case – very possibly the first time this now ubiquitous comparison has ever been made. Hogan concluded by introducing a Right to Life amendment to the Constitution.
His closing words, from the distance of 40 years, are chilling: “The Supreme Court has made its decision. Now the Congress, the state legislatures, and the American people themselves must make their decision.”
And deep down in his heart, Hogan himself knew what their decision would be. In a press conference held the same day, he answered a question about the odds of the amendment’s passage by admitting that “candidly, the hopes are slim. It might take decades to turn around this decision.” Judging by the wording of their questions, the reporters who showed up to the press conference were themselves strongly pro-life, and they were taken aback by this admission. “It’s still medically, morally, and ethically a human being,” one reporter mused aloud. If not legally stopped for decades, millions upon millions of babies will have already died.
“Yes,” replied Hogan, “it’s a very dark day.” Only half joking, he added that “maybe we should start shopping for another country.”
And of course, Hogan’s proposed amendment never went anywhere. In 1974, he ran for Governor of Maryland and lost, and his suburban House seat was taken over by a pro-choice Democrat named Gladys Spellman. Today, his old seat is held by none other than Steny Hoyer.
In retrospect, I really wish he had resigned. As hard as he tried, he was never able to make any significant headway against Roe during his final two years in Congress. But his resignation would have been a powerful statement, much like Justice Curtis’ resignation following the Dred Scott decision.
As of this writing, Lawrence Hogan is still alive, and presumably he still lives in Maryland. If there’s one person who I’d love to see interviewed for the 40 year anniversary of Roe next year, it’s him.