The Most Pro-life President Ever Was…

George Herbert Walker Bush??

The greatest White House ally the pro-life movement ever had.

No, the competition isn’t especially strong, but a good case can be made that George H. W. Bush is in fact the most pro-life president we’ve ever had.

This is especially topical now that Romney has essentially wrapped up the Republican nomination. Romney is not especially trusted by conservatives, or by the pro-life movement. In his 1994 and 2002 political campaigns, he repeated again and again that he was emphatically pro-choice. His sudden conversion to the pro-life side around 2006 appears to be nothing more than the crassest sort of political opportunism.

The political life of George H. W. Bush followed a similar trajectory. He was one of the principal masterminds behind the Family Planning Act of 1970, and when he ran for president a decade later, he disclaimed any desire to see Roe v. Wade overturned. After becoming Reagan’s vice president though, Bush quietly switched to the pro-life position. In the 1988 Republican primaries, he managed to weather attacks from Jack Kemp and Bob Dole, whose pro-life bona fides were beyond question.

Two decades later, I still doubt that Bush ever had any truly deep philosophical opposition to legal abortion. And yet, I would say he compares favorably to any other president who has served since Roe v. Wade. The only real competition comes from Reagan and Bush Jr.

The Souter Pick

If it weren’t for one inexcusable and tragic lapse in judgment, the competition wouldn’t even be close. Nevertheless, the fact remains that Bush was responsible for putting David Souter on the Supreme Court – a terrible decision which had repercussions far beyond the narrow issue of abortion. Given the frequency of 5-4 splits on the Supreme Court these days, a good case can be made that the Souter pick was the single greatest misfortune to befall American conservatives in at least the past half century.

But what makes the Souter pick most tragic of all was its striking improbability. When you look at the list of those considered for Supreme Court slots during the Bush administration, Souter truly was the single turd amongst a collection of  diamonds. Clarence Thomas, in my opinion the greatest Justice of all time, was of course given the nod one year after Souter. Other candidates included Edith Jones, Laurence Silberman, Emilio Garza, and Kenneth Starr. Not even Reagan (who appointed O’Connor and Kennedy) or Bush Jr. (who wanted to appoint Harriet Miers and Alberto Gonzales) can compare in terms of overall quality of the pool of candidates.

Judge Edith Jones

In 2004, the aforementioned Edith Jones wrote a scathing critique of Roe. “The perverse result of the Court’s having determined through Constitutional adjudication this fundamental social policy, which affects over a million women and unborn babies each year, is that the facts no longer matter. This is a peculiar outcome for a Court so committed to “life” that it struggles with the particular facts of dozens of death penalty cases each year.” Fourteen years earlier, on the morning of July 23, 1990, Bush had narrowed his choice to Jones and Souter. In what he would characterize as a “very close call,” he chose Souter.

But what if God had been kinder, and this “close” choice had gone the other way? History would record that Bush replaced liberal giants Brennan and Marshall with conservative giants Jones and Thomas. It would have been an accomplishment for the ages, and it truly did  come agonizingly close to actually happening. Bush, I believe, deserves our sympathy rather than our condemnations. Even the greatest of statesmen can make one sadly crucial mistake.

The Rape and Incest Vetoes

Since the start of the Clinton administration, federal funding of abortion has generally been prohibited except when the pregnancy endangers the life of the mother, or resulted from rape or incest. Before then, rape and incest related abortions were denied federal funding as well. During the Reagan years, this reflected the will of Congress. Reagan did nothing except sign the bills into law.

But then in 1989, in the aftermath of the Webster ruling, Congress abruptly lurched in the pro-choice direction. Rape and incest were added to the mother’s life as allowable funding exceptions in the bills passed by Congress. Time after time, throughout all four years of his presidency, Bush vetoed these bills, and asked Congress to drop those exceptions. Time after time, Congress fell just short of being able to override these vetoes, and caved to Bush’s demands.

Even in the best of times, quibbling over abortions for rape and incest victims is pretty much political suicide. But to do so from 1989 to 1992, an era when many longtime pro-life stalwarts were abandoning ship, was truly a remarkable act of courage. That Bush never backed down in the face of overwhelming opposition is almost a miracle.

He talked a good talk, but didn't actually do much for the pro-life cause as president

Reagan and Bush Jr. make for interesting contrasts. Legislation to ban abortion during Reagan’s first term never got off the ground, in large part because Reagan gave it only the most tepid, halfhearted support imaginable. He was unwilling to go to bat for it. During his second term, Republicans in Congress did not even attempt to advance any major pro-life initiatives. George W. Bush, to his credit, got the partial-birth abortion ban into law, and twice vetoed attempts to fund embryonic stem cell research, but unlike his father he freely signed into law funding bills with rape and incest exceptions.


Would Mitt Romney be anything like George Bush as president? There’s no way to know for sure. On the one hand, we can pretty much rule out the possibility of him re-opening the war over rape and incest funding exceptions. On the other hand, the likelihood of him appointing another David Souter to the Supreme Court seems minimal – Supreme Court vacancies have become a much bigger deal than they were in 1990. My point is that there likely would not be much difference between a Romney presidency and a Santorum presidency. Certainly Romney is not ideal, but if the Bush presidency is any indication, even the most reluctant of pro-life converts can still do a lot.

On (the lack of) Female Pro-life Politicians

Kristi Noem (R-SD)

One of the most underrepresented groups in politics today is the pro-life woman. Polls consistently show that women’s overall views on abortion are not really that different from men’s. In fact, on some occasions, polls will even peg women as slightly more pro-life than men.

And yet, the growing club of female politicians continues to be heavily dominated by those at the far pro-choice end of the spectrum. People like Nancy Pelosi or Debbie Wasserman Schultz can all too easily tar all pro-life legislation with the “anti-women” brush. Meanwhile, the women in politics who can say ‘Pelosi and Wasserman Schultz do not speak for me’ remain tragically outnumbered. Their voices, and the millions of voices nationwide which they represent, are all but lost.

Fortunately the situation has started to improve. The all-time low point came after the 1992 “Year of the Woman” elections. 27 new women were sent to Congress – every last one of them pro-choice. When the new Congress convened, 50 out of the 53 women were pro-choice, including 10 out of 13 Republicans.

Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA)

Not coincidentally, 1992 was also the year of the Susan B. Anthony List’s founding. In the two decades since then, there’s been a lot of progress made toward getting the voices of pro-life women heard. I did some historical research on the breakdown of Republican women who have served in Congress since the Roe decision. Some of my classifications are admittedly judgment calls, but the overall picture is indisputable.

Republican women first elected from 1973-1979:

Pro-life – 1

Pro-choice – 4

Republican women first elected from 1980-1989:

Pro-life – 5

Pro-choice – 9

Kelly Ayotte (R-NH)

Republican women first elected from 1990-1999:

Pro-life – 8 (all after the SBA List’s 1992 founding)

Pro-choice – 11

Republican women first elected from 2000-2009:

Pro-life – 15

Pro-choice – 4

Republican women first elected from 2010-present:

Pro-life – 9

Pro-choice – 1

What a difference the SBA List has made! Hopefully in the future, the numbers will continue to move in a dramatically pro-life direction. To achieve anything close to overall parity though, progress will eventually have to be made within the Democratic party as well – a tall order indeed. One day, I hope that the pro-choice lobby’s claim to speak for women will be so implausible as to be laughable.

Pray to End Abortion

It doesn’t get any more subversive than this. It’s one thing to vote to end abortion, or to protest to end abortion. Those are commonplace tools of democracy. But pray to end abortion? That’s not a democratic method – and that’s why it’s one of my favorite pro-life slogans.

When man struggles with man, whoever is more powerful will just about always win. Which side (if any) is good, and which side is evil have no bearing. This is the principle of “might makes right.” Life is not like some inspirational sports movie where a plucky band of lovable underdogs will inevitably win and create the happy ending. In real life, evil wins regularly. More than a century ago, Friedrich Nietzsche wrote of a coming age when civilization would embrace the total devaluation of the weak and the voiceless.

There is nothing to life that has value, except the degree of power – assuming that life itself is the will to power. Morality guarded the underprivileged against nihilism by assigning to each an infinite value, a metaphysical value, and by placing each in an order that did not agree with the worldly order of rank and power… Supposing that the faith in this morality would perish, then the underprivileged would no longer have their comfort–and they would perish.

And perish the unborn did, at a global rate of millions each year. At its heart, “choice” is about power – the power to kill an innocent human who is totally powerless to fight back. And, being outnumbered, those who want to provide legal protection for the unborn are quite powerless as well. In the United States, election after election produces no substantial change in the law. In other (allegedly) civilized nations like Canada and the United Kingdom, voices for the unborn are so outnumbered that abortion has virtually vanished as a political issue.

By voting, protesting, or using other human means, legal abortion will never be ended. It may be reduced by small increments, and this is a very good thing, because each life saved does have, contra Nietzsche, infinite value. But total political embrace of the right to life in the west? Forget about it – those in power have a stranglehold which we are too weak to break, even with truth and justice planted so firmly on our side.

And that’s why the statement “pray to end abortion” is so powerful. An electoral and constitutional lock on the right to reproductive “choice” can be maintained rather easily. But God cannot be similarly kept in check. The scriptures testify over and over that what God ordains comes to pass. As one verse in Isaiah 40 puts it, “He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.” If we pray to end abortion, God can actually do it, and there’s not a thing in the world the abortion industry could do to stop it.

So by all means, pray to end abortion! It may well turn out to be the most important work ever done for the pro-life cause.