Another Retro (and Prophetic) Pro-life Article

99% of the Congressional Record is crap, but if you sift through it patiently, you can find some true diamonds. I already post one haunting and prophetic pro-life article from 1970 that was buried in the Record. Here’s another one from the same year, which was inserted in the Record, as one might expect, by our old pal Representative Schmitz (R-CA).

America’s – any people’s – moral standards are intimately connected with its political standards. The moral ideas a people holds, its views of right and wrong, will be reflected in its laws, its politics. But the other side of the coin, though not so often noticed, is just as plain: what a people believes politically will help shape its morality.

                No one can be surprised that a pro-abortion politics has gained favor in a country in which a large majority of the population no longer takes seriously Christian teaching on life, sex, the family; in which, indeed, anti-Christian views are actively promoted in nearly all of its communications media, nearly all of its schools. Still, abortion is far from universally approved; few Americans as of now would wish to destroy their own young, and most probably think it wrong, or at least unpleasant, for others to do so. How, then, to explain the precipitous crumbling of civil opposition to the liberty to kill?

“I have always abhorred the idea of abortion,” said John A. Burns, Governor of Hawaii, a Catholic who attends 6:30 Mass every morning before work. “I believe it a gravely sinful act. I have considered abortion carried out any time after conception to be the taking of human life.” What is more, the Governor wished his people to know, the Burnses had been faithful to their convictions in their private lives. Thirty-three years ago Mrs. Burns, a polio victim, was urged by every doctor in sight to abort a child; she steadfastly refused; she lives today, as does her child, himself a father of two children.

So what would Governor Burns do with the “abortion on demand” bill which the Hawaii legislature had placed on his desk? He would not sign it; but neither would he veto it as he had been urged to do “by a number of my fellow Roman Catholics who do not appear to understand precisely the separate roles of state authority and Church authority.” A governor, Burns explained as he permitted the bill to become law, “must never let his private political and religious convictions unduly influence his judgment as governor of all the people.”

John Burns, American, was certainly right about that. It is a central precept of American politics that religious is a private affair, and that to extend its influence to the public realm is a violation of religious liberty. John Kennedy, American, took the same position ten years before on birth control. John Courtney Murray, S.J., American, had even earlier contrived a theoretical justification of the position: by baptizing the American concept of “religious pluralism” Murray and his followers sought to make the Catholic Church into an American church. They do seem to have had a remarkable success. All of America’s household goddesses and gods – liberty, democracy, pluralism, separation of Church and state – remain firmly on their pedestals; and all the altars are now to be freshened with the sacrificial blood of children.

In the premises, what is the present duty of the Catholic bishops of America? That they have a responsibility – the chief responsibility – seems plain enough. After all, it is the famous profession, the astonishing boast, of the Catholic Church through all the centuries that to her uniquely has been confided the Patrimony of the Poor. Others may step forward to aid the poor, acting in her name as it were; but the burden is here before Heaven: if others claim impotence or weariness or distractions by other concerns, she never can. And of course there will never ever be any poor who are poorer than unborn children, who are not yet favored with even the power to cry, to as much as murmur a protest against an attack on the single possession they have: life. The poor we will always have with us, but now there is this poor who is to be denied even the opportunity to share the inheritance of the earth. If mother, father, doctor, nurse, the whole of society’s mores, the whole of its civil authority, if all conspire to destroy this child, who – what – is left to defend him except the Church of the Poor?

The Church acts formally in such matters through her shepherds: her bishops. How have the American bishops responded to the campaign to persuade the American civil authority to withdraw its protection from the unborn? The record shows that they have opposed the campaign. But the record also shows that they have done so less vigorously, less consistently, certainly less conspicuously than they have begged funds from that same civil authority for their failing school system.

To be sure, the record shows occasional bright spots. The lead story of the March 13 Catholic Virginian, the official organ of the Diocese of Richmond, relates that Auxiliary Bishop Timothy Harrington of Worcester made a spirited appearance before a committee of the Massachusetts legislature to protest the liberalization of murder. But the same story relates that the Virginia legislature was about to adopt a policy authorizing murder (it did later in the week), and that meanwhile a Senate hearing was to be held; there was no mention of the attendance of the Bishop of Richmond, John J. Russell. Bishop Russell, of course, is opposed to abortion; he has said so, and the parish bulletins in his diocese advised you “to contact your State Senator.” But this bishop was not raising hell, and his flock, and his fellow citizens knew that his Church was not raising hell. So why should they?

Maybe the torch lighted in Massachusetts would rally the faithful? A difficulty was that the Primate of Massachusetts, Richard Cardinal Cushing, had just been quoted in Life magazine (Feb. 27) to the effect that anti-abortion laws are not only unnecessary but undesirable: “Catholics do not need the support of civil law to be faithful to their convictions, and they do not seek to impose by law their moral views on other members of society.” Of course this good man is a hopeless eccentric; quoting him is as cruel as stealing candy from a child; but the fact is that not a single American prelate stepped forward to repudiate Cushing’s announcement.

As so it has gone. Where the bishops are not silent, they are discreet, polite, very proper participants in the American political order. At their last semi-annual meeting, in November, they issued a statement on abortion, advising the country that killing babies was a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. Which, since everything else seems to be, it probably is; but the point was not likely to interest the reigning breed of judges, let alone arouse the population. Let us agree that a ringing invocation by the Catholic bishops of the real authorities – the law of God, the natural rights of the innocent, the Christian and all civilized tradition – would cut no ice whatever with America’s anti-life regime (although it would add a nice adornment to the record). But if the bishops cannot appeal effectively to the finer instincts, there should be no problem at all in reaching the regime’s baser instincts. After all, they do have political clout, as does anyone who can speak plausibly  for a quarter of the population – yes, there are Catholics who are tolerant of baby killing, but they are offset by a still considerable number of non-Catholics who are not, who would be quite happy to have some spokesman for their sentiments. What if the American bishops were to rise to the defense of innocent children with something like the urgency, the militance, the determination – the seriousness – with which innocents are being attacked by CBS, the Cowles and Luce publications, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Women’s Lib, the ACLU, Judge Bazelon, Senator Packwood, Dr. DuBridge, Dr. Egeberg, whoever has spoken last for the Nixon court? What if our shepherds were to become fierce?

What if they do not? Well, there is likely to be a judgment. It is a safe estimate of the next few years that the American civil authority will have authorized the slaughter of more innocents, within a shorter period of time, than the German civil authority did under Hitler. This will not be our bishop’s fault. The extermination of several million Jews was not the German bishop’s fault. But some questions will be asked, which will be somewhat more difficult to answer in the American case than in Germany.

The failure of the German bishops to intervene vigorously against the Nazi genocide is explained on several grounds: a) they were not apprised, or at least not reliably, that the atrocities were taking place; b) to the extent they were, they were helpless to oppose them – what could be more futile than denouncing the Gestapo? – and besides c) they had the agonizing pastoral obligation to avoid inviting a comparable persecution of Catholics.

May we agree that none of these explanations will be available to the American bishops? Knowledge of the American abortion mania could not be more widespread, more detailed. Mobilizing voter blocs, vigorous use of the media protests, demonstrations – far from being ineffective in America – are the way of getting things done in our pluralistic democracy. And while persecutions of Catholics may come sooner than anyone thinks, America at the moment is a paper state compared to Hitler’s; at worst, a Church Militant on the abortion issue would run the risk of losing the government’s financial favors.

There is a further ground of comparison. The Jewish innocents were, for the most part, able-bodied men and women, who could at least put up a struggle in their own defense. The American innocents are too poor even to do that.

This is hard talk to the bishops, because we wish to hear hard talk from them at their April meeting in San Francisco; not the usual jeremiads, but a fighting declaration of war against the whole abortion establishment – most definitely including the American civil authorities, legislative, judicial, and executive, who are fast establishing the most sordid of crimes as high national policy.”

Roe Turns 2,000

Yesterday evening, Representative Donald Payne, Jr. (D-NJ) took the oath of office. By my calculation, he is the 2,000th voting member of Congress that has served since the Roe v. Wade decision of January 22, 1973.**

Since time immemorial, pro-life activists have told the world that Roe was an undemocratic ruling – that it unjustly took the abortion law away from the people and their elected representatives. And yet, for 40 years, it has been a constant topic of debate in American politics. Nearly every one of the 2,000 men and women to have served in Congress since the decision has had to take a public position on the ruling. What other Supreme Court decision can you say that about? Is there any judicial opinion in American history which has so relentlessly been subjected to democratic election and debate?

It’s time to stop blaming the Court. No Justice from the Roe Court remains on the Court today. Every Justice now sitting on the Court was confirmed by Senators elected long after abortion became a political issue. Opportunity after opportunity to stop pro-choice judges arose. And in each case, the democratically elected Senate, representing the voice of the people, gave these pro-abortion judges lifetime tenure.

Neither has there been any shortage of time to pass some sort of Constitutional amendment. Indeed, Senate committee hearings on such an amendment were conducted in 1974, 1975, 1981, and 1983. The House had committee hearings in 1976. Collectively, they are impressively thorough. Only in 1983 did the committee see fit to send an amendment to the entire Congress for approval. It was not a pure right to life amendment, but it did at least give the states the power to ban abortion. Only 49 Senators voted yes – well short of the 2/3rds needed for passage.

More recently, in 1999 and 2003, the Senate passed symbolic resolutions which declared approval of the Roe ruling. And pro-life forces in the Senate have only dwindled since those years.

There have been a small handful of legislative victories. During the Bush years, the Born Alive Infants Protection Act passed. But even this paltry achievement is somewhat tarnished by having a current President who opposes it. The Bush years also gave us the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, which took a decade to pass, and the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which expressly disclaimed any intent to limit or curb legal abortion. Real achievements, but mere pittance in the face of more than 50 million casualties.

By far the most significant victory came in the limitation of taxpayer funded abortions. But even this consensus appears to be falling apart.  Prior to the Clinton years, tax dollars were forbidden even for rape and incest abortions. When George W. Bush replaced Clinton in 2001, Congress never even attempted to eliminate the new rape and incest exceptions. These days, there is talk of eliminating the Hyde amendment altogether.

Just yesterday, Rasmussen released a new poll about abortion. 54% of respondents called themselves pro-choice, and only 38% of respondents called themselves pro-life. Polls haven’t been that bad for our side since the early ’90s. You can debate the precise accuracy of the poll, but you cannot deny that a majority of Americans favor legal abortion. For forty years, this nation has wanted killing, and the 2,000 men and women democratically elected to Congress have done nothing more than reflect this consensus.


**This is not counting Richard McIntyre (R-IN), who won a seat in 1984, voted for Speaker, but then was denied the chance to take the oath of office. I don’t have time to go into the details, but essentially the Democratic controlled House brazenly stole McIntyre’s seat. Let that be a lesson to anyone who still thinks Congressional Democrats are basically honest and decent human beings.

The Ever Dimming Trophy of Iowa, 1978

It looked so simple back in 1973.

Less than three months earlier, Nixon had tarred McGovern as the candidate of abortion. He won 49 states. Referendums in Michigan and North Dakota rejected plans to liberalize the life-of-mother-only abortion laws in those states. In both referendums, the pro-life vote actually ran ahead of the vote for Nixon. Massachusetts, the one state which went for McGovern, was in the process of amending their Constitution to make unborn life even more legally secure. Even in New York, the legislature was now attempting to repeal its 1970 abortion-on-demand law. In December, 1972, National Review even ran a brief editorial lauding the apparent death of the “feticide” movement in America.

Then in January came Roe v. Wade, which was more radical than both New York’s law, and McGovern’s position in the recent election. Surely this decision would be overturned quickly by Constitutional amendment. And if not, surely voters would elect pro-life Congressmen at the earliest possible opportunity to pass such an amendment.

Well, not exactly.

Abortion did make a difference in one of the first post-Roe races. In early 1974, a special election was held in a Republican leaning district in Ohio. Tom Luken, the Democrat, pledged to back a right to life amendment. William Keating, the Republican, hedged. Luken won, but the victory was short-lived; when the election for a full term came around in November, Keating triumphed in the rematch.

A few states over in Kansas, Bob Dole narrowly edged out William Roy in a Senate election. For years afterward, Roy blamed his loss on the abortion issue. And yet the Dole-Roy contest was the exception. Everywhere else, the legally sanctioned execution of babies was essentially a non-issue. More important in the minds of most voters, apparently, was a trivial hotel break-in more than two years earlier.

We come now, to the great trophy of pro-life political activism: the Iowa Senate race of 1978. For more than 30 years, this race has been cited as proof of a pro-life voting bloc’s potential power. Democrat Dick Clark won an upset victory in 1972, and proceeded to become a loyal pro-choice vote for the ensuing six years. Republicans ran Roger Jepsen, a minimally talented candidate with little to recommend him other than a solid commitment to the right to life movement. Indeed, Jepsen’s campaign against Clark consisted of almost nothing else. He targeted heavily Democratic regions of the state with pro-life advertising, and in the end, enough Democrats crossed party lines to put Jepsen over the top.

For the next several weeks, the national media engaged in extensive concern trolling about the horrors of single-issue voting. How heartbreaking that such a hardworking Senator was thrown out because voters disagreed with him on one issue! Thankfully, Iowa paid no heed, and repeated the same performance two years later, ousting pro-choice Senator John Culver in favor of pro-life challenger Chuck Grassley.

But then, sometime in the early ’80s, Iowans finally did embrace the media’s advice, and got sick of making every election about abortion. In 1984, when Roger Jepsen ran for re-election, the issue played virtually no role in his loss to the virulently pro-choice Tom Harkin.

Single-issue voting returned with a vengeance in 1990, when Harkin ran for re-election. In contrast to the indomitably liberal Harkin, Republican candidate Tom Tauke was a moderate on virtually every issue. Except for abortion, that is. Like Roger Jepsen in 1978, Tom Harkin centered his campaign around abortion, but this time it was Tauke’s pro-life stance which was supposed to offend the majority of Iowa voters. Harkin’s gamble paid off, and Tauke went down to defeat. In twelve years, Iowa had undergone a complete 180.

With each passing year, the luster of Jepsen’s 1978 triumph dims a bit more. For whatever reason, voters will not throw out a Congressman just because he or she is pro-choice. Probably the saddest example of this general rule was former Texas Representative Chet Edwards. Edwards supported partial-birth abortion, and yet his lopsidedly conservative district sent him back to Congress time after time. It took the wave election of 2010 for Edwards to finally go down.

These days, it seems the only elections swung by the abortion issue are swung in favor of the pro-choice candidate. Akin. Mourdock. I need say nothing else. Voters will not send supporters of partial-birth abortion packing, but they will deny support to opponents of rape and incest exceptions.

Pro-choice candidates for president have now taken the majority of the popular vote in 5 out the last 6 elections. What’s that? Polls say that 50% call themselves “pro-life” and only 41% call themselves “pro-choice”? Well, you can keep your polls. I prefer to let the American electorate’s actions at the ballot box speak for themselves. Whatever the polls say, fellow travelers, I can tell you only this: we’re not in 1978 Iowa any more.

Principles of Pro-life Voting

“Vote Pro-life.”

A common refrain this time of year. It’s good advice, but it requires more than a bit of interpretation. According to the Sojourners crowd, voting pro-life means casting ballots for unyielding stalwarts of taxpayer funded abortion (but don’t worry, they still want to reduce the incidence of abortion /sarc). Others have far stricter litmus tests, like support for a right to life Constitutional amendment. Here are my own, non-definitive thoughts about the best ways to truly vote pro-life

What is ‘Pro-life’?

Kay Bailey Hutchison, a retiring Republican Senator from Texas, is on record as favoring the right to abortion. In 2003, she voted to support the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade. And yet, she usually got high marks from pro-life organizations based on her Senate voting record. In the present Congress for example, she voted to defund Planned Parenthood, and supported the Blunt amendment to overturn the HHS mandate. Essentially, she’s a pro-life vote on almost anything short of an outright ban.

Some pro-life organizations advise against voting for legislators like Hutchison. I disagree with that thinking. Hutchison is not ideal, but I will gladly accept smaller legislative victories like defunding PP. If a legislator will vote the right way on every measure that actually has a decent chance of passing, that’s good enough for me.

For the purposes of voting, I consider a candidate “pro-life” if they oppose taxpayer funding of abortion, support conscience protections for medical professionals and institutions, and support common sense restrictions on practices like partial-birth or sex selective abortion. Some Democrats do not even meet these minimal standards, but still insist on disingenuously calling themselves “pro-life” –  for this reason, be wary of any Democrat who applies that label to himself.

Pro-choice Republican vs. Pro-choice Democrat

This is always a painful match-up. As much as it grieves me, I would probably vote for the Republican. First of all, just as “pro-life” Democrats can actually be quite pro-choice, many “pro-choice” Republicans will often vote with pro-lifers depending on the precise issue. In 2011, there was one vote where every Republican in the House of Representatives, including those who call themselves “pro-choice”, voted against taxpayer funded abortion. Also consider that if there had been just one more Republican in the Senate in 2009, whether pro-life or pro-choice, there would be no Obamacare today.

Sometimes though, the pro-choice Republican really is a total dud. Jacob Javits, a New York Senator until 1981, is a good example of a legislator who was utterly worthless to conservatives of any stripe. Even in those cases, I would still vote for the Republican. With a few exceptions, like the West Virginia legislature, no pro-life legislation is ever likely to get through unless Republicans have majorities. Committee chairmanships are extremely important.

What about voting for a third party candidate, or not voting? I look at either of those actions as basically ceding the decision to the rest of the electorate – saying that you do not care which of the two principal candidates wins. Because of committee chairmanships, I think there’s almost always reason to care who wins. I will admit an exception to this rule if the vast majority of Republicans in a state are pro-choice. This may or may not be the case in some of the New England states.

There is also the argument that it is best for the Republican party to be purified, and therefore pro-choice Republicans should be stopped whenever possible. This is a powerful line of reasoning. But in my opinion it should be reserved for primaries. If a pro-choice Republican cannot be taken down in a primary, the problem is not with the candidate – the problem is with the Republican voters.

Pro-life Republican vs. Pro-life Democrat

30 years ago, voting for the Democrat might have been a good idea. Pro-life Democrats were common in the party, and it would have been a shrewd move to help keep them common. Today, however, pro-life Democrats are almost extinct, and they’re not coming back. So you’re better off sticking with the Republican. A voter can rightfully question why a pro-life politician would purposefully align himself with such a horrifyingly anti-life political party. And once again, there is the question of which party controls the legislature. With Pelosi as Speaker, or Leahy as chairman of the judiciary committee, it’s cold comfort that some of the Democrats who put them in those positions are pro-life.

Pro-choice Republican vs. Pro-life Democrat

This might be the trickiest match up of all. Once again, voters should remember that “pro-life” Democrats and “pro-choice” Republicans do not always live up to their labels. And once again, voters should remember that leadership on the committees and in the legislature as a whole is crucially important. For these reasons, the Indiana Right to Life chapter decided in 2010 that they would no longer endorse pro-life Democrats. As a spokesman said, “We want people to understand that Democratic leaders have forced us to draw this hard line. We’ve tried to work with Democratic legislators in good faith, but their actions speak louder than words. Our legislation is killed every year by Democrats in the state legislature. Top Democratic leaders in Washington are dismantling pro-life gains we’ve worked for over four decades to achieve. And now we have been betrayed by three Indiana Democratic congressmen on the health care reform vote at the precise time when we needed them the most.”

Thus, much as I would hate to do so, I think I would vote for the Republican in most of these cases. But I can think of some circumstances where voting for the Democrat would be better. If Republicans have a safe legislative majority, but many of the Republican legislators are pro-choice, voting for the Democrat is a very wise move. Also, if it’s a race for governor, I would not hesitate at all to vote for a strongly pro-life Democrat. Finally, in states where Democrats dominate the legislatures, I would definitely vote for the Democrat. In Rhode Island for example, the Republicans have no hope of capturing the legislature for the foreseeable future, but there still is a very strong pro-life presence within the Democratic party.

The 1971 Kennedy Letter, and the Tragic Mirage of Pro-life Liberalism

If you’ve been around the pro-life movement for a while, you’ve probably heard of the letter Senator Ted Kennedy wrote in 1971 defending the unborn’s right to life.

If not, read it for yourself right now.

Whether or not the letter really reflected Kennedy’s views at the time is unknown. On the one hand, it was almost certainly some staffer or intern who wrote the letter rather than the Senator himself. Furthermore, Kennedy proved a loyal pro-choice vote in Congress the moment the ink dried on Roe v. Wade, and there is also some good evidence that his pro-choice stance dates as far back as 1964. On the other hand, it seems unlikely that Kennedy’s office would bother writing such an extensive letter to a non-consituent if Kennedy did not strongly believe in what the letter said.

Regardless of the letter’s sincerity, I have always found it a very moving, and inspiring bit of writing. In just a few short paragraphs, the pro-life case is laid out clearly, lovingly, and convincingly. The very last sentence is especially poignant

When history looks back to this era it should recognize this generation as one which cared about human beings enough to halt the practice of war, to provide a decent living for every family, and to fulfill its responsibility to its children from the very moment of conception.

As I read these words, I think about the vision for America they express. It’s a liberal vision, to be sure, but one where the unborn are loved, treasured, and protected. It’s a vision animated by uncorrupted and unadulterated kindness, empathy, and selflessness. And tragically, it’s a vision which is now lost forever.

But for one brief halcyon moment in the early to mid ’70s, tenderhearted pro-life liberalism had a real chance to become a major ideological stream within America. In those days, liberal icon Jesse Jackson would frequently speak in favor of the right to life. In 1972 the Massachusetts legislature approved an amendment to the state constitution to make all abortion illegal forever. Such was the status quo of the abortion issue in the only state in America which voted for McGovern the same year. Even after Roe, one of the strongest voices for life in Congress was Senator Harold Hughes, an ultra-liberal Democrat from Iowa. For a time, the heavily Democratic state of Rhode Island included a pro-life plank in the state Democratic party platform, and the legislature once called for a US Constitution amendment to recognize the right to life.

This was just some of the “seamless garment” pro-life liberalism which was quite common during the 1970s. But time marched on, and the glorious illusion vanished. Sexual libertinism rapidly and irrevocably invaded and took over liberal thought. Love for our unborn neighbors was just one casualty, along with respect for religious freedom. Care and concern for the entire human community fell by the wayside. In its place came an angry and self-centered generation, scornful of self-abnegation, and seeking freedom from all responsibility.

I write all this as a longtime conservative – I’d still rather have lived in early ’70s Utah than early ’70s Massachusetts. And yet, a lot of conservatism’s facets, like its slavish devotion to capitalism, its knee-jerk hatred of all taxes, its jingoistic flag waving, and its seeming aversion to peacemaking can often sadden me. But, given the current state of liberalism, it’s not as if I have anywhere else to go.

I wish the liberalism of Kennedy’s 1971 letter was still around, and that it could be the chief ideological rival to contemporary conservatism. America would be a nicer, more loving, and more responsible place, and a lot of conservatives wouldn’t have to worry so much about losing at the polls. A lot more children would be around too.

But what’s lost is lost. And I don’t see it ever coming back. Sadly, pro-life liberalism will have to remain a bittersweet memory which grows more and more distant with each passing year.

Vintage Pro-Life Essay From 1970: “The Dove At The Window”

I found this amazing bit of writing buried in the Congressional Record. It was written by an otherwise anonymous doctor from Massachusetts named Henry G. Armitage. Representative John G. Schmitz (who introduced the first ever pro-life Constitutional amendment in 1972) read it into the Record. As you’ll see, it’s a heartbreakingly poignant and prophetic piece, which touches on not only abortion, but the wider social milieu of the late ’60s and early ’70s which allowed genocide to somehow become acceptable within the land of “liberty and justice for all.” A lot of the essay is extremely ethereal, pretentious, and hard to understand, but I didn’t want to cut anything out (although I’ve bolded some of the best snippits).


Coming from the Andrew Wyeth exhibition at the Boston Museum, one realizes again how it is possible to believe that, in the long run, it is the artist – the poet and the dreamer, and not merely the rational man, who will have the last word with us. Known as a realist, for want of a better word, Mr. Wyeth at his best reveals, beneath the surfaces of commonplace things “worm smooth with usage,” a timeless, interior world of order, natural harmony and quiet breathing. It is a world in which there is a single tension, sometimes perplexed, of hushed expectation, as if, for a moment, all waiting creation is cocking its head to listen to an intimation of the ineffable.

            I turned the corner outside the museum and surprised a grinning boy, not about twelve, in sardonic play holding the edge of a straight razor against the throat of his friend; and his eyes mocked me with the symbolism of the gesture. Was this reality and is what is seen in the paintings illusion; or is it the other way ‘round?

            Two paintings alone are disquieting. Both show a killed deer hanging outside a farmhouse.

            Unaccountably, on keeps remembering another, not especially distinguished, almost fragmentary paining which shows a part of the interior of a dilapidated, abandoned church in which pigeons have made their roost. Close to the ceiling, by a window, flutters a dove. It is not in the vacant church that reality is to be found. It is in the dove at the window.

            At the present time, in the state of New York, a woman may go to the doctor and ask for an abortion and, barring lateness of arrival or not being pregnant, or choosing a contrary physician or hospital, she shall have it. This is so because she lives in a country where what she is demanding is being established as a right as, in successive states, the abortion laws are being declared unconstitutional. The trend began in the Supreme Court of California and came east when the American Civil Liberties Union brought suit in Federal Court in New York City. State medical societies and the American Medical Association have voted abortion essentially to be a matter for a woman to determine with her physician. A not unimaginable suit in the Supreme Court, aimed at voiding the abortion law in all states where abortion is prohibited now, would remove the question from the legislative arena and the reach of public opinion, thus federalizing the whole abortion issue. The Pentagon has authorized abortion of military personnel and dependents at installations in states where abortion is prohibited.

            Where abortion has been legalized, if a woman is eligible for benefits, Medicaid will pay the bill. At the present time, there is nothing to indicate that what was first argued as a private right may not soon become a public duty and end, perhaps, as a compulsory obligation. Writers already have pointed out how a welfare worker might pressure a recipient toward an abortion with the implication of curtailment of benefits.

            So, it seems that, weary as we may be with the fatigue of supporting freedom, we have now to contend with the notion that corporate humanity is about to turn over the custodianship of its life energy to the state. I submit that while we go on worshiping the national idols we are being bewildered by the national bureaucracy. Conditioned by a full ten years of concern about population, we are experiencing a shift in emphasis away from programs for the care of the unwell toward others for the limitation of the well. Dr. Lee DuBridge, until recently Science Adviser to President Nixon, has advocated fixing United States population at 250 million, world population at six billion, and achievement of zero population growth by the year 2000. From United Nations, where we have never been noted for modesty, he has been endorsed soundly by Gen. William Draper, our representative to the U.N. Population Commission. Gen. Draper adds that five or six billion “should be quite enough for everyone.” One can almost hear all those little people chanting “Yankee imperialist, go home!”

            Sen. Robert Packwood, who has advocated limitation of tax exemption to two children in a family, has stated that, if voluntary controls do not work, we may have to resort to mandatory controls; and he has been supported by Sen. Barry Goldwater. Dr. Alan Guttmacher, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, one of the plaintiffs in the New York suit, has said: “Each country will have to decide its own form of coercion. At present the means available are compulsory sterilization and compulsory abortion. Perhaps someday a way of enforcing compulsory birth control will be feasible.” He acknowledges that, “in a democracy, introducing compulsory measures or incentives awards to control fertility would admittedly present awesome difficulties.” Presumably, in a non-democracy, it does not.

            While “His Truth is marching on” abortion is becoming the law of the land. Sixteen states have adopted abortion-on-demand laws; and five are awaiting U.S. Supreme Court interpretation of the constitutionality of their therapeutic abortion statutes. While millions of citizens are going to, coming from, saving for, paying off at their shopping centers, in a never-ending litany of getting, “His terrible, swift sword” is being bent into a curette; and the 91st Congress of the United States has before it more than forty legal proposals dealing with the limitation of life, before and after conception.

            Not without comment shall it come to pass that a state, so fretful for the preservation of the praying mantis but holding an unborn baby to be of no account, can send a spark of immortality swinging out into limbo and conspire with citizen and physician to turn a fragile, living object of simple innocence and complex wonder into a pathetic pulp and to consign it by rude and peremptory passages to the furnace or sewer – unknown, unwanted, undefended, without benefit of clergy.

            Not without comment shall it be made falsely to seem that the fertile adornment of our race can be deluded into the notion that she is a mere portress of unwanted luggage or be by blandishment seduced into believing that she has dominion over life not her own. Nor shall it be accounted a virtue to exploit the natural fallibilities and weaknesses of troubled women and girls.

            Not without comment shall it be made falsely to appear that any political procurer who takes it into his head can, with impunity and every probability of success, dangle a coin before a profession whose members were pledging, “I will not give a woman a pessary to produce an abortion” before the birth of Christ.

            Not without comment shall it be that the poor, the weak and the helpless of this land, whose only vice is they are so many, shall, for a mess of pottage and a ballot, yield over to the state their privacy, their dignity and their liberty to increase. Is it to be here, among these, where the grapes of wrath are stored, that society is to wield its own terrible swift sword? Out where the harbor of New York begins, there is a big statue which proudly proclaims to Europe:

Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to be free

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:

I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

            The golden door to what? A charnel-house? Were we only putting them on, after all; and is that what we are to teach to our children?

            It has been estimated that 50,000 abortions will occur in New York City in the first year of the program; and guesses for the entire state range from 110,000 to 500,000. When viewed on a mass scale like this, abortion becomes a great deal more than a quarrel over the moral issues of isolated cases – more, even perhaps, than another lonesome stand by the Judeo-Christian ethic, truncheoning with the yeomen of a pluralistic society. At this level of intensity, it is a social phenomenon of profound significance for every citizen, an ultimate imperative which, whether we like it or not, is forcing us to a moral plebiscite that will determine for the indefinite future the spiritual cast of our people as a nation and as a world force.

            What I am discussing is not a state of disease nor some surgical stunt but the deliberate interruption and destruction of a natural process, an act of rape against the internal environment of man. Supporters of the idea argue that it is necessary in order to avoid the diseases of over-population. The question seems to be whether we shall succumb to over-population with our morals more or less intact or to spiritual suicide with our population balanced.

            Neither the simplistic canticles of English Common Law nor the nonsensical cadenzas of American Uncommon Law are adequate to this question. If there was little need in the past to defend what once must have seemed self-evident – namely, that an agent of the principle of life is entitled to life – this is no longer the case. Gradually, the state is removing a line once drawn at the outlet of the womb and is, in effect, at one and the same time, bringing what has been ruled to be outside the compass of the law under the effect of the decisions of the law while failing to make provision for a right of defense. Either an unborn infant is a human being or it is not; or there is a reasonable doubt that it may be. Either an unborn infant is beyond the scope of the law and immune from any decision which would affect its natural state of existence or it is under the law and entitled to a defense of that existence. We do that much for seagulls, flamingos, and whooping cranes.

            The Supreme Court has ruled that a young man may be exempted from military service by virtue of moral convictions developed as a result of “readings in the fields of history and sociology” and that he need no longer claim status as a conscientious objector solely on the basis of religious training and belief. Particularly in light of so relaxed a view of military exemption, I question most seriously whether it is just, good or wise, to oblige a citizen to contribute health and welfare taxes, which he can think of only as blood money, to pay for birth control practices which he believes to be immoral and for abortions which he believes are murder, based on his moral convictions or his religious training and beliefs. And I think that every citizen must ask whether onto the piled-up rubbish of the national merchandise cultural are to be strewn the shells of the littered hopes and the broken promises of a false and fallen republic.

            It has been said often enough to amount to an aphorism that morally cannot be legislated; but there is something out of plumb about a society carrying a motto “In God We Trust” in its pocket and portraying that what is legislated is neither moral nor immoral and that what is not legislated, to that extent, simply doesn’t exist at all. Inherited from an age of right and wrong, the motto is out of place in an era of right and non-right; and it is likely to remain so, barring some upsurge of the spirit which, at this time, is nowhere to be seen.

            In the pressures of an expanding population within a shrinking environment are to be found the origins of all the dissonances which are vibrating in our membranous society. Man out of tune with his environment is disoriented. Man out of tune with himself is demented. Man out of tune with both has been destroyed. Only an uncorrupted spirit, operating thorough an inflexible will, fastens us to a little apex between animal and robot. In the entire human epoch, no crisis has made a greater demand upon our will and spirit and perhaps never have they seemed less able to respond. That is our great sin – that we see, that we suffer and that we do not act.

            What is to be said about the population problem? There is one observable fact. The population is increasing. The rest is hypothesis and speculation. Since we are observing a first-of-its-kind phenomenon, something which has never happened before, who is a population expert? You, I, our neighbor? In the entire existence of the human race to date, we are still only somewhere on the first curve of one cycle of which no man on earth knows the shape. Nor does any man know that it is not merely the first cycle of many yet to come. It would be outside the range of probability, in a universe otherwise so rigidly governed by laws that there should be none governing the ebb and flow of human existence. That we have not discovered one testifies that we are early travelers on the curve. That we should set about changing the shape of the curve is as presumptuous as that we should undertake to change the orbit of the earth.

            In the present circumstance, the first duty of the scientific community is to observe and record, with absolute detachment, total objectivity, and scrupulous accuracy, what happens next. I submit that it is not its first duty to proclaim a disease of which no one has ever heard and, without verifying that it exists, rashly to undertake an arbitrary, empirical, radical, artificial, and unnatural form of treatment – all, I might add, without the consent of the patient or a license from the granting authority, who happen to be one and the same, to wit, corporate humanity. In this matter, I fear, part of the scientific community and an agonizing proportion of my own profession are forgetting the cardinal principle of treatment – “First do no harm.”

            That most rational of scientists, Rene Dubos, writes at length, in Reason Awake, of the need for an informed body of scholars capable of critical evaluation of science and of translating the evaluation into language that society can understand. He warns that “Freedom can be maintained only if citizens understand the intellectual basis of scientific expertise sufficiently well to differentiate between persuasion and manipulation by experts” and that “a society that blindly accepts the decisions of experts is a sick society on its way to death.”

            In a chapter entitled Willed Future, Dr. Dubos writes of the risks and shortcomings of forecasting, which, “for reasons that are not clear and in any case are not justified by actual performance,” “now enjoys the dignity of an academic profession.” He comments at length on the comparatively undeveloped nature of the behavioral and social sciences and the difficulties and dangers inherent in trying to adapt the constitutive principles or the concepts and methods of the natural sciences to the social sciences. He points out the need for the behavioral and social sciences “to go through a phase of slowly accruing a core of concrete facts relevant to the mind and society before they can arrive at meaningful abstract formulations of their problems.” He concludes, “when this stage has been reached they may re-examine their relation to natural sciences and perhaps become partly anchored on physiology, ecology and other biological sciences.” He refers to the contrast between the problems of physical sciences, involving usually one or two variables at a time, with those of rudimentary social sciences dealing with the enormously intricate complex of variables of human society. I would like to cite as a single example (my own, not Dr. Dubos’) that the failure of social scientists to take into account a relatively simple perturbation – that some citizens believe that many of these babies ought to be baptized – could result in serious and lasting social divisions – a consequence which no alert and loyal American citizen, consciously or subconsciously, would ever desire. A social force, or any system of bureaucracy, which can, with reckless insensitivity, ride roughshod over this consideration, merits the searching attention of every sober-minded citizen.

            Members of a played-out demi-culture endlessly repeating our last lines, we are missing an opportunity to realize an undreamed-of renaissance. We are dying “inch by inch in play at little games.” We are missing the ultimate question on earth of our era – how to expand our environment. Given the spirit and the will, we are capable of unimagined prodigies. Given the imagination and creative thinking, one could doubt that we have enough workers to accomplish what we are capable of achieving. We can bring about a massive re-ordering of our priorities. With coordinated high-level planning and a systems approach we can re-create and recycle our industries, our commerce, and our transportation. We can make earth, we can make forests and streams, we can even make one environment above another, if we have to. Through austerities, economies and sacrifices we can develop a natural population in harmony with a natural environment and feel joy again, in an act of gratitude to our past and of generosity to our future. Sooner that we should die trying that that we should try dying.

            Like population control in general, abortion is a slovenly short-order, a retreat from thesis to anti-thesis, an assertion that it is for the good of mankind to stop up the wellspring of mankind. But an abortion is never a commonplace. For the world holds no heartbreak like the death of innocence. Whenever and wherever it occurs, we all suffer another loss from the little that sustains us and holds us together. Not alone because I believe it is murder do I oppose abortion. Not alone because it is a frustration of nature, because it is a degradation of humanity, because it violates that innate respect for life of my profession do I oppose abortion. I oppose abortion also because I believe that, in the sophisticated barbarism of a nation destroying its offspring, can be sensed the stirrings of despair in a people who are lost and disoriented in a disputative, speculative, innovative wilderness. I oppose abortion because it is fullness emptied, innocence defiled, song unfinished, beauty discarded, dream cloven, hope unsprung. It is the deer, hanged by the neck beside the house of man. It is the razor against the throat of the dove at the window.

            I pay homage to those thousands of innocent souls, so rudely deflected from an earth which they shall never inherit. Not for nothing, once before, did a great Church number first among its saints other slaughtered innocents, unreasoning and unblessed, who died for a God whose name they have never heard. Flowers of martyrs, it called them. It may yet be that we are going to have a Second Spring of new flowers and martyrs, terribly to awaken us before there can be only madness and blackness.

            Now, in this time of the Big Flinch, a carnival has come to the Republic. Drawn on by the pied-pipers of peace, the populace is thronging to see the show. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot tootle the flute and pound the drum and the publican gapes in awe. In the midway, the prophets of parturition and pleasure are huckstering for the souls of mothers and daughters. The academician and the journalist have come down from Olympus, the clergyman has come up from Bethlehem, the social scientist has come out of the classroom – and all have gone into the marketplace to barter for the minds of men and boys. At the animal show, bright and charming children thrust sticks through the bars to goad the captive, bewildered servants of the law. Along the sideshow, transmuted in the flickering light of a flaming republic, the bureaucrat displays his contortions and a magician makes a whole baby disappear in the air. Buy a souvenir! Three monkeys set all in a row. Hear nothing, see nothing, say nothing.

            It is late and the din rises. In the gathering darkness of a bemused evening, one barely hears the faint echo of “freedom” come back from the surrounding hills – dark hills, where a stealthy bear watches and silently waits. For he sees what we do not yet know – that, in our absence, housebreakers are robbing us of everything that we own, of virtue, honor, integrity, trust, innocence, truth, beauty, justice, and liberty.

Pro-life vs. Right to Life

There it is, from no less of a source than Gallup itself: Pro-life 50%, Pro-choice 41%. It’s certainly not bad news, but unlike a lot of writers in the pro-life blogosphere, I’m not especially excited.It’s hard to feel happy when only a bare majority opposes killing unwanted members of the next generation. You know what would excite me? Gallup announcing that they would no longer poll this question, because too few respondents were answering pro-choice.

Additionally, I really don’t care much for the term “pro-life.” It’s far too vague, and can be used to mean almost anything.  Supporters of legal abortion call themselves “pro-life” all the time. How many times have we heard people described themselves as “personally pro-life,” or “pro-life and pro-choice”? Because of this, I much prefer the label “Right to life”. Right to life, unlike pro-life, leaves almost no wiggle room for legal abortion. If the unborn have the right to life, then their mothers can hardly have the choice of killing them. Heck, even the “anti-choice” label mockingly applied to us by the other side is preferable to pro-life in terms of clarity and lack of wiggle room.

Of course, I have little leg to stand on. After all, I have named this very blog, of all things, Pro-lifist (in my defense, some of the other names I considered were much, much worse). And in addition, I almost consistently use the term pro-life in my posts. I recognize that pro-life is what we’re stuck with, but I still maintain that Right to Life would have been a better term. We don’t just think life is a good idea, we think it’s a right!

1973: When Religious Freedom Still Mattered

There was a time, not so long ago, when liberals understood and championed the cause of religious freedom. Look no further than the very first abortion-related vote ever taken in Congress. The date was March 27, 1973; Roe was barely two months old, and already the pro-choice army had begun mobilizing to judicially force religious hospitals to perform abortions. Catholic Bishops announced that a court order forcing their hospitals to perform abortions would be met with civil disobedience. Unless Congress intervened quickly, the abortion wars in America were about to get really ugly really fast.

Senator Frank Church (D-ID)

When Frank Church, a pro-choice Democratic Senator from Idaho learned of this, he was horrified, and immediately introduced legislation to allow hospitals, doctors, and nurses the freedom of conscience on matters relating to abortion. This proposal received enthusiastic support from the rest of the Senate. Among the most vocal proponents was none other than the Liberal Lion himself, Ted Kennedy. During debate, he eloquently expressed the foundational importance of religious freedom in America. The only Senator to publicly express opposition to the Church amendment was New York RINO Jacob Javits, but even he ended up voting for it in the end.

The vote was 92-1 (the always eccentric William Fulbright cast the only nay vote). Even Oregon Senator Bob Packwood, the loudest and most extreme abortion advocate in Congress for most of the 1970s and 1980s, voted yea. Around the same time, Margaret Heckler, a pro-life feminist from Massachusetts, introduced several bills almost identical to Church’s in the House of Representatives. Although never voted on due to passage of the Church amendment, their cosponsors included far left pro-choice women like Patsy Mink (D-HI), Barbara Jordan (D-TX), and Shirley Chisholm (D-NY).

Needless to say, such a degree of unanimity would be absolutely unthinkable today. If the vote on the Blunt amendment is any indication, the Church amendment might have trouble even getting a majority in the current Senate. The militant, anti-religious pro-abortion ideology which was on the fringe in 1973 has become hardened dogma for the Democratic party four decades later. The value of religious freedom, long championed by liberals, is just another unfortunate sacrifice (much like the millions of babies) which must be made in pursuit of total reproductive freedom.

A massive battle is coming. If Romney wins in November, it will be delayed for a few more years, but it is coming nonetheless. The liberal support of religious freedom which was so evident in 1973 has vanished without a trace. The pro-life conscience no longer has any place in pro-choice orthodoxy; like an unwanted pregnancy, it must be destroyed. The era of common ground, and common values is over forever.

Hawai’i, 1970: Et tu, “devout” Catholics?

As the 1970s dawned across the United States, the unborn’s right to life remained relatively well protected. No state allowed abortion on demand, and about ten states had legalized it only for rare cases like rape, incest, and fetal deformity – understandable exceptions which even some pro-lifers support.  But before the first year of the decade ended, no less than four states opened the flood gates, and declared abortion every woman’s right.

Hawai’i led the way. The saga of legalization in the 50th state is especially poignant because of the conspicuous roles played by men and women who are described as “devout Catholics” by historians. These “devout Catholics” were responsible for the bill’s passage, and for making Hawai’i (at least for a few weeks) the most dangerous place in America for an unborn baby.

Robert Drinan, Jesuit Priest

Halfway across the world in Massachusetts, a Jesuit Priest named Robert Drinan launched a successful bid to become a US Representative. Few today in the pro-life movement know his name, but Drinan, more than anyone else, was the deadly fountainhead of ubiquitous pro-choice Catholic politicians that have plagued the world for the past half century. At first glance, he would seem to sound all the right notes, denouncing abortion as an unconscionable moral wrong, and demanding that the government not countenance such a brazen violation of human rights.  But the devil (perhaps literally) lurked in the details.

Even before Mississippi passed the first liberalization of abortion in 1966, every state allowed the practice in the tragic cases when the mother’s life was endangered by the pregnancy. Thus the law, in a tiny number of cases, did in fact allow for unborn babies to be killed. Drinan, with feigned outrage, denounced this exception as legally condoned murder, but conceded that states were unlikely to eliminate the exception.

His conclusion about this state of affairs tortured logic and reason. Because states were unlikely to eliminate the life-of-mother exception, argued Drinan, the best way to remain faithful to Catholic teaching was to completely repeal all laws affecting abortion. With no laws about abortion on the books, the state is therefore not in any way condoning the practice.

Of course, without any laws about abortion, it would for all intents and purposes become legal without restriction. And although Drinan was never so stupid as to openly admit it, that was exactly the point. It was a fiendishly brilliant line of argument – it used ostensibly pro-life reasoning to bring about an extremely pro-choice state of affairs. Catholic advocates of abortion on demand could now cloak their disobedience as faithful application of church doctrine.

One such covert pro-choicer was Hawai’i state Senator Vincent Yano, who headed the Senate’s Public Health, Welfare, and Housing committee. The father of ten children, he projected the image of a faithful Roman Catholic. After reading Drinan’s work, he introduced a repeal bill, and publicly justified it using Drinan’s argument. John Scanlan, the local Bishop, immediately denounced the proposed legislation, but he was too late – other Catholics were already lining up on the pro-choice side. Among them were two prominent local nuns, Maureen Keleher, and Mary Heenan.

As the legislature debated repeal, it became obvious that some guidelines regulating legal abortion would be necessary, like a requirement that it be performed in a hospital. For Senator Yano, these regulations were a huge conundrum, because if passed into law, they would completely negate Robert Drinan’s argument. In conference, Yano fought against anything other than a pure repeal bill, but eventually he caved, and accepted the additional regulations. Tacitly, Yano admitted what was already obvious: the Drinan argument was nothing but a pathetic smokescreen.

After the bill passed the legislature, it went to Governor John Burns for approval. Another “devout Catholic” who attended Mass each day, he agonized long and hard about what to do. Eventually, he settled on allowing the bill to become law without his signature. He released a lengthy note explaining his decision.

I have declined to sign this bill after much study and soul-searching; after receiving competent advice from island and national specialists in law, medicine, theology, human rights and public affairs, and after sincere prayer to the Creator named in our Nation’s Declaration of Independence as the Source of our unalienable rights

It was telling that he cited the god of the Declaration of Independence rather than the God of the Bible. Much like the Second Continental Congress, which couldn’t be bothered with a God who might disapprove of race-based chattel slavery, Burns likewise found refuge in a man-made god created purely for political convenience.

I have made my decision. I stand by it. It is the decision of the Governor of Hawaii, not the private and personal whim of John A. Burns. It reflects my best judgment as Governor, made after consultation with the best minds in the State, in regard to what is in the best interest of all the people of Hawaii

Had Burns truly been concerned about the best interests of “all the people of Hawaii,” he might have considered the interests of unborn babies.

I have felt that in the heated debates over the abortion question, my reputation has been unfairly and seriously attacked, and sadly enough, by a number of my fellow Roman Catholics who do not appear to understand precisely the separate roles of State authority and Church authority

In a breathtaking display of hubris, Burns accused Bishop Scanlan, and the entire Roman Catholic hierarchy of not understanding the dividing line between church and state. In decades to come, Catholic politicians claiming to know more about Catholicism than Popes and Bishops would become an enduring theme.

There is reported to be ample evidence that traffic in illegal abortions is considerable in Hawaii – as well as in other jurisdictions covered by restrictive abortion laws. It seems to me that to continue a breach of the law because of a change in the public’s attitude on a moral question is inconsistent with the democratic philosophy that the rule of law should prevail at all times. If community standards have changed, we should then change the law rather than continue violating an outmoded law

In the world of Governor Burns, the right to life was apparently dependent on community standards. One wonders what other classes of people could have their right to life taken away should the community change its mind.

in the future a growing awareness of the dignity and value of human life will develop steadily among our young people as they discuss wars, capital punishment… I have a tremendous faith that what the future holds in store for Hawaii and the rest of our Nation is good

More than forty years, and fifty million legal abortions later, the Governor’s optimism has become laughable. In fact, it was Governor Burns himself who contributed to the devaluation of human life. As well as Senator Yano, Maureen Keleher, and Mary Heenan.

Four decades later, innocent lives are still paying the price for the good intentions of “devout” Catholics.

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.