Found while looking into even weightier matters — Mitt “Myth” Romney’s claim that Ronald Reagan and Henry Hyde were once pro-choice is not supported by the significant evidence I reviewed.
Sunday, on Meet the Press, Tim Russert asked former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney a very good question, and got quite the answer (transcript saved to BizzyBlog host for fair use and discussion purposes; bolds are mine):
MR. RUSSERT: Could you be elected governor of Massachusetts on your current platform, the one you now espouse–espouse about abortion, gay rights, gun control, stem cell research, immigration?
GOV. ROMNEY: There’s one what I changed, and that’s with regards to abortion. And, and with my position on abortion was–I was effectively pro-choice and I became pro-life. I did the same–I made the same–had the same experience that Ronald Reagan had…
MR. RUSSERT: Governor…
GOV. ROMNEY: …that Henry Hyde had.
Romney’s response had a pungent aroma that begged for follow-up research. Yours truly has done a pretty good amount of it. Here’s what I’ve found:
- Whether it’s because he’s fallen for the folklore, or because he knows better and continues to wrongly claim it anyway, Mitt Romney’s assertion that Ronald Reagan’s position on abortion was ever “effectively pro-choice,” or as stated by Romney to Chris Wallace of Fox News on August 12, “adamantly pro-choice” (noted at the time by Warner Todd Huston), is, from all appearances, flat-out false. Perhaps there’s evidence out there to the contrary, but I doubt it.
- The idea that Henry Hyde was ever effectively prochoice not only seems absurd on its face, but appears not to be supported by the historical record.
- If I am correct about Reagan and Hyde (there’s little doubt that I am), Romney’s recharacterizations of the abortion positions taken by these men come awfully close to being personal smears of two giants of conservatism who, conveniently for Romney, aren’t around to defend themselves.
Ronald Reagan: Thoroughly Deceived
To get a handle on the probable outrageousness of Romney’s gambit on Reagan, let’s recall some history, especially for those not old enough to remember.
The idea of legalizing abortion in the US, especially abortion on demand, virtually came out of nowhere. The very idea was so outrageous that nearly no one suggested it until 1960. Almost nobody at the time was trying to pretend that there isn’t a developing human being inside a pregnant woman’s womb.
A New York Times archive search during ALL of the 1950s on “legal abortion” (not in quotes) has 35 results, only a few of which are actually about legalizing the practice. 1960-1965 has only 75 results on the same search, with perhaps a half-dozen relating to legalization. Because of the birth defect-causing problems with Thalidomide, there are other articles discussing “therapeutic” and “eugenic” abortions of seriously deformed babies.
Serious discussion of legalizing abortion beyond very hard cases didn’t get going until 1966. According to this Wiki entry, Mississippi became the first state to legalize abortion in cases of rape that year. Otherwise, abortion was illegal everywhere in the US at the end of 1966.
A Times search in 1966 on “Reagan California abortion” shows no evidence that abortion was an issue in the gubernatorial election, where Reagan defeated two-term incumbent Edmund “Pat” Brown.
Reagan was presented with California’s abortion bill in June 1967. Earlier in the year, Colorado and North Carolina had “liberalized” their abortion laws. The three relevant Times headlines that month relating to California are (bolds are mine):
- (June 7) California’s Senate Votes to Ease Abortion Law; Measure Goes to Assembly — Reagan Says He’d Sign It As It Now Stands
- (June 14) CALIFORNIA EASES CURB IN ABORTION; Reagan Says He Will Sign It Despite Some Objections
- (June 15 UPI Report) Reagan Reluctantly Signs Bill Easing Abortions; California Becomes 3d State to Liberalize Curbs– Law’s Effect Delayed
You can access readable pictures of these articles, each of which was obtained from the ProQuest library database for fair use and discussion purposes, by clicking on the respective dates below (each will open in a separate window or tab):
Here are some key paragraphs from each article illustrating that Reagan had solid prolife instincts, even in the absence of a prolife movement, and that he, with much of the rest of the nation, was tragically deceived by a carefully constructed pack of lies:
- (June 7) — “Under the bill abortions would be permitted in cases of rape or incest and when a woman’s physical or mental health was gravely threatened by continuation of a pregnancy.”
- (June 7) — “The legislation would require that any therapeutic abortions be performed in accredited hospitals and only after being approved by a hospital committee on abortions.”
- (June 14) — “The bill would permit abortions in cases of rape, incest, or when a woman’s physical or mental health was gravely threatened.”
- (June 14) — “This morning, he (Reagan) said he discovered that the amendments, made more than a week ago, did not meet all his objections. He said he was concerned that a mother who believe she might give birth to a deformed child would be able to have an abortion on the grounds that her mental health was threatened. The Governor also said he favored a residency requirement and tighter language to prevent small hospitals from being established just for abortions.” (Last-minute attempts to include these amendments were defeated, yet Reagan, in what is in hindsight an error in judgment, signed. — Ed.)
- (June 15) — “North Carolina and Colorado ….. laws (passed) earlier this year ….. also permit termination of pregnancies when the child is likely to be born deformed. A similar section in the California bill was removed when Mr. Reagan complained that it was “only a step away from what Hitler tried to do.”
- (June 15) — “Backers of the bill contend it will legalize only about 2 per cent of the estimated 100,000 illegal abortions performed annually in California.”
Estimates are that between 1 million and 2 million abortions took place in California in the 5-plus years between the effective date of the bill Reagan signed and the US Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision. Most were supposedly done for “the well-being of the mother.” I think it’s reasonable to believe that Reagan didn’t grasp how the fundamentally dishonest nascent abortion industry would seize on that loophole to create de facto abortion on demand.
Too few — and yes, Ronald Reagan is among them — recognized the scope of the evil that was being visited upon us. Who can seriously believe, in the context of the times and in light of the above, that California’s legislators at the time would have passed the law if they had known that it would lead to 200,000 or more abortions per year? Or that Reagan would have signed it? Imagine that: They thought that “gravely threatened” meant “gravely” (threatening a seriously bad outcome) “threatened” (having an uncertain chance of continued survival).
Oh, and those supposed 100,000 illegal abortions a year occurring in Cali before the law’s passage? Years later, we learned that numbers like these (including claims of “10,000 abortion-related deaths and a ‘million’ illegal abortions each year” nationwide) were for all practical purposes either based on faulty research or plucked out of thin air. The truth: At the time, it was more like 400 deaths annually and 98,000 illegal abortions, nationwide.
Thus, Reagan’s folklore “conversion” to being prolife was, in reality and in essence, nothing more than an admission that he had been thoroughly deceived, as this quote in the February 8, 1976 New York Times shows (link is to a picture of the article that opens in a new window or tab, provided for fair use and discussion purposes):
Mr. Reagan, returning to the Florida campaign trail after three days in New Hampshire and North Carolina, said that the California abortion law had been subverted by medical professionals, particularly those in the mental health field, who, in practice, assisted any woman who sought to abort a pregnancy.
….. “I placed too much faith in those who were entrusted with insuring that the patient met the terms of the bill.”
For Mitt Romney to characterize the Ronald Reagan just described as “effectively pro-choice” or “adamantly pro-choice,” and Reagan’s “experience” as being “the same” as his, borders on slander.
The legendary prolife congressman, who died in November, is responsible for ensuring that no federal funds have paid for abortions since his Hyde Amendment passed in 1975. The New York Times’s obituary of November 30 quotes a veteran prolifer telling us what this meant in human terms:
Dr. Wanda Franz, president of the National Right to Life Committee, said, â€œBy conservative estimate, well over one million Americans are alive today because of the Hyde Amendment â€” more likely two million.â€
Unfortunately for Mitt Romney, the Washington Post’s November 29 obit seems to contradict his claim that Hyde was once “effectively pro-choice”:
Elected to the Illinois House in 1967, he encountered what would become his signature issue when a colleague asked him to cosponsor an abortion rights law in 1968. Despite his Irish-Catholic upbringing, he told The Post he had never given much thought to the issue. Once he began reading on the matter, he realized he had to oppose it.
As noted above with Reagan, very few people had “given much thought” to abortion before the mid-late 1960s because it was (and of course still is, despite Roe) so obviously repugnant.
There are no hints that Henry Hyde was at any time pro-choice — effective, adamant, or otherwise — in the Chicago Tribune’s article on the day of his death, Jonathan Turley’s tribute, the New York Times’s obit noted earlier, or Hyde’s Wiki entry.
Mitt Romney claims that he had a prolife “conversion” in late 2004. In doing so, he therefore says he has totally moved away from the following (beginning at 1:00 at this video):
1994 — “I believe that abortion should be safe and legal in this country. I have since the time that my mom took that position in 1970 as a US Senate candidate. I believe that since Roe v. Wade has been the law for 20 years, that we should sustain and support it, and I sustain and suport that law, and the right of a woman to make that choice. And my personal beliefs, like the personal beliefs of other people, should not be brought into a political campaign.”
2002 — “And I’ve been very clear on that. I will preserve and protect a woman’s right to choose, and am devoted and dedicated to honoring my word in that regard. I will not change any provisions of Massachusetts’s pro-choice laws.”
“Now I want the voters to know exactly where I’m going to stand as governor. And that is I am not going to change our pro-choice laws in Massachusetts in any way. I will preserve them, I will protect them, I will enforce them. And therefore I’m not going to make any changes which would make it more difficult for a woman to make that choice herself.
“When I’m governor, and I’m convinced I will be, I will preserve and protect a woman’s right to choose.”
That’s 32 years, at least, of support for abortion rights, and at least eight years of outspoken support.
2002′s Romney riff is at least tacitly supportive of partial-birth abortion, a practice that first became known in 1995. Taken in combination with what he said in 1994 — “we should sustain and support it (Roe v. Wade)” — and the lack of objection in the intervening period, at least that I’m aware of, to partial-birth abortion, I don’t see why we shouldn’t assume that Romney supported that heinous practice up to the date of his alleged “conversion.”
Given the historical record of Ronald Reagan and Henry Hyde on the issue of abortion documented here, only one question remains — How does Mitt Romney work up the unmitigated gall to continue to characterize his alleged “conversion” experience as “the same,” thereby using these great men as crutches?
ALSO: Steven at Life News reminds me that Reagan biographer Joseph Cannon had this to say about Reagan’s thoughts on abortion while governor (bolds are mine), noted by Warner Todd Huston at the time –
In fact, Cannon writes that in 1968, the year after the bill passed, Reagan said that “those were awful weeks,” and that he would never have signed the bill if he had “been a more experienced governor.”
In light of the evidence it cannot be said that Reagan was ever an “adamant” pro-abortion supporter who later “grew” into an anti-abortion advocate. For Romney to invoke the spirit of Ronald Reagan in this way is a disgraceful attempt to co-opt the reputation of the most famous and successful politician of his age and an icon of the conservative movement to the aid of a candidate floundering on an issue. Mitt Romney’s abortion problem bears no resemblance at all to Ronald Reagan’s views “grown” or not.
UPDATE: This post was picked up at Hot Air’s Headlines earlier today.