Don’t Use Reagan to Justify Abortion

In the Republican debate last night Chris Christie used Reagan as moral cover for his horrific statement on abortion:

“Fact is, that I believe that if a woman has been raped, that is a pregnancy that she should be able to terminate. If she is the victim of incest. This is not a woman’s choice. This is a woman being violated. The fact is, we have always has believed, as has Ronald Reagan, that we have self-defense for women who have been raped and impregnated because of it or the subject of incest and been impregnated for it. That woman should not have to deliver that child”

This was a wretched attempt to be pro-life, yet palatable to those who are pro-abortion.

Official Portrait of President Reagan 1981Yesterday, however, debate Dr. Susan Berry wrote GOP Candidates and the ‘Abortion Exceptions:’ Donald Trump, Chris Christie Get Ronald Reagan’s Stance Wrong said Trump and Christie are not following Reagan, but the Hyde Amendment.

“The abortion exceptions that are usually mentioned are noted in the Hyde Amendment – which prohibits federal funding of abortion except in the cases of pregnancy arising from rape and incest and in the case of danger of death to the mother.”

Berry quoted Reagan’s 1986 State of the Union Address in which he mentioned just one exception: “the unborn child threatens the life of the mother.” Christie’s bizarre and reprehensible statement equating abortion with self-defense for women who become pregnant through rape or incest sounded like a mangling of Reagan’s words in 1986. Obviously, I don’t know if Christie knows the speech, but this is what Reagan said.

“Let us unite as a nation and protect the unborn with legislation that would stop all Federal funding for abortion and with a human life amendment making, of course, an exception where the unborn child threatens the life of the mother. Our Judeo-Christian tradition recognizes the right of taking a life in self-defense. But with that one exception, let us look to those others in our land who cry out for children to adopt.”

Reagan’s wording does make me wince, because a baby is not an enemy to be defended against, but Christie is not on the same page as Reagan. Berry also included quotes from three different physicians in 1967, 1980, and 1981, who even at that time said such instances were practically nil.

On the issue of a mother’s life and abortion, last August Life Site News posted:

“Doctors in the United States and around the world, especially Ireland, have agreed that physicians must attempt to save the lives of both mother and child.

“Hundreds of medical professionals have signed the Dublin Declaration on Maternal Health, which states, “As experienced practitioners and researchers in obstetrics and gynaecology, we affirm that direct abortion – the purposeful destruction of the unborn child – is not medically necessary to save the life of a woman.”…

“Groundbreaking scientific advances have made it possible for mothers facing cancer, for example, to give birth to healthy babies while using certain drugs during chemotherapy.”

See also Is abortion ever necessary to ‘save the life of the mother’? from October 2013.

Ronald Reagan’s 1967 signing as governor of California of a bill legalizing what were called therapeutic abortions has also been used to justify abortion or to denigrate pro-life advocates by claiming even Reagan couldn’t be nominated in today’s Republican party. I’ve seen this argument in various forms online for almost ten years. Over those years I’ve collected information to form a timeline of Reagan’s pro-life history. 


Choosing Life How pro-lifers become pro-lifers by Fred Barnes:

“In his first year as California governor in 1967, the legislature passed a bill to legalize “therapeutic” abortions…

“His instinct was to veto the bill and the Catholic archbishop of Los Angeles urged him to follow that course. But he signed it into law. Reagan was disturbed by his decision, however, and continued to think long and hard about abortion. The bill, according to Lou Cannon in Governor Reagan, “permitted more legal abortions in California than occurred in any other state before the advent of Roe v. Wade.” Reagan’s worst fear was realized.

“By 1980, Reagan had changed his mind and become a firm opponent of abortion. He insisted on a pro-life plank in the Republican platform for the first time. In 1983, he published a passionate pro-life essay, Abortion and the Conscience of the Nation. It turned out that signing the abortion bill in 1967 was the only political mistake that Reagan ever admitted.”

In Reagan’s Darkest Hour Paul Kengor and Patricia Clark Doerner also outline the events and aftermath of Reagan’s 1967 signing of the abortion bill.


Lou Cannon in his book Governor Reagan His Rise to Power mentions that in 1970 Reagan successfully opposed legislative attempts to further liberalize abortion law (page 213).


On a Marxist website almost ten years ago I found “Our Bodies! Our Choice! Winning the Fight for Reproductive Rights” by Evelyn Sell in which she wrote:

“For example, an abortion rights rally was set for March 10, 1973, in San Francisco to protest Governor Ronald Reagan’s statements against abortion.”


“TIME Magazine, “Uproar over Abortion,” February 16, 1976, discussed Carter, Reagan and Ford on abortion (this link is now behind a paywall):

“Ronald Reagan has come out flatly against abortion on demand and in favor of the constitutional amendment outlawing abortion except in rare cases posing a clear risk to the woman’s life.”


Reincarnating Reagan by Richard Allen:

“…I know something about Reagan’s conviction on the subject [of abortion], having been an advisor over a period of years prior to his presidency, and having spent many hours with him in airplanes, cars, busses, and meetings.

“One such meeting on the topic took place in December 1979 at a hotel at Los Angeles International Airport, the final briefing and strategy session before the presidential campaign began in early 1980. It was a small group that met, chaired by then-campaign manager John Sears…

“…The topic of Reagan’s position on abortion was launched, with Sears intoning that the Reagan position would necessarily be one of support for “choice.”

“I had often discussed the topic with Reagan in relaxed moments, and knew what his position was, at least since 1977. Reagan quickly said, “No, John..that ‘s not my position.” Sears reminded Reagan that, as governor of California, he had signed into law a measure that permitted abortion in the cases of rape, incest and the life of the mother. Reagan responded, “Yes, I know I did. But I have given a lot of thought since to the matter; it was a mistake and that law paved the way for abortion on demand. I now consider abortion to be murder.” Sears countered, “Well, Governor, that can be your private position, but for the purposes of this campaign, the theme will favor limited abortion.”

“At that, Reagan flushed, took off his glasses and flung them across the conference table – a classic sign that he was at his maximum anger level—saying, “Listen, dammit, John…I am running for president and you are not! Got it?” End of discussion; he never looked back, never wavered in his conviction, knew that he would be flying in the face of increasing pro-abortion sentiment, and instructed us to make sure that his position ultimately became the plank of the party platform that year.


Abortion and the Conscience of the Nation

“While president, Ronald Reagan penned this article for The Human Life Review, unsolicited. It ran in the Review’s Spring 1983, issue and is reprinted here with permission.”

Amazon says this is the only book ever published by a president while in office. The full text is at the link. This was written during his first term. He didn’t wait until he was safely reelected.

Reagan Abortion Conscience Nation“…The real question today is not when human life begins, but, What is the value of human life? The abortionist who reassembles the arms and legs of a tiny baby to make sure all its parts have been torn from its mother’s body can hardly doubt whether it is a human being. The real question for him and for all of us is whether that tiny human life has a God-given right to be protected by the law–the same right we have….”

From his closing:

“Abraham Lincoln recognized that we could not survive as a free land when some men could decide that others were not fit to be free and should therefore be slaves. Likewise, we cannot survive as a free nation when some men decide that others are not fit to live and should be abandoned to abortion or infanticide. My Administration is dedicated to the preservation of America as a free land, and there is no cause more important for preserving that freedom than affirming the transcendent right to life of all human beings, the right without which no other rights have any meaning.”


State of the Union Address

“We are a nation of idealists, yet today there is a wound in our national conscience. America will never be whole as long as the right to life granted by our Creator is denied to the unborn.

Let those words sink in. And let every candidate who wants to claim Reagan’s legacy be pro-life for every baby.


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