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The GOP’s Abortion Strategy: Why Pro-Choice Republicans Became Pro-Life in the 1970s

  • Daniel K. Williams (a1)
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1. Layman, Geoffrey, The Great Divide: Religious and Cultural Conflict in American Party Politics (New York, 2001), 124. The terms “pro-choice” and “pro-life” have such heavy political connotations that some scholars refuse to use them. Donald Critchlow uses the terms “antiabortion” and “proabortion,” which were commonly used terms in the early 1970s, in Intended Consequences: Birth Control, Abortion, and the Federal Government in Modern America (New York, 1999). In contrast, Leslie Cannold, an advocate of abortion rights, uses the terms “pro-choice” and “anti-choice” in The Abortion Myth: Feminism, Morality, and the Hard Choices Women Make (Hanover, N.H., 2000). Other scholars who have avoided use of the polemical term “anti-choice” have also shied away from the term “pro-life,” preferring to use the term “antiabortion” instead. But I follow the lead of scholars such as Luker, Kristin (author of Abortion and the Politics of Motherhood [Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1984]), who designate the two sides in this controversy as “pro-choice” and “pro-life,” the terms that each side has generally used as self-monikers. For the sake of consistency, and in order to be fair to both sides in this political debate, I use the terms “antiabortion,” “pro-life,” and “right-to-life” to refer to opponents of abortion who seek to use the law to restrict its availability, and “pro-choice” and “supporters of abortion rights” to refer to the proponents of keeping abortion legal.

2. Rymph, Catherine E., Republican Women: Feminism and Conservatism from Suffrage Through the Rise of the New Right (Chapel Hill, 2006), 205; Melich, Tanya, The Republican War Against Women: An Insider’s Report from Behind the Lines (New York, 1996), 53; UPI, “Betty Ford Would Accept ‘An Affair’ by Daughter,” New York Times, 11 August 1975; “Gallup Poll Shows More ‘Pro-Life’ Backing,” Washington Times, 16 May 2009.

3. For studies of the pro-life movement and the public debate over abortion, see Jacoby, Kerry N., Souls, Bodies, Spirits: The Drive to Abolish Abortion Since 1973 (Westport, Conn., 1998); Luker, Abortion and the Politics of Motherhood; McKeegan, Michele, Abortion Politics: Mutiny in the Ranks of the Right (New York, 1992); and Risen, James and Thomas, Judy L., Wrath of Angels: The American Abortion War (New York, 1998). For political scientists’ analyses of changes in political opinion on abortion, see Adams, Greg D., “Abortion: Evidence of an Issue Evolution,” American Journal of Political Science 41 (1997): 718–37; Jaenicke, Douglas W., “Abortion and Partisanship in the US Congress, 1976–2000: Increasing Partisan Cohesion and Differentiation,” Journal of American Studies 36 (2002): 1–22; and Carmines, Edward G. and Woods, James, “The Role of Party Activists in the Evolution of the Abortion Issue,” Political Behavior 24 (2002): 361–77. For histories of the politics of birth control that include a discussion of abortion, see Caron, Simone M., Who Chooses? American Reproductive History Since 1830 (Gainesville, 2008); Critchlow, Intended Consequences; Critchlow, Donald T., ed., The Politics of Abortion and Birth Control in Historical Perspective (University Park: Pa., 1996); Gordon, Linda, The Moral Property of Women: A History of Birth Control Politics in America, 3rd ed. (Urbana, 2002); and Solinger, Rickie, Pregnancy and Power: A Short History of Reproductive Politics in America (New York, 2005).

4. “Ministers Favor Eisenhower 8 to 1,” Christianity Today, 29 October 1956, 28; Rymph, Republican Women, 81–82; “Connecticut Kills Birth Control,” New York Times, 22 April 1943; Cannon, Lou and Cannon, Carl M., Reagan’s Disciple: George W. Bush’s Troubled Quest for a Presidential Legacy (New York, 2008), 12–14; “Margaret Goldwater Dies at 76,” New York Times, 12 December 1985; Donald T. Critchlow, “Birth Control, Population Control, and Family Planning: An Overview,” in Critchlow, Politics of Birth Control and Abortion in Historical Perspective, 10. For a discussion of the Republican Party’s Protestant-based moral order, see Allan J. Lichtman, White Protestant Nation: The Rise of the American Conservative Movement (New York, 2008).

5. Sharpless, John, “World Population Growth, Family Planning, and American Foreign Policy,” in Politics of Birth Control and Abortion in Historical Perspective, ed. Critchlow, , 76–77; Jacoby, Souls, Bodies, Spirits, 3.

6. Nossiff, Rosemary, Before Roe: Abortion Policy in the States (Philadelphia, 2001), 35–37; Garrow, David J., Liberty and Sexuality: The Right to Privacy and the Making of “Roe v. Wade” (New York, 1994), 285–90; Mohr, James C., “Iowa’s Abortion Battles of the Late 1960s and Early 1970s: Long-Term Perspectives and Short-Term Analyses,” in Iowa History Reader, ed. Bergman, Marvin (Ames, 1996), 421.

7. Kaufman, Ben L., “Lutheran Church Prepares Sex Guide: Draft OKs Therapeutic Abortion,” Minneapolis Star, 7 May 1966; “Nevada Churches Back Abortion Bill,” Oakland Tribune, 10 December 1966; “Baptists and Abortion Laws,” San Francisco Chronicle, 24 October 1966; Nossiff, Before Roe, 49; Gorney, Cynthia, Articles of Faith: A Frontline History of the Abortion Wars (New York, 1998), 67–72. For evangelical editorials that affirmed the right of women to obtain abortions in cases of rape or health risks, see Millen, S. I., “Abortion: Is It Moral?Christian Life, September 1967, 52; Hardesty, Nancy, “Should Anyone Who Wants an Abortion Have One?Eternity, June 1967, 32–34; and “A Protestant Affirmation on the Control of Human Reproduction,” Christianity Today, 8 November 1968, 18–19.

8. Marlin, George J., The American Catholic Voter: 200 Years of Political Impact, 2nd ed. (South Bend, 2006), 271; Kellstedt, Lyman A. et al. ., “Religious Voting Blocs in the 1992 Election: The Year of the Evangelical?Sociology of Religion 55 (1994): 311; Morris, Charles R., American Catholic: The Saints and Sinners Who Built America’s Most Powerful Church (New York, 1997), 365; Garrow, Liberty and Sexuality, 288–89, 418–21; MacKaye, William R., “Md. Bishops Attack Abortion Plan,” Washington Post, 25 July 1967; “Abortion Bill Killed—Catholic Pressure,” San Francisco Chronicle, 4 June 1965; “Reagan Reluctantly Signs Bill Easing Abortions,” New York Times, 16 June 1967; “Colorado Eases Abortion for Cause,” Washington Post, 26 April 1967; “Impetus for Reform,” New York Times, 21 February 1967; Cannon, Lou, Governor Reagan: His Rise to Power (New York, 2003), 208–13.

9. “House in Carolina Backs Bill Easing Curbs on Abortion,” New York Times, 6 May 1967; Rubin, Eva R., Abortion, Politics, and the Courts: “Roe v. Wade” and Its Aftermath, 2nd ed. (Westport, Conn., 1987), 2324, 27; Garrow, Liberty and Sexuality, 369–71.

10. Phillips, Kevin P., The Emerging Republican Majority (New Rochelle, N.Y., 1969); Harry Dent to Richard Nixon, 13 October 1969, “1970 Middle America [1 of 2]” folder, box 8, Harry S. Dent Files, Nixon Presidential Library, Yorba Linda, Calif.; Prendergast, William B., The Catholic Voter in American Politics: The Passing of the Democratic Monolith (Washington, D.C., 1999), 155–59.

11. Gordon, Moral Property of Women, 289; “Population Student: John Davison Rockefeller 3d,” New York Times, 17 March 1970; Reston, James, “Nixon and Muskie on Abortion,” New York Times, 7 April 1971.

12. Reeves, Richard, President Nixon: Alone in the White House (New York, 2001), 265; Patrick J. Buchanan to Richard Nixon, 19 April 1971, “President’s Handwriting, April 16 thru 30, 1971” folder, box 10, White House Staff Files (WHSF), President’s Office Files, Nixon Presidential Library; Charles Colson to Peter Flanigan, 18 February 1972, “February 1972” folder, box 131, Charles Colson Files, WHSF, Nixon Presidential Library; Taped conversation between Nixon and Colson, 5 April 1972, Tape EOB 330-17, Nixon White House Tapes, National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).

13. Reston, “Nixon and Muskie on Abortion,” 43; Richard Nixon, Statement on Abortion, 3 April 1971, “John Ehrlichman [2 of 2]” folder, box 7, Colson Files, WHSF, Nixon Presidential Library.

14. “Military Hospitals Approve Abortions; Local Laws May Be Bypassed,” Washington Post, 18 August 1970; “Nixon Orders End to Eased Abortions in Armed Services,” New York Times, 3 April 1971; Charles Colson to Henry Cashen, 19 July 1972, “July 1972” folder, box 132, Colson Files, WHSF, Nixon Presidential Library.

15. Press Release from Rev. Msgr. James T. McHugh, Family Life Division, United States Catholic Conference, 5 April 1971, “Miscellaneous Reference Materials (3)” folder, box 3, American Citizens Concerned for Life, Inc. (ACCL) Records, Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, Ann Arbor (Ford Library).

16. Richard Nixon to Terence Cardinal Cooke, 5 May 1972, “John Ehrlichman [2 of 2]” folder, box 7, Colson Files, WHSF, Nixon Presidential Library; Semple, Robert B. Jr., “Nixon Aides Explain Aims of Letter on Abortion Law,” New York Times, 11 May 1972.

17. Rosenthal, Harry F., “Nixon Rejects Population Panel Advice,” Washington Post, 6 May 1972; Semple, Robert B. Jr., “President Bars Birth Curb Plans,” New York Times, 6 May 1972.

18. Evans, Rowland and Novak, Robert, “Behind Humphrey’s Surge,” Washington Post, 27 April 1972; Russell, Mary, “McGovern’s ‘Radical’ Views Attacked,” Washington Post, 6 May 1972; Don Oberdorfer, “‘Radical’ Issue Hits McGovern,” Washington Post, 9 May 1972; Anthony Ripley, “McGovern Victor over Humphrey in Nebraska Vote,” New York Times, 10 May 1972.

19. Tape recording of conversation between Richard Nixon and Charles Colson, Executive Office Building, 5 April 1972, Tape EOB 330-17, Nixon White House Tapes, NARA; Tape recording of conversation between Richard Nixon and H. R. Haldeman, 10 April 1972, Tape Oval 705-3, Nixon White House Tapes; Hempstone, Smith, “Nixon, the Catholic Vote and the Megastates,” Washington Star, 14 June 1972.

20. Garrow, Liberty and Equality, 495–96; Ginsburg, Faye D., Contested Lives: The Abortion Debate in an American Community (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1989), 67, 270; Rice, John R., “The Murder of the Helpless Unborn,” Sword of the Lord, 22 October 1971. For evangelical opposition to abortion in the early 1970s, see Henry, Carl F. H., “Is Life Ever Cheap?” Eternity, February 1971, 20–21. For Nixon’s views, see Charlie Savage, “On Nixon Tapes, Ambivalence over Abortion, Not Watergate,” New York Times, 23 June 2009, and tape recording of conversation between Richard Nixon and Charles Colson, 23 January 1973, Tape EOB 407-18, Nixon White House Tapes [http://www.nixonlibrary.gov/forresearchers/find/tapes/tape407/407-018.mp3].

21. Stricherz, Mark, Why the Democrats Are Blue: How Secular Liberals Hijacked the People’s Party (New York, 2007), 161–208; Phillips, Kevin, “How Nixon Will Win,” New York Times, 6 August 1972; Miroff, Bruce, The Liberals’ Moment: The McGovern Insurgency and the Identity Crisis of the Democratic Party (Lawrence, Kans., 2007), 121, 138; Cohen, Richard M., “Shriver Rebuts Nixon on War,” Washington Post, 11 August 1972; Myra McPherson, “Sisters vs. Sisters: The Abortion Battle Turns Bitter,” Washington Post, 13 July 1972; Charles Colson to Clark MacGregor, 13 July 1972, “July 1972” folder, box 132, Colson Files, WHSF, Nixon Presidential Library.

22. Mason, Robert, Richard Nixon and the Quest for a New Majority (Chapel Hill, 2004), 155; Charlotte Curtis, “Draft Abortion-Reform Plank Being Written at White House,” New York Times, 6 August 1972; “Abortion and Child Care Planks to Be Proposed to the G.O.P.,” New York Times, 11 August 1972; Sally Quinn, “The Republican Women’s Attempt at Semi-Activism,” Washington Post, 24 August 1972; Rita E. Hauser to John Ehrlichman, 28 August 1972, “Abortion” folder, box 28, Colson Files, WHSF, Nixon Presidential Library.

23. Frankel, Max, “President Won 49 States and 521 Electoral Votes,” New York Times, 9 November 1972; Prendergast, Catholic Voter in American Politics, 157–69; Hill, Gladwin, “Results on Ballot Questions a Curious Liberal-Conservative Mixture,” New York Times, 9 November 1972; “Strict Anti-Abortion Bill Voted by Pennsylvania Legislature,” New York Times, 21 November 1972; Farrell, William E., “State Abortion Law Critics Take Protest to Governor,” New York Times, 16 November 1972.

24. Garrow, Liberty and Sexuality, 473–599.

25. Dean, John W. and Goldwater, Barry M. Jr., ed., Pure Goldwater (New York, 2008), 341–43; Edwards, Lee, Goldwater: The Man Who Made a Revolution (Washington, D.C., 1995), 420–21; “Governor Scores Buckley’s Move,” New York Times, 4 February 1973; Reeves, President Nixon, 563; “Buckley Pushes Curb on Abortion,” New York Times, 1 June 1973; Melich, Republican War Against Women, 53.

26. Risen and Thomas, Wrath of Angels, 19–20; Lauinger, Anthony J., “Focus: Mildred Jefferson, M.D.,” National Right to Life News, January 1977, 3; List of National Right to Life Committee Officers and Board of Directors [1973], “NRLC 1973” folder, box 5, ACCL, Ford Library; Vic Lockman, “The Equal Rights Amendment: A Trojan Horse” (Alton, Ill., 1976), HH557, box 1B, MS 76.45, Hall-Hoag Collection, John Hay Library, Brown University, Providence; Critchlow, Donald T., Phyllis Schlafly and Grassroots Conservatism: A Woman’s Crusade (Princeton, 2005), 212–27; “Abortion and the Court,” Christianity Today, 16 February 1973, 32–33.

27. Horrock, Nicholas M., “Anti-Abortion Ad Funds Accepted by Dole in ’74,” New York Times, 25 August 1976; Menendez, Albert J., “Church, State, and the 1996 Election,” Humanist 56 (November–December 1996): 8–9.

28. Rymph, Republican Women, 205; Melich, Republican War Against Women, 53; UPI, “Betty Ford Would Accept ‘An Affair’ by Daughter.”

29. Richard Steele, “1976’s Sleeper Issue,” Newsweek, 9 February 1976, 21–23; Religious News Service, “Abortion Loom as a Major Issue as Americans Prepare to Select Candidates for Presidency,” 20 February 1976, “Abortion” folder, G. Archer Weniger Files, Fundamentalism File, J. S. Mack Library, Bob Jones University, Greenville, S.C.; Richard Steele, “The Right to Life Candidate,” Newsweek, 9 February 1976, 23; Ralph Stanley to George Van Cleve, 22 July 1976, “Republican Party Platform—Issue Papers (5)” folder, box 29, Michael Raoul-Duval Files, Ford Library.

30. McKeegan, Abortion Politics, 32; Steele, “1976’s Sleeper Issue,” 23; “Reagan on God and Morality,” Christianity Today, 2 July 1976, 39–40; Reinhold, Robert, “Doubts are Fading,” New York Times, 23 April 1976, 73; Tim Miller and Tonda Rush, “God and the GOP in Kansas City,” Christianity Today, 10 September 1976, 59.

31. “Ford Asks States’ Rule on Abortion,” Minneapolis Star, 4 February 1976; Transcript of White House Press Conference, 2 February 1976, 14–16, “President’s Position (2)” folder, Sarah C. Massengame Files, Ford Library; Naughton, James M., “Ford Says Court Went Too Far on Abortion,” Minneapolis Tribune, 4 February 1976.

32. AP, “Ford Abortion Stand Draws Criticism,” New York Times, 5 February 1976.

33. Stricherz, Why the Democrats Are Blue, 220–21; “Carter’s Aides Meet with Catholic Bishops’ Staff,” New York Times, 24 July 1976; Mollison, Andrew, “Do Catholics Cut Carter Chances?Atlanta Constitution, 13 July 1976; Thorkelson, Willmar, “Religion Issue Enters Presidential Campaign,” Minneapolis Star, 17 July 1976.

34. Thomas Patrick Melady to Myron B. Kuropas, “Reflections on Abortion and Catholic Votes,” 25 June 1976, “Republican Party Platform—Issue Papers (1)” folder, box 28, Raoul-Duval Files, Ford Library; Jim Reichley to Dick Cheney, 25 June 1976, “Constituency Analysis” folder, box 2, A. James Reichley Files, Ford Library; “Candidate Ford and the Catholics,” America, 25 September 1976, 157.

35. Religious News Service, “Aids ‘Defense of Life,’” Baptist Standard, 3 September 1975, 4; “Anti-Abortion: Not Parochial,” Christianity Today, 8 August 1975, 22; Reichley to Cheney, 25 June 1976.

36. Notes on Abortion Platform Plank Drafts, [1976], “Republican Party Platform—Domestic Policy Planks—Contested Issues Analyses (1)” folder, box 27, Raoul-Duval Files, Ford Library.

37. George Van Cleve to Michael Duval, 23 July 1976, “Republican Party Platform—Issue Papers (5),” box 29, Raoul-Duval Files, Ford Library; Alice Hartle, “GOP to Focus on Abortion,” National Right to Life News, September 1976; Melich, Republican War Against Women, 63–64; Link, William A., Righteous Warrior: Jesse Helms and the Rise of Modern Conservatism (New York, 2008), 176–77.

38. Christopher Lydon, “Abortion Plank Is Fought by Republican Feminists,” New York Times, 18 August 1976; Republican Party Platform of 1976 [http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/showplatforms.php?platindex=R1976].

39. Jim Reichley to Dick Cheney, 15 September 1976, “Abortion” folder, box 1, Reichley Files, Ford Library.

40. “Flare-up over Abortion,” Time, 13 September 1976, 21; James, George, “Cooke Blasts Abortion from Pulpit,” New York Daily News, 27 September 1976; Marlin, American Catholic Voter, 289–91; Gerald R. Ford to Joseph L. Bernardin, 10 September 1976, “Material Not to Be Released to the Press—Catholic Bishops, 9-10-76” folder, box 40, Ronald H. Nessen Files, Ford Library; John Fialka, “Not Endorsement, Bishop Says,” Washington Star, 17 September 1976; Direct mail from Marjory Mecklenburg to “Pro-Life Group Leaders,” [n.d.], “Abortion Issue (1)” folder, box C25, President Ford Committee Records, Ford Library; “Pat Boone Statement,” [n.d.], box 45, ACCL Records, Ford Library.

41. Critchlow, Intended Consequences, 202; Stricherz, Why the Democrats Are Blue, 214–15; Witcover, Jules, Marathon: The Pursuit of the Presidency, 1972–1976 (New York, 1977), 609.

42. Americans Against Abortion Press Release, [September 1976], “ACCL Political File: ’76 Campaign—NRL Project” folder, box 46, ACCL Records, Ford Library.

43. Marlin, American Catholic Voter, 292; Sara Diamond, Roads to Dominion: Right-Wing Movements and Political Power in the United States (New York, 1995), 173; Adams, “Abortion,” 732; Stricherz, Why the Democrats Are Blue, 216.

44. McIntosh, William Alex and Alston, Jon P., “Acceptance of Abortion Among White Catholics and Protestants, 1962 and 1975,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 16 (September 1977): 296; Vinovskis, Maris A., “Abortion and the Presidential Election of 1976: A Multivariate Analysis of Voting Behavior,” Michigan Law Review 77 (1979): 1767–68.

45. Thomson, Rosemary, Withstanding Humanism’s Challenge to Families: Anatomy of a White House Conference (Morton, Ill., 1981), 139–41;Church, George J., “Politics from the Pulpit,” Time, 13 October 1980, 34; Rosenbaum, David E., “Conservatives Embrace Reagan on Social Issues,” New York Times, 21 April 1980.

46. Republican Party Platform of 1980 [http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/showplatforms.php?platindex=R1980]; Republican Party Platform of 1984 [http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/showplatforms.php?platindex=R1984]; Shribman, David, “Foes of Abortion Beaten in Senate on Amendment Bid,” New York Times, 29 June 1983.

47. Kolbert, Elizabeth, “Abortion, Dole’s Sword in ’74, Returns to Confront Him in ’96,” New York Times, 8 July 1996; Rosenbaum, David E., “Dole Camp Accepts Uncompromising Abortion Plank,” New York Times, 6 August 1996.

48. 2004 CNN Presidential Election Exit Polls [http://www.cnn.com/ELECTION/2004/pages/results/states/US/P/00/epolls.0.html]; 2008 CNN Presidential Election Exit Polls [http://www.cnn.com/ELECTION/2008/results/polls/#val=USP00p2]; Dart, John, “Mainline Shows Shift to Democrats,” Christian Century, 15 July 2008, 14.

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