Adamantly pro-choice? Ronald Reagan and abortion in 1967.

The governor is innocent of Romney's charge.

By Mark Kilmer Posted in Comments (63) / Email this page » / Leave a comment »

Was Ronald Reagan ever pro-choice? Did he champion and sign pro-choice legislation in 1967 when governor of California? Was he "adamantly pro-choice," and outspoken protector of a woman's right to choose?

It has been said that he was, indeed, "adamantly pro-choice." It's quite an accusation, and it is not true. First, if words mean anything, it is a false accusation. According to Merriam-Webster, for one to be adamant, he must be "unshakable or insistent especially in maintaining a position or opinion." To be pro-choice, one must be a proponent of a woman's right to choose legally to abort her child and in favor of legal abortion on demand. Governor Reagan did not favor the general legalization of abortion and did not hold that a woman had a right to terminate her pregnancy, and he most certainly was not adamant about it.

We have examined this within our RedState community -- here, here, and here -- but we have not reviewed what actually happened in 1967, when Governor Reagan signed California's 1967 Therapeutic Abortion Act. We shall do so now.

Please Read On.…

According to the jacket blurb, "Lou Cannon covered Reagan for thirty-six years, first as a reporter for the San Jose Mercury News, later as The Washington Post White House correspondent." In 1969, he wrote extensively about the early years of Ronald Reagan's governorship in a book called Ronnie and Jessie. My source is his 2003 tome, Governor Reagan: His Rise to Power, which I have just purchased used in hardcover from for about $5 including shipping. It is within Mitt Romney's budget, and I wish he would have purchased it before he made his infamous pronouncement, but let us look at what it says.

With access to mountains of previously unpublished material – including Governor Reagan's "cabinet minutes" -- Cannon writes a good book of history, devoting seven pages to the matter of the Therapeutic Abortion Act of 1967, beginning on p. 208. There had been a bill in the California legislature, Cannon tells us, that legalized abortions only to save the life of the mother. Its sponsor dropped it in 1965, and its sponsorship was grabbed by a young Democrat named Tony Beilenson, a State senator representing an "affluent, liberal district in Los Angeles County." It was Beilenson's bill, a watered-down version, which Reagan would sign.

Cannon, by way of background, writes: "Abortion on the 1960s was discussed in whispers. Until mid-decade, the word itself was taboo in most newspapers. … The phrases 'pro-choice' and 'pro-life' did not yet exist, and battle lines on the issue were drawn almost entirely on religious lines." Conservatives who were not Roman Catholics, Cannon writes, believed "that government should stay out of 'the boardroom and the bedroom.'"

Now, it could be argued that since the euphemism "pro-choice" had not yet been concocted, Governor Reagan could not have been that as claimed. I'll discard that argument as pure semantics, as Reagan could have fit the definition – right to choose to abort on demand – without it being labeled any particular way.

Cannon writes that when Beilenson introduced his Therapeutic Abortion Act in 1967, it would probably have disappeared again but for Daniel Creedon, a lobbyist pal of Senate leader Hugh Burns, telling Burns to "give the kid [Beilenson] a chance." It went to the Judiciary Committee, on which Beilenson sat.

Writes Cannon: "Beilenson's bill amended California law to allow abortions in cases of rape or incest, when a doctor deemed that the birth was likely to impair the physical or mental health of the mother, or when there was 'substantial risk' that the child would be born deformed." The Beilenson bill gained even more traction when the Colorado legislature voted to liberalize their abortion law and in response to public outrage over eight San Francisco doctors being arrested for performing abortions on women with German measles. The Catholic Church, on the other hand, mobilized against the legislation, fearing that a move to liberalize the abortion law in California might spread elsewhere

After six hours of debate past midnight, the bill was sent to the Senate floor with the minimum seven votes favoring it, five of which were from Senators of the governor's Republican Party. The governor had expressed some support for the bill, but he was caught off guard when it sailed through committee as quickly as it did. The governor's Senate liaison, Vern Sturgeon, and Senate leader Burns, whom we met earlier, worked to get it sent back to committee, but they failed. Beilenson's problem, though, was that he didn't have the votes to have it brought up on the Senate floor. Realizing this, he put his bill in the inactive file while he worked on finding more support in the senate and from the governor.

Here, Cannon describes Governor Reagan as "not his usual decisive self. … [N]either his doctrines nor his staff offered a compass to guide him." (Lyn Nofziger and Ed Meese favored the bill, while Phil Battaglia and Bill Clark opposed it. Cannon writes that Nancy Reagan was said to favor the bill, but this is uncertain.) Reagan talked to his wife's father, Dr. Loyal Davis, a retired surgeon who favored liberalizing the abortion law. [NOTE: It is important to remember that the proposed liberalization of the California law we discuss here, even though more permissive than zero, did not fit into the modern category of pro-choice.] In opposition to the Beilenson measure, the governor spoke to Cardinal Francis McIntyre.

Cannon writes:

"Faced with an abundance of contradictory and absolutist advice, Reagan behaved as if lost at sea."

It is impossible to get from that to "adamantly pro-choice," but we are in the middle of a very important history lesson.

Cannon's prose reveals the tension in the air:

"At a news conference on May 9 [1967], he displayed almost total confusion about the bill, freely contradicting himself and claiming he had discovered some 'loopholes,' which on close examination turned out to be the purpose of the legislation."

"The clear sign that the governor was wavering in his support for the bill," Cannon writes, "came when" he suggested that they see how the measure worked in Colorado, where something similar had already been passed, before imposing it on California. This made Republicans nervous. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Donald Grunsky, a Republican, told Reagan: "This will keep coming back as an emotional issue year after year. If the Legislature acts now, the issue will be resolved and settled once and for all." (Yeah, right.) Governor Reagan was still torn, reading through all the information given him by both sides in an unsuccessful search for some sort of compromise.

"I have never done more study on any one thing than on the abortion bill."

Cannon reports that Governor Reagan "lied to reporters" when he twice denied that he had met with Cardinal McIntyre. Cannon attributes this to the stress under which Reagan found himself at the time and that the governor was "playing for time." Before the Senate vote, Governor Reagan called for a compromise and said of the provision which would allow for aborting a baby which would be born with birth defects that it was "not different from what Hitler might do." And he was right. Beilenson, eager to get his abortion vote, stripped that provision and the Senate passed it with 21 votes, the fewest necessary. Ronald Reagan was not a cheerleader for the bill, even without the provision, and it was unclear if he would sign it.

In his weekly press conference, Reagan discussed how the "mental health of the mother" provision could be abused by abortionists. When asked, he said that he was unsure if he would sign the measure, and Republican lawmakers, according to Cannon, were "tired of Reagan's dithering." The gravity of the measure was not known at this point.

The bill's floor manager, Republican Assemblyman Craig Biddle, declared that Governor Reagan would be "breaking a pledge" if he didn't sign the bill, and the Senate passed it, 48-30.

At this point, the governor's media guy, Lyn Nofziger, told Reagan that he wanted to announce immediately that Reagan would sign the measure, pushing the press to focus on the bill itself rather than a possible veto. Cannon writes: "Reagan wearily agreed, and Nofziger produced the press release within minutes."


In his heart, Reagan agreed with Cardinal McIntyre, not Dr. Davis, and he really wanted to veto the Therapeutic Abortion Act. Instead, he subordinated his personal feelings to the commitment he had made to Republican legislators to sign the bill. He wasn't happy about it. "Those were awful weeks," Reagan told me a year later. He added that he would never have signed the bill if he had been more experienced as governor, the only time as governor or President that Reagan acknowledged a mistake on major legislation.

He had no idea of the horrors which the bill, though far from pro-choice, would unleash on the unborn. (The "horrors" bit is mine, the reportage is Cannon's.)

Cannon does have Reagan adamant about one thing, though Cannon uses a form of the synonym "unwavering":

"You can't allow an abortion on grounds the child won't be born perfect," Reagan said. "Where do you stop? What is the degree of deformity [required] that a person shouldn't be born? Crippled persons have contributed greatly to our society." He never wavered in this view.

Lawmakers tried to amend the bill in 1970, and Governor Reagan refused: "Who might they be doing away with? Another Lincoln, or Beethoven, an Einstein or an Edison? Who shall play God?"

That was Ronald Reagan when the Therapeutic Abortion Act became law. That was the Ronald Reagan whom Mitt Romney cavalierly calls "adamantly pro-choice." He was not the prescient and decisive crusader for life for which our romantic imaginings might long, but he was with certainty not pro-choice.

Mitt Romney, in the same interview with Chris Wallace in which he slandered Reagan, wouldn't even admit that he himself was pro-choice:

I never called myself pro-choice. I never allowed myself to use the word pro-choice because I didn't feel I was pro-choice. I would protect the law, I said, as it was, but I wasn't pro-choice.

Yet he had just moments earlier declared that "[a]s governor, he [Reagan] was adamantly pro-choice."

We've established that Governor Reagan was anything but pro-choice. By any convoluted word-game definition, the governor was not "adamantly" anything, in that uncharted territory, but opposed to abortion to ensure "perfect" babies. Romney, who declared his path similar to Reagan, on the other hand, once proclaimed: "Let me make this very clear: I will preserve and protect a woman's right to choose [to abort her child]."

I posted this to clear President Reagan's good name. A retraction, an apology, and an explanation from candidate Romney would also be welcome. Mitt Romney has the money and the looks to compete in this nominating process, so let's keep this as honest as possible.

(To any student of Ronald Reagan, I recommend Lou Cannon's Governor Reagan: His Rise to Power. Adamantly.)

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Adamantly pro-choice? Ronald Reagan and abortion in 1967. 63 Comments (0 topical, 63 editorial, 0 hidden) Post a comment »

In sum, then Governor Reagan signed a bill legalizing abortion. But he wasn't pro-choice. Come on now.

He did not sign a "bill legalizing abortion" and he was not pro-choice. (Least of all "adamantly" so.)

I read what you wrote. From what you wrote, the bill Reagan signed, "amended California law to allow abortions in cases of rape or incest, when a doctor deemed that the birth was likely to impair the physical or mental health of the mother." That seems to be pretty clear in that it legalized abortion. Further, if he was truly pro-life this bill would have been vetoed.

that health of the Mother (mental or otherwise) would encompass so much today (times changed radically with the pro abortionists). Today, mental health of the mother is defines as a hangnail...

Formally known as Deagle... "Golf is a way of life..."

If Reagan was a current governor and signed the exact same bill, we would be applauding for its restrictiveness. The bill he (reluctantly) signed allowed abortions in a few limited cases (rape, incest & life of the mother) - oh how I would love a bill like this today. Either way, you couldn't call Reagan adamantly pro-choice, or even pro-choice at all. In today's definition he would be "moderately" pro-life (smack dab middle of the road Republican pro-life).

That said, I still don't really fault Romney for this, it's conventional wisdom that Reagan was "pro-choice" and became "pro-life" later in life. And as always conventional wisdom is wrong.

The CIA has better politicians than it has spies - Fred Thompson

The CIA has better politicians than it has spies - Fred Thompson

I was just trying to affirm and reinforce that point, that if that's what bill did, then it was a bill enforcing a position we today call pro-life.

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We would applaud nothing; the bill is what we now have everywhere. Did you not see the word "health," especially "mental health?" With that exception, any reason any woman ever has for any abortion is valid. Abortionists can also use the "health" rule when they say that there is a higher percentage of deaths from childbirth than from abortion. The exceptions eliminate the rule. We could pretty much call that the way things are nationwide.

When he signed the bill, he thought he was allowing for actual physical and mental health, not broken nails and bad hair days. He quickly realized that he had been snookered.

Do not doubt that this bill was exploited by abortionists to perform a lot of abortions. Do not doubt that Reagan did not know that this would happen. He was snookered at that point. He made a mistake, and if he had known what would come of this, he would not have signed it.

Both Cannon and Reagan himself made this clear.

on the "adamantly pro-choice" thing. Reagan was not that, ever.

If Reagan was a current governor and signed the exact same bill, when the law before signing the bill made all abortions illegal, I suspect that Mark Kilmer would be arguing that this disqualified Reagan from ever gaining the Republican nomination. I have great respect for Mark, but this argument strikes me as a bit like saying that Franklin Roosevelt didn't support big government, because if government was reduced today to the size is was in 1945, we'd all be applauding it for it parsimony. The argument just doesn't work.

I suppose the argument can be made that Romney should be crucified for using the adverb "adamantly," but personally, I think there are better uses for the time and energy of Republicans, such as criticizing pro-choice Democrats. But that's just me.

Brad Smith
Professor of Law
Capital University Law School
Capital University website
Center for Competitive Politics website

Mitt Romney to be the President of the United States. He's over 35, born in the United States, etc.

My argument is that Governor Reagan was not "adamantly pro-choice."

I'm not part of some anti-Mitt movement or pro-Mitt movement or any such thing. If Mitt Romney is the Republican nominee and if he correctss himself on RWR, I'm currently willing to support him against the forces of darkness.

This is about Ronald Reagan, not so much about Mitt.

1. Even Reagan needed time before he really became Reagan. It would be 9 more years before he ran a serious campaign for the presidency and only then after two full terms as Governor. Not a lesson Romney would like to draw.

2. Reagan in '67 sounds much like Bush on stem cells in August '01, dithering while he tried to sort through a relatively new issue in a world of fast-moving technology. Bush made a better showing in the end, though neither really pleased everyone.

Excellent work, Mark.

"No compromise with the main purpose, no peace till victory, no pact with unrepentant wrong." - Winston Churchill

While the term pro-choice had not really made it into the political parlance certainly the discriptiopn "supported the liberalization of abortion" is not unreasonable and applied to RR. "Adamantly pro-choice" is a stretch, especially based on what we now know from his biographers. But before the Romney detractors get too much into high dudgeon, keep in mind that in fact Reagan signed perhaps the most liberal law in the nation at a time when abortion had nowhere near the acceptance it came to have and the fact that the California law contained the phrase "mental health" a term so capable of expansion that no abortion could be prevented. It is not unreasonable to say that Reagan was "outfront" on the issue at the time, even if against his better judgment. Those facts certainly made me suspicious of Reagan in 1976. Reagan learned from his mistake and weakness. He repented. As President I believe he tried to do the right thing, but "there you go again" he nominated Sandra Day O'Connor. Not a shining moment for protecting life or Constitutional jurisprudence. So what do we make of this? As Governor Mitt Romney vetoed clone and kill legislation. He has articulated his conversion. There is no evidence to indicate he is insincere. Romney is pro-life now and that is what counts. Not unlike Reagan.

abortions were not allowed. (The 1872 law amended by the 1967 Act allowed a phycian to induce a miscarriage in a woman to save her life.) Before California passed its 1967 law, Colorado had already liberalized its abortion law. Reagan spoke out against the mental health exception before the California senate passed the bill; he was not "out front," as he did not write the language. He signed it while opposing it.

This was not Reagan's bill.

Ronald Reagan was not adamantly pro-choice. Ronald was not pro-choice. It is immaterial what Mitt Romney might not be or might or might not have been, except insofar as it was not what Reagan was.

You established from the quotes from Reagan biographers that his signature on California's 1967 abortion liberalization bill was the result of weakness, bad advice, that he never thought it would come to that, and that he regretted it. I accept that fully. But a defense of Reagan from some to the effect "he didn't like it but he signed it" or "he wasn't happy with the mental health language" might be OK if the issue was about some niggling details in legislation or if he thought the bill, over-all, was good. Is that what you are maintaining? If so that is hardly a defense of Reagan for being pro-life at the time. Mental health was undeniably the most egregious aspect to the bill.

I accept that he was not "adamantly pro-choice" as we might understand that phrase now. And Chief Justice Berger in concurring in Roe V Wade or Doe V Bolton said something like "clearly this is not abortion on demand." Reagan made a great error, we are told he considered it his most regrettable error. That is testament to what was over all his well ordered humility. But few politicians would have ever advocated "abortion on demand" in 1967. (Indeed I do not think that any state even twenty years or more after Roe would ever have written into law the abortion regime that Roe mandated, no meaningful legal restriction on abortion up to the moment of birth). California was an early "leading state" in undoing protections for unborn members of the human family. Reagan signed the law.

Reagan, a subsequently pro-life President, was Governor of California for six years prior to Roe V Wade. Those were my high school and college years. I know that California and New York had become centers for easy abortion even while other states were beating back pro-abortion referenda. I would honestly like to know if there was any legislation he sponsored to undo the mental health language or any subsequent denigrations of abortion restrictions protecting unborn human life while he was governor prior to Roe? There might have been. It would strengthen the case for the uber defense of Reagan as regards a defensive harried comment by Romney that he admittedly should not have used.

You said, "And Chief Justice Berger in concurring in Roe V Wade or Doe V Bolton said something like 'clearly this is not abortion on demand.'"

Harry Blackmun, Roe's author, said the same thing; and he even said it on TV after he retired in 1994. His rationale was that it was not "abortion on demand" because it "required a doctor" to do it. By that logic, I guess my cable company is lying when they say I can get "cable on demand" because I have to use a licensed cable provider. Apparently he and his cohorts had a lifelong habit of assigning new and previously unknown meanings to old words and phrases.

In his Autobiography, Reagan said that the one thing he regrets more than any other was signing that bill. I thought I remembered him writing that he signed it because the legislature had the votes to override his veto and he signed it as a compromise in order to get a different bill passed. Maybe I am confusing two different stories.

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Ronald Reagan was never "adamantly pro-choice". The bill in question was circumstantial.

Oddly enough, I read where it was also Ronald Reagan who signed the first-ever law permitting no-fault divorce.

It's pretty bad that he would regret signing that bill more than he would appointing O'Connor, who did FAR more damage and caused FAR more genocide than that puny bill ever did.

I don't really care what Reagan, Romney or anyone else believed or believes; I care what they did and will do. Beliefs and actions do not necessarily (and in fact rarely do) go together, especially with politicians.

compare no-fault divorce with abortion legislation? Well, I consider no=fault divorce as an attempt to equalize the differences between men and women's rights - ie, before, women seemed to have the rights, men had the money...(might be a bit biased here). Later days seem to be that women have the money and men have no rights (but more money)... Oh well...

Let's forget about O'Conner... definitely a bit of damage there...

Formally known as Deagle... "Golf is a way of life..."

No I don't, and I probably should not have put it here. I apologize for that. I would certainly have thought he would have vetoed such a measure though. However, I guess it's hard for me to say since I wasn't even alive at the time.

Well, from this old fart and Reagan voter, you're excused youngster...

Too old to care anymore...about some things (sometimes).

Formally known as Deagle... "Golf is a way of life..."

I think abortion is more corrosive of society, but easy divorce has hurt us badly. Just see the other thread about boys on ritalin.

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I don't disagree that it has hurt society badly (and still does)... but I do think that the current laws have unduly hurt ex-husbands...that was my point. I'm not sure that "hard" divorce would actually stop the current trend (actually, am pretty sure it would not help). Today's liberal society makes it impossible to prevent/hinder such actions based upon morality.

Ideally, divorce would not happen - ie., maybe like the older days when couples stayed together for better or worse...but those days are long gone. Seems like the raising of children takes a back seat to "my individual pleasure". It seems now that the women have decided that freedom (usually sexual) is more important than family as shown by the statistics... Too bad that it is so...

Formally known as Deagle... "Golf is a way of life..."

ADD and Ritalin are a symptom of todays society...and the psychiatric cures (heaven help us). My gosh, if I were growing up today, I would have been in an asylum for sure...playing with soldiers, shooting water pistols, bb-guns, arrows, shooting off firecrackers, and anything else I could find. People today are just plain crazy when they try to figure out why their kids are "active" and even like playing "soldiers". Mercy...

Let kids be kids... Ditch the Ritalin - for goodness sakes!

Formally known as Deagle... "Golf is a way of life..."

ADD, Ritalin, et al., are not symptoms of todays society. To elaborate, allow me to introduce you to some folks that showed classic and indisputable signs of ADD.
Albert Einstein
Ansel Adams
Ann Bancroft
Alexander Graham Bell
James Boswell
Sir Richard Francis Burton
President George Bush (both)
Admiral Richard Byrd
Lord Byron
Thomas Carlyle
Andrew Carnegie
Jim Carrey
Gen. H. Norman Charles
Thomas Chatterton
Samuel Clemens
Samuel T. Coleridge
Christopher Columbus
Tom Cruise
Leonardo da Vinci
Salvador Dali
Emily Dickinson
Patty Duke
Thomas Edison
Albert Einstein
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Ernest & Marel
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Edward Fitzgerald
Malcomb Forbes
Henry Ford
Rick Fox
Benjamin Franklin
Robert Frost
Zsa Zsa Gabor
Tom Gainsborough
Bill Gates
Susan Hampshire
Mariette Hartley
Stephen Hawking
Wm Randolph Hearst
Ernest Hemingway
Bill Hewlett
Alfred Hitchcock
Dustin Hoffman

.More Famous people with ADHD...

Thomas Jefferson
Bruce Jenner
"Magic" Johnson
Samuel Johnson
Michael Jordan
Carl Jung, M.D.
King Karl XI of Sweden
John F. Kennedy
Robert Kennedy
Jason Kidd
Evel Knievel
Bill Lear
John Lennon
Lewis and Clark
Carl Lewis
Abraham Lincoln
Luci Baines Johnson Nugent
Louis Pasteur
Gen. George Patton
H. Ross Perot

Gen. Norman Schwartzkopf
George C. Scott
George Bernard Shaw
Tom Smothers
Steven Spielberg
Sylvester Stallone
Robert Louis Stevenson
Jackie Stewart
James Stewart
Richard C. Strauss
Lord Alfred Tennyson
Nicolai Tesla
Henry David Thoreau
Leo Tolstoy
Ted Turner
Vincent Van Gogh
Jules Verne
Werner von Braun
Lindsay Wagner
Mike Wallace
General Westmoreland
Weyerhauser Family
Walt Whitman
Jamie Williams
Robin Williams
Tennessee Williams
Woodrow Wilson
Henry Winkler
Stevie Wonder
Virginia Woolf
F.W. Woolworth
Wright Brothers
Vince Lombardi
Robert Lowell
James Clark Maxwell
Steve McQueen
David H. Murdock
Isaac Newton
Jack Nicholson
Anthony Hopkins
Howard Hughes

Edgar Allan Poe
Cole Porter
Elvis Presley
Dan Rather
Buddy Rich
Eddie Rickenbacker
Guy Ritchie
Joan Rivers
John D. Rockefeller
Nelson Rockefeller
Pete Rose
John Ruskin
Nolan Ryan
Eleanor Roosevelt
Anwar Sadat
Pierre Salinger
Charles Schulz
Robert Schumann
Pablo Picasso
Charles Schwab

that im most instances, it was NOT a problem to be solved by a psychiatrist! They were brilliant and normal point exactly.

Get rid of Ritalin...ADD is a semi-normal response to a dull world.

Formally known as Deagle... "Golf is a way of life..."

and you do sound like a psychiatrist looking for patients... ADD is a nice made up term for "not paying attention" - geez, count me in...

Formally known as Deagle... "Golf is a way of life..."

But by rj1913

I think that abortion will be historically be looked at as atrociously as slavery.

to be an abomination I believe... People seem to take offense at the persecution of pets more than the persecution of babies... We leave a terrible legacy...

Formally known as Deagle... "Golf is a way of life..."

I jumped too quick...heh...

Formally known as Deagle... "Golf is a way of life..."

You are splitting hairs here. Maybe RR was not adamantly pro-choice, but your post makes it clear RR signed a pro-abortion bill for political purposes. Is that really any better?

If anything, it makes Romney's early abortion stance seem similar to RR's situation. Facing a liberal, pro-choice voting block in Mass, Romney, for political purposes, was effectively pro-choice.

You can't compare a situation pre-Roe, as Reagan's, with a situation now, after decades of abortion on demand with the consequences in full view.

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It is not unreasonable to do so. Romney had no power as Governor to undo Roe V Wade and the regime of abortion on demand it imposed on every state. Reagan, however regrettably, signed into law something that in practice was a long ways towards Roe.

Reagan didn't have the benefit of knowing how 'health of the mother' would become code for abortion on demand. Romney, when he ran aganst Ted Kennedy, had the benefit of hindsight on the consequences. So if Romney supported abortion on demand, then it's doubly incomparable with Reagan supporting the three exception rule to abortion.

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First of all I do not defend Romney's views or statements at the time he was running for Senate or Governor. We are discussing Romney's sins as regards Reagan as Governor of California. Both repented, both later articulated good pro-life views, and indeed Romney vetoed clone and kill legislation, which establishes real bona fides on his part. Reagan did his best, he was crucial in some areas, although he did nominate a terrible pro-abortion Supreme Court justice.

True, the reality of abortion was much clearer during Romney's political maturity. But it is also true that abortion was fait accompli because of Roe v Wade. That was not the case with Reagan. Abortion was more socially shocking, not generally accepted, and I do not think that Mark Kilmer's recitation of the comments of Reagan biographers maintains that there was overwhelming political pressure to change the law. Indeed it was more "give Bielenson a chance." That is a pretty weak case that somehow abortion, even in limited scope, could not be resisted. Reagan could have vetoed the legislation, sent them back to the drawing board on the aspects he didn't like.

Contrast that to the fact that there was and is powerful positive support for abortion, not to mention resistance to pro-life laws in Massachusetts, before during and now after Romney's time. Romney had no legislative power to do anything about legal abortion on demand as Governor of Massachusetts but he could do something about cloning and killing, because it was new legislation. He could veto it, and he did. Arguably as governor Reagan could have done something about abortion, but he did not. Certainly after seeing the results or learning more, he changed his mind, or his better instincts took over. That is not all that different from Romney. By the way did Reagan do anything in the six years previous to Roe when California was an abortion destination for the country to undo his mistake? Regardless, why don't people concentrate on the more serious abuses of language and contortions of logic we see coming from Giuliani on the issue, rather than on records both Reagan and Romney are on record as regretting?

pro-choice in the 80's is not equivalent to pro-choice today. Mercy how things have changed for the worse! We kill babies for the convenience of the mother today...heaven help us...

Formally known as Deagle... "Golf is a way of life..."

Everyone has a different standard for being "pro-choice" or "pro-life." The terms have no value in communicating with audiences one doesn't know. The standards have probably been subjective since the terms were created.

The vast majority of people have no idea how liberal Roe is. See

What simplistic crap... There is only one standard for everybody. You either agree with killing the pre-born children or not! There is NOT any such thing as pro-choice! You;re just saying that you agree that killing the unborn is okay with you! My objective has not changed since the 80's, only you and your kind may have changed theirs. Subjective is a nice comfortable term now isn't it...!!

Formally known as Deagle... "Golf is a way of life..."

I'm too old for nuance...and too slow to catch on at times... At any rate, I am only for abortion if the life of the Mother is at stake. With that in mind, I apologize for my language and tone...

At any rate, your right regarding the pro-life, pro-choice terms. I should not use either for clarity. Just was a bit infuriated to respond correctly. Sorry...

Formally known as Deagle... "Golf is a way of life..."

I'm a little confused here. I'm not using any of my own terms. I'm just trying to communicate what I see and hear elsewhere. Note that I too regard abortion as murder to the point that I support and encourage the direct defiance of the federal courts by the legislatures and law enforcement authorities on this matter.

pro-choic has a meaning. If you are pro-choice, you favor the right of a woman to terminate her pregnancy of demand. It is not a relative term.

Or better put, it may be what you think it means to be "pro-choice," but it is not how people I know define what it means to be "pro-choice." Those people I know who favor abortion on demand do not think that those who favor abortion rights with some restrictions are somehow not "pro-choice." And those I know who favor abortion rights with various restrictions frequently, if not almost always, describe themselves as "pro-choice," often taking pains to point out that they "personally oppose abortion." And others call themselves "pro-life," then tick off exceptions to their view. In short, pro-choice and por-life are fluid terms, not the absolutes you would have them be. And while I don't know (and you don't either), I would be shocked to discover that Mitt Romney meant that he believes that Reagan favored abortion on demand at any time. So if that's what this all comes down to, I think your indignation is wholly misplaced.

This argument of yours continues to baffle me, and each time you post on it - including this post, with its long excerpts from Cannon's book - I find myself thinking, "so, if we have to use today's terms, I guess one could say that Reagan was pro-choice." Do you really disagree with this proposition: If any Republican candidate for President in 2008 had signed into law a bill liberalizing the abortion regime in his state, huge sections - probably a majority - of the Republican party would consider him to be "pro-choice"?

And what is the point, here? Why is it not sufficient merely to point out something along the lines of, "the characterization of Reagan as a "pro-choice" governor is an oversimplification..." Of course, the characterization of the vast majority of people as "pro-choice" or "pro-life" is an oversimplification even today, isn't it? Politics, perhaps unfortunately, requires candidates to simplify their positions into tight little soundbites. It is, after all, an oversimplification to say that Hillary is "pro-big government," isn't it, or that McCain is "pro-war in Iraq," or that Rudy is a "leader."

Was Reagan a pro-choice governor? Give me two seconds to answer, and I'd have to say, "yes." Even after reading all your posts. I probably wouldn't, but might even say "adamantly" so, given that he signed the law in the face of solid opposition.

Brad Smith
Professor of Law
Capital University Law School
Capital University website
Center for Competitive Politics website

Did Reagan favor a woman's right to choose to abort her child? No. He was not pro-choice. (If you favor abortion only in cases of rape, incest, and life of the mother, ou are not pro-choice.)

You claim that Reagan was adamantly pro-choice because he signed the bill despite some opposition? My piece made clear that signing the bill was not a statement in support of or in opposition to abortion by Ronald Reagan. My post made clear that Reagan was in no way adamant about it, either way.

As I've said, this is not a fight that Romney should want. His campaign should not be about the accusation that Reagan was pro-choice, yet he's basing his argument to social conservatives on that. He should instead rely on his own current set of convictions.

It seems to me that this is a fight you want, not Romney. And I still don't understand why.

But...Did Reagan favor a woman's right to choose to abort her child? Yes. I think he did, at lesat in certain circumstances. He signed a law giving her the right to choose whereas before she lacked that right. He had deep reservations, to be sure - many of us take actions, and even hold our opinions, with deep reservations - and later he regreted that decision. But, well, yes, as Governor of California he decided to sign a law giving a woman greater rights to choose to abort her child.

I know many, many people who consider themselves "pro-choice" precisely because they believe in the right to abort (soley) in cases of rape, incest, or life of the mother. And I know many pro-life activists who say that people who believe in some or all of those exceptions cannot truly by pro-life (thereby implicitly giving them the "pro-choice" label in our binary debate). Politics is not always debated in the terms you insist upon, and politicians will often use terms in ways that you would prefer they do not, just as people who believe in state power are now called "liberals," a "slander," if you will, on the good name of liberalism, which orignally stood for individual liberty against the state. I think in the widely accepted parlance of the term, a person who signs a law making it easier for women to abort their children can be called "pro-choice." In fact, I think that's what most people would call it, don't you?

I think we can forgive Reagan this error. And I surely think we give forgive Romney for mentioning it in the context of conceding his own error - and even for using an adverb that may, like your position that Reagan was "never" pro-choice, be a bit off the mark.

Brad Smith
Professor of Law
Capital University Law School
Capital University website
Center for Competitive Politics website

permitted abortions when doctor's indicated the life or health of a mother would be a jeopardy if the child were carried to term or if the district attorney held that the women had been raped (inc. incest). The woman's choice there is minimal at best, as in most cases, the choice is essentially made for her. Reagan was not pro-choice within the meaning of that term. Mitt Romney declared that he was and that he was adamantly so. If it were a poor choice of words or a statement made before seeing the record, perhaps based on what sloppy columnists had written, then it would be easy for him to retract, apologize, and explain.

According to you, today. Not according to how most people I know use the term, and apparently not as to how Mitt Romney uses the term. "Retract?" "Apologize?" "Explain?" For what? To whom? The only person I know of making a big deal out of this is you. No slight to Red State - you guys graciously let me blog here, too, and frequently promote me to the front page - but I'd be surprised if any of the presidential candidates ever felt an obligation to retract, apologize or explain their comments to Red State. As Lincoln might have noted, there is not even the time to read, let alone respond to, all such comments. I suspect Reagan would have long since shrugged off any offense - if he would have felt any was justified in the first place.

Brad Smith
Professor of Law
Capital University Law School
Capital University website
Center for Competitive Politics website


Proponents of wide open legal abortion who like to refer to themselves as "pro-choice" practice umbrage when they think the abortion decision is characterized as anything but one undertaken with great soul searching, engendering substantial stress, and anxiety about the future. Indeed that the woman's future permanent mental and emotional health is always very much at stake. Mental and emotional health is at the very core of their public presentations on the issue. They maintain that no abortion is undertaken except under deep self searching and any denial of abortion should a woman want one would cause deep mental distress. Rape and incest justifications and even potential physical risks can be reduced to concern over resultant "mental health" problems. Mental health has always been the stalking horse for abortion on demand. It is the reason that is all reasons.

Reagan was not substantially different than many politicians who call themselves pro-choice out of overwrought concerns or confusion over terms, combined with what they think is political easy sailing. Reagan bought into the key driving force behind abortion on demand. So there should not be too much indignation taken that Reagan might be referred to as being "pro-choice" at one time in his life. Adamantly is not a word I might use but Reagan apologists on the issue should still provide evidence as to what he did to prevent his state from being the easy abortion haven it became, years before Roe. What correctives did he employ? Did he foster any legislative effort, perhaps to restrict "mental health" to a diagnosed psychosis by a psychiatrist, if that was his misgiving? Did he regularly use the bully pulpit to rally support to undue the mistake? If he did these things that would be mitigating. If he just through up his hands as governor, while tens of thousands of abortions went on, well do you prefer ignoble or craven on the issue instead of "pro-choice" to describe him at the time he signed?

Keep in mind that his signature and time as governor was several years before Roe V Wade, when legislators were not nearly as restricted by court mandates in how they approached the abortion issue. Also keep in mind that the law he signed was two years after the publication in LIFE magazine in 1965 of Lennart Nilsson's compelling intra-uterine fiber-optic photos of unborn human life. Ronald Reagan's vacillation in 1967, perhaps continuously for a number of years, was of no benefit to thousands of pre-born children. People knew, or could have known.

Ronald Reagan was a great President who was not proud of his performance as governor in presiding over virtual abortion on request. Perhaps you don't even think "changed his mind about abortion" is an appropriate descriptive? How about "changed his mind about whether abortion was worth doing anything about?" And the difference to the unborn is . . .?? Is this coming down too hard on Ronald Reagan? That is not my purpose but excusatory defenses go too far.

Romney is so ridiculously pummeled by even supposed pro-lifers for having changed his mind about abortion, I think I can forgive a perhaps imperfect analogy that helps people understand that even great leaders like Ronald Reagan can make mistakes and change their minds. But Romney has a track record now. The holier than though cynicism or partisanship out there is a little like calling Ronald Reagan to task for insincerity after four years as President (with the Roe decision to contend with) and a confirmed pro-life track record, as he is running for election again, because he used to have a different view.

For the record I live in Iowa, I am a pro-life conservative political activist, I am not connected with any campaign and I do not have a favorite candidate as yet. There are a number of pro-life candidates that are high enough on my "decision matrix," i.e., my Ouijee Board, that if the Party gets behind them, and the Washington no-it-alls do not get control, that could beat anybody on the horizon for the Democrats.

The term pro-choice means in favor of the woman's right to terminate her pregnancy on demand.

That is what it may mean to you and to some others, but not for everyone who uses it.

Furthermore, it is never about the "woman's choice" but the "abortionists' choice" since women were never prosecuted. So the "choice" can ONLY be described as a "doctor's right to choose."

Go ahead, let Mitt Romney play around with what the definition of pro-choice is. That'll really help him with the people calling him slick...

He's my second choice in the race right now. I hate to see him do this.

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to abort her baby. (This could be phrased, the woman's choice not to carry her pregnancy to term.)

It is the woman's choice.

The term "pro-choice" means that.

What did Romney mean when he used it? Well, in the same interview, he told Wallace that he was never pro-choice. I'm not going to argue that one now.

In that case, the term is not really a matter of law. Women have never been barred from performing any action themselves. Those who favor legal abortion only want someone ELSE to be able to WILLINGLY kill babies without penalty. Women have always had the "choice" to seek and obtain any abortion they could find without fear of any kind of criminal penalty. By your full definition, it is little more than opposition to criminal punishment for women.

It's like saying one favors the right to own and take illegal drugs but not to sell or distribute them. There is still a right to choose to have drugs. There is a big difference.

This is why the term is so poorly suited for this situation.

"Pro-life" on the other hand also goes both ways. Those who want to keep abortion legal occasionally call themselves "pro-life" in regard to protecting the lives of women who may commit suicide as a result of trying to abort themselves. They may also use the term to describe a personal rather than legal view.

More specifics are needed to determine where one stands. There are no standard defintions over which everyone agrees.

To be pro-choice, he would have to favor a woman's right to choose to have an abortion. Abortion on demand. Ronald Reagan was never that. EVER.

A woman doesn't choose to fall under one of the exceptions: rape, incest, or danger. So there's no choice involved as to whether an abortion is available.

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First of all, women do not choose to fall under the rule either. Though they can control pregnancy, such a factor should not be a determinant in whether abortion is legal. The rape and incenst exceptions are merely compromises and/or transitional policies toward the ultimate goal. As South Dakota (and any poll) shows us, they are needed to get a majority's support.

Second, unless the woman does it herself, only the abortionist chooses whether to make an abortion available.

What does that have to do with being 'pro-choice?' Are you suggesting that when the activists say 'a woman's right to choose,' they're really referring to the abortionist and not the mother?

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Yes, I am suggesting exactly that. Women would still have such a "right" so long as no criminal penalties applied to them.

This has nothing to do with criminal penalties. "Pro-choice" allows a woman carrying a child in her womb to choose to have it terminated. The abortionist does the terminating, but the choice implied by the term "pro-choice," that of having it terminated, belongs to the woman.

If it has nothing to do with criminal penalties, then it has no place in a political discussion.

I usually know what others mean when they use the term based on the context; but the term DOES mean different things to different people.

I believe the term to be inappropriate for its most meaning, and I refuse to use it outside a quote or reference to what others say.

If someone wished for it to be illegal without favoring penalties for the woman, then the woman can still "choose" to KILL the baby ("Terminate" makes it sound cute or acceptable). That is why I believe the term to have been inappropriately devised and defined.


Well the evidence from people who knew Reagan is that in the time period in question he was personally opposed to abortion. But gosh where have we heard that before? Most pro-abortion politicians today use the same dodge. Nobody is ever "for abortion." We are supposed to feel better about their policy decisions if they are "personally" opposed to abortion. No one dare call them "pro-abortion." Heck Rudy Giuliani not only is personally opposed, he "hates it." But that and a dollar gets you a cup of coffee, and nothing for the unborn.

If the point is that people are complicated, details of which the history books can perhaps help us understand, I agree. The problem for politicians is that there is no time to read people the history books. You have to make a point pretty quick. That politicians can change their mind and be reliable is a point that politicians sometimes wants to make about themselves (thank God functional pro-aborts can and do change their minds to oppose pro-abortion policies). But how to tell that story quickly? Associating oneself with a lionized leader who arguably had a similar policy conversion, if not personal conversion, is a minor conceit, even if it does not tell the whole story.

Heck I am willing to concede at least for the sake of argument that a politician can be personally opposed to something they think distasteful, perhaps even dreadful, and endorse a policy to allow it for some specious reason. Politicians can be goofy. But in politics, generally speaking, our criticisms of a politician, are with reference to policy, whether it is or was a policy the politician personally endorsed, failed to prevent, or took no significant action to put a stop to. In the world of political narrative, that politician is "pro" that policy. It is not even required that we take the time to call them a good person, however misguided.

I do not think it is an injustice to Reagan's image regarding the issue if the underlying message from Romney is one of failure and redemption. I suspect Ronald Reagan the great communicator would understand the importance of analogy and narrative in communication. Heck he was actor enough, I think he would support such pathos. Having him fall for the Siren song of easier abortion at one time in his career does not diminish his greatness in my eyes, but then I don't think any of the greats are perfect. As a pro-lifer I would never want to lose the opportunity to reasonably use the narrative that a politician can be wrong about abortion, sincerely change his mind, and enjoy our support. Pro-lifers are in the "business" of conversions.

So how do we describe RR? Did he put too much faith in doctors? That attitude was prevalent and used to grease the skids for abortion on request at least as far back as the late fifties. The now old saw "abortion should be a decision between a woman and her doctor" was an early slogan in that regard. Did he feel that doctors would self police? I can accept that as an attitude on his part going into the bill signing, but not after the policy was implemented, and the writing was on the wall. And the trouble with it from the beginning as policy there was no advocate for the unborn child in the mix. The previous law in effect accomplished that. If RR personally only wanted a policy of limited abortion, there were apparently no effective safeguards in the law that he signed.

Politicians should be willing to spend political capital on what is important to them, certainly to some degree within an array of issues. So effectively the plight of the unborn apparently was not important to Ronald Reagan during that time period. At some point he took the time to study the issue, to think deeper about abortion and its implications, and to do something about it. But one does injustice to the politicians who held firm to suggest that Ronald Reagan was really politically close to them on the issue at the time.

Indifferent at best to unborn members of the human family, overly concerned with playing political games ("give Beilenson a chance"). . . One can not seriously refer to RR as pro-life back then if he would remove protection of the law for unborn members of the human family. If you are a politician and you make no effort to restrict legal abortion you are effectively pro-choice.

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