The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Thursday, October 09, 2003
 

Ronald Reagan, the pro-choice pioneer? They kept that one quiet...


Forget the Grassy Knoll: here's red meat for the conspiracy theorist!

History and the airbrush go together like the horse and carriage Sinatra was always rabbiting on about: if the personal is political, the historical is doubly so.

The story, as per the tablets of stone handed down by the modern Moses' of the media, goes more or less like this: in the beginning [1], the GOP was a bunch of Eastern bankers, who, mildly incommoded from time to time by the odd horde of Western insurgents [2], stood for the proposition that the business of America was business [3]. Then came the wilderness years of FDR and Harry Truman [4], and a return to the White House with an a-politician (Eisenhower). And, lo! Barry Goldwater does his John the Baptist bit in 1964, followed two years later by Ronald Reagan winning in California - ushering in an era of the Southern Strategy and the GOP's decisive move (lurch?) towards conservatism.

Reagan's is a character, clear and clean as the Western air [5], that one can either cheer or hiss, like in an English pantomime, according to political inclination. Except...

I learn that Reagan was one of the first governors to sign an act liberalising the law on abortion - in his case, the Therapeutic Abortion Act of 1967
which permitted abortions in the first 20 weeks of pregnancy if a woman's life or health was threatened or the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest.

Now, that's not exactly abortion on demand, or anything close; on how many abortions took place under the Act I can find no evidence [6]. But the act of political will on Reagan's part is evident [7].

One can well understand a conspiracy of silence on Reagan's role in the liberalisation of US abortion laws: feminists are unlikely to want to give any credit to someone they view as a reactionary force, and conservatives wouldn't wish to draw attention to their icon transgressing on such a touchstone issue as the right to life.

For insight into Reagan's thinking, one has a piece on the American Enterprise Institute site - a discussion with Reagan biographer Edmund Morris. He was asked
In 1947, Reagan and Jane Wyman had a baby born prematurely, whom they named Christine, and she lived only three days. Did Christine Reagan's death shape Ronald Reagan's attitude toward abortion?
and replied
He never specifically told me that he was pro-life because of the death of his daughter. But I don't think any man could go through that kind of trauma without being affected by it. His mature attitude toward abortion came about in 1967, when he was governor of California and signed the most liberal abortion bill in the country, the Therapeutic Abortion Act of 1967. He went through agony and regret because he found it was being abused by young women as a form of birth control. And he changed his attitude on abortion 180 degrees within months of that and remained a foe for the rest of his life.

That makes no more sense now than on first reading - but, so far as I can see, it's all there is online!

The TAA was found to fall foul of Roe v Wade - and amended to comply. The whole act was replaced by Senate Bill 1301, passed by the California legislature in 2002.

The strange contortions that Civil Rights Industry insists on making to the story of Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, I've mentioned more than one before. Not to mention the War Party's appeasement fantasies.

But Reagan linking arms with the bra-burners - that is a story that needs to be told...

  1. Well, let's say, in the 1890s.

  2. Lunatics like California's Hiram Johnson (August 8 and again) and his crazy recall idea...

  3. And, to add a note of British bitterness, their other favourite proposition They hired the money, didn't they?

  4. None of this is strictly true, you understand...

  5. Except around Marlboro Man, of course...

  6. The British Abortion Act of the same year also fell short of abortion on demand, in its precise terms. But the number of legal abortions in Britain still managed to go up by a factor of several over the first decade or so of the law's being in force.

  7. There is some help online with the legal situation of the time: the California Supreme Court case of People v Belous 258 P 2d 194 (1969) deals with a pre-Therapeutic Abortion Act case, but discusses the Act; and an article reprinted from the North Carolina Law Review of June 1968 (Vol 46) discusses the (US) constitutional implications of abortion laws.


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