Reagan on Abortion

by Jonah Goldberg

Yesterday I was on a panel at AEI to discuss Henry Olsen’s new book The Working Class Republican: Ronald Reagan and the Return of Blue-Collar Conservatism (we ran an excerpt here). I’ll have more thoughts about it later (probably in the G-File), but I should at least say that while I have disagreements with it, I think it’s an important and useful book in many ways.

Anyway, while preparing for the event, I was reading through some other books and articles about the Gipper and I found his radio address on abortion — he did only one — and I thought it was interesting for a few reasons. First, it showed how he thought through complex problems, often in original and creative ways. It showed how he evolved as a thinker. And it’s a pretty interesting argument. You can read the whole text here. As you can see, it’s a bit messy because it was a heavily revised draft that he read aloud and was never intended for publication). But this is the heart of it:

Eight years ago when I became Gov. I found myself involved almost immediately in a controversy over abortion. It was a subject I’d never given much thought to and in a sense one upon which I didn’t really have an opinion. In other words as But now I was Gov. and it turned abortion turned out to be something I couldn’t walk away from. A bill had been introduced in the Calif. legislature to make abortion available upon demand. The pro & anti forces were already marshalling their troops and emotions were running high. Then the author of the bill sent word down that he’d amend his bill to anything I felt I could sign. The ball — to coin a cliche — was in my court. Suddenly the it had become necessary for me to take a position & on a subject I’d never before given as I said on a matter I’d never really ever given any thought to I had to have a position on abortion.

To shorten this down I did more studying, researching & soul searching on this matter than on any thing that faced was to face me as Gov. in all my those 8 years in office. I discovered that neither medicine, law or theology had ever really found a common ground on the subject. a com. any consensus on the Views ranged from those On one hand there were those who Some believed an unborn child was like some kind of no more than a growth on the body female & she should be able to remove it as she would her appendix. Others felt a human life existed from the moment the fertilized egg attached itself to the ovary wall was implanted in the womb. I now Strangely enough Calif. had a law passed almost unanimously by the same legis. that was so divided on th this on this subject couldn’t agree on abortion had unanimously passed had passed by a virtually unanimous vote a law making anyone liable guilty of murder it murder to abuse a pregnant woman. to the extent that when so doing to so as to cause the ”death of the her unborn child.” I found further that an unborn child (called a fetus by those who support abortion) has property rights. Another inconsistency-the unborn have property rights protected by law. A man can will his estate to his wife & children & any children yet to be born of his marriage. Now a law is being proposed that Yet the proposed abortion law would let one person for whatever reason take the life of the that unborn child. deny the unborn the protection of the law in preserving its life.

I went to the lawyers on my staff and verified this property right right of the unborn to own property I’ve mentioned. Then I asked if there wasn’t some inconsistency in deny denying the same unborn child the right to life. I posed a hypothetical question. Wouldn’t an What if a wo pregnant woman were widowed and became a widow during her pregnancy & found her husband had left his fortune to her & the unborn child. Under the proposed abortion law couldn’t she abort the child she could take the life of her child & inherit not half but all of her husbands estate. the entire fortune & where-in did was that this different from murder Wouldn’t that be murder for financial gain? The only answer I got was that they were glad I wasn’t asking the questions on the bar exam.

I learned from D the med. profession that from the moment of the a fertilized egg was is implanted in the womb an a individual human being had has been created with its individual physical characteristics & even personallity traits already established.

My answer to the his question of what kind of bill I could sign as a turned out to be a belief I now hold very strongly. An abortion is the taking of a human life. It can only be justified on the same grounds we permit in our Judeo- basis that we recognize the right to take a life in our Judeo-Christian tradition. the taking of a life in self defense That is in defense of our own. I believe a mother has the right to protect her life & I’ll include her health against even her own unborn child if it is threatened by anyone including her own unborn child. I go so far as to say that just as she has the right to protect herself against rape she has the right to protect herself against the result of that rape & therefore can rid herself of a child or refuse to have a child resulting from rape. [Emphasis added.]

Maybe it’s because I’ve been reading a bit of John Locke lately, but I thought this emphasis on property rights to be not only intriguing but pretty compelling. I don’t think it’s the best argument against abortion and I think it runs up against some problems of consistency when he gets to the question of rape. But I thought it was interesting all the same.

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