The Corner

Goldwater & Abortion

Nick Gillespie is wrong when he calls Barry Goldwater “a longtime proponent of reproductive rights.” If he wanted honestly to understand Goldwater’s views–rather than selectively choose one of Goldwater’s latter-day opinions for the purpose of criticizing today’s pro-lifers–he would know that Goldwater was deeply conflicted on the issue.

Lee Edwards is Goldwater’s definitive biographer. He describes how Goldwater “vacillated” on the subject. “In September 1973, only seven months after Roe v. Wade, [Goldwater] wrote that ‘the rights of the unborn should be protected’ and that he ‘strongly’ respected the ‘medical and religious reasons’ for the proposed Right to Life Amendment.” He didn’t actually endorse the amendment at the time, though he did in 1980 when he was running for re-election. That year, he also signed an amicus brief in favor of the Hyde amendment, which prohibited federal dollars from paying for abortions. Arizona Right to Life endorsed him.

There are many more details in Edwards’ book, including excellent insights on why Goldwater, late in life, moved toward a more pro-abortion stance. But the bottom line is that he went back and forth on the issue. The claim that he was “a longtime proponent of reproductive rights” is a pro-abortion fantasy.

John J. Miller, the national correspondent for National Review and host of its Great Books podcast, is the director of the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale College. He is the author of A Gift of Freedom: How the John M. Olin Foundation Changed America.

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