Soon after George W. Bush’s election as president, his wife, Laura Bush, appeared on NBC’s “Today” show. Katie Couric, then one of the show’s anchors, asked her if she favored a reversal of the U.S. Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion.
Laura Bush answered that she did not, a position noteworthy because of her husband’s disapproval of abortion.
Scribner’s has just published Laura Bush’s memoirs, “Spoken from the Heart” ($30).
In the book, she recalls appearing on “Today.” She says that she expected some day to be asked what she thought about abortion. She did not want one of her first interviews as first lady to center on abortion, nor did she wish to challenge a major court decision so soon in her husband’s term, but when all was said and done, she spoke her mind honestly.
In her book, she says that she and her husband (parents of twin daughters) had wanted more children. They had considered adoption. With this in mind, she says that not wanting a child seems incomprehensible. But she acknowledges the deep feelings and strong opinions surrounding abortion, from all sides. Then, calling the decision to abort a “private struggle,” she concludes, “While cherishing life, I always have believed that abortion is a private decision, and there, no one can walk in anyone else’s shoes” (Page 303).
Her view is the basic “pro-choice” argument, saying that abortion is a highly controversial subject, but, ultimately, pregnant women are “entitled” to their personal “choice” when it comes to abortion. Many Americans hold this opinion.
This is where the national debate has been for a long time now — personal “choice” to abort by a woman, indeed, a woman’s right, versus the unborn’s “right to life.” “Right to life” insists that the unborn is a person, and no one, not even a mother, can willfully destroy the life of an unborn person.
The abortion debate was not new in 1973. Abortion was legal in a few states. The Supreme Court ruling in Roe for all practical purposes allowed abortion on demand throughout the country.
I have not researched in depth the history of how the debate unfolded, but I am convinced that two things happened. Americans who respected life were too timid and not focused enough. Catholic leaders denounced the ruling at the outset. But there were questions: Would Catholic hospitals be ordered to permit abortions on their premises? What about Catholic physicians?
President Nixon, and later President Ford, hardly helped. First lady Betty Ford openly endorsed legalized abortion. Mainline Protestant churches, long a powerful voice for morality in America, were drifting away from their once strict line of morality. They were silent — or even endorsed “choice”!
Demands for personal freedom were in the air. The women’s liberation movement was gaining steam when Roe came.
The other thing that happened was that quickly, and aggressively, the pro-abortion lobby seized an opportunity with its demand for “choice.” The very word “choice” sounds American, implying about personal freedom. The determined, increasingly resourced pro-abortion lobby persuaded many people that “choice” in abortion was a right for women.
Now, while questions focus on health care providers’ rights to refuse abortions, and abortion in health care plans, the debate about abortion remains fixed on the “right to choose” or the “right to life.”
The pro-life effort faces a very considerable public opinion that, as Laura Bush writes, abortion is a “private decision”— for everyone but the innocent victim. Pro-life Americans must promote the unborn person’s right to life.
Msgr. Owen F. Campion is associate publisher of OSV.