Offensive abortion views
On June 23, the Nixon Presidential Library released tape recordings from January and February 1973 that included then-president Richard Nixon’s thoughts on abortion the day the Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton decisions were handed down. While concerned about abortion on demand and its effects on the family, Nixon told an aide that “there are times when abortions are necessary,” such as “when you have a black and a white” parent. A mere 36 years later, such racial views sound uncomfortably barbaric.
On July 7, the New York Times Magazine ran an interview with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in which the jurist said: “Frankly, I had thought that at the time Roe was decided, there was concern about population growth and, particularly, growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of. So that Roe was going to be then set up for Medicaid funding for abortion, which some people felt would risk coercing women into having abortions when they didn’t really want them.”
But when the court handed down McRae – the 1980 Supreme Court decision that upheld the Hyde Amendment banning Medicaid funding of abortion – “the case came out the other way. And then I realized that my perception of it had been altogether wrong.”
What is Ginsburg saying? It is far from unclear and it is a shame that Times writer Emily Bazelon (a pro-abortion feminist and cousin of Betty Friedan) did not think to ask a follow-up to the vague and provocative statement.
But it would be fair to suggest that Ginsburg was simply acknowledging a view commonly held by people in her socio-economic circles at the time. The progressive tradition of the early 20th century supported an ugly and anachronistic eugenics philosophy – Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger favoured abortion for “the coloreds,” “the poor” and “the retarded” – that still permeated the thinking of the left and the establishment well into the 1970s. For some, it was the elimination of black or mixed-race children; for others, it was the curtailing of the uneducated poor population.
Looking back at it today, we see the racial eugenics inherent in Ginsburg’s and Nixon’s comments – or, for that matter, the thinking behind Henry Kissinger’s infamous National Security Study Memorandum 200, which advocated Third World depopulation in order to control the developing world’s resources – as reprehensibly racist. But it is generally unfair to judge the past by the standards of today. It may have been nasty and immoral, but it was a reflection of the predominant view of the elite, if not the public-at-large, at the time.
The change in attitude about openly using abortion to eliminate blacks or the poor provides hope that our own generation’s unacknowledged, reprehensible attitudes about aborting unborn children with genetic anomalies might also one day be viewed as beyond the pale. And, dare we hope, abortion itself will be viewed likewise.