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RONALD REAGAN AND ABORTION

Authors:
  • University of Colorado at Boulder; University of Colorado Denver Health Sciences Center

Abstract

The appearance of Ronald Reagan, Jr. as a speaker at the National Democratic Convention to advocate the pursuit of stem-cell research may mark a turning point in the effort of Democrats to pry anti-abortion voters from the clutches of the Republican Party. Cultural conservatives, who have followed the siren of anti-abortion fanaticism into the Republican camp since Ronald Reagan was nominated for the presidency in 1980, also accepted opposition to stem-cell research as part of Republican theology. But something new was possible after Reagan's death in June: reality began to intrude into this corner of public affairs. And who a more credible messenger than his own son, who cannot be accused of defiling his father's memory? On the contrary, the younger Reagan carries his own and his mother's message of love that gently pushes aside the ideological obstacles to the use of science to relieve human suffering. The paroxysm of public adulation that accompanied the passing of Ronald Reagan unfortunately reminded those of us who care for women of some things about him and his policies that were not so admirable for us. The first thing that Ronald Reagan said at his first press conference on the day after he was elected in November, 1980, was that he was going to " make abortion illegal. " This encouraged Senator Strom Thurmond to state on the Today Show two days later that he would seek " the death penalty " for doctors who do abortions. Reagan was propelled to the Republican nomination in 1980 with the strong help of Jesse Helms, who led the movement to purge pro-choice Republicans such as Mary Dent Crisp from the Republican Party and Convention of 1980. On his inauguration day, Ronald Reagan invited leaders of the anti-abortion movement into the Oval Office and asked them what they wanted. For one thing, they wanted Dr. Ward Cates' head on a platter, and they got it. Dr. Cates, a brilliant scientist and physician who headed the Abortion Surveillance Unit of the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, was reassigned from the critical public health work at which he excelled. He soon resigned from the government. His colleague, Dr. David Grimes, was also censored and driven from the government a few years later. The government lost an invaluable supply of expert knowledge about the most commonly-performed surgical procedure that affects millions of women and their families. On Inauguration Day, 1981, Reagan's new Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, Richard Schweiker, spoke to an anti-abortion rally and declared that the Reagan Administration would be a " pro-life " government. He then instituted the " squeal rule " that required school authorities to notify parents if their children confidentially sought contraceptives at school clinics. During his presidency, Ronald Reagan instituted the global " gag rule " that stated that workers at family planning clinics receiving federal funds could not so much as speak to women concerning the subject of abortion, even if their lives were in danger from pregnancy. The workers – physicians, nurses, and counselors – were prohibited from using their medical judgment to give women life-saving advice. Reagan opposed stem-cell research, sex education, family planning, and a rational approach to HIV/AIDS. Virtually every one of his appointments to health policy jobs went to people whose principal or sole qualification was fanatic opposition to abortion. To Reagan's dismay, Dr. C.Everett Koop displayed historic integrity and courage in refusing to toe the Administration line on matters such as abortion and the use of condoms to prevent HIV/AIDS. A particularly cruel and tragic Reagan policy required hospitals receiving federal funding to maintain life support for hopelessly damaged infants surviving severely immature births whether their parents wished this or doctors advised against it. 2 On the international front, Reagan sent his UN Ambassador, James Buckley, to the Mexico City Population Conference in 1984 to tell desperate third-world countries that the way to deal with out-of-control population growth was not family planning but economic development. Consciously or not, Ronald Reagan gave psychological support to the most radical and violent elements of the antiabortion movement. In 1984 alone, there were more than two dozen violent attacks on abortion clinics and doctor's offices. Reagan's FBI Director, William Webster, said that the attacks weren't terrorism because " we don't know who they are. " The attacks increased rapidly in severity from 1981 and continued throughout the Reagan years. The effects of Reagan's constant attacks on abortion were felt long after and culminated in the assassination of numerous physicians and other abortion clinic workers. By his statements, policies, and appointments, Ronald Reagan helped bring about the current poisonous divisions about abortion that are now exploited by George W. Bush and the Republican Party. Bush's attacks on stem-cell research have been part of this ideology. One of the most unfortunate consequences of this strategy has been to stifle critical scientific research that could lead to historic advances in medicine. George W. Bush, the only American president to care less about facts and more about ideology than Ronald Reagan, is simply building on and carrying out Reagan's philosophy without regard for its consequences in human suffering, especially for women. This strategy may help give him another term as President. A second Bush term, a fulfillment of Ronald Reagan's legacy, will surely spell the end of Roe vs. Wade and federal protection of abortion rights. Ronald Reagan set out to make abortion a political crime against the state. Even in death, he may yet succeed. We will remember him for that.
RONALD REAGAN AND ABORTION
By
Warren M. Hern
Reprinted with permission from The Colorado Statesman 30 July 2004
Warren M. Hern, a physician, is Director of the Boulder Abortion Clinic
The appearance of Ronald Reagan, Jr. as a speaker at the National Democratic Convention to advocate
the pursuit of stem-cell research may mark a turning point in the effort of Democrats to pry anti-abortion
voters from the clutches of the Republican Party. Cultural conservatives, who have followed the siren of
anti-abortion fanaticism into the Republican camp since Ronald Reagan was nominated for the presidency in
1980, also accepted opposition to stem-cell research as part of Republican theology. But something new
was possible after Reagan’s death in June: reality began to intrude into this corner of public affairs. And
who a more credible messenger than his own son, who cannot be accused of defiling his father’s memory?
On the contrary, the younger Reagan carries his own and his mother’s message of love that gently pushes
aside the ideological obstacles to the use of science to relieve human suffering.
The paroxysm of public adulation that accompanied the passing of Ronald Reagan unfortunately
reminded those of us who care for women of some things about him and his policies that were not so
admirable for us.
The first thing that Ronald Reagan said at his first press conference on the day after he was elected in
November, 1980, was that he was going to “make abortion illegal.” This encouraged Senator Strom
Thurmond to state on the Today Show two days later that he would seek “the death penalty” for doctors who
do abortions.
Reagan was propelled to the Republican nomination in 1980 with the strong help of Jesse Helms, who
led the movement to purge pro-choice Republicans such as Mary Dent Crisp from the Republican Party and
Convention of 1980.
On his inauguration day, Ronald Reagan invited leaders of the anti-abortion movement into the Oval
Office and asked them what they wanted. For one thing, they wanted Dr. Ward Cates’ head on a platter, and
they got it. Dr. Cates, a brilliant scientist and physician who headed the Abortion Surveillance Unit of the
Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, was reassigned from the critical public health work at which he
excelled. He soon resigned from the government. His colleague, Dr. David Grimes, was also censored and
driven from the government a few years later. The government lost an invaluable supply of expert
knowledge about the most commonly-performed surgical procedure that affects millions of women and their
families.
On Inauguration Day, 1981, Reagan’s new Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, Richard
Schweiker, spoke to an anti-abortion rally and declared that the Reagan Administration would be a “pro-life”
government. He then instituted the “squeal rule” that required school authorities to notify parents if their
children confidentially sought contraceptives at school clinics.
During his presidency, Ronald Reagan instituted the global “gag rule” that stated that workers at
family planning clinics receiving federal funds could not so much as speak to women concerning the subject
of abortion, even if their lives were in danger from pregnancy. The workers – physicians, nurses, and
counselors – were prohibited from using their medical judgment to give women life-saving advice.
Reagan opposed stem-cell research, sex education, family planning, and a rational approach to
HIV/AIDS. Virtually every one of his appointments to health policy jobs went to people whose principal or
sole qualification was fanatic opposition to abortion. To Reagan’s dismay, Dr. C.Everett Koop displayed
historic integrity and courage in refusing to toe the Administration line on matters such as abortion and the
use of condoms to prevent HIV/AIDS.
A particularly cruel and tragic Reagan policy required hospitals receiving federal funding to maintain
life support for hopelessly damaged infants surviving severely immature births whether their parents wished
this or doctors advised against it.
2
On the international front, Reagan sent his UN Ambassador, James Buckley, to the Mexico City
Population Conference in 1984 to tell desperate third-world countries that the way to deal with out-of-control
population growth was not family planning but economic development.
Consciously or not, Ronald Reagan gave psychological support to the most radical and violent elements
of the antiabortion movement. In 1984 alone, there were more than two dozen violent attacks on abortion
clinics and doctor’s offices. Reagan’s FBI Director, William Webster, said that the attacks weren’t
terrorism because “we don’t know who they are.” The attacks increased rapidly in severity from 1981 and
continued throughout the Reagan years. The effects of Reagan’s constant attacks on abortion were felt long
after and culminated in the assassination of numerous physicians and other abortion clinic workers.
By his statements, policies, and appointments, Ronald Reagan helped bring about the current poisonous
divisions about abortion that are now exploited by George W. Bush and the Republican Party. Bush’s
attacks on stem-cell research have been part of this ideology. One of the most unfortunate consequences of
this strategy has been to stifle critical scientific research that could lead to historic advances in medicine.
George W. Bush, the only American president to care less about facts and more about ideology than
Ronald Reagan, is simply building on and carrying out Reagan’s philosophy without regard for its
consequences in human suffering, especially for women. This strategy may help give him another term as
President. A second Bush term, a fulfillment of Ronald Reagan’s legacy, will surely spell the end of Roe vs.
Wade and federal protection of abortion rights.
Ronald Reagan set out to make abortion a political crime against the state. Even in death, he may yet
succeed. We will remember him for that.
Warren M. Hern, M.D., M.P.H., Ph.D.
Boulder Abortion Clinic
1130 Alpine Boulder, Colorado 80304 303 447-1361 bachern@msn.com
Related articles by Warren M. Hern may be found at www.drhern.com , including:
The politics of abortion. The Progressive, November, 1972
Abortion issue: The state vs. the individual. The Denver Post, March 23, 1975.
The human life statute: will it protect life or power? The Denver Post, June 21, 1981
The antiabortion vigilantes. The New York Times, Op-Ed Page, Friday, December 21, 1984
Must Mr. Reagan tolerate abortion clinic violence? The New York Times, Op-Ed page, June 14, 1986
Protect Abortion Rights. New York Times, Op-Ed page, January 22, 1987
Abortion clinics under siege. The Denver Post, November 1, 1988.
The politics of choice: Abortion as insurrection. In Births and Power: Social Change and the Politics of Reproduction, W.Penn Handwerker, Ed.
Boulder, Westview Press, 1990.
Hunted by the right, forgotten by the left. The New York Times, Op-Ed page, March 13, 1993.
Florida doctor's death resulted from 20 years of inciting violence. The Denver Post, March 20, 1993.
The Pope and my right to life. The New York Times, Op-Ed Page, August 12, 1993
Life on the Front Lines. Women's Health Issues 4(1):48-54,1994.
Anti-abortion movement put weapon in slayer's hand. Daily Camera, Guest Opinion, March 20, 1994.
Anti-abortion zealots' grasp for power. The Rocky Mountain News, Guest Opinion ("Speakout") Column. December 19, 1994.
An electronic demon stalks clinic workers. The Daily Camera, Commentary. January 9, 1995.
How it feels to be on anti-abortion hit list. Letter to the editor, The New York Times, February 4, 1995.
'Killing for Life' is senseless. Guest editorial, The Denver Post, April 8, 1995.
Abortion bill skips the fine print. Op-Ed Page, The New York Times, May 24, 1997.
Free speech that threatens my life. Op-Ed Page, The New York Times, March 31, 2001. (Letter responses 4/6/01)
Ronald Reagan and abortion. The Colorado Statesman, July 30,2004
Anthropologists, abortion and the cultural war in America. Anthropology News 46:2, February 2005. Invited contribution to the
series, Technologies of Reproduction December 2004 – March 2005
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Invited contribution to the series, Technologies of Reproduction
  • Anthropologists
Anthropologists, abortion and the cultural war in America. Anthropology News 46:2, February 2005. Invited contribution to the series, Technologies of Reproduction December 2004 – March 2005
Hern may be found at www.drhern.com , including: The politics of abortion. The Progressive
  • M By Warren
articles by Warren M. Hern may be found at www.drhern.com, including: The politics of abortion. The Progressive, November, 1972
Protect Abortion Rights
Protect Abortion Rights. New York Times, Op-Ed page, January 22, 1987
Reagan tolerate abortion clinic violence? The New York Times, Op-Ed page
  • Must Mr
Must Mr. Reagan tolerate abortion clinic violence? The New York Times, Op-Ed page, June 14, 1986
Anti-abortion movement put weapon in slayer's hand. Daily Camera, Guest Opinion
Life on the Front Lines. Women's Health Issues 4(1):48-54,1994. Anti-abortion movement put weapon in slayer's hand. Daily Camera, Guest Opinion, March 20, 1994.
  • Anthropologists
Anthropologists, abortion and the cultural war in America. Anthropology News 46:2, February 2005. Invited contribution to the series, Technologies of Reproduction December 2004 -March 2005