Was--Is--Dubya Pro-Choice?

Gossip, speculation, and scuttlebutt about politics.
June 21 2000 6:31 PM

Was--Is--Dubya Pro-Choice?

Journalist David Corn has uncovered a 1978 newspaper clipping all but proving what we've long suspected about George W. Bush: He has a pro-choice past! Corn discusses his find in the June 14 issue of The Nation

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In 1978, Bush, a 31-year-old oilman, was seeking the Republican nomination in Texas' 19th Congressional District, which included Midland, Odessa and Lubbock. He was locked in a fierce battle with Jim Reese, a veteran campaigner and Reagan Republican. Days before the June 3 primary runoff, Bush was interviewed by a reporter for the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. Reese had attacked Bush for being cozy with liberal Rockefeller Republicans. In response, Bush listed conservative positions he held. "I'm not for the extension of the time to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment," he told the paper. "I feel the ERA is unnecessary. I'm not for the federal funding of abortions. I've done nothing to promote homosexuality in our society." But he went on to explain his view on abortion. The Avalanche-Journal reported: "Bush said he opposes the pro-life amendment favored by Reese and favors leaving up to a woman and her doctor the abortion question. 'That does not mean I'm for abortion,' he said." [Chatterbox has checked the Avalanche-Journal clip, and Corn has this all exactly right.]

In a follow-up posted on TomPaine.com, Corn recounts how the Bush campaign fielded his Nation query. It termed the abortion comment in the clipping a "misinterpretation" of Bush's views. It pointed out that the line about Bush opposing a pro-life [presumably, constitutional] amendment was a paraphrase. Good point. Paraphrases do tend to screw up the speaker's meaning more often than quotations. But Corn answers that it would have made no sense for Bush to say "That does not mean I'm for abortion" if he had just stated that he favored the pro-life amendment. (You'd never hear Henry Hyde say, "That does not mean I'm for abortion," because there's no danger anyone would think he was for abortion.) Corn also observes that the rapidity of the Bush campaign's response (they got back to him within an hour) made it unlikely that the press handlers had bothered to ask the candidate, who was in Maine that day; more likely, they merely guessed (correctly, it turned out) that no tape recording of Bush's 22-year-old remarks was available, and decided to snow Corn.

We can't say for certain what Dubya's views on abortion were in 1978, but we do know that his father was pro-choice until 1980 and that his mother remains pro-choice to this day (assuming she hasn't changed her mind since revealing her position in a 1994 memoir). What is the likelihood that Dubya was to the right of his parents on abortion during the period in his life when he was still a Deke in his heart? In fact, as recently as this past Dec.16, Dubya was still deploying rhetoric that suggested he'd never fully gotten on board the pro-life bandwagon. On Larry King Live, Bush offered his usual rigmarole about how he personally favored a constitutional amendment banning abortion, but didn't think it had the votes, but that he would sign a ban on partial birth abortion, and that good people could disagree on the topic. So far, so good; he was just being a tolerant and realistic pro-lifer. But when King asked whether women who got abortions should be held criminally liable, Bush said: "Well, look, here's what we need to do: We need to convince people that abortion is--ought to be rare--you know, it's an interesting question."

Ought to be rare? Dubya, Dubya. Bill Clinton thinks abortion ought to be rare. Al Gore thinks abortion ought to be rare. Patricia Ireland probably thinks abortion ought to be rare. Pro-lifers think abortion should be nonexistent!