Reagan's 1983 Book on Abortion Inspired Pro-Lifers

By Robert B. Bluey | July 7, 2008 | 8:05 PM EDT

( - In 1983, on the 10th anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision, President Ronald Reagan penned an essay sharply criticizing abortion. It was an unusual step for a sitting president, but one that endeared him to many of today's pro-life leaders.

"Make no mistake, abortion-on-demand is not a right granted by the Constitution," Reagan wrote for the Human Life Review. "No serious scholar, including one disposed to agree with the court's result, has argued that the framers of the Constitution intended to create such a right."

click to enlargeReagan's essay later resulted in a book, "Abortion and the Conscience of the Nation," which is the only book published by a president while in office.

The book's forward was written by William P. Clark, a national security adviser and secretary of the Interior Department under Reagan. Clark recalled Monday how Reagan defied his political advisers to publish the book.

"He said, 'No, it's the truth and we're going to go with it,' " Clark recalled.

Reagan came to the realization that abortion was morally wrong after serving as governor of California, Clark said. In 1967, when Clark was his chief of staff, Reagan signed a bill liberalizing California's abortion laws, which led to a surge in abortions.

"When he realized that it helped open the gates to abortion in California, he was very upset," Clark told "He said it was the biggest mistake he made in government. He tried to square it away as time went on."

Reagan made it a point to mention right-to-life issues in each of his State of the Union addresses. He also met with pro-life leaders while in the White House, addressed the March for Life rallies in the 1980s and instituted policies targeting abortion.

One of those policies came after the Second International Conference on Population in Mexico City in 1984. Reagan signed an executive order, dubbed the "Mexico City Policy" by pro-life advocates and the "Global Gag Rule" by its critics. The executive order blocked U.S. funding for organizations that promote or perform abortions overseas.

"President Reagan said it certainly shouldn't be our policy to export abortion, so get that out of our foreign aid program. He did common-sense things like that," said Michael Schwartz, vice president for government relations for Concerned Women for America. "He didn't have to tie himself in knots coming up with excuses for things. It was simply a matter of common sense."

After being inaugurated in January 1993, then-President Bill Clinton rescinded the policy. It was promptly restored by President Bush in January 2001.

Abortion rights advocates have criticized Reagan, and subsequently Bush, for implementing the plan. Planned Parenthood has suggested that the health of women in developing countries has declined as a result.

"For us, it's not a policy debate and it's not a debate about right and wrong; it's a debate about life and death," said Marjorie Signer, spokeswoman for the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. "This policy, by gagging medical providers who need U.S. funds, potentially and actually hurts women who have serious medical needs."

But pro-life leaders said it was Reagan's actions, whether through words or policies, which inspired many Americans to oppose abortion.

"Reagan did not think in terms of risks. This is what was so awesome about him as a man. He did what was right," said Randall Terry, founder of Operation Rescue. "That was Ronald Reagan. If he believed it, he said it. And if he said it, he acted on it."

The Rev. Frank Pavone, director of Priests for Life, said Reagan made a tremendous contribution to the pro-life movement because of his beliefs.

"He had a saying on a paperweight on his desk that said, 'It's amazing how much we can get done when we don't care who gets the credit,' " Pavone said. "And that was his spirit when dealing with this issue. If criticism comes, if political prices have to be paid, the number one thing he needed to do was bear witness to this moral truth."

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