Former president George H.W. Bush died Nov. 30 at the age of 94 after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. Bush, who served as Ronald Reagan’s vice president from 1981-1988 and president for four years beginning in 1989, began his public career as a supporter of abortion and birth control. He was no doubt influenced by his father Rep. Prescott Bush’s support for Planned Parenthood in the 1960s. Prescott Bush served as chairman of the Republican Task Force on Population and Earth Resources, sought to make population control and family planning “household words,” and was known by the nickname “rubbers,” a slang term for condoms. When George H.W. Bush ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 1980 in a field that included Ronald Reagan, Bush was considered the “pro-choice candidate.”
According to Reagan confidants, Bush was offered the vice presidential nomination on condition that he fully adopt Reagan’s pro-life position.
After Bush’s passing, Bradley Mattes, president of Life Issues Institute, wrote about the role that Jack Willke, founder of the Institute, had in converting Reagan’s vice presidential candidate to the pro-life position. Reagan’s campaign manager, William Casey, who later became CIA director, set up the meeting between Bush and Willke, who was then president of the National Right to Life Committee, who demanded four hours to meet with the candidate. Bush originally demurred, but was convinced the issue was important enough to set up a longer meeting at the family’s Maine home in Kennebunkport. Using a slide projector to provide “effective imagery, Jack introduced the vice-presidential candidate to the beauty of life in the womb, as well as the shocking reality of what abortion does to babies and their mothers.” They also discussed the arguments for and against abortion. After the presentation, Willke asked Bush where he now stood on the issue. Bush replied, “I wasn’t here before, but I am now.” He also committed to support a constitutional Human Rights Amendment to override Roe v. Wade.
In 1984, Bush told reporters he had “an evolution in my position” on the issue of federal funding of abortion. “There’s been 15 million abortions since 1973, and I don’t take that lightly. There’s been a million and a half this year. The president and I do favor a human rights amendment. I favor one that would have an exception for incest and rape, and he doesn’t, but we both — only for the life of the mother.” He said his evolution “hasn’t been an easy decision” but still called every human life “very precious.”
As president, Bush called the large numbers of abortion “a tragedy” that, ”fundamentally contradicts the values that we as a nation hold dear.” He called for the overturning of Roe v. Wade, banned fetal tissue research and the importation of the abortion drug RU-486, reinforced the Mexico City policy that banned American taxpayer money from going to groups that carried out abortions in the developing world, and appointed pro-life Judge Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court. But Bush also appointed David Souter, a justice who would side with the majority that wanted to maintain Roe v. Wade.
Despite the pro-life policies and rhetoric, including annual pro-life proclamations on the anniversary of Roe v. Wadeeach January, and the fact Bush vetoed pro-abortion bills, there continued to be about 1.4 million abortions annually in the U.S.