Today's News & Views
Jimmy Carter: Abortion Redux
"This was an issue
that I had to face when I was campaigning 25 years ago. I have always
been against abortion; it's not possible for me in my own concept of
Christ to believe that Jesus would favor abortion. But at the same time,
I have supported the Supreme Court ruling of our country as the law of
the land. And the present arrangement, whereby a woman is authorized to
have an abortion in the first trimester of the pregnancy, or when the
pregnancy is caused by rape or incest -- these are the things that
moderates who have beliefs like mine can accept as the present
circumstances in our country. The liberality of abortion is anointed by
the laws of our country, including the ultimate ruling of the Supreme
Those of us old enough to remember (however vaguely) the 1976 presidential race which pitted Democrat Jimmy Carter against Republican Gerald Ford recall that Carter narrowly prevailed for a host of reasons. After the issues of Nixon and Watergate and President Ford's awful debate performance, very near the top of the pyramid of reasons an unknown former governor of a small Southern state could win was that he was seen as a "moderate" on social issues, including abortion.
As many of you have read (or actually seen on C-SPAN's "Book Notes"), that fictitious voice of moderation on abortion resurfaced last week as Mr. Carter promoted his new book, "Our Endangered Values: America's Moral Crisis." He was interviewed on "Book Notes" by NBC's Brian Williams, who was, as a young man, an intern in President Carter's administration.
Judging by the reviews I've read and the comments on "Book Notes," there were two primary targets of Carter's wrath. First, there are those who Carter labeled "right wing Christians," whom he contrasts (in the same sentence) with "the deeply religious people in our country." His scorn for conservative Christians, many/most of whom were motivated to join the public square by their deep aversion to abortion, is unlimited.
That criticism was in service of the larger target: President George W. Bush. "Former President Jimmy Carter says he has written a book critical of the Bush administration 'with some hesitation and trepidation,'" wrote the Christian Science Monitor last week. "Not much hesitancy was on view Thursday morning, however, when the 39th president met reporters for a Monitor-sponsored breakfast." Indeed.
What attracted the media attention last week were the former President's comments about abortion. They were, typically, a blend of his own sanctimoniousness (as the same time Carter condemns sanctimony in others), the best possible spin on his own Administration's record on abortion (he had to "live under Roe" but did "everything possible to minimize the need for abortion"), and advice to fellow Democrats that the Democratic Party has to at least sound as if it is not a wholly-own subsidiary of NARAL and Planned Parenthood.Depending on which account you read or what he said on "Book Notes," Carter's basic point was that, looking to 2008, it would be a mistake "to wed the Democratic Party to freedom of choice and abortion." He added, To be identified as being completely pro-choice with no attention given to rights of fetus is a very self-defeating policy and I hope we get away from it. I don't know if it's possible. I hope it will."
Just a few quick clarifications. If you read the press accounts, Carter was essentially saying three things which were either factually wrong or grossly misleading.
First, abortion is only legal in the first trimester and for the "hard cases." Nothing could be further from the truth.
Second, Democrats ought to get on the right side of the ban on partial-birth abortions. But they've tried to do that by proposing phony "bans" that would not prevent a single partial-birth abortion. The only way they could remove this albatross would be to honestly support a ban on this gruesome abortion procedure.
Third, as aluded to above, Carter paints himself as having been forced to operate under Roe's thumb. Worth noting, as the Washington Times account of his meeting last week with reporters did, that when Carter ran in 1976, Roe was only three years old.
He said in those days, "I think abortion is wrong and that the government ought never do anything to encourage abortion," adding, "But I do not favor a constitutional amendment which would prohibit all abortions, nor one that would give states [a] local option to ban abortions." In other words, candidate Carter said he would neither promote nor challenge Roe's verdict of abortion on demand.
Suffice it to say here that when it came to dealing with Roe, the Carter Administration was missing in action. But the breadth of his support for abortion was perhaps best revealed in 1986 when he addressed an international health conference that he hosted in Atlanta, Georgia.
United Press International (UPI) paraphrased Carter this way: "Abortion is a form of birth control and should receive consideration as a legitimate form of family planning in poor countries, said former President Jimmy Carter." Later Carter was directed quoted: "Please feel free to talk about it even though President Reagan's Assistant Secretary of Health...wanted participants at the last global health conference to avoid it."
President Carter, in short, is mindful that the American public (rightly) associates the Democratic Party with unfettered abortion on demand, which (along with an inability to bond with "deeply religious people in our country") hurt the Kerry-Edwards ticket in 2004. He wants his party to rhetorically sand off the rough edges and "moderate" its abortion position.
It is the same hooey he told us thirty years ago which some leading party officials are trying to resuscitate in 2005. As the saying goes, fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.
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