Which current candidate for President reversed the abortion stand he espoused as a Congressional candidate in the seventies and adopted a position more acceptable to the mainstream of his party? If you said Al Gore, you may be only half right. George W. Bush appears to have done the same.
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.”
So, Bush opposed the main goal of the antiabortion movement, a constitutional amendment banning abortion, which the GOP had endorsed. Moreover, he echoed the language of abortion-rights supporters: Abortion is a matter best left to a woman and her doctor. Bush’s reported remarks were in step with the family position. His father, who as a Congressman was such a proponent of family planning he was nicknamed Rubbers, supported abortion rights until he became Reagan’s running mate in 1980.
The Bush presidential campaign insists that Sylvia Teague, the Avalanche-Journal reporter, misreported Bush’s comments. “We consider this [article] a misinterpretation,” says Dan Bartlett, a spokesman for George W. Bush. “He is pro-life. He was always opposed to abortion.” But Mel Tittle, the current managing editor of the Avalanche-Journal, who was with the paper in the seventies, says of Teague, “To the best of our knowledge, she was a very reliable reporter. I’ll let the writing stand for itself.” Teague, now an award-winning investigative journalist at KCBS-TV in Los Angeles, maintains, “I have confidence that whatever I wrote then was accurate. I don’t recall the Bush [Congressional] campaign coming to me and saying he was misquoted.”
Bush beat Reese in the runoff, but he lost the general election. His next race was not until 1994, when he challenged Governor Ann Richards. In that campaign he avoided discussing abortion. “It’s not an issue in the 1994 governor’s race,” he said. His campaign literature noted, “The United States has settled the abortion issue.” But Bush did say he opposed abortion except in instances of rape and incest and when a mother’s life is in danger–a fundamental change from the remarks that appeared in the Lubbock newspaper. Weeks before the 1994 election, he vowed, “I will do everything in my power to restrict abortions.”
Bush won the election, and as Governor, he signed several pieces of antiabortion legislation. As a presidential contender, he has backed a constitutional amendment banning abortion and favored preserving the GOP platform plank that calls for the amendment. He has pronounced himself “pro-life” but has refused to pledge that he will appoint antiabortion judges and select an antiabortion running mate. That has raised suspicions among hard-core anti-choice activists. Yet Jerry Falwell and Henry Hyde have vouched for Bush’s views. The National Right to Life Committee endorsed him in February.
After his 1978 defeat, did Bush change his position on abortion to be more electable as a Republican? Earlier in the current campaign, Al Gore’s abortion transition was an issue. Although Gore maintained that he had “always” supported abortion rights, as a Congressman in the seventies and early eighties, he cast antiabortion votes and declared that “abortion is wrong” and “innocent human life must be protected.” Gore eventually acknowledged, “Yes, my position has changed.” The Republicans hammered Gore for being a flip-flopper, and Mindy Tucker, a Bush spokeswoman, said that Bush may use Gore’s shift on abortion to show that he’ll do anything to get elected. “I think people want to see consistency with their leaders,” she explained. With his own consistency in question, Bush might want to refrain from blasting Gore for playing politics with abortion.