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"Pang of conscience"

National | Five modern Benedict Arnolds of the pro-life movement

Issue: "Roe vs. Wade 25," Jan. 17, 1998

In the Summer of 1991, a governor shocked his state: Arkansans were amazed to hear Bill Clinton issue pro-abortion statements before the National Women's Political Caucus. Today, Americans used to his presidential defense of even partial-birth abortions might be even more surprised to read what Mr. Clinton wrote in a letter to Arkansas Right to Life in 1986: "I am opposed to abortion and to government funding of abortions. We should not spend state funds on abortions because so many people believe abortion is wrong."

Mr. Clinton's position changed as his presidential ambitions grew. Other politicians have walked the same path. Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.), now minority leader in the House of Representatives, wrote in 1977, "Life is the division of human cells, a process that begins with conception.... The [Supreme Court's abortion] ruling was unjust, and it is incumbent on the Congress to correct the injustice." Mr. Gephardt wrote in 1984, "I have always been supportive of pro-life legislation. I intend to remain steadfast on this issue.... I believe that the life of the unborn should be protected at all costs."

In 1987, however, Mr. Gephardt decided to run for president, and he soon announced that he had discontinued his support for pro-life legislation. Specifically, he informed the National Right to Life Committee, "I do not support any Constitutional Amendment pertaining to the legality of abortion."

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Al Gore has "grown" in similar fashion. For nearly a decade, Mr. Gore voted for the Hyde Amendment, the congressional measure that has restricted federal funding of abortions since 1976. In 1984 he stated in a letter to a constituent his "deep personal conviction that abortion is wrong," and he voted to amend the Civil Rights Act to define the term "person" to "include unborn children from the moment of conception."

In 1988, however, Sen. Gore ran for president and even denied casting that vote. "I have not changed.... I have always been against anything that would take away a woman's right to have an abortion," he said. A Gore adviser later anonymously told U.S. News & World Report that the candidate had "muddled the point, and with luck, attention will turn elsewhere-or at least we'll be lucky enough so the thing doesn't blow into a full-fledged problem...." The Gore campaign fizzled, but his positioning gave him a leg up for his selection by fellow flipper Clinton in 1992.

Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), now an abortion stalwart, in a 1971 letter vividly expressed his belief "that human life, even at its earliest stages, has a certain right which must be recognized-the right to be born, the right to love, the right to grow old."

The prize for best early pro-life statements now forsaken, however, probably goes to Jesse Jackson, who in 1977 endorsed the Hyde Amendment in an open letter to Congress that opposed federal funds used for "killing infants." Mr. Jackson wrote (in a 1977 National Right to Life News article) that "It takes three to make a baby: a man, a woman, and the Holy Spirit." He asked, "What happens to the mind of a person, and the moral fabric of a nation, that accepts the aborting of the life of a baby without a pang of conscience? What kind of a person, and what kind of a society will we have 20 years hence if life can be taken so casually?" He noted, "Failure to answer that question affirmatively may leave us with a hell right here on earth."

Then Jesse Jackson ran for president.

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