Principle over Politics? The Domestic Policy of the George H. W. Bush Presidency

By Richard Himelfarb; Rosanna Perotti | Go to book overview

12
Opportunity of a Generation Lost:
Abortion Policy in the Bush Administration

Steven R. Valentine

George Bush ran for president in 1988 on a Republican Party platform that was emphatically pro-life on the abortion issue.1 Thus, as the new administration came to office in 1989, its foremost abortion policy goal was the reversal of Roe v. Wade,2 the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that imposed a rigid regime of legalized abortion throughout all nine months of pregnancy on all fifty states.3

As this chapter will explain, initially the goal of overturning Roe seemed attainable even without additional Republican appointments to the Supreme Court. Ultimately, however, one additional anti-Roe appointment to the Court proved to be necessary. Sadly, though, from the pro-life perspective, President Bush lost the opportunity to achieve the reversal of Roe when he appointed David Souter to the Supreme Court. As this chapter will argue, the blame for Souter’s appointment, and the consequent failure of the effort to reverse Roe, lies as much with the pro-life movement itself as it does with the Bush White House.

By the time that the abortion case of Webster v. Reproductive Health Services4 came to the Supreme Court, it appeared that a majority of the Court was prepared to overrule Roe v. Wade. Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Associate Justice Byron White had dissented in Roe.5 President Reagan’s first appointee to the Court, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, sharply attacked Roe in the first abortion case in which she participated.6 Finally, President Reagan’s last two appointees to the Court, conservative Roman Catholic Justices Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy, were widely believed to oppose Roe.

Seizing this opportunity, in February 1989, the Bush administration filed an amicus curiae brief on behalf of the United States in the Webster case. After explaining why the Constitution does not protect a woman’s right to have an abor

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