Nixon and Abortion

RICHARD NIXON FAREWELLYesterday’s New York Times reported on a newly released Nixon tape that reveals the president’s private thoughts on abortion.  Although the President made no public statements about the Roe v. Wade decision, he made the following private statements on January 22, 1973, the day the decision was handed down (audio file here):

Nixon worried that greater access to abortions would foster “permissiveness,” and said that “it breaks the family.” But he also saw a need for abortion in some cases — like interracial pregnancies, he said.

“There are times when an abortion is necessary. I know that. When you have a black and a white,” he told an aide, before adding, “Or a rape.”

I’m somewhat surprised that Nixon supported abortion at all.  Yet, I’m not as surprised as others that he supported neoeugenics — i.e. selective reduction of births of “undesirables.” As Rebecca Kluchin demonstrates in her excellent new book, Fit to Be Tied, forced sterilization of poor women, especially women of color, continued well into the later half of the twentieth century, at the same time that more privileged white women were asserting their rights to reproductive self-determination.  So, Nixon’s views, while certainly bigoted and abhorrent, were similar to the views of some population control experts who saw limiting reproduction as a solution to the “culture of poverty”.

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