Why I’m not surprised that most of the Bush family is pro-choice

via RHReality Check. Here’s an excerpt from the story by editor-in-chief Jodi Jacobson:

“The Bush family has a long history of support for Planned Parenthood.  Prescott Bush, father of George H. W. Bush (Bush 1) and grandfather of Bush 2 was the treasurer of Planned Parenthood when it launched its first national fundraising campaign in 1947. Birth control being controversial in the period pre- Griswold v. Connecticut (and yes, history obviously repeats itself), Prescott Bush was attacked for his pro-choice position and knocked out of the running for a Senate seat in Connecticut.

While he was a Congressman, George H.W. Bush was a leader in establishing Title X, the program that most in the contemporary right wing love to hate. The fact is that most programs today targeted for extinction by Republicans and Tea Party fanatics were either supported or established by…Republicans, albeit for reasons having more to do with population control than women’s rights.

In the sixties, the connections between family planning and economic security were becoming clearer.  President Lyndon Johnson was the first to establish public funding for family planning services as part of the War on Poverty. According to a brief review of legislative history by the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association Johnson began offering grants for family planning services in 1965, the same year the Supreme Court struck down the Connecticut law that prohibited the use of contraceptives by married couples in Griswold. Then, in the late sixties, the Social Security Act was amended to require state welfare agencies to make family planning services and information available to recipients.

Following on this platform, Republican President Richard Nixon “took a special interest in family planning.”

“Soon,” the NFPRHA brief states, “Congress responded, enacting Title X of the Public Health Service Act, the first – and to this day, only – federal program dedicated to providing family planning services nationwide.”

Signed into law by President Nixon on December 26, 1970, champions of the program during its enactment included then-Congressman George H.W. Bush, who said in 1969: ‘We need to make population and family planning household words. We need to take sensationalism out of this topic so that it can no longer be used by militants who have no real knowledge of the voluntary nature of the program but, rather are using it as a political steppingstone. If family planning is anything, it is a public health matter.'”

I’m not surprised by this at all.  Support for population control was pretty mainstream in the 1960s and 1970s, but the reasons behind it were not exactly pro-choice (and not just because they were talking about contraception, not abortion).  Rather, the Johnson and Nixon administrations and Congress at this time supported federal funding for birth control clinics because they believed that overpopulation contributed to international terrorism and domestic political unrest.  This is quite different from a rights-based framework that advocates expanding women’s access to birth control because it gives them more control over their bodies.  Because these programs targeted poor women of color, militant civil rights groups alleged that these programs were “genocidal.”  Women of color who supported reproductive rights criticized this argument, but they also found fault with the population control approach that disproportionately affected their community. For these women, reproductive freedom meant not only the right to limit their fertility but also the right to reproduce regardless of race or income level.  For more on this topic, see Jennifer Nelson, Women of Color and the Reproductive Rights Movement.

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2 Comments

  1. In terms of the religious right’s involvement in opposing abortion, Randall Balmer has an excellent deconstruction of that in “Thy Kingdom Come: An Evangelical’s Lament” (Balmer grew up in an evangelical household and is now an ordained Episcopal priest as well as professor of American Religious History at Barnard).
    His basic thesis is that the Christian right, feeling threatened by court decisions like Green v. Connoly, that prevented Bob Jones University from claiming tax exempt status while denying entry to African-American students, was shopping for an issue that would get out the vote. Someone suggested abortion, and they ran with it (this is backed up by Richard Virgule’s own accounts). Essentially, according to Balmer, the evangelical response to abortion was a cynical manipulation of the base (Billy Graham actually praised Roe v. Wade when it was first announced). Bush 41 was for choice before he was against it, and both Barbara and Laura are pro-choice. Bush 43 was pro-whatever would get him elected.

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