In December, I posted an interview with Grove City College colleague, Paul Kengor titled, What Might Have Been - The Man Who Could Have Reversed Roe v. Wade. In that interview based on his research for his book on Reagan’s closest advisor, Judge William Clark, Dr. Kengor discussed how Judge Clark probably would have voted to overturn Roe vs. Wade if he had taken the appointment to the Supreme Court offered him by Ronald Reagan. In this follow up interview, Paul provides additional detail about Judge Clark’s views, and how President Ronald Reagan sought to leave a legacy of life.
Throckmorton: I wonder if Bill Clark perhaps refused the Supreme Court because he felt sure Reagan would appoint another person with a high regard for unborn life. Did he ever express his opinion of the O’Connor appointment?
Kengor: Clark seemed a little embarrassed when we discussed this. Once O’Connor was the frontrunner, Reagan asked Clark to interview her. They spoke for an hour-and-a-half. He reported back to Reagan that O’Connor seemed fine: “qualified, competent, capable.” The president made notes on his yellow legal pad. A grinning Reagan said, “Well, Bill, what did you talk about with her?” Clark smiled, “Well, we talked about horses and dogs and cows and kids and life.” Reagan chuckled, “That’s what I figured.”
Clark knew that Attorney General William French Smith was screening O’Connor, and assumed that Smith would cover key social-legal issues such as abortion and capital punishment. Did he? I can’t answer that. Either way, Sandra Day O’Connor was sworn in a few weeks later.
By the way, she was largely a moderate, but her pivotal swing vote for the pro-choice side ensured there would be no limits placed on America’s runaway abortion policies.
Throckmorton: Did Judge Clark write publicly on abortion? Are there quotes which capture his views?
Kengor: Judges, even former judges, are very cautious in discussing past opinions. Sticking to the issue at hand, however, I can tell you his principal moral objection to Casey v. Planned Parenthood. He was appalled that O’Connor and Kennedy effectively took the position that Roe v. Wade had become a way of life, engraved in the culture, and therefore ought to be left alone. Such distorted moral reasoning, he said, was done by defenders of slavery in the 19th century. Had this reasoning been applied after the infamous Dred Scot case, black Americans would never have been considered full-fledged human beings—just as innocent unborn babies go unrecognized and thus unprotected in the decisions of many contemporary justices.
Throckmorton: What are some key exemplars of Reagan’s pro-life legacy?
Kengor: One of Clark’s ongoing missions is to stress this pro-life legacy. Reagan was not as successful on abortion legislatively and judicially as he wanted. He began changing the court system by seeking to install pro-life judges, though he made some bad calls. Yet, he constantly spoke in support of human life. Do not underestimate that importance of the presidential bully pulpit, and Reagan used it constantly to denounce abortion in the strongest terms, including very high-profile occasions like State of the Union Addresses, where he said that abortion was a wound on the American conscience, and that “America will never be whole as long as the right to life granted by our Creator is denied to the unborn.”
Clark has within reach a 45-page single-spaced document of quotes from Reagan on abortion, printed from the official Presidential Papers, which is the product of a personal special request he made to the staff of the Reagan Library. He uses that document when he talks to the press, and distributes it when necessary. That’s also true for a small book on abortion that Reagan authored as president, titled Abortion and the Conscience of Nation, published in 1984 by the Human Life Foundation, with prefaces and afterwords by Clark, Malcolm Muggeridge, and Mother Teresa.
Throckmorton: Many current Republican candidates want the mantle of Reagan. Who among them could be expected to carry Reagan’s pro-life perspective forward?
Kengor: Though this is not an endorsement, I would have to say that Mike Huckabee is the strongest pro-lifer. That said, basically all the current Republican crop is pretty good when it comes to being pro-life, with Rudy Giuliani the obvious exception. Alas, it looks like Rudy’s position on life issues has been devastating to his candidacy, revealing, I believe, that a Republican presidential hopeful must be pro-life—the polar opposite situation of a Democratic presidential hopeful, who must be pro-choice.
Throckmorton: Next week marks 35 years after Roe v.Wade with a gathering of thousands of pro-life supporters in Washington, DC. There will be much to report regarding abortion policy over this election year. Stakes are high given the likely chasm between the Republican and Democratic nominees. The APA’s Task Force on Abortion and Mental Health will likely report their findings amidst an election year conversation regarding Supreme Court justices and funding for abortion here and abroad.
Thanks Paul, for your careful scholarship and insight.
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