- Stop pretending Jimmy Carter doesn’t exist.
- California, the state with the most abortions, stopped reporting abortion statistics in 1998; Bill Clinton doesn’t get credit for pretending zero abortions happen in California.
- Reagan reversed massive abortion increases before 1981, and initiated a decline that continues today—thanks to what President Obama called a “historic effort” to pass state-level prolife laws during his administration.
For those who want the details:
Before we begin, it’s important to note that the abortion issue is a lot deeper than who the president is. It ignores the 50 states and their individual abortion policies, cultural events, and the American people.
That said, there’s been a talking point going around for some time claiming that abortions decrease more under Democratic presidents. The talking point has been revived in recent weeks as a way of whitewashing Joe Biden’s support for abortion-on-demand through all nine months of pregnancy and tax-funding of abortion.
The talking point makes two gigantic errors. First, it acts like Jimmy Carter doesn’t exist. Abortions increased massively under Carter, followed by a dramatic shift during the Reagan years of stopping those increases.
Second, the claim relies on the CDC’s abortion report. However, California stopped reporting abortions in 1998. California is the largest state, accounting for 23% of abortions in the country in 1997. Their abortion rate was the highest in the nation, nearly twice the national average.
It’s dishonest to pretend that Clinton deserves credit for reducing all of these abortions that simply stopped being reported. People who don’t realize this obviously have never researched abortion statistics, so their expertise isn’t worth your consideration.
Let’s look at the Guttmacher abortion numbers, which always includes California and a couple other smaller states that don’t report abortions. Guttmacher is openly pro-abortion, and no friend of the prolife movement. While they don’t have numbers yet for most of Trump’s term in office, they have estimates going back to 1973.
Abortion Under Prolife Presidents:
Ronald Reagan: 2% increase
George H.W. Bush: 4% decrease
George W. Bush: 8% decrease
Abortion Under Other Presidents
Richard Nixon/Gerald Ford: 58% increase
Jimmy Carter: 32% increase
Bill Clinton: 14% decrease
Barack Obama: 28% decrease
A keen observer of these numbers will notice the chronological order of these presidents matches the abortion trends. There’s important reasons for that, which we’ll get to in a second.
You may think it isn’t fair to include Nixon and Ford in the non-prolife president list, but Republican doesn’t necessary equal “prolife.” Though they made public statements expressing disapproval of abortion, it was Nixon’s Supreme Court nominees who made Roe v. Wade possible, and Ford’s one nominee, John Paul Stevens, spent decades as an abortion advocate on the Court. Doesn’t that sound familiar? The narrative we are debunking usually includes a discussion of Joe Biden expressing his personal moral handwringing with abortion. The argument is that prolife people should totally ignore his policy positions and judicial nominee philosophy, because Biden has “struggled.” Nixon struggled, but his judicial nominees are morally responsible for the death of nearly 60 million unborn children, who struggled in the womb to no avail.
Who sits on the U.S. Supreme Court is the area presidents have the most impact. Since every abortion law in the nation has to be approved by the Supreme Court, almost every public policy choice comes down to who is appointing judges. When it comes to actual policies, it’s tax-funding of abortions that has the greatest impact on abortion numbers, as we’ve seen undeniably in Michigan.
Rather than just assume presidents are totally responsible for everything, here’s the best “narrative” for presidents and national abortion statistics.
- Following Nixon’s careless judicial nominations, Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton legalized abortion through all nine months of pregnancy in America in 1973. Abortion numbers skyrocketed after being made legal.
- Ford vetoed the original Hyde Amendment, which bans tax-funding of abortions. It was actually the Democratic-controlled Congress that overrode his veto, securing the first Hyde Amendment. The Hyde Amendment finally went into full affect in 1980 following a Supreme Court decision. While Ford expressed prolife sentiments in office, in later years he advocated for Republicans to ignore abortion. He led no substantive national prolife policy effort during his administration.
- Carter was not a loud abortion advocate, and at least did not touch the Hyde Amendment. However, he did nothing to actively address the alarming abortion increases.
- Reagan was the first true prolife president, having reversed from signing a bill to legalize abortion as governor of California in 1967. Reagan made the issue a priority with judicial nominations (not all of which panned out thanks to Joe Biden “borking” his top pick), administrative policies, and actively speaking out on abortion. Under his administration, the prolife movement found its footing, and the abortion increases stopped.
- George H.W. Bush was not a natural prolife guy, but continued the policies of Reagan, resulting in the first sustained abortion decreases since Roe v. Wade. While deciding to uphold Roe v. Wade in 1992, the Supreme Court critically began to allow a new wave of prolife legislation in the states through Planned Parenthood v. Casey, including parental consent for minors, waiting periods, and informed consent before abortion—all policies which help reduce abortions.
- Clinton tried his best early in his administration to overturn the Hyde Amendment, but could only weaken it in cases of rape/incest, which account for less than 1% of abortions. During his administration, states began focusing on passing prolife laws. Despite public opinion moving towards abortion following Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the revelation of the existence of partial-birth abortion in 1995 brought about a dramatic change in public opinion on abortion. Following the 1994 Republican takeover of Congress and mired in personal scandals, Clinton lost the ability to advance his original policy agenda.
- George W. Bush was a prolife president. Abortion decreases continued during his administration while states continued advancing prolife laws. Efforts to pass a national partial-birth abortion ban continued to dominate the abortion conversation.
- Obama made it his mission to expand abortion during his administration, but was often thwarted by Congress. Obama spent all his political capital passing Obamacare in 2010, with provisions allowing backdoor funding of abortion through insurance plans. He was unable to circumvent the Hyde Amendment as originally planned and allow full tax-funding of abortions. Prolife states mounted a massive response to Obamacare by passing prolife laws. President Obama acknowledged it during a personal address to Planned Parenthood, saying prolifers were “involved in an orchestrated and historic effort to roll back basic rights when it comes to women’s health. Forty-two states have introduced laws that would ban or severely limit access to a woman’s right to choose.”
The trajectory of national abortion statistics is clear. With legalizing abortions, there was a massive increase. When the prolife movement paused premature efforts to pass a constitutional amendment to overturn Roe v. Wade and focused on building public support and passing life-saving policies, abortions began a long-term decline that continues today. Since then, pro-abortion presidents and politicians have been largely impotent in attacking these state-level prolife policies, except in states they control like New York and California, where the abortion rates were already astronomically high.
So, the next time someone tries to tell you Democrats do a better job at reducing abortions, tell them to check their sources. Then, ask them why they think abortions should be reduced, and make the conversation a productive one about basic human rights instead of yet another fake narrative pushed by a national media in the tank for Joe Biden.