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GOP Candidates and the ‘Abortion Exceptions:’ Donald Trump, Chris Christie Get Ronald Reagan’s Stance Wrong

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The GOP candidates have been attacking each other’s positions on abortion, specifically the abortion “exceptions” such as in the cases of rape, incest, and when the life of the mother is endangered.

While sparring on the issue, some are even misquoting the stance of President Ronald Reagan. Are they using the “exceptions” to appear less pro-life?

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Gov. Chris Christie began a new line of attack against rival Sen. Marco Rubio, claiming that Rubio is actually too pro-life.

“He made it clear on the issue of pro-life, Marco Rubio is not for an exception for rape, incest, or life of the mother,” Christie said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. “You know I think that’s the kind of position that New Hampshire voters would be really concerned about.”

“I am pro-life, but I believe that rape, incest and life of the mother, as Ronald Reagan did, should be exceptions to that rule,” Christie added.

Similarly, Donald Trump commented last August on CNN’s New Day on Rubio’s pro-life position:

I disagree with that. I am for the exceptions. You have the three exceptions. I’m for the exceptions. The health of the mother and life of the mother.

I absolutely am for the exceptions, and so was Ronald Reagan for the exceptions, by the way. There’s nothing wrong with that. You have to do it, in my opinion.

In his State of the Union address in January of 1988, however, President Ronald Reagan said the following:

I call America–a good nation, a moral people–to charitable but realistic consideration of the terrible cost of abortion on demand. To those who say this violates a woman’s right to control of her own body: Can they deny that now medical evidence confirms the unborn child is a living human being entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? Let us unite as a nation and protect the unborn with legislation that would stop all Federal funding for abortion and with a human life amendment making, of course, an exception where the unborn child threatens the life of the mother. Our Judeo-Christian tradition recognizes the right of taking a life in self-defense. But with that one exception, let us look to those others in our land who cry out for children to adopt. I pledge to you tonight I will work to remove barriers to adoption and extend full sharing in family life to millions of Americans so that children who need homes can be welcomed to families who want them and love them.

The abortion exceptions that are usually mentioned are noted in the Hyde Amendment – which prohibits federal funding of abortion except in the cases of pregnancy arising from rape and incest and in the case of danger of death to the mother.

As National Right to Life observes, however, former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop noted the extreme rarity of the situation in which the life of the mother is endangered by pregnancy:

Protection of the life of the mother as an excuse for an abortion is a smoke screen. In my 36 years in pediatric surgery I have never known of one instance where the child had to be aborted to save the mother’s life. . . . If, toward the end of the pregnancy complications arise that threaten the mother’s health, he will take the child by inducing labor or performing a Caesarean section. His intention is still to save the life of both the mother and the baby. The baby will be premature and perhaps immature depending on the length of gestation. Because it has suddenly been taken out of the protective womb, it may encounter threats to its survival. The baby is never willfully destroyed because the mother’s life is in danger (as told to Dick Bohrer, in Moody Monthly, May, 1980).

Similarly, Alan Guttmacher, M.D. – known as the “father of Planned Parenthood” – observed in 1967 in The Case for Legalized Abortion Now, “Today it is possible for almost any patient to be brought through pregnancy alive, unless she suffers from a fatal illness such as cancer or leukemia, and, if so, abortion would be unlikely to prolong, much less save, life.”

“The number of medical cases in which abortion is an indicated and appropriate part of the treatment is practically nil,” said Jasper Williams, M.D., past president of the National Medical Association, in testimony before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution Hearings on Constitutional Amendments Relating to Abortion, October 19, 1981. “Since 1953, I have never seen a patient die who died because she needed an abortion and it could not be performed.”

Rubio addressed his pro-life record during the first Fox News debate in August, when he was questioned by moderator Megyn Kelly.

From the transcript:

KELLY: You don’t favor a rape and incest exception?

RUBIO: I have never said that. And I have never advocated that. What I have advocated is that we pass law in this country that says all human life at every stage of its development is worthy of protection.

In fact, I think that law already exists. It is called the Constitution of the United States.

RUBIO: And let me go further. I believe that every single human being is entitled to the protection of our laws, whether they can vote or not. Whether they can speak or not. Whether they can hire a lawyer or not. Whether they have a birth certificate or not. And I think future generations will look back at this history of our country and call us barbarians for murdering millions of babies who we never gave them a chance to live.

As CNSNews observed, however, Rubio said in an interview last August on NBC’s Meet the Press that he had and would support legislation that included rape and incest exceptions provided the overall purpose was to help reduce the number of abortions.

“I’ll support any legislation that reduces the number of abortions and there are those that have that exception in it,” said Rubio.  “What I’ve never done is said I require that it must have or not have exceptions.”

Meanwhile, last November CNN reported Jeb Bush was also saying Rubio’s pro-life stance might be too extreme.

Bush, who considers himself the most pro-life candidate, believes in all three exceptions. Asked if Rubio’s position is too extreme, Bush said he “respects” it but thinks it won’t resonate with large swaths of voters.

“Politically, it’s a tough sell to tell a pro-life mother — had her daughter been raped — that she would just have to accept that as a sad fact,” he said. “This is not an easy decision, but Marco will have to explain that position.”

The New York Times also reported last November that Bush’s super PAC Right to Rise USA was considering a $20 million campaign attacking Rubio’s position on abortion as too extreme.

When asked about that strategy, however, Bush said, “I don’t think anybody should attack someone who’s pro-life.”


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