Human Interest

The mixed abortion legacy of President George H. W. Bush

Image: President George HW Bush (Image:

Our nation’s 41st president, George Herbert Walker Bush, passed away this past weekend at the age of 94 after battling a form of Parkinson’s disease. He served as leader of the United States from 1989 to 1993 and was the father of America’s 43rd president, George W Bush. Bush was beloved by his family and by political foes and advocates alike who shared kind words of praise, describing the 41st President as an honorable and humble leader.

As we remember Bush’s legacy, we also remember his history on abortion and birth control, which is mixed.

For his entire life, Bush was a vocal supporter of family planning, even earning the nickname “Rubbers” from House colleagues. He once stated, “We need to make population and family planning household words.” Bush wrote that his father’s involvement as a Planned Parenthood board member motivated his views:

My own first awareness of birth control as a public policy issue came with a jolt in 1950 when my father was running for the United States Senate. Drew Pearson, on the Sunday before Election Day, “revealed” that my father [Prescott Bush] was involved with Planned Parenthood…

planned parenthood

Prescott Bush with his son, George Bush (Image Credit: George Bush Presidential Library and Museum)

In 1969, as Congressman, Bush created the National Center for Population and Family Planning in the Department of Health Education and Welfare (HEW). That same year, Bush chaired the Republican Task Force on Population and Earth Resources, created in part to ascertain the resistance to family planning among “certain groups.” He determined incorrectly that “[s]o far, it looks like opposition from religious groups and the Black militants isn’t too serious.”

Live Action News previously documented how then-Congressman Bush was recruited by Planned Parenthood and its “special affiliate,” the Guttmacher Institute, to start a taxpayer-funded family planning program, and Title X was approved by the House in 1970. Today, Title X allocates millions of federal tax dollars to Planned Parenthood.

READ: A history of George H.W. Bush’s relationship with Planned Parenthood

Bush held mixed views on abortion until the 1980’s when he was chosen as a vice presidential running mate by Ronald Reagan. In 1984, then a VP candidate, Bush was asked about federal financing of abortions:

You know, there has been — I have to make a confession — an evolution in my position. There’s been 15 million abortions since 1973, and I don’t take that lightly. There’s been a million and a half this year. The president and I do favor a human rights amendment. I favor one that would have an exception for incest and rape, and he doesn’t, but we both — only for the life of the mother….I’d like to see the American, who faced with 15 million abortions isn’t rethinking his or her position…

In 1988, as during another debate, a Vice President Bush stated that his decision to become pro-life “hasn’t been an easy decision for me to meet…. I know others disagree with it.” He then called human life “very precious”:

But, when I was in that little church across the river from Washington and saw our grandchild christened in our faith, I was very pleased indeed that the mother had not aborted that child, and put the child up for adoption.

Once he was president, he called the ”widespread prevalence of abortion” a “tragedy” that ”fundamentally contradicts the values that we as a nation hold dear.”

Despite his initial support of Planned Parenthood, Bush called for the overturning of Roe v. Wadenominated pro-life Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, and defended pro-life measures that prohibited federal funding of abortion and the importation of the abortion pill. He also encouraged pro-lifers that “much remains to be done. Abortion on demand continues unabated in this country.”

While some suggest that his change of heart was political, many believe the legalization of abortion played a huge role in his turn. This is reflected in a letter he wrote in 1989, which he published in his book “All the Best, George Bush, my life in Letters and Other Writings:”

I strongly support family planning and have always favored disseminating information on birth control. I do not favor advocating abortion in any way, shape, or form. Planned Parenthood, to my regret, has chosen to be in the forefront of the pro-choice pro-abortion position. The lines are so clear…. 

May President Bush rest in peace.

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