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    Political Junkie
    Send your questions about campaigns and elections.
    Wade-ing In On Abortion

    By Ken Rudin
    Special to
    Friday, October 22, 1999

    Question: I'm a registered Republican – female if it matters – but wonder when and why abortion became a POLITICAL issue? – Susan Coates, West Columbia, S.C.

    The contrasting sides of the abortion question have been represented by Republican and Democratic presidential nominees since 1980. (Collection of Ken Rudin)

    Answer: Abortion has been a hotly debated topic in this country for many years and has assumed greater emphasis in recent election cycles.

    Laws restricting abortion didn't exist until Connecticut passed one in 1821 prohibiting the procedure except to save the life of the mother. Over the next century, nearly every state added such a law to their books. Starting around 1967, there was movement toward liberalization. At least a dozen states began adding exceptions to their abortion laws, and in 1970 three states – New York, Hawaii and Alaska – removed almost all restrictions. That same year Sen. Bob Packwood (R-Ore.) introduced a bill to basically legalize abortions throughout the U.S.

    The nascence of abortion as a presidential campaign issue came in 1972. Democrats considered but ultimately rejected the inclusion of an abortion rights plank in their platform. Their presidential nominee, George McGovern, said abortion was a private matter that should be decided strictly between a woman and her doctor. President Richard Nixon, when asked, spoke of the rights of the unborn. But the issue never took hold in either party, and Nixon's 49-state landslide came about for other reasons.

    That all changed on Jan. 22, 1973. That was the day the Supreme Court ruled, in Roe v. Wade, that the decision to have an abortion in the first trimester should be left entirely to a woman and her doctor. Proponents said the 7-2 ruling was a victory for privacy rights, while opponents were outraged. A dozen or so anti-abortion House Republicans, led by Maryland's Larry Hogan, pledged to pass a constitutional amendment overturning Roe. However, the Democrat-controlled House Judiciary Committee refused to hold hearings.

    Abortion played a marginally larger role in the 1974 elections. A handful of social conservatives from both parties ran on the issue, and some succeeded. Some say Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) narrowly won reelection over Rep. William Roy (D), an ob/gyn, that year because of the abortion issue.

    Abortion grew as an important issue in 1976, though it still was not at the top of candidates' or voters' concerns. In fact, most presidential wannabes tried to avoid the issue. At one point Jimmy Carter said he would consider supporting an anti-abortion amendment, which led his campaign staffers to backtrack and clarify. President Gerald Ford opined that he was against "abortion on demand" and added that he thought the Court went "too far" with the Roe decision. But he said he opposed an anti-abortion constitutional amendment. First Lady Betty Ford never disguised her own views favoring abortion rights. Ronald Reagan, who unsuccessfully challenged Ford for the GOP nomination, supported the amendment to overturn Roe. Most of the Democratic hopefuls opposed the measure, though one, Ellen McCormack, ran in several primaries solely on an anti-abortion platform. She got only 22 votes at the national convention.

    Since the 1976 election, with the growing influence of social conservatives in the Republican Party, the abortion issue has become part of the national consciousness. That is especially true in presidential contests, where GOP nominees take a strong stand against abortion and Democrats favor abortion rights.

    Full Text: Roe v. Wade (410 U.S. 113) (1973) (FindLaw)

    Question: Richard Nixon served as a member of the House and Senate, and as vice president and president during his political career. He ran in and lost the 1962 California gubernatorial election, almost giving him a sweep of what many consider the major public offices. Has there been any president who has served in all five of these positions? Have there been any others who came close, as Nixon did? – Joe Frick, Fairfax, Va.

    Answer: Two presidents – John Tyler and Andrew Johnson – held all five positions, though neither was elected to the presidency. Tyler, a Virginian, served in the House from 1817 to 1821. After a term in the state legislature, he was elected governor by the General Assembly and served from 1825 to 1827, when he won election to the Senate. In 1840 he was elected vice president on William Henry Harrison's Whig ticket. When Harrison died a month after his inauguration, Tyler became president. But he decided not to seek the office on his own in 1844. During the Civil War, he was elected to the Confederate Congress but died before he was sworn in, on Jan. 18, 1862.

    Johnson, a Tennesseean, served in the House from 1843 to 1853. In 1853 he was elected governor and served until 1857, when he was elected to the Senate. In 1864 he was elected vice president on Abraham Lincoln's Republican ticket, even though he was a Democrat. He became president in 1865 following Lincoln's assassination but didn't run for a full term in 1868. He later returned to the Senate and died in office on July 31, 1875.

    The next closest was Lyndon Johnson, who held four of the five positions. He served as congressman (1937-49), senator (1949-61), vice president (1961-63) and president (1963-69), but did not run for governor of his native Texas.

    Question: I know that throughout history there have been many famous Jewish Democrats, but what about famous Jewish Republicans? Aside from Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.), Rep. Ben Gilman (N.Y.), the late Rep. Steve Schiff (N.M.) and former Sen. Rudy Boschwitz (Minn.), who else was there? – Michael Richman, Tarzana, Calif.

    An oddity of a button, considering the state was Iowa and the year was 1914. (Collection of Ken Rudin)

    Answer: I don't think there is a "list," per se, and I don't know if all those you named are necessarily "famous." But a list of Jewish Republicans would probably start with the late Jacob Javits, who served four terms in the Senate from New York (1957-81). Two other former GOP senators also come to mind: New Hampshire's Warren Rudman and Nevada's Chic Hecht. Off the top of my head – and this is hardly a complete list – there's also former Arizona congressman and 1976 Senate nominee Sam Steiger; 1982 New York gubernatorial nominee Lew Lehrman (who since converted to Catholicism); 1992 California Senate nominee Bruce Herschensohn; former New York attorney general and 1961 New York City mayoral nominee Louie Lefkowitz; 1999 Philadelpia mayoral nominee Sam Katz; and Nelson Gross, the former New Jersey GOP state chair and 1970 Senate nominee who was murdered a couple of years ago.

    Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin:

    Ken Rudin, political editor at National Public Radio, is also the creator of's ScuttleButton contest.

    © Copyright 1999 Ken Rudin

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