I vividly remember January 22, 1973 . Richard Nixon had just been inaugurated for a second term. That thought depressed me. Lyndon Johnson, a virtual exile in Texas , died of a heart attack. And the news of a breakthrough in negotiations to end the Vietnam War commanded attention. It seemed we might get our POWs back.
I was in Washington , D.C. when the Roe v. Wade ruling was handed down by the Supreme Court. I remember the weather that week being dismal. Drizzly, cold, wet, dreary. The weather matched my mood. I was deeply confused and disoriented by the news. The New York Times and The Washington Post hailed the high court ruling, pronouncing it the end of the bitter controversy over abortion. I thought that was it, too. The Court had spoken. Didn’t we all have to obey?
But that thought made me miserable. I had just suffered an unexpected defeat in my campaign for election to the New York State Assembly. Everyone had told me it was a “can’t lose” race. That was not because I was such an excellent candidate, but rather, because the incumbent Assemblyman was a Conservative Party member. The local Republicans had accepted a $25,000 “contribution” from the teachers union to drop their endorsement of the incumbent and nominate a more pliable man of their own. Thus, all I had to do, I was told over and over again, is get the Democrats to vote for me and I was as good as elected.
Except, it didn’t work. The abortion issue blindsided me. I didn’t want to have anything to do with it. I didn’t like the pro- or anti-abortion people. I tried to avoid them. All my campaign volunteers, except one, pressed me to endorse liberal abortion. Local activists demanded a statement. Finally, I couldn’t hide.
I was unchurched, but no atheist. I had seen the movie “A Man for All Seasons ” a half dozen times. In it, King Henry VIII’s ex-chancellor Sir Thomas More confronts the man whose lying testimony would send him to the scaffold. More asks Richard Rich what is his badge of office. He’s been made His Majesty’s Attorney General for Wales , the doomed Sir Thomas is told. Richard, I am sorrier for you than for my own peril, Sir Thomas says, adding, “It profit a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world… but for Wales ? “
But for Albany ? I finally took a firm stance. I was against abortion. That decision prompted the Democrats in Albany to drop their support. I was told that Harold Ickes, Jr., had turned thumbs down, saying: “We’re not going to have anyone in the Democratic Party who is anti-abortion.” Ickes would go on to sponsor Hillary’s successful Senate bid.
One of my dearest friends, Irv, was a zone leader for the Democrats. “Bawb,” he later told me in his thick Brooklyn accent, “you coulda been a congressman, maybe even a sennata, if only you’d shut ya mouth about abawshun.”
So why would I oppose abortion so strongly? It’s not hard to explain. I had been deeply impressed with Thomas Jefferson’s political philosophy. I memorized Jefferson passages the way many young Jews and Christians memorize Scripture. “The god who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time,” Jefferson wrote. The words are inscribed on the wall of his memorial in Washington .
Well, when might that be? My Biology 101 professor at Mr. Jefferson’s University left us little doubt. Prof. Hamilton taught us that when the sperm meets the egg, a new life is created, a human life. And every one of those human lives are “endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…”
We were certainly aware that many of the Founders, even as they signed that Declaration, were denying those inalienable rights. But we knew that was wrong. And I could not, at the outset of what I hoped would be a political career, go along with denying the right to life.
Forty years later, fifty-five million lives later, I look back on that grim, gray day. I still regard the infamous Roe v. Wade ruling as one of the worst tragedies in American history. I know that Justice Harry Blackmun’s statement was untrue: “We need not resolve the difficult question of when human life begins…” My college biology class, heck, even my high school biology class, taught me that that statement was a lie. As to what that means for politics, Thomas Jefferson supplied an answer there, too: “The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only legitimate object of good government.”
I have had life these forty years and had it abundantly. I’ve been blessed with a wonderful wife and family and with good work: restoring the right to life.
Robert Morrison is senior fellow for policy studies at the Family Research Council.