Ronald Reagan on Abortion and Rape

Gerard Magliocca

Gerard N. Magliocca is the Samuel R. Rosen Professor at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law. Professor Magliocca is the author of three books and over twenty articles on constitutional law and intellectual property. He received his undergraduate degree from Stanford, his law degree from Yale, and joined the faculty after two years as an attorney at Covington and Burling and one year as a law clerk for Judge Guido Calabresi on the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Professor Magliocca has received the Best New Professor Award and the Black Cane (Most Outstanding Professor) from the student body, and in 2008 held the Fulbright-Dow Distinguished Research Chair of the Roosevelt Study Center in Middelburg, The Netherlands. He was elected to the American Law Institute (ALI) in 2013.

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6 Responses

  1. Aaron says:

    Flip Flop?

    “I believe that until and unless someone can establish that the unborn child is not a living human being, then that child is already protected by the Constitution, which guarantees life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to all of us.”

    – Ronald Reagan, presidential debate 10/7/1984

  2. Chris says:

    I don’t think so. A would-be murderer, up until the moment he tries to kill me, is a human being whose life and rights are equal to mine. It is justified to kill him not because he is something less than a human person, but because he is trying to kill me. The same is true of the unborn child under this view: The unborn child is entitled to the same rights as any other child and can only be killed when it presents that threat.

  3. Kent says:

    Reagan’s rape justification in the above quote is a non-sequitur.

    There’s no self defense at issue – at least none that would justify abortion under the “Judeo-Christian” standard he provides.

  4. Joe says:

    If the mental anguish present in a rape induced pregnancy (which many women bore & chose to have the child) is “self-defense,” there are any number of other pregnancies for which having the child would be comparably so in some given circumstance. How we pick and choose there is unclear & an evenhanded application of the rule would result in a pro-choice position. I take this as the “Cider House Rules” approach.

  5. Chris says:

    I agree the rape scenario presents a tougher case for the pro-lifer who wants to take this stance. A preliminary question to ask is whether it’s justified to use deadly force to stop a rape. If so, then Kent’s objection is met, and the question then becomes whether giving-birth-to-a-baby-conceived-in-rape can be treated the same as rape here. I think the best rationale for Reagan’s position on that step is that the unwanted physical presence of the baby, and the obviously physical process of delivery, are extensions of the unwanted physical physical invasion that was the rape. At least under that rationale, Joe, it’s possible to avoid the slippery slope of mental anguish you identify, because it’s the unwanted physical presence that constituted the rape and now continues because of it that justifies the abortion.

    I personally am unconvinced by this rationale because I don’t think it follows from “it’s justified to use deadly force to stop a rape” that “it’s justified to use deadly force to combat the continued effects of rape” if you belive the “effect” is a person with rights it has not forfeited.

  6. Joe says:

    Chris, I think your point as to personhood is sound, which underlines (along with support of token sentences etc.) even strong “pro-life” individuals on some level don’t seem to truly think the “person” present is actually equal to the life of a born person, especially early on.

    If we aren’t talking person here, the need for an exception starts to diminish significantly though even some form of human person could justify a higher requirement before allowing abortion.

    This “extensions” argument is creative but the bottom Reagan spoke of protecting “health” against the child. I don’t think that disappears when rape isn’t present. The aspect you reference is part of the “also” of Reagan’s quote. It to me seems to have set up more than one argument for exceptions.

    Reagan’s position to me is more akin to the pre-Roe “reform” law that had a broad “health” exception, which was defined broadly but arbitrarily. The next step was to take that away from an arbitrarily applied panel of doctors and let a doctor and the woman decide. At any rate, it would entail more than rape.