As Ronald Reagan prepared to deliver the 1987 State of the Union address, his wife, Nancy, reportedly told his advisers, “I don’t give a damn about the pro-lifers,” and demanded that any mention of abortion be removed from the speech. Nancy, who rarely intervened in political matters, got her way, and the speech focused on international affairs, education, and ongoing congressional wrangling over the budget process.
President Reagan, of course, was a vocal abortion opponent; indeed, he was probably the most pro-life president the United States has ever had. But Nancy supported abortion. Although she mostly kept mum in public while first lady, she has since said on several occasions that while she is personally pro-life, “I believe in a woman’s choice.” She has also been an outspoken proponent of embryonic stem cell research.
This anecdote highlights how important it is that a president and his wife (or her husband) see eye to eye on critical issues, especially those related to morality.
For pro-lifers, there’s something additional. We wonder how nice it would be to have a Republican nominee whose spouse not only opposed abortion but was proudly and outspokenly pro-life.
We Have Good Options on This Front
The good news is that we are likely to find out in 2016. As the field of Republican candidates narrows, two candidates with great chances to win the nomination—senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz—both have unapologetically pro-life wives.
A recent New York Times profile says Jeanette Rubio has a Christian-infused pro-life worldview. The Times reports that Jeanette’s “social conservatism…has deepened Mr. Rubio’s own: Many [of the Rubio’s friends] detect Mrs. Rubio’s influence on her husband’s outspoken opposition to abortion in almost all cases…”
Heidi Cruz’s political views are less well-known. But by all accounts she is pro-life. In fact, a person close to Ted Cruz tells me “there is no daylight between” the staunchly pro-life senator and his wife.
It would be refreshing to have a Republican presidential nominee—and a president—whose spouse holds deeply pro-life views. Both George H.W. Bush’s wife, Barbara, and George W. Bush’s wife, Laura, support abortion, although they mostly kept their views to themselves during their husbands’ presidencies.
One exception occurred when President George H.W. Bush ran for reelection in 1992. That year, Republicans had written a very strong pro-life platform that Barbara Bush undercut, telling the media she thought the issue had no place in the platform.
She said abortion was “a personal thing” and that “the personal things should be left out of, in my opinion, platforms and conventions.” Barbara’s comments came at a bad time for her husband, who was having trouble retaining conservative support then.
Laura Bush stayed silent about abortion during her husband’s presidency. But many suspected she disagreed with her husband’s pro-life views. This was later confirmed in her memoir, “Spoken From the Heart,” in which she wrote, “While cherishing life, I have always believed that abortion is a private decision, and there, no one can walk in anyone else’s shoes.”
Recent Candidates’ Wives Were Also Weak on Life
Similarly, in 2008, Cindy McCain told Katie Couric that while she is pro-life she supports exceptions for rape and incest and didn’t believe Roe v Wade should be overturned.
1996 GOP nominee Bob Dole’s wife, Elizabeth, was known as a pro-life senator. But she supported federal funding of abortion in certain cases and said abortion should not be a litmus test for judicial appointments.
Then there’s the last prospective Republican first lady, Ann Romney. Alhough pro-life, she seemed uncomfortable talking about the dignity of human life. There were also questions about her having donated $150 to Planned Parenthood in 1994, back when Mitt himself supported abortion.
This is important because it is natural for a politician’s spouse to be his or her closest adviser. Jeannette Rubio is described in the Times article as Marco’s “gatekeeper and moral compass.” It is also important because when spouses differ on an issue of such moral import, it is easy to question the sincerity of the candidate’s convictions.
A Woman Well Represents Pro-Lifers
Pro-life advocates consider having a Republican nominee whose spouse either supports abortion or prefers to remain silent a missed opportunity to show how effective women can be in advocating for the pro-life position.
It’s crucial to the pro-life cause to demonstrate to the public what it means to be pro-life and a woman. It’s also important to remind the public that tens of millions of American women are pro-life. In fact, polls show that women are about as likely as men to call themselves pro-life, and that women are slightly more likely than men to take the “no exceptions” anti-abortion view. This clashes with the conventional wisdom that the pro-life position hurts Republicans with women voters.
Of course, one almost never hears about Democratic nominees’ wives—or, soon, husbands—embracing the pro-life position. In fact, Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton have often acted as surrogates for their husbands when speaking about women’s issues or appearing before audiences of pro-choice women.
Wouldn’t it be nice if Republicans could do the same for the tens of millions of American women who embrace the label “pro-life.”