President Clinton's Record on Abortion

Author: Douglas Johnson


By Douglas Johnson NRLC Federal Legislative Director


With respect to abortion, a sharp distinction must be drawn between President Clinton's often "soft" _rhetoric_ and his hard-line proabortion _policies_. In his verbal formulations, the President has sought to portray himself as a moderate on abortion. He has insisted, "I am not proabortion," and vowed to support policies to make abortion "rare." He has expressed support for permitting states to place certain limitations on abortion, pledged not to disturb state bans on public funding of abortion, claimed that his health care legislation would merely preserve the status quo on abortion policy, and said that his Administration does not support abortion as a method of population control or birth control. [Specific citations are available on request.] However, _each one_ of these "soft" statements has been directly contradicted by actual _policies_ approved or proposed by President Clinton. Clinton's policies have deviated in no significant respect from the public policy agenda of the most militant advocates of unrestricted abortion, such as the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL). Directly and through his appointees, President Clinton seeks to employ the full power of the federal government to vastly expand access to abortion on demand - - and to force all Americans to pay for it. This factsheet summarizes some of the most significant abortion-related policies of the Clinton Administration. This is not an exhaustive compilation. Further documentation on the subjects discussed below is available from the National Right to Life Committee, Federal Legislative Office, (202) 626-8820.


President Clinton's health care bill, the so-called "Health Security Act" (HR 3600, S. 1757) contains a broad federal "abortion mandate" that, if enacted, would result in the greatest expansion of abortion since _Roe v. Wade_. In 1993, Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Pamela Maraldo said that including abortion in a federal health benefits package would be "a watershed event just as significant, just as vital" as _Roe_. We concur with that appraisal of the sweeping nature of the change proposed - - although proabortion groups more recently decided to try to re-package this "watershed" proposal as mere preservation of the status quo. (See "What Is the 'Abortion Mandate' And What Do Americans Think About It," page 14, for a full explanation of the ramifications of the "Health Security Act.")


o Bill Clinton promised to appoint only supporters of legal abortion to the Supreme Court. Bill Moyers asked Clinton during a July, 1992 interview, "Will you see to it that if you're elected, that fifth judge, your first appointee, will be a strong supporter of _Roe_?" Clinton responded, "Yes." Moyers then asked, "Is that not a litmus test?" Clinton, responded, "It is, and that makes me uncomfortable."

o As of June 3, 1994, the President has picked two Supreme Court justices -- and he clearly applied the pro-abortion litmus test in each case.

o In June, 1993, Clinton picked federal court of appeals judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg for the Supreme Court seat vacated by retiring pro-life Justice Byron White. Ginsburg had written that limitations on abortion should be regarded as a form of unconstitutional sex discrimination. Her writings make it clear that she would employ this "sex discrimination" analysis to invalidate even minimal types of abortion regulation, such as waiting periods and limits on government funding for abortion, that have been ruled permissible by the Supreme Court.

o In May, 1994, Clinton picked court of appeals judge Stephen Breyer for the Supreme Court seat to be vacated by Justice Harry Blackmun, the author of _Roe v. Wade_. There is little doubt that Stephen Breyer will take the expansive view of "abortion rights." For example, he voted to overturn Bush Administration regulations that restricted promotion of abortion in federally funded family planning clinics. However, the Supreme Court later upheld those regulations. Breyer is a former top aide to Senator Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) -- a pro-abortion leader in the Senate - who has publicly stated his belief that Breyer will defend "abortion rights." Clinton picked Breyer after pro-abortion groups lobbied against two other leading contenders, federal judges Richard Arnold and Jose Cabranes, neither of whom had actually exercised judicial power in advancement of pro-abortion policies -- as Breyer did in the case of the Bush Administration abortion regulations.


o President Clinton promised to sign the so-called "Freedom of Choice Act" (FOCA), a proposed federal law that would prohibit virtually all state limitations on abortion. He endorsed the FOCA even though both the House version (HR 25) and the Senate version (S. 25) would nullify several types of abortion limits that Clinton has said should be permitted, such as waiting periods and prohibitions on third-trimester abortions. [On Feb. 19, 1993, in Chillicothe, Ohio, Clinton said, "Almost all Americans believe that abortions should be illegal when the children can live without the mother's assistance, when the children can live outside the mother's womb."] Despite the President's support, increasing numbers of lawmakers backed away from the bill as they became aware of the extreme character of the legislation. As _Congressional Quarterly_ reported (Dec. 11, 1993), "Among the most controversial provisions are those that would prohibit restrictions on third-trimester abortions, overturn several states' requirements that teenagers obtain the consent of one or both parents before having an abortion, and prohibit 24-hour waiting periods." As of June, 1994, there are no plans for either the House or Senate to vote on the bill.


o In 1992, presidential candidate Clinton said that he would support policies to make abortion "rare." However, the Clinton Administration has launched a multi-pronged campaign to vastly expand access to abortion on demand in less developed countries, as a method of population control. (As White House spokeswoman Dee Dee Myers put it on April 1, 1993, the Administration regards abortion as "part of the overall approach to population control.") Of course; promoting abortion as a means of population control directly contradicts Clinton's stated support for making abortion "rare' -- since population control is advanced by _more_ abortions, not _fewer_ abortions.

o Clinton appointed former Colorado Senator Tim Wirth to be Undersecretary of State, a senior position with authority over (among other things) all population-control programs. In a speech to a U.N. population meeting on May 11, 1993, Wirth said, "A government which is violating basic human rights should not hide behind the defense of sovereignty. . . Our position is to support reproductive choice, including access to safe abortion." On Jan. 11, 1994, Wirth said the U.S. "goal is to help provide _comprehensive_ family-planning services to 'every woman in the world who wants them' by the year 2000." [_Washington Times_, Jan. 12, 1994, emphasis added.]

o In order for the U.S. to achieve its stated goal, there would have to be massive changes in the current abortion laws of less-developed nations. At least 95 nations have laws that place very substantial limitations on abortion. These laws cover 37 percent of the world's population, or over two billion (2,000,000,000) persons. For example, unborn children are generally protected by law in nearly all of Latin America and in most of Africa.

o On March 16, 1994, the U.S. State Department sent an "action cable" to all overseas diplomatic and consular posts. The cable called for "senior level diplomatic interventions" in support of U.S. priorities for a U.N.-sponsored international population-control conference in Cairo in September, and for a preparatory meeting April 4-22 in New York:

Posts are requested to approach host governments to outline USG (U.S. government] negotiating priorities for the final preparatory committee meeting for the International Conference on Population and Development... The priority issues for the U.S. include assuring... access to safe abortion.... The United States believes that access to safe, legal and voluntary abortion is a fundamental right of all women... The United States delegation will also be working for stronger language on the importance of access to abortion services.

o On his third day in office, President Clinton nullified the Reagan-Bush "Mexico City Policy," which had denied U.S. funding to private organizations that "perform or actively promote abortion as a method of family planning" in foreign nations. Subsequently, the Clinton Administration made a $75 million grant to the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) headquarters in London, which openly campaigns for the repeal of pro-life laws in less-developed nations.

o The _direct_ use of U.S. population assistance funds to pay for _abortion procedures_ ("to pay for the performance of abortions as a method of family planning") is prohibited by the 1973 Helms Amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act [22 U.S.C. 2151b(f)]. However, the Administration has submitted to Congress a bill (HR 3765) that would _repeal_ the Helms Amendment.

o President Clinton restored funding to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), even though the UNFPA remains extensively involved in China's coercive population-control program. Clinton took this step even though the Kemp-Kasten anti-coercion law prohibits U.S. assistance to any organization that "supports or participates in the management of a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization."

o The Clinton Administration also killed a Bush Administration regulation that made it possible for Chinese women who flee the Chinese government's compulsory abortion policy to obtain political asylum in the United States. Furthermore, the Administration has been energetic in deporting, or seeking to deport, even those Chinese citizens who have presented overwhelming evidence that they will be subjected to compulsory abortions or sterilization. In May, 1994, Justice Department lawyers submitted papers to federal courts, arguing that "refugees who flee China because of a threat of mandatory abortion or sterilization aren't entitled to political asylum, despite an executive order by former President Bush. . . it does not constitute grounds for asylum, the lawyers argued," the Associated Press reported (May 24, 1994). (Despite this appalling record, after visiting with Pope John Paul II on June 2, 1994, President Clinton said, "We have big differences with China on this -- that we don't support abortion as a means of birth control," (Associated Press)


o Since the 1970s, Congress has generally prohibited federal funding of abortion under the Medicaid program, a federal-state program that provides health services for low-income persons. This prohibition is accomplished through the "Hyde Amendment," which is enacted annually as part of the appropriations bill for the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

o Prior to enactment of the Hyde Amendment in 1976, the federal government paid for about 300,000 elective abortions annually through Medicaid. It is conservatively estimated that the Hyde Amendment has saved at least 1,000,000 human lives.

o Three months after taking office, President Clinton urged Congress to repeal all restrictions on federal funding of abortion, including the Hyde Amendment. However, throughout 1993, senior Administration officials said repeatedly that even if the Hyde Amendment were repealed, the Administration would respect "state flexibility" and would not force individual states to weaken their own restrictions on state funding of Medicaid abortions. [Citations on request.]

o Subsequently, both houses of Congress voted to renew the Hyde Amendment, but revised it to permit federal reimbursement for abortions in cases of rape or incest. Reneging on the earlier assurances, on December 28, 1993, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a directive ordering all states to contribute _state_ funds for abortions in cases of rape or incest -- and to allow abortionists to waive any state laws requiring reporting of such crimes to law enforcement or health agencies.

o The Administration directive undercut the pro-life policies of 37 states. Indeed, the directive was carefully crafted to provide maximum legal assistance to private proabortion groups in their attempts to strike down all limitations on state-funded abortions. The _Washington Post_ reported that the legal "analysis" underlying the directive was done by DHHS Deputy General Counsel Nan Hunter, previously a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, and her boss, DHHS General Counsel Harriet Rabb, previously associated with the ACLU's New York affiliate.

o Congressman Henry Hyde issued a comment (January 19, 1994) which read in part: "Congress did not vote to define abortion in cases of rape and incest as 'medically necessary' or otherwise compel states to pay for such abortions. . . This Administration clearly intends to use the executive power to expand taxpayer funding of abortion whenever possible. This overreaching decree will throw a spotlight on the Clinton health care bill, which would require every American to purchase health insurance to pay for abortion on demand."

o Because of the Administration directive, in May a federal court in Colorado invalidated a provision of the state constitution, prohibiting tax-funded abortions except to save the mother's life, which had twice been approved by the electorate. As a result, Colorado is currently forced to pay for abortion on demand under Medicaid, with _state_ funds. In response to the Administration decree, 36 other states have either liberalized their Medicaid abortion policies, or are being threatened by the Administration with the loss of all Medicaid funds if they do not comply.


o The Bush Administration funded research on the French drug RU 486 only for non-abortion purposes, but not as an abortifacient. On January 22, 1993, Clinton ordered the Secretary of Health and Human Services to "promptly assess initiatives by which the Department of Health and Human Services can promote the testing, licensing, and manufacturing in the United States of RU 486." Subsequently, Clinton's choice to head the Food and Drug Administration, David Kessler, aggressively pressured the French manufacturer of RU 486, Roussel Uclaf, to arrange for the drug to be licensed in the United States.

o In May, 1994, Roussel Uclaf announced that it had turned over its patent rights to RU 486 to the Population Council, a private proabortion advocacy group, in order to allow the Council to seek FDA approval to market the drug as an abortifacient in the United States. A representative of Roussel Uclaf, Lester Hyman, testified before a congressional subcommittee on May 16, 1994, "It was only when President Clinton changed the governmental policy and specifically asked Roussel to make the procedure available here that our client [Roussel Uclaf], out of respect for the President of the United States, agreed to make every effort to comply with this request."


o The President appointed as Attorney General a hard-core supporter of abortion, Janet Reno. At a meeting with leaders of pro-abortion advocacy organizations on October 29, 1993, Reno "was so determined to show her support for their plight, observers say, that she gave them her home telephone number and told them to contact her there anytime." (_Family Planning World_, January/February 1994, p. 9)

o Clinton and Ms. Reno made enactment of the "Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances" (FACE) bill (S. 636) a "top priority" for the Justice Department. President Clinton signed the bill into law on May 26, 1994. The bill makes it a federal crime to interfere with anyone who is providing or seeking abortions, even through non-violent "physical obstruction." NRLC and its affiliates do not support, encourage, or engage in illegal activities. However, NRLC opposed the FACE Act because it targets pro-life activists' free speech for special harsh penalties that do not apply to other activists (anti-war, animal rights, pro-environmental, proabortion, etc.) who commit the same kinds of acts, and because the bill authorizes lawsuits that will be used to suppress peaceful, legal free speech activities such as picketing, leafletting, and sidewalk counseling outside abortion clinics. The constitutionality of the law is being challenged in several federal lawsuits.

o On April 27,1994, U.S. Solicitor General Drew Days, a senior Clinton appointee, argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in defense of a Melbourne, Florida, court order that created a 300-foot "bubble zone" around a local abortion clinic, and prohibited pro-life persons from even initiating a peaceful conversation with a woman once she was within that zone. The Supreme Court will rule on the constitutionality of the court order by early July. (_Madsen v. Women's Health Center_)

o Clinton appointed Duke University law professor Walter Dellinger to be assistant attorney general for legal counsel -- the "attorney general's attorney." As late as 1992, Dellinger served as co-chair of a National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) commission formed to defend legal abortion on demand. Along with Harvard Professor Laurence Tribe, Dellinger was chosen by proabortion forces to testify as their leading legal witness at Senate hearings on the so called "Freedom of Choice Act" (FOCA), a bill to nullify state limitations on abortion. On October 13, 1993, 34 senators voted against Dellinger's confirmation to the Justice Department post because of his strong ties to pro-abortion political organizations. Dellinger has been mentioned as a possible future Clinton Supreme Court nominee.


o On January 22, 1993, the President ordered cancellation of regulations that prohibited routine counseling for abortion in federally funded family planning clinics. As a result, non-physicians in these clinics will routinely counsel every pregnant woman -- and minor girl - regarding abortion as a "pregnancy management option" -- that is, as a method of birth control. Clinton justified it on grounds that "our administration is particularly concerned with the epidemic of teenage pregnancy," implying that the government should promote more abortions among pregnant teens in order to fight the "epidemic."

o The President appointed Dr. Joycelyn Elders as Surgeon General of the United States. Elders was given authority over the massive Title 10 family planning program and other programs that deal with adolescent pregnancy. Elders is a strident pro-abortion activist. For example, at a January 21, 1994, Planned Parenthood event in Austin, Texas, she said of pro-life persons, "I want them to get over their love affair with the fetus and start trying to save the children." At a January 1992 pro-abortion rally in Little Rock, Arkansas, she said, "It's not about abortion. It's about power." Elders says her goal as Surgeon General will be to "ensure that every child born in America is a planned, wanted child," and leaves little doubt what she believes should be done with those who were not "planned." Elders also said abortion is "an approved medical procedure and so I feel we should fund it" through a national health program.

o On January 22, 1993, President Clinton issued an executive directive lifting the Bush Administration ban on federal funding of transplantation research utilizing tissue obtained from aborted babies. Clinton said, "We must let medicine and science proceed unencumbered by anti-abortion politics." In December, 1993, the National Institutes of Health issued a $4.5 million grant for a study utilizing tissue harvested from elective abortions.

o At the federal National Institutes of Health (NIH), a committee is laying the groundword for conducting, with federal funds, harmful or lethal research on _living_ human embryos conceived through _in vitro_ fertilization. Federal funding of such research -- utilizing living human beings as "guinea pigs" -- was not permitted under the Reagan and Bush administration.

o On January 22, 1993, the "President abolished a Reagan-Bush ban on the performance of abortions at overseas military medical facilities. However, all or nearly all military doctors in the European and Pacific theaters of operations have refused to perform the abortions. (_National Journal_, April 15, 1994)

o President Clinton has urged Congress to repeal the 1984 law (the "Jepsen Amendment") that prohibits the direct funding of abortion procedures by the Department of Defense (except to save the life of the mother).

o Under the guise of "campaign reform," the Clinton Administration is pushing legislation that would impose a "gag rule" on political advertising by advocacy groups, such as National Right to Life PAC. Both houses have passed "campaign reform" bills that contain such curbs on political free speech. Both bills require PACs to notify a candidate for office before they run advertising opposing him -- and then grant the "targeted" candidate publicly funded broadcast time, at discounted rates, as compensation. The predictable result of such a law would be that broadcast outlets would refuse to sell air time to issue-oriented PACs -- which is one intent of such a "gag rule."

[ This article first appeared in the in the June 21, 1994 issue of _National Right to Life News_. Copied with permission. _National Right to Life News_ is the official publication of the National Right to Life Committee, Inc.