Lucy just pulled the football away from Charlie Brown again. In the budget compromise that averted a government shutdown, it was the Republicans not the Democrats who blinked on the funding of Planned Parenthood, and it was the pro-lifers who look to the GOP and not the abortion supporters who look to the Democrats who were disappointned. After the compromise, as before, hundreds of millions of tax dollars will continue to flow into the coffers of an organization that kills hundreds of thousands of unborn children each year and whose founder famously said, “The most merciful thing a family does for one of its infant members is to kill it.”
The debate leading up to the compromise provided another reminder of why Roe v. Wade has not been overturned. Richard Scaife, a long-time donor to the GOP and conservative causes, took out a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal to gush about how his grandmother knew Margaret Sanger and how wonderful Planned Parenthood is. In Scaife's world, government spending is okay when the money is spent on Planned Parenthood. There are lots of old money families with histories similar to Scaife's, as Republican leaders well know, since many of those families are their own. The Bushes, like the Scaifes, were early supporters of Planned Parenthood, and Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush, and Laura Bush all remain supporters of abortion.
Republicans such as Scaife and Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush, and Laura Bush can tolerate pro-life rhetoric and the occasional law dealing with the margins of the abortion issue, but the overturning of Roe v. Wade would provoke a civil war in the upper reaches of the GOP, which is one reason why that infamous decision has not been overturned, even though Republican presidents have appointed a majority of all Supreme Court justices since it was handed down in 1973. Indeed, thanks to Warren Rudman's memoirs, we now know that George H.W. Bush appointed David Souter to the Supreme Court knowing full well that Souter was a supporter of Roe v. Wade.
Politically, Roe v. Wade has been a tremendous boon to the national GOP. For decades, millions of pro-lifers have reliably voted for Republican presidential candidates on the basis of the pro-life issue, even though many of those voters might favor the Democrats on economic issues. If Roe v. Wade were overturned, the abortion issue would become a state issue, and many pro-life voters would again feel free to consider Democratic candidates for national office. Until Charlie Brown realizes the game Lucy is playing, there is no reason to expect that Roe v. Wade will be overturned or that the GOP as a whole (with many obvious and honorable exceptions) will stand by its stated pro-life beliefs when it matters.
Thomas Piatak is a contributing editor to Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He writes from Cleveland, Ohio.