Gephardt’s Abortion Flip-Flop Still a Turnoff to Pro-Lifers

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Sep 5, 2003   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Gephardt’s Abortion Flip-Flop Still a Turnoff to Pro-Lifers

by Maria Gallagher Staff Writer
September 5, 2003

Washington, DC ( — For decades, Dick Gephardt’s name has been synonymous with Democratic Party politics. Having served as a leader in the U.S. House of Representatives, Gephardt is considered to be one of the party’s strongest voices.

But Gephardt, who often projects a Midwestern, family-oriented image, abandoned his pro-life stand years ago — a change of heart which seemed to occur in connection with his first bid for the White House.

"Richard Gephardt told the pro-abortion group formerly known as NARAL that his Baptist upbringing taught him abortion was wrong but, over time, friends and colleagues were able to convince him otherwise," said Carol Tobias, political director of National Right to Life.

Gephardt’s flip-flop on abortion is the stuff of legends in pro-life circles.

From 1976 to 1980, during his first term in Congress, Gephardt voted pro-life 96 percent of the time, indicating that he was solidly pro-life. From 1983 to 1988, when he launched his first Presidential campaign, his pro-life record dropped to 64 percent. While he was still voting pro-life a majority of the time, it was clear that his support for protection of the unborn was eroding.

By 1989, Gephardt had done a reversal, voting pro-life only eleven percent of the time, a level he continues to hover around.

"Now he says that he would appoint Supreme Court justices who would preserve Roe v. Wade," Tobias tells "Gephardt knows that abortion kills an unborn child but switched position for political expediency. I really don’t know how he can sleep at night."

As Gephardt pursues another run for the White House, it is clear where his allegiance lies.

On the CBS news program "Face the Nation," when asked whether he would ever appoint a U.S. Supreme Court nominee who would overturn Roe v. Wade, Gephardt said, "I don’t think I would, because I’d put on people who had proper respect for the precedents of the court, and the court has said that choice is the law of the land."

While Gephardt also said he would sign a ban on partial-birth abortions, he insisted he would do so only if the ban included a "health exception" for the mother. Pro-life groups believe that kind of language would render the ban useless, since such exceptions could be interpreted broadly by judges.

Gephardt has also been openly courting pro-abortion political factions, sometimes with mixed results.

At the NARAL Pro Choice America dinner in January, the Missouri Congressman was initially booed when he admitted to having sponsored a move to ban abortion when he first arrived in Congress. He later explained how, in the intervening years, he had changed his mind on the issue — a statement which seemed to appease the crowd.

Gephardt dates his abortion policy switch to 1986–two years before his initial Presidential run. Gephardt told NARAL officials that some women who had had abortions had convinced him that it was a choice for them to make with God.

"There is nothing moral in strong-arming a personal belief, and there is nothing moral to a presidency that imposes personal morality through acts of government power," Gephardt said.

Gephardt has also said that he would support a law guaranteeing abortion if Roe v. Wade were overturned. In addition, he has backed procedural efforts in Congress to undermine pro-life legislation.

Democrats for Life of America has been sharply critical of Gephardt’s abortion stand.

The national pro-life group notes that Gephardt is running under the banner of "new ideas from common ideals," yet his current stand on abortion reflects neither of those concepts. In fact, Democrats for Life points out Gephardt has gone so far as to say that abortion is "the foothold" that will allow Democrats "to reclaim the high ground on the issues of vital importance to the American people."

Kristen Day, the Executive Director of Democrats for Life, indicated that Gephardt’s switch on abortion is not surprising, given the current political climate.

"The abortion lobby is very strong, they have a lot of money, and they are controlling the Democratic Party right now," Day said. "A lot of the candidates get a lot of pressure … to switch their position."

While Gephardt may be better-known than many of his Democratic Presidential rivals, he seems to be having difficulty gaining support among would-be
primary voters.

Recent polls have not been particularly encouraging, and he is not winning the publicity war.

For instance, a recent Zogby poll in New Hampshire showed that Gephardt had only six percent of the vote. And it was not Gephardt’s face on the covers of recent Time and Newsweek magazines, but Howard Dean’s. While Gephardt has been quite vocal, particularly in his criticism of the Bush Administration, his message is apparently failing to resonate with the news media and with voters.

Gephardt’s campaign did not respond to’s request for comment.