“From personal and religious beliefs I consider abortions an unacceptable form of population control. Further, unrestricted abortion policies, or abortion on demand, I cannot square with my personal belief in the sanctity of human life—including the life of the yet unborn. For, surely, the unborn have rights also, recognized in law, recognized even in principles expounded by the United Nations.”
San Clemente, April 3, 1971
Mr. Asslick: Sir, as regards your San Clemente statement of April 3, most of the discussion it provoked seems by now to have centered on your unequivocal declaration that you are a firm believer in the rights of the unborn. Many seem to believe that you are destined to be to the unborn what Martin Luther King was to the black people of America, and the late Robert F. Kennedy to the disadvantaged chicanos and Puerto Ricans of the country. There are those who say that your San Clemente statement will go down in the history books alongside Dr. King’s famous “I have a dream” address. Do you find these comparisons apt?
Our Leader: Well, of course, Mr. Asslick, Martin Luther King was a very great man, as we all must surely recognize now that he is dead. He was a great leader in the struggle for equal rights for his people, and yes, I do believe he’ll find a place in history. But of course we must not forget he was not the President of the United States, as I am, empowered by the Constitution, as I am; and this is an important distinction to bear in mind. Working within the Constitution I think I will be able to accomplish far more for the unborn of this entire nation than did Dr. King working outside the Constitution for the born of a single race. This is meant to be no criticism of Dr. King, but just a simple statement of fact.
Now, of course I am well aware that Dr. King died a martyr’s tragic death—so let me then make one thing very clear to my enemies and the enemies of the unborn: let there be no mistake about it, what they did to Martin Luther King, what they did to Robert F. Kennedy and to John F. Kennedy before him, great Americans all, is not for a moment going to scare me from the immense struggle that lies ahead. I will not be intimidated by extremists or militants or violent fanatics from bringing justice and equality to those who live in the womb.
And let me make one thing more perfectly clear: I am not just talking about the rights of the fetus. I am talking about the microscopic embryos as well. If ever there was a group in this country that was “disadvantaged,” in the sense that they are utterly without representation or a voice in our national government, it is not the blacks or the Puerto Ricans or the hippies or what-have-you, all of whom have their spokesmen, but these infinitesimal creatures up there on the placenta.
You know, we all watch our TV and we see the demonstrators and we see the violence, because, unfortunately, that is the kind of thing that makes the news. But how many of us realize that throughout this great land of ours, there are millions upon millions of embryos going through the most complex and difficult changes in form and structure, and all this they accomplish without waving signs for the camera and disrupting traffic and throwing paint and using foul language and dressing in outlandish clothes. Yes, Mr. Daring.
Mr. Daring: But what about those fetuses, sir, that the Vice President has labeled “troublemakers”? I believe he was referring specifically to those who start in kicking around the fifth month. Do you agree that they are “malcontents” and “ingrates”? And if so, what measures do you intend to take to control them?
Our Leader: Well, first off, Mr. Daring, I believe we are dealing here with some very fine distinctions of a legal kind. Now, fortunately [impish endearing smile] I happen to be a lawyer and have the kind of training that enables me to make these fine distinctions. [Back to serious business.] I think we have to be very very careful here—and I am sure the Vice President would agree with me—to distinguish between two kinds of activity: kicking in the womb, to which the Vice President was specifically referring, and moving in the womb. You see, the Vice President did not say, despite what you may have heard on television, that all fetuses who are active in the womb are troublemakers. Nobody in this Administration believes that. In fact, I have just today spoken with both the Attorney General and with Mr. Hoover and we are all in agreement that a certain amount of movement in the womb after the fifth month is not only inevitable but desirable in a normal pregnancy.
But as for this other matter, I assure you, this Administration does not intend to sit idly by and do nothing while American women are being kicked in the stomach by a bunch of violent five-month-olds. Now by and large, and I cannot emphasize this enough, our American unborn are as wonderful a group of unborn as you can find anywhere. But there are these violent few that the Vice President has characterized, and I don’t think unjustly, in his own impassioned rhetoric, as “troublemakers” and “malcontents”—and the Attorney General has been instructed by me to take the appropriate action against them.
Mr. Daring: If I may, sir, what sort of action will that be? Will there be arrests made of violent fetuses? And if so, how exactly will this be carried out?
Our Leader: I think I can safely say, Mr. Daring, that we have the finest law enforcement agencies in the world. I am quite sure that the Attorney General can solve whatever procedural problems may arise. Mr. Respectful.
Mr. Respectful: Sir, with all the grave national and international problems that press continually upon you, can you tell us why you have decided to devote yourself to this previously neglected issue of fetal rights. You seem pretty fired up on this issue, sir—why is that?
Our Leader: Because, Mr. Respectful, I will not tolerate injustice in any area of our national life. Because ours is a just society, not merely for the rich and the privileged, but for the most powerless among us as well. You know, you hear a lot these days about Black Power and Female Power, Power this and Power that. But what about Prenatal Power? Don’t they have rights too, membranes though they may be? I for one think they do, and I intend to fight for them. Mr. Shrewd.
Mr. Shrewd: As you must know, Mr. President, there are those who contend that you are guided in this matter solely by political considerations. Can you comment on that?
Our Leader: Well, Mr. Shrewd, I suppose that is their cynical way of describing my plan to introduce a proposed constitutional amendment that would extend the vote to the unborn in time for the ’72 elections.
Mr. Shrewd: I believe that is what they have in mind, sir. They contend that by extending the vote to the unborn you will neutralize the gains that may accrue to the Democratic Party by the voting age having been lowered to eighteen. They say your strategists have concluded that even if you should lose the eighteen-to-twenty-one-year-old vote, you can still win a second term if you are able to carry the South, the state of California, and the embryos and fetuses from coast to coast. Is there any truth to this “political” analysis of your sudden interest in Prenatal Power?
Our Leader: Mr. Shrewd, I’d like to leave that to you—and to our television viewers—to judge, by answering your question in a somewhat personal manner. I assure you I am conversant with the opinions of the experts; many of them are men whom I respect, and surely they have the right to say whatever they like, though of course one always hopes it will be in the national interest….
But let me remind you, and all Americans, because this is a fact that seems somehow to have been over-looked in this whole debate, I am no Johnny-come-lately to the problem of the rights of the unborn. The simple fact of the matter is, and it is in the record for all to see—I myself was once unborn, in the great state of California. Of course you wouldn’t always know this from what you see on television or read in the papers [impish endearing smile] that some of you gentlemen write for, but it happens nonetheless to be the truth. [Back to serious business.] I was an unborn Quaker, as a matter of fact.
And let me remind you also—since it seems necessary to do so, in the face of the vicious and mindless attacks upon him—Vice President Agnew was also unborn once, an unborn Greek-American, and proud to have been one. We were just talking about that this morning, how he was once an unborn Greek-American, and all that has meant to him. And so too was Secretary Laird unborn, not that you’d know it from what you hear on the television or read in the papers about him, and so too was Secretary Rogers unborn, and Attorney General Mitchell—why, I could go right on down through my cabinet and point out to you one fine man after another who was once unborn. Even Secretary Hickel, with whom as you know I had my differences of opinion, was unborn when he was here with us on the team.
And if you look among the leadership of the Republican Party in the House and the Senate, you will find men who long before their election to public office were unborn in just about every region of this country, on farms, in industrial cities, in small towns the length and breadth of this great republic. My own wife was once unborn. As you may recall, my children were unborn. And as you know, my daughter in June will wed a fine young man who was also himself unborn, and we couldn’t be happier about it.
So when they say that Nixon has turned to the issue of the unborn just for the sake of the votes…well, I ask only that you consider this list of the previously unborn with whom I am associated in both public and private life, and decide for yourself. In fact, I think you are going to find, Mr. Shrewd, with each passing day, people around this country coming to realize that in this Administration the fetuses and embryos of America have at last found their voice. Miss Charmin’, I believe you had your eyebrows raised.
Miss Charmin‘: I was just going to say, sir, that of course President Johnson was unborn, too, before he came to the White House—and he was a Democrat. Could you comment on that?
Our Leader: Miss Charmin’, I would be the first to applaud my predecessor in this high office for having been unborn. I have no doubt that he was an outstanding fetus down there in Texas before he came into public life. I am not claiming that my Administration is the first in history to be cognizant of the issue of fetal rights. I am saying that we intend to do something about them! Mr. Practical.
Mr. Practical: Sir, I’d like to ask you to comment upon the scientific problems entailed in bringing the vote to the unborn.
Our Leader: Well, of course, Mr. Practical, you have hit the nail right on the head with the word “scientific.” This is a scientific problem of staggering proportions—let’s make no mistake about it. And I fully expect there are those who are going to say in tomorrow’s papers that it is impossible, unfeasible, a utopian dream, and so on. But as you remember, when President Kennedy came before the Congress in 1961, and announced that this country would put a man on the moon before the end of the decade, there were many who were ready to label him an impossible dreamer, too. But we did it. With American know-how and American teamwork, we did it. And so too do I have every confidence that our scientific and technological people are going to dedicate themselves to bringing the vote to the unborn—and not before the decade is out either, but before November of 1972.
Mr. Practical: Can you give us some idea, sir, how much a crash program like this will cost?
Our Leader: Mr. Practical, I will be submitting a proposed budget to the Congress within the next ten days, but let me say this: you cannot achieve greatness without sacrifice. The program of research and development such as my scientific advisers have outlined cannot be bought “cheap.” After all, what we are talking about here is nothing less than the fundamental principle of democracy: the vote. Consequently, I cannot believe that the members of the Congress of the United States are going to play party politics when it comes to taking a step like this, which will be an advance not only for our nation, but for all mankind.
You just cannot imagine, for instance, the impact that this is going to have on the people in the underdeveloped countries. There are the Russians and the Chinese, who don’t even allow adults to vote, and here we are in America, investing billions and billions of the taxpayers’ dollars in a scientific project designed to extend the franchise to people who cannot see or talk or hear or even think, in the ordinary sense of the word. It would be a tragic irony indeed, and as telling a sign as I can imagine of national confusion and even hypocrisy, if we were willing to send our boys to fight and die in far-off lands so that defenseless peoples might have the right to choose the kind of government they want in free elections, and then we were to turn around here at home, and continue to deny that very same right to an entire segment of our population, just because they happen to live on the placenta or in the uterus, instead of New York City. Mr. Catch-Me-In-A-Contradiction.
Mr. Catch – Me – In – A – Contradiction: What startles me, sir, is that up until today you have been characterized, and not unwillingly, I think, as someone who, if he is not completely out of touch with the styles and ideas of the young, has certainly been skeptical of their wisdom. Doesn’t this constitute, if I may use the word, a radical about-face, coming out now for the rights of those who are not simply “young” but actually in the gestation period?
Our Leader: Well, I am glad you raised that point, because I think it shows—I certainly hope it shows—once and for all just how flexible I am, and how I am always willing to listen and respond to an appeal from any minority group, no matter how powerless, just so long as it is reasonable, and is not accompanied by violence and foul language and throwing paint. If ever there was proof that you don’t have to camp on the White House lawn to get the President’s attention away from a football game, I think it is in the example of these little organisms. I tell you, they have really impressed me with their silent dignity and politeness. I only hope that all Americans will come to be as proud of our unborn as I am.
Mr. Fascinated: Sir, I am fascinated by the technological aspect. Can you give us just an inkling of how exactly the unborn will cast their ballots? I’m particularly fascinated by these embryos on the placenta, who haven’t even developed nervous systems yet, let alone limbs such as we use in an ordinary voting machine.
Our Leader: Well, first off, let me remind you that nothing in our Constitution denies a man the right to vote just because he is physically handicapped. That isn’t the kind of country we have here. We have many wonderful handicapped people in this country, but of course they’re not “news” the way the demonstrators are.
Mr. Fascinated: I wasn’t suggesting, sir, that just because these embryos don’t have central nervous systems they should be denied the right to vote—I was thinking again of the fantastic mechanics of it. How, for instance, will the embryos be able to weigh the issues and make intelligent choices from among the candidates, if they are not able to read the newspapers or watch the news on television?
Our Leader: Well, it seems to me that you have actually touched upon the very strongest claim that the unborn have for enfranchisement, and why it is such a crime they have been denied the vote for so long. Here, at long last, we have a great bloc of voters who simply are not going to be taken in by the lopsided and distorted versions of the truth that are presented to the American public through the various media. Mr. Reasonable.
Mr. Reasonable: But how then will they make up their minds, or their yolks, or their nuclei, or whatever it is they have in there, Mr. President? It might seem to some that they are going to be absolutely innocent of whatever may be at stake in the election.
Our Leader: Innocent they will be, Mr. Reasonable—but now let me ask you, and all our television viewers, too, a question: what’s wrong with a little innocence? We’ve had the foul language, we’ve had the cynicism, we’ve had the masochism and the breast-beating—maybe a big dose of innocence is just what this country needs to be great again.
Mr. Reasonable: More innocence, Mr. President?
Our Leader: Mr. Reasonable, if I have to choose between the rioting and the upheaval and the strife and the discontent on the one hand, and more innocence on the other, I think I will choose the innocence. Mr. Hardnose.
Mr. Hardnose: In the event, Mr. President, that all this does come to pass by the ’72 elections, what gives you reason to believe that the enfranchised embryos and fetuses will vote for you over your Democratic opponent? And what about Governor Wallace? Do you think that if he should run again, he would significantly cut into your share of the fetuses, particularly in the South?
Our Leader: Let me put it this way, Mr. Hardnose: I have the highest respect for Governor George Wallace of Alabama, as I do for Senator George McGovern of South Dakota. They are both able men, and they speak with great conviction, I am sure, in behalf of the extreme right and the extreme left. But the fact is that I have never heard either of these gentlemen, for all their extremism, raise their voices in behalf of America’s most disadvantaged group of all, the unborn.
Consequently, I would be less than candid if I didn’t say that when election time rolls around, of course the embryos and fetuses of this country are likely to remember just who it was that struggled in their behalf, while others were addressing themselves to the more popular and fashionable issues of the day. I think they will remember who it was that devoted himself, in the midst of a war abroad and racial crisis at home, to making this country a fit place for the unborn to dwell in pride.
My only hope is that whatever I am able to accomplish in their behalf while I hold this office will someday contribute to a world in which everybody, regardless of race, creed, or color, will be unborn. I guess if I have a dream, that is it. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.
Mr. Asslick: Thank you, Mr. President.
June 3, 1971