Ted Kennedy and abortion

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Was Kennedy really “Committed to changing the world one life at a time“?

Kennedy wrote in a letter to a voter in 1971 that “wanted or unwanted, I believe that human life, even at its earliest stages, has certain rights which must be recognized — the right to be born, the right to love, the right to grow old.” But like many other Catholic liberals, from Joseph Biden to Dennis Kucinich, he moved leftward with his party, becoming a down-the-line supporter of abortion rights, with a voting record that brooked no compromise on the issue.

A review of Kennedy’s unwavering pro-abortion record:

  • Voted NO on defining unborn child as eligible for SCHIP.
  • Voted NO on prohibiting minors crossing state lines for abortion.
  • Voted YES on expanding research to more embryonic stem cell lines.
  • Voted NO on notifying parents of minors who get out-of-state abortions.
  • Voted NO on criminal penalty for harming unborn fetus during other crime.
  • Voted NO on banning partial birth abortions except for maternal life.
  • Voted NO on maintaining ban on Military Base Abortions.
  • Voted NO on banning partial birth abortions.
  • Voted NO on banning human cloning.
  • Rated 100% by NARAL, indicating a pro-choice voting record.

Ted Kennedys sister Eunice remained against abortion later in her life, so what made Teddy change? Along with her husband, Sargent Shriver, Eunice belonged to America’s dwindling population of outspoken pro-life liberals. “Like her church, she saw a continuity, rather than a contradiction, between championing the poor, the marginalized and the oppressed and protecting unborn human life.” notes Ross Douthat in a NY Times column asking What if Teddy had opposed abortion?

At times, Ted Kennedy’s fervor on abortion felt like an extended apology to his party’s feminists for the way the men of his dynasty behaved in private. Eunice, by contrast, had nothing to apologize for. She knew what patriarchy meant: she was born into a household out of “Mad Men,” where the father paraded his mistress around his family, the sons were groomed for high office, and the daughters were expected to marry well, rear children and suffer silently. And she transcended that stifling milieu, doing more than most men to change the world, and earning the right to disagree with her fellow liberals about what true feminism required.

It’s worth pondering how the politics of abortion might have been different had Ted shared even some of his sister’s qualms about the practice. One could imagine a world in which America’s leading liberal Catholic had found a way to make liberalism less absolutist on the issue, and a world where a man who became famous for reaching across the aisle had reached across, even occasionally, in search of compromise on the country’s most divisive issue.

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