RFK Jr.’s Abortion Flip-Flop Reveals Democrats’ Abortion Radicalism
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has soared to insurgent status in his Democratic primary challenge by shattering Beltway orthodoxies, but even he has a line he cannot cross: abortion. RFK Jr. has joined the long list of Democratic presidential hopefuls who reversed any professed support for pro-life legislation.
The scene played out in a matter of hours at the Iowa State Fair, when he briefly endorsed a national pro-life protection.
“I believe that the decision to abort a child should be up to the woman during the first three months of life,” Kennedy told NBC News on Sunday morning.
“So, you would cap it at 15 weeks? Or 21 weeks?” asked the reporter, Ali Vitali. “Yes. Three months,” Kennedy replied.
“So, three months — you would sign a federal cap on that?” Vitali clarified a second time.
“Yes, I would,” Kennedy continued. “Once a child is viable outside the womb, I think then the state has an interest in protecting that child. … I think the states have a right to protect a child once the child can be viable.”
RFK Jr.’s handlers immediately worried about their political viability, promptly trotting out a press release explaining that their candidate did not comprehend a clear question about the most consequential issue of the modern era.
“Mr. Kennedy misunderstood a question posed to him by [an] NBC reporter in a crowded, noisy exhibit hall at the Iowa State Fair,” said an unsigned statement released by his campaign Sunday night. “Mr. Kennedy’s position on abortion is that it is always the woman’s right to choose. He does not support legislation banning abortion.”
That is to say, Democratic Party operatives realized RFK Jr. can believe vaccines cause exotic diseases. He can proclaim that he has seen “overwhelming evidence,” “beyond a reasonable doubt,” that the CIA played a role in the assassination of his uncle, President John F. Kennedy. He can accuse the U.S. of creating bioweapons and even breech the most serious of all left-wing canons, by treatingTucker Carlson like a human being. But opposing abortion at any moment before the child fully emerges from the birth canal is politically suicidal in Democratic politics.
Explaining Kennedy’s second abortion flip-flop of the day, Susan B. Anthony List president Marjorie Dannenfelser said, “It seems clear someone told Kennedy to step back in line. This speaks volumes about the radical abortion lobby’s grip on party leadership and consultants.”
That person may have been Kennedy’s campaign manager, former Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) who, like Kennedy, is a Roman Catholic (and regularly guest hosted TBN’s “Centerpoint”). Kucinich earned a moderately pro-life voting record during his eight terms in Congress. “I believe life begins at conception,” he said, supporting a partial-birth abortion ban and a ban on transporting minors across state lines to procure an abortion. But he immediately changed his views when he entered the 2004 presidential race. By December 2003, he told Democratic primary voters that “women will not be truly free unless they have the right to” abortion — a position he maintained during his 2008 campaign.
Political expediency has enticed numerous politicians who were (or professed to be) pro-life to enter the Hall of Shame once they sought higher office in the Democratic Party, including:
- Bill Clinton, who as governor of Arkansas in 1985 signed a bill banning abortions after 25 weeks. “I am opposed to abortion and to government funding of abortions,” Governor Clinton wrote to Earlene Windsor of Arkansas Right to Life on September 26, 1986. As president, he supported taxpayer-funded abortion-on-demand, relentlessly investigated pro-life advocates, and repeatedly vetoed a partial-birth abortion ban;
- Al Gore, who earned an 84% pro-life voting record as a congressman from 1977-1984. In July 1984, he voted for an amendment to the 1984 Civil Rights Act that would define “unborn children from the moment of conception” as “persons” under the law. He began to shift following his election to the Senate in 1984, but as late as July 1987, he wrote, “I have consistently opposed federal funding of abortions. In my opinion, it is wrong to spend federal funds for what is arguably the taking of a human life. It is my deep personal conviction that abortion is wrong. … I share your belief that innocent human life must be protected, and I am committed to furthering this goal.” Gore campaigned as a moderate pro-choice Democrat in 1988. By 2000, he began the pivot toward the Democrats’ full-blown embrace of abortion, saying Bill Clinton’s formula of “safe, legal, and rare” should instead be “safe, legal, and accessible”;
- Speaker of the House Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.), who boldly declared in 1977: “Life is the division of human cells, a process that begins with conception. The [Roe v. Wade ruling] was unjust, and it is incumbent on the Congress to correct the injustice. I believe that the life of the unborn should be protected at all costs.” But in 1985, less than two years before he launched his first presidential campaign — and just months after purchasing an ad in the program of the National Right to Life convention — he withdrew his support for a Human Life Amendment. Between entering office and his two presidential campaigns, his pro-life voting record fell from 96% to 11% (although, to his credit, he voted for a partial birth abortion ban seven times);
- Jesse Jackson, who declared, “Abortion is black genocide” and had been scheduled to speak at the 1978 March for Life. As late as 1982, he said abortion was “part of a great suicidal process.” He flip-flopped during his 1984 presidential campaign, defending “freedom of choice” on theological grounds; and
- Joseph Robinette Biden Jr., whose perpetually incoherent abortion policy has veered from supporting a Human Life Amendment to the U.S. Constitution all the way to demanding taxpayer-funded abortion for veterans and illegal immigrants.
The Democratic Party last named an openly pro-life Democrat to a national ticket in 1972 — the year before Roe v. Wade — when RFK Jr.’s uncle, Sargent Shriver, replaced Thomas Eagleton as George McGovern’s running mate. The last pro-life Democrat to mount a meaningful presidential campaign was former Florida Governor Reubin Askew in 1984. Shriver died in 2011 at 95; Askew died in 2014 at the age of 85.
Although it fancies itself the party of “open-minded” voters and “tolerance,” the Democratic Party long ago began freezing out pro-life rhetoric within its ranks. In May 1992, pro-life Democrat Robert P. Casey Sr., then-governor of Pennsylvania, implored the Democratic Party platform committee meeting to embrace “reasonable” protections for life. Months later, Democrats barred Casey from speaking at the Democratic National Convention.
Today, Kristen Day of Democrats for Life continues to lead a lonely battle asking her party to moderate its rhetoric, or at least adopt a plank recognizing a diversity of viewpoints on the issue. She has noted the party rightly fears a primary challenge from Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) via the No Labels movement, because his position on abortion is “mainstream and inclusive, unlike the [Democratic Party’s] establishment.”
If her fight is lonely, it is not because she stands alone. A recent Harvard/Harris poll (conducted by a former Clinton pollster) found that 60% of Democrats believe abortions should not take place after 15 weeks. Indeed, 49% of Democrats agree with RFK Jr.’s stated position that abortion should end by the first trimester. Yet Democrats demagogued the 15-week pro-life protection as a “national abortion ban,” and the Democratic platform supports taxpayer-funded abortion until birth, extreme positions well outside the mainstream.
Centrist voters could help Democrats defeat Donald Trump, but money trumps votes at the DNC. Just three abortion industry political action committees — the Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund, NARAL Pro-Choice America, and EMILY’s List — committed to spending $150 million during the 2022 midterm elections. Their financial might has so radicalized the party on abortion that even gadfly candidates must toe the party line. As a result, the party has shredded its image as the party of the powerless. “It is time we take the party back from those intent on harming preborn children and vulnerable women,” says Day. “We urge Democrats to be bold and stop caving to the pro-abortion minority.”
Due to the cyclical nature of politics, America needs two strong parties committed to protecting life, as they were before Roe and the sexual revolution. The Democrats need a candidate willing to boldly defy Big Abortion and the party’s deep-pocketed megadonors on behalf of its current, and future, voters. And politics needs a leader willing to pay any price, bear any burden, and meet any hardship to restore the party to its historic identity as the defender of society’s most vulnerable.
If RFK Jr. took up that pledge, he would truly go down as a Profile in Courage.
Ben Johnson is senior reporter and editor at The Washington Stand.