As if the Republicans weren’t having enough trouble with defectors, they’ve gone on a purge. There was Dick Cheney on “Face the Nation.” Asked to pick between a GOP like Rush Limbaugh or Colin Powell, the former Veep snarkily crossed the general off the party list, saying, “I didn’t know he was still a Republican.”
This was less than two weeks after Arlen Specter assessed the odds of winning a Republican primary in Pennsylvania at exactly zip.
The not-so-fond farewells that pursued Specter were nothing compared to the GOP un-eulogies for David Souter. The justice nominated by Republican George H.W. Bush, and confirmed with overwhelming Republican Senate support was excommunicated from the party.
You will not be surprised at what these three purgees have in common: They are all supporters of a woman’s right to choose. Nor will you be surprised that abortion is the purity test for remaining in the GOP.
We forget sometimes that the GOP was not always like this. Not that long ago, we had pro-choicers like Barry Goldwater. Or Ronald Reagan, Act One. Or George H.W. Bush, who was pro-choice before he was pro-victory. This purge has led me to wonder what would have happened if the first abortion case to arrive at the Supreme Court were not Roe v. Wade. What if it had been Susan Struck v. Secretary of Defense? What if it had been brought by the woman who did not want an abortion?
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has mused out loud about the case that got away, the one she would have liked to argue when she was a women’s rights litigator.
Susan Struck was an Air Force captain, a nurse, when she got pregnant in 1970. Her commanding officer said she had two choices: abortion or resignation. Struck picked a third choice: a lawsuit. Ginsburg, then an ACLU lawyer, argued that banning pregnant women from service was sex discrimination. She also argued that Struck’s right to bear a child was her personal choice.
The case was heading to the Supreme Court when Solicitor General Erwin Griswold figured that he was going to lose. So the savvy solicitor advised the armed services to change the rules and the case became moot.
Today, it is mind-bending to think about how different the whole debate might have been if the first Supreme Court case arguing for the right to decide had been brought by a woman wanting to have a baby. Would we have better understood this reality: a government that can force a woman to have an abortion is the same government that can force a woman to continue the pregnancy? Would it have changed a Republican Party that was traditionally so wary of government power-grabs?
It’s all history now. But when the argument over the next justice comes, when you hear about Jane Roe, think of Susan Struck. When “pro-choice conservative” sounds like an oxymoron, remember the words of “Mr. Conservative,” Barry Goldwater:
“A lot of so-called conservatives today don’t know what the word means. They think I’ve turned liberal because I believe a woman has a right to an abortion. That’s a decision that’s up to the pregnant woman, not up to the pope or some do-gooders on the religious right. It’s not a conservative issue at all.”
Where would he be today? What would Dick Cheney say? Barry, get thee to a gulag.
Contact Ellen Goodman at firstname.lastname@example.org.