Abortion in 1972

A note of historical interest. Hubert Humphrey tarred George McGovern as being soft on "amnesty, abortion and acid" in the rough and tumble 1972 Democratic party primaries. McGovern won the nomination but the charge stuck, and became a favorite of Richard Nixon's less than savory reelection team. (For the record, the charge was hugely unfair: McGovern favored leaving abortion up the states, did not favor drug legalization and of course only a few years later general amnesty for Vietnam draft evaders was favored by leaders of both parties.)

Now columnist (and Catholic convert) Robert Novakreveals that Thomas Eagleton fed him the phrase in the spring of 1972. Eagleton did so because he thought "Catholic Middle America" would revolt against McGovern if he became tarred with these issues.

So: a pro-life Catholic Democrat (Eagleton) helps destroy George McGovern's campaign through this phrase in the spring of 1972, and then agrees to become McGovern's vice-presidential nominee after Ted Kennedy (Catholic, then pro-life) refuses the job. Once it is revealed that Eagleton underwent psychiatric treatment, he is forced to leave the ticket (now he would get free time on Oprah), pushing McGovern further back in the polls. McGovern then turns to a pro-life Catholic Democrat, Kennedy in-law Sargent Shriver. But 1972 is still the first presidential election when a solid majority of Catholic voters choose the Republican candidate.

John T. McGreevy is the I.A. O'Shaughnessy Dean of the College of Arts and Letters and Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame.

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