George W. Bush is an interesting man with a complicated presidency that most Americans–going into Bush's final year of office–deemed a failure. At one point, Bush had the worst approval/disapproval rating since Gallup began measuring. His record on domestic policy and foreign policy, on the economy and Iraq, on Katrina and the War on Terror, engenders much heated debate.
That said, George W. Bush was our best pro-life president, hands down. To cite just a few examples:
Bush's confirmed picks to the Supreme Court, from a pro-life standpoint, were superb. His actual policy changes, from bans on partial birth-abortion to stopping taxpayer funding of the deliberate destruction of human embryos, were wonderful. His first day in office, Bush authorized a ban on U.S. taxpayer funding of international "abortion rights" groups like International Planned Parenthood, which seek abortion implementation worldwide. In contrast, President Barack Obama immediately restored that funding his first week in office, specifically, January 23, 2009, the day after the annual March for Life. In August 2002, Bush signed the Born Alive Infants Protection Act, which requires medical attention to a child that accidentally survives an abortion. Barack Obama, as a state senator in Illinois, repeatedly blocked or voted against such legislation.
This is a short list of Bush's pro-life actions.
Yet, unappreciated is the full story behind George W. Bush's pro-life convictions. At its crux is a basic belief that every human life, from the moment of conception, is unique, precious, blessed by God, and deserving of protection by a compassionate society.
But is there more to it, maybe something personal? With the release of Bush's new book, Decision Points, we learn that, yes, there was something deeply personal. As someone who wrote a biography of Bush, I had known only half the story.
It was the mid-1960s. With his father out of town on business, a teenage George W. Bush, the oldest child in the family, and the first with a driver's license, quickly drove his mother to the hospital. She had just had a miscarriage. When Barbara Bush worried she would not be able to walk out of the car, George told her he would carry her into the emergency room. She spent the night in the hospital.
George W. Bush has told that much before. In his new book, however, he continues the conversation, albeit very briefly. He adds that one thing he didn't expect to see during this ordeal was the remains of the fetus. Bush writes: "I remember thinking: There was a human life, a little brother or sister."
A decade earlier, Bush had lost a little sister, Robin, who he adored, to childhood cancer. It was deeply painful; the Bushes still haven't gotten over it. Here was another loss of a sibling, at an even earlier stage of development.
When asked about this incident in an interview with NBC's Matt Lauer, and explicitly if it spawned his pro-life commitment, Bush merely said he related the story as an example of the bond he has with his mother.
No doubt, though, it was a poignant encounter. Think about the significance: This was pre-Roe v. Wade. It was also long before the blessed advent of ultrasound machines, which have been the single greatest technological factor in convincing women considering abortions to proceed with their pregnancy. The percentage of women persuaded by ultrasound images is upwards of 75-90 percent (studies vary). That's no surprise. These images offer a window into the womb, confirmation that the fetus is not a mere "blob of tissue." It's likewise no surprise that groups like Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion Rights Action League are ferocious in opposing legislation requiring or funding ultrasounds. Clearly, this suggests that their goal is not to inform a woman's "choice," as they claim, but to advance abortion. If abortions, overnight, were cut by 75-90 percent, Planned Parenthood would be out of business.
To bring this back to the person of George W. Bush, what he glimpsed after his mother's miscarriage was a vivid, early substitute to an ultrasound image. It portrayed the other end of life. He saw not a brother or sister sucking a thumb or grasping a toe in the womb but someone who never made it. Either way, he saw a human life. He saw a brother or sister–another potential Robin. Clearly, he or she was not a blob of tissue.
For countless other Americans who experienced such a trial, that's a searing image that affected them in untold ways. For George W. Bush, however, it no doubt set him on a road to becoming America's best pro-life president.
– Dr. Paul Kengor is professor of political science and executive director of The Center for Vision Values at Grove City College. His books include "God and George W. Bush" and the newly released "Dupes: How America's Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century."