What Might Have Been – The Man Who Could Have Reversed Roe v. Wade

This post is another in a series of interviews with Grove City College friend and colleague, Paul Kengor. In this interview, Dr. Kengor discloses behind-the-scenes events involving Ronald Reagan and one of his closest advisors, Judge Bill Clark. In his new book about Bill Clark, Paul provides rich detail about Judge Clark’s role in winning the Cold War. He also provides this look into the rest of the story behind what would eventually be the appointment of Sandra Day O’Connor.

Throckmorton: You have written about several prominent political figures. Your latest book is about Judge William P. “Bill” Clark, titled, The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan’s Top Hand (Ignatius Press, 2007). Tell us a little about who he was and what roles he played in the nation’s recent political history.

Kengor: In so many ways, Bill Clark is the untold story of Ronald Reagan’s political career, from Reagan’s governorship to presidency, and was no doubt the most instrumental and forgotten player in the effort to defeat atheistic Soviet communism. Clark is one of the most important figures in the fall of communism—period. Among Catholics—Clark is a devout Catholic—he was the single most significant American Catholic in the collapse of communism, and, in that respect, I would argue the second most important Catholic in the world in terms of the Soviet collapse, next only to Pope John Paul II.

Naturally, one might ask: If Bill Clark was so central to this huge moment in history, why don’t we know more about him? Because of his striking humility: he never promoted himself, always refusing to tell his story, until now—in this book.

Throckmorton: Aside from what Clark did in the Cold War, you talk about “what might have been” in the Culture War, and the difference Clark could have made for the cause of life in the United States. Talk about that.

Kengor: This is the other untold story, and the one theme in the book that thus far has not received the attention it merits. In June 1981, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart announced that he was stepping down from the high court. Ronald Reagan, the new president, needed a replacement for Stewart. At that time, Bill Clark was serving as Reagan’s deputy secretary of state, fresh off a decade of service as a judge in the California court system, where Governor Reagan had appointed him all the way up to the California Supreme Court.

So, once Stewart resigned, Reagan called Clark into the Oval Office and asked him if he wanted to be considered for the court vacancy. Clark said no. He said he enjoyed what he was doing for Reagan’s foreign policy, and he never came to Washington to die there. He wanted to serve Reagan faithfully for a few crucial years and then return to California to get back to his family and life on his ranch.

When Clark said that, President Reagan pulled a note card from his coat pocket—which included only a few names, I believe with Clark’s at the top—and said, “That’s what I thought you’d say, Bill.” Reagan scratched off Clark’s name.

That was a great day for those who have no respect for the sanctity and dignity of unborn human life. They exhaled a huge sigh of relief.

I have no doubt that if Clark had said “yes,” he would still to this day be sitting on the Supreme Court. Instead, the job went to Sandra Day O’Connor.

Throckmorton: Would Judge Clark have voted to overturn Roe v. Wade?

Kengor: Absolutely. Bill Clark would have been the swing vote that overturned Roe v. Wade, particularly through the 1992 case, Casey v. Planned Parenthood. He would not have voted the awful way that Sandra Day O’Connor voted.

Furthermore, we need to consider the influence he could have had not only through his own vote but possibly on the vote of Justice Anthony Kennedy, a Reagan pick that came after O’Connor. Clark had known Kennedy well. They regularly had lunch together when they were both judges in San Francisco, Clark on the state Supreme Court and Kennedy on the federal court. Kennedy, a fellow conservative Catholic with Irish roots, was known to be pro-life, a key reason why Reagan nominated him. Kennedy, however, is a man easily influenced by others, including the anti-life culture in Washington and on the high court. He became a reliable anti-life vote for those who champion abortion rights.

Had Clark served on the high court, the vote on Casey could have flipped from 5-4 against Casey to 5-4 in favor, and perhaps even 6-3 in favor if Clark influenced Kennedy.

Throckmorton: Did Clark know at the time that he could have played this historical role?

Kengor: That’s a good question, and I’m not sure. This much was and remains certain: Rather than win the Culture War, Bill Clark instead went on to run the Reagan National Security Council, where, through roughly 100 National Security Decision Directives (plus much more), he laid the foundation to win the Cold War. He opted to defeat the evil of Soviet communism rather than the evil of American abortion.

I suppose that’s a large enough challenge and contribution for one man for one lifetime. He left the Culture War to others. That’s now our task.

Throckmorton: How can people find out more about this book?

Kengor: Ignatius Press has set up a website, www.TheJudgeBook.com. Please take a look. This man’s life is a quite notable and moving story.

26 thoughts on “What Might Have Been – The Man Who Could Have Reversed Roe v. Wade”

  1. Dena,

    Since I have been celibate for the past 17 months, I haven’t contracted one disease, haven’t gotten pregnant, haven’t been involved in any domestic violence or gotten my heart broken.

    When I was sexually active I never contracted a disease and I was never involved in domestic violence.

    As for getting your heart broken, since I’ve been celibate I’ve had my heart broken twice by two very close friends of mine. Having your heart broken is a risk you take in any sort of relationship. If you aren’t taking those kinds of risks in getting close to people, than I’m sorry for you.

    As for the seat belt story, that still holds. You didn’t refute it you just changed the subject.

  2. Dena,

    Seat belts don’t work all the time either, should we not wear these? Is it about being safe 100% of the time, which isn’t possible, btw – or is it about protecting yourself to the best of your ability?

    Abstinence does work 100% of the time though doesn’t it? Since I have been celibate for the past 17 months, I haven’t contracted one disease, haven’t gotten pregnant, haven’t been involved in any domestic violence or gotten my heart broken. Because I haven’t been involved in one doomed sexual relationship after another, I have had more time to go to church, be of service to others which includes Silent No More, raise my son-you know generally have a life. So while condoms and seatbelts may not always work, abstinence always does.

    (Two days later….)

    I remain puzzled as to why many people who identify as pro-life promote abstinence-only programs that are shown to result in increased teen pregnancy — and as a result, I suspect, an increase in teen abortions.

    Abstinence programs do work but pro-choicers have a warped definition of “work.” If one person gets pregnant while supposedly doing the whole abstinence thing, then it cannot work. We don’t hold liberal causes up to the same scrutiny that they hold us. For instance, AA has helped thousands even millions of people but it has also failed millions of people. Many people have left AA to resume drinking. Are we to assume AA cannot or does not work for anyone because not everyone succeeds with AA? I am sure there are those who have done the abstinence program but later on decided to have sex. But there is also a significant number that have put off sex. Speaking as a former tramp, I know of what I speak. As I stated earlier, I have been celibate for 17 months and I will continue to go down that road until I am married. I have done the liberal, feminist nonsense and all it got me was in a room going, “Hi my name is Dena and I am a sex addict.” All it got me was waiting in a room waiting to hear if I had just killed my son because I didn’t know whether I was HIV positive or not. All it got me was feeling suicidal after each anonymous encounter with a man. This is what sex without strings gets you. So excuse me if I don’t have time to pander to liberal presumptions and outright lies, I am too busy trying to save my very life because I know if I ever go back out there again, I am going to end up in a coffin because I won’t stop until it kills me. That is the way addiction works. So you guys continue to spread the lies and I will continue to fight them. You guys continue to kill children through abortion, AIDS and the 50 plus STDs and I will continue to warn them. You continue to delude yourself that sex without marriage is moral and okay and I will continue use my life’s lessons to save as many people as I can. This is not rhetoric, this is my life’s purpose and I take it quite seriously.

  3. Mike –

    I am equally astonished by this logic (you reference in 77797). I would think that although christians recognize their own personal ethic of abstinence until marriage…it isn’t only the christians having abortions…it is people from all faith backgrounds and nonfaith backgrounds. Given this, I would think we would want to prevent them most completely by preventing teen pregnancies in the first place, no matter your personal stance on sex before marriage….if it prevents a potential abortion from taking place.

    But hey, maybe not.

  4. (Two days later….)

    I remain puzzled as to why many people who identify as pro-life promote abstinence-only programs that are shown to result in increased teen pregnancy — and as a result, I suspect, an increase in teen abortions.

  5. I do appreciate Dena and Mary offering their views. (Just for the record, I oppose unlimited choice.)

    I would be elated to see Dena and others on both sides put aside their culture-war rhetoric and their off-topic agendas, and join together to make abortion obsolete.

  6. Dena,

    I am well aware of abortion-alternatives programs that exist on both sides. I used to volunteer for a pro-life one in Ohio.

    I’ve witnessed these programs exist with minimal support from their respective movements. Thousands of people would turn out for a pro-life march in Ohio, but the abortion-alternative program was lucky to have a half-dozen volunteers and one full-time employee at a given time.

    So no, abortion-alternatives work is not all that pro-lifers or pro-choicers do. In my experience, both movements do hardly any abortion-alternative work, and worse, they do it separately, competing rather than cooperating. The culture war, with its false statistics and strawman arguments and angry crowds and livid fund-raising letters, always takes priority over cooperative and constructive action to render abortion unnecessary and to protect people from disease and unwanted pregnancy.

  7. Dena,

    Seat belts don’t work all the time either, should we not wear these? Is it about being safe 100% of the time, which isn’t possible, btw – or is it about protecting yourself to the best of your ability?

  8. Mike

    If we reverse the Roe v Wade will will simply return to back room abortions, unsanitary conditions and illegal payoffs etc… Women have been doing it for centuries (men don’t like to know this) and legal or not it will continue.

    Personally, I don’t think getting an abortion is a good idea (I have had one) and would choose not to if the decision were to arise in the future. But I think women ought to have a choice (and a clean one.)

  9. Why is neither side of the Culture War acting aggressively to assist women and couples with abortion alternatives and pregnancy prevention?

    Because you believe the liberal press. I am the Regional Coordinator for Silent No More Awareness Campaign in Los Angeles and it is part of my job to assist women with abortion alternatives and spread awareness about the devastating effects of abortion. We work closely with pregnancy centers. So don’t you dare insinuate that the pro-life side doesn’t work feverishly to promote abortion alternatives, that is all we do!

    Of course abstinence can be effective if it is consistent with your belief system…but not everyone shares that, and how can we jointly prevent people from aborting who do not share the same world view?

    This is no longer about having the same world view but basic survival. It is now a matter of life and death, not of principle. Abstinence is the only way to survive AIDS. It is the only way to be completely healthy. No one would say “Well drinking water may be healthy but it is not my world view to do so.” Fine, don’t drink water and die. Just like we need clean air to breathe, pure food and water to eat and drink. We need abstinence to maintain our health. It is not about religion, it is not about morality, it is about living past 30. Condoms fail. Are you willing to risk your life on something that is inherently flawed and can fail up to 30 percent of the time? It is about common sense. You can believe the lies and risk your life and end up dead, if that is what you want. I, however, have learned to have more respect for my body, for my heart and my soul than to believe condoms will save me. Self respect will save me. Using self control will save me. Believing I am worthy of real and unconditional love will save me. Safe sex never will.

    As far as abortion goes, Patricia Heaton says it best, “Those with unplanned pregnancies, also deserve unplanned joy.”

  10. I’m honestly curious to understand others’ perspectives here — how does reversing Roe vs. Wade significantly changes anything.

  11. I agree that the Reagans were not pro-life. Nor were they many things that the marketers claim.

    Pro-life America needs to wake up to its dishonest political leadership — and to what that leadership is doing to encourage abortion.

    According to MSNBC today, fourteen states have rejected federal abstinence-only funding because, according to several studies, abstinence-only programs promoted by pro-life political activists have failed to reduce teen pregnancies. More teen pregnancies mean more abortions.


    Comprehensive sex-ed programs that emphasize abstinence, monogamy and condoms, as well as the dangers of sexual activity, are the most effective way to stop teens from getting pregnant and seeking abortions.

    Once teens become pregnant, stigma-free support, affordable pre-natal care, and incentives to carry a child to term are essential fallbacks.

  12. I find it “telling” that Reagan said “That’s what I thought you’d say” to Clark…so his ploy to put his name at “the top of the list” knowing FULL WELL that this “humble” man would say NO… makes my conclusion that Reagan was NOT PROLIFE… HE wanted Sandra Day O’Conner.. and so did Nancy. She made sure the “astrologers” were involved in all the major decisions that Reagan made..and that the midnight hour was when they took place. Even to this day she is promoting EMBRYONIC STEM CELL RESEARCH

    Wake up Prolife America!

  13. Pro-lifers have made abortion their lowest priority after abstinence, opposing condoms, amending constitutions, and working against gays (including pro-life gays and gay adoptive parents).

    Pro-choicers endlessly mouth the phrase “woman’s right to choose” as if that were relevant, and they’re careful not to say what is being chosen.

    Both sides have neglected public-private assistance for pre-natal care for the working poor, workplace protections for pregnant women, and streamlined adoption. And I question whether both sides are doing enough to reduce the stigma of unwed pregnancy that prompts evangelical women to seek out abortion.

  14. Returning to the original article…

    I am grateful to Paul Kengor for his candor in sharing his inside knowledge of Reagan-era efforts (ostensibly) to stop abortion. I just wish he’d see the bigger picture — his mindset is constrained by the sort of tunnelvision that seems to be commonplace among Washington special interests.

  15. John, Ernest, and Joseph have unfortunately exemplified my point. They made it clear that they are more interested in shouting at people, than in stopping the factors that contribute to abortion.

    Culture warriors of the “pro-life” and “pro-choice” movements are not seeking solutions to save lives, they are looking for excuses to feel angry and self-righteous. And by making Roe vs. Wade the center of their campaigns, both sides guarantee a never-ending shouting match that accomplishes nothing.

  16. Mike –

    I’ve been following your discussion and am in complete agreement with you. Nothing is accomplished when we take sides on an alleged “culture war,” and Kengor should know better than to promulgate that logic. It doesn’t sell a lot of books…but the truth is, we have to work together on the common ground we share. “culture war” is far more glamorous…and reminiscent of fire and brimstone evangelical language…”put on the armor of God,” “soldier for Christ,” etc…I’ve heard so many of them. Heck, maybe it even moves a few books.

    The interesting thing I note, is that many who genuinely want to reduce or eliminate abortions do not promote the methods that would assist in that. Aside from abstinence (which, I’ll give them credit, is a theme), often the issues of birth control, condom availability, etc…are not mentioned. Of course abstinence can be effective if it is consistent with your belief system…but not everyone shares that, and how can we jointly prevent people from aborting who do not share the same world view?

    There are so many issues we could tackle together…poverty, medical care, etc..that may affect the decision to abort. Let’s all work together.

  17. It ain’t just you Jayhuck!!

    A recent study by The Guttmacher Institute and the WHO indicates that abortion rates, in countries whether the procedure is legal or not, remain pretty much the same. If that is truly the case, then it highlights a simple fact – Clark wouldn’t have made a difference in the number of abortions here in America. Should the High Court overturn Roe tomorrow, it won’t make a dent in the number of abortions. The reality is that the best “pro-lifers” will get is having the High Court punt the issue back to the States. Then, we’ll end up with 50 different laws regarding abortion AND the numbers won’t be decreased. That is the unfortunate reality. Instead of screaming at each other or using hyperbolic words to show our often feigned disgust with abortionists, we must realize that the best we can hope to do is reduce the number of abortions. We aren’t going to eliminate them. The question then becomes, how do we reduce them?


  18. Is it me, or is anyone else noticing there is very little intelligent discussion going on on this thread about abortion and how to curtail it?

  19. Ernest, I agree that it’s stupid to deny the humanity of preborns, but that is beside the point, in my opinion.

    Calling defenders of abortion rights stupid accomplishes nothing. What are you willing to do constructively to work with people on the other side to stop abortion? Most defenders of abortion rights don’t like abortion — the big societal disagreement is not over whether abortion is bad, almost everyone agrees it is. The question for everyone is, how best can we minimize the perceived need for abortions?

  20. The culture wars have been forced upon us by aggressive abortionists. Like the slavers of our history, they will not abide anyone in the realm speaking for human rights. It is naive to bewail the need for common ground so as to “save the union”.

  21. Abortion is the number one reason for all the calamities and destruction in our world by nature and man. It is absurd that intelligent people, more than the common people, cannot digest the fact that before life can exist outside the womb, it must first exist inside the womb. The only exception to this rule was when God created Adam and Eve from whom all subsequent life followed. Even the Lord, who was incarnated in the person of Jesus, came into the world as a fellow human at conception…which at one time was defined as the “beginning of life.”

  22. Joseph, way to go — hate the people whom you need to persuade to work with you to stop abortion.

  23. If I understand the logic correctly, these evil women don’t deserve to be called mothers…. yet we want to force them to care for children?


    I agree with Mike that what we are talking about is a “culture war” issue.

    We are all delighting in calling the other side “EVIL” but no one on either side seems to have much interest in looking into why so many women are having abortions. Is it because we live in a “two worker” society where women know they cannot stay home and raise kids? Is it because men feel no obligation to care for their offspring? Is it because no one wants to get the label “welfare mother” attached to them? Is it because with so much conservative emphasis on the nuclear family that there is no longer an extensive family to step in at these times? Is it because of pop culture hyper-drenching society in sex?

    I really don’t know. But I do know that changing Roe v. Wade will have ZERO impact on the number of abortions. Most states will keep abortion legal and, well, a bus trip out of state isn’t very expensive.

    If we really care about abortion more than we do about a culture war of accusation and accrimination, then we need to look at the causes of abortion.

  24. If he had the power to reverse this insainly dispicable act of MURDER, then he should have. He will answer for an absoluetly ASTONISHING amount of innocent live’s that have been brutally taken, and as far as the women

    (I wont call them mothers) that made the choice to go through with it, MAY GOD HAVE MERCY ON ALL YOUR SOULS.

  25. If I understand him correctly, Kengor mistakenly believes that “Culture War” can solve the abortion problem, and at the end of this article he takes up the cause of Culture War. “That’s now our task.”

    Culture War is not the solution, in my opinion; it is the problem. For 35 years, it has prevented cooperative efforts across society to prevent abortion. The war is a colossal distraction from efforts to truly reduce abortion.

    Roe v. Wade is only a small part of the problem. Abortions will not magically go away if RvW is overturned; I daresay many states might act to reinforce abortion rights rather than curtail them, and in other states abortions are already effectively impossible to obtain so no change would occur there either.

    What are so-called pro-lifers and so-called pro-choicers willing to do to work together to reduce the social, economic and personal factors that prompt women to have abortions?

    Why is neither side of the Culture War acting aggressively to assist women and couples with abortion alternatives and pregnancy prevention?

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