July 01, 2022

Christine Todd Whitman

Pro-choice Republican and fmr. NJ Gov. Christine Todd Whitman calls the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe judicial activism and says women will be harmed. She reflects on how the GOP became an anti-choice party and on polarization in America.

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MH: A prominent pro-choice Republican woman on the end of Roe v Wade… This Week on Firing Line. The passions and protest as the Supreme Court overturns the nearly 50-year-old ruling upholding a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion…

CWT Abortions are going to happen. We’ve seen what’s happened before and women will die

A decision raising questions about what happens now, and what could be next. Christine Todd Whitman is the former two term governor of New Jersey…

Raise your hand and please repeat after me…

A Republican in a state that’s gone blue in every presidential election since 1992 who is trying to push her party beyond the extremism of Trump…

CTW: He has no regard for the rule of law, no regard for the Constitution. It may be time for another party to come forward, more centrist.

And what she sees as a radical shift in the Supreme Court.

CTW: we’re going to start losing some rights that are really serious and we’ve got to fight back.

What does Governor Christine Todd Whitman say now?

‘Firing Line’ with Margaret Hoover is made possible in part by: Robert Granieri, Charles R. Schwab, The Fairweather Foundation, The Asness Family Foundation and by: The Rosalind P. Walter Foundation, Damon Button and The Marc Haas Foundation Corporate Funding is provided by Stephens Inc.

HOOVER: Governor Christine Todd Whitman, welcome to Firing Line.

TODD WHITMAN: It’s good to be with you, Margaret.

HOOVER: You are a former two term Republican governor of the state of New Jersey. You’re a pro-choice Republican. And you have long advocated for moderate positions within the Republican Party, from social issues to scientific positions, including a time where you served in the Cabinet for George W Bush as the EPA administrator.

HOOVER: The Supreme Court has just ruled in a case that overturned Roe v Wade, ending nearly 50

years of federal abortion rights in this country. Did you, Governor, ever think you would see this day?

TODD WHITMAN: Well, I’m afraid I saw it coming. I was afraid it was going to happen. And obviously, when we had the leaked version, it was pretty it was pretty certain. But you could see the court starting to move in this direction. If you look at the cases they pulled up, they seemed to want to make this kind of a decision. Of course my fear, as with many other people, is that they’re going to continue to go down to the lower courts. They’re– Basically, Clarence Thomas is asking for the cases that are going to take this further. They’re going to go to regular birth control, IUDs, the morning after pill, the birth control pill, gay marriage. I mean, there seems to be, unfortunately, a political agenda on the court that we haven’t seen before.

HOOVER: 22 states are poised to ban abortion in most or all circumstances, either because they have abortion ban still on their books, the so-called zombie laws, or because they’ve passed trigger laws banning abortion after Roe was overturned. What does this mean for women in those states?

TODD WHITMAN: Well, it means that, particularly for lower economic women, that this is going to be a real issue. It is a way of keeping women down, frankly. I mean, the thing that bothers me about all of this is that it almost seems as if women really aren’t important, I mean, women will die. Abortions are going to happen. They are going to happen. But they’re going to have to seek out back alley, illegal abortions. And we’ve been here before. We’ve seen what’s happened before and women will die, but that doesn’t seem to matter to the people that are promoting these laws. Women, once they’re pregnant, are just vessels. They’re not humans anymore, the most important thing is the fetus, which is really disturbing to me. I mean, as a conservative Republican, I always thought one of the principles was less federal government interference with our everyday lives, and certainly not in our bedrooms. I’m not pro abortion. I wish they never had to happen. But I do think a woman should have the right to make decisions about her own body. And in those states, there will probably be about 25 that will ban all forms of abortion. And those women who cannot raise another child, who have been raped, or it’s incest, they’re going to seek out other alternative methods. And that’s not going to be good for them, for their health or anything else.

HOOVER: A woman in Corpus Christi, Texas, will now need to travel more than 700 miles to the closest place where she can receive an abortion, which is New Mexico, by the way. Many residents of Louisiana will need to go all the way to Illinois to get an abortion. On a practical level, what does this mean?

TODD WHITMAN: They can’t do it, for the most part. They won’t have the resources to be able to make that kind of a trip. So that’s why you’re going to see more of these back alley abortions, if they feel– if they feel they can’t have the child, if they know there is going to be a significant issue with the child in terms of something like the brain not developing or the head not developing and still being required to carry that child to term. Or knowing the fetus was dead in the womb. Are you going to allow an abortion then? There are a lot of sticky questions here. I am certainly not someone who would promote abortion just to make sure you had a perfect child. That’s not what this is about. This is about significant issues where the woman’s health, the woman’s life, very life is at stake. An ectopic pregnancy, that kind of a

thing, where a woman should have that choice to say, I should be able to abort it so that I can have future children. Because if I have to deliver this, it may render my ability to conceive in the future null and void.

HOOVER: South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, who is a pro-life Republican, has said that women shouldn’t be prosecuted for seeking abortions. There are some conservative governors in red states who say that they will stop criminal prosecutions. But how can we be so sure that their successors will, or that that statement of principle will be adhered to?

TODD WHITMAN: You can’t. You need to take those things off the books. You need to as the governor– if the governor believes that they ought to propose a piece of legislation and send it to the legislature which would ensure that a woman is not prosecuted. So that needs to be in the law, otherwise there are absolutely no guarantees. And even then, another legislature could overturn that. Another governor could propose something totally different, which is why this is such an all consuming decision by the Supreme Court.

HOOVER: So the other side of this is that as more states ban and severely restrict abortion the politicians in those states do not appear to be taking on the responsibility of ensuring that there are sufficient social services available for women who will be forced to carry babies to term. What do you make of this?

TODD WHITMAN: Well, that’s a big hole in the system and one that’s conveniently overlooked by so many, because it’s going to cost a lot of money. I mean, we don’t have adequate resources right now to deal with the women who are in those states that can’t get abortions easily, are bringing children to term that they just can’t handle. They aren’t in a position economically, emotionally. They may have been raped, or it may have been incest, and they’re hiding the pregnancy because they’re embarrassed. That’s what happens so often is women get embarrassed, don’t want to admit what’s happened, especially if the abuser, if they’re being abused and the abuser or someone within the family. And so they have nowhere to turn, even now. You can only imagine what it will be like when the options that are open to them become even more constrained and they aren’t able to use available resources. There’s nothing there for them. This is going to be an enormous ongoing problem that we need to recognize.

HOOVER: Take a look, Governor, at what Justice Kavanaugh said about Roe and Casey during his confirmation hearing.

KAVANAUGH: It’s an important precedent of the Supreme Court that’s been reaffirmed many times, but then plan– and this is the point I want to make that I think is important. Planned Parenthood versus Casey reaffirmed Roe and did so by considering the stare decisis factors. So Casey now becomes a precedent on precedent.

HOOVER: Precedent on precedent. What’s your reaction to hearing that now, given that Justice Kavanaugh is part of the majority that overturned Roe and Casey?

TODD WHITMAN: Well, obviously, he thinks even precedents on precedents are meant to be overruled. But, you know, I don’t disagree that a precedent isn’t necessarily carved in stone. But when you are that decisive, knowing perfectly well where that question was coming from and what it was referring to, you’re being misleading. Roe v Wade is almost 50 years of protection for women out the window. The

Casey v Pennsylvania is where the precedent on precedent was, to which he referred. And clearly that– I didn’t see anything in his opinion, his writing, that indicated why it suddenly wasn’t important, why that ‘precedent on precedent’ wasn’t working any longer, why it should have been overthrown, because that’s a big step.


HOOVER: You place the blame for this decision squarely on Senator Mitch McConnell. You tweeted, quote, “He has given us a court with a political agenda that takes cases to follow that agenda.” Governor, what does this do to Americans’ confidence in the judicial confirmation process?

TODD WHITMAN: Margaret, this isn’t happening by chance. It’s happening because there’s been a concerted effort since really 2013 to undermine confidence in our elections. And that’s just one more step to the Supreme Court. And I think when Mitch McConnell refused to even give Merrick Garland a hearing when Obama nominated him, and it was 11 months before the election, and he said it was too close to election. And then he turns around and in the last year of Trump’s term, when the election was actually happening, he pushes through a justice. I mean, the hypocrisy there is so blatant it would be hard for most people not to see it. And so I do blame him. And he– but it’s part of a bigger issue to me, which is, while this one is an extremely important one, the fact that people are losing faith in their electoral system when they shouldn’t is even a greater threat to our democracy.

HOOVER: Normally, the court acts to expand freedoms rather than remove them. It normally also moves in the direction of public opinion rather than directly against it. You know, Justice Thomas doesn’t want to stop there. We have all read the aspects of his concurring opinion where he has referenced wanting to rid the doctrine of substantive due process, and has called on the Supreme Court to overrule civil rights rulings and prevent the government from interfering in contraception, consensual sexual activities, as well as legalized same sex marriage. Is Justice Thomas an outlier or is this just the beginning?

TODD WHITMAN: I’m afraid it’s just the beginning. I mean, Justice Thomas said he wanted to serve 35, 38 years on the court and make liberals’ lives miserable. That’s not the, that’s not the motivation you should have for going on the court. And obviously it’s a very conservative, partisan approach. And that’s just not how the court should be. This is the Supreme Court of the United States of America. It is supposed to adjudicate the major issues that affect people every day that come to them, Not to have them do what they’re doing right now, which is continuing to look for opportunities to restrict individuals rights. That’s what appears to be happening. They are reaching down for cases. Clarence Thomas, in this opinion, basically called for cases to be brought forward that would limit a woman’s access even to birth control, much less to an abortion, and would stop gay marriage. I mean, we’re going to start losing some rights that are really serious and we’ve got to fight back.

HOOVER: I want to get to sort of how we got here in the Republican Party. Fifty years ago abortion was debated on the original Firing Line with William F. Buckley Jr, just months before the Roe decision came down. Take a look at what the arguments were then.

John Noonan: I think the right to life of the fetus is, of course, the primary issue in the argument over abortion.

Roy Lucas: The real question is, is the woman and are her rights as a real, three dimensional, live being who no one questions as being a being, are her rights and her interests going to be fully safeguarded and fully protected?

Anne Evans: This is a complete human body distinct from all others. It is a complete person. How can you say that it’s all right to kill it?

Judy Syfers: If you put restrictions on abortion all you do is make it a punitive measure. Women become mutilated and die. Now that’s a reality.

HOOVER: Governor, what strikes me about the clips from that episode is that they are arguing about whose life – the fetus’s’ life or the woman’s life – should reign supreme. They are not arguing that states should be deciding that. The pro-life movement, it seems to me, is not going to be content with just letting states decide. In his initial statement following the decision, former Vice President Mike Pence tweeted, “We must not rest and must not relent until the sanctity of life is restored to the center of American law in every state of the land.” It seems to me the states rights argument was actually an insincere one. And you can see in those initial clips from the original Firing Line that that was the seminal issue of this debate and continues to be for the right. Is that ultimately where this fight is headed, Governor?

TODD WHITMAN: Well, I mean, I have agreed and said from the beginning that this is– what this says to a woman, is once you’re pregnant. But, again, I think it is up to us as voters to make sure that we have elected representatives who believe, as we believe, that a woman does have some rights even when she’s pregnant. So, you know, I just see us going backwards and it’s scary. I didn’t think I’d live to see this time where we see basically a not-so-hidden assault on all individual rights. But since you can’t do anything about getting people off the Supreme Court, then maybe we have to– I know we have to look at our electoral process and see how we got to this point and what we can do about it.


HOOVER: Governor, of course you’re aware of progressive arguments that one avenue is not through the polls, but through the expansion of the court. What is your view of that?

TODD WHITMAN: I would be very hesitant to expand the Supreme Court. We saw what happened when Franklin Roosevelt tried to do it. But also– the question becomes, I mean it’s fine to say, ‘okay, now we can expand it because we can get our justices in.’ And then when the Congress shifts or the Senate shifts, the other side does it, and you have an ever burgeoning court. That doesn’t make any sense. I think we could maybe look at term limits for the court. That’s something that might be considered. But I don’t, I’m not a supporter of expanding the court.

HOOVER: You know, from the 1960s through the early 2000s, there was a robust pro-choice tradition in the Republican Party. You were part of that tradition. Former Senator Barry Goldwater’s wife was a founding member of Planned Parenthood in Arizona. Former Senator Prescott Bush, George H.W. Bush’s father, was pro-choice and supported Planned Parenthood in Connecticut. New York governors Nelson Rockefeller to George Pataki, who was your contemporary when you were governor of New Jersey, were all pro-choice. The Roe decision itself was a 7-2 decision which included five justices who were appointed by Republican presidents. What has happened to that tradition in the Republican Party?

TODD WHITMAN: Money, and the fact that we stopped voting in primaries in the way that we should. We being everybody, but particularly Republicans, obviously. When you only have a 10% turnout – and that’s what the average has been until recently, 10% turnout of eligible voters in the primaries – that means you have the most partisan, and they tend to be a little bit on the extremes. And for a Republican running in some of these districts, they have to worry– they don’t worry about the general election because of the way the districts are drawn, they just worry about the primary. And that’s becoming even more true now in the states in general elections. I’m a supporter of ranked choice voting. I think that’s a way to force candidates to talk to everybody. That’s where we’ve lost it is now we have gotten to the point where the only thing that matters is bringing out your base, and therefore you need issues that excite that base. It means you hang on to controversial issues because they are the ones that get people excited, and that’s the one that will drive them to the polls. So we let this happen. And then there was big money behind the effort to move on the issue of choice, particularly to ban choice throughout the nation, and that’s been big money that is supplied in these primaries, and in the general elections too, because people in the middle have said, ‘I don’t like either of my choices, I’m not going to vote,’ which is the exact wrong thing to do.


HOOVER: Governor, you talked about the increased polarization in the politics. But I want to ask you if Planned Parenthood has some responsibility for the situation we’ve ended up in. The argument is that the organization has a history of supporting Democrats, but not Republicans equally, and that it didn’t build bridges with pro-choice Republican women. It broke with Susan Collins, a pro-choice Republican senator in 2008. They still haven’t endorsed Lisa Murkowski, a pro-choice Republican senator who is running for re-election and who, by the way, didn’t vote for Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation. Is there some responsibility that the pro-choice activist groups have. Because the criticism of Planned Parenthood is that they became a wing of a political party rather than a sincere issue advocacy organization.

TODD WHITMAN: I think absolutely. There’s no question. I don’t think they ever endorsed me either as a pro-choice Republican. No, there’s no question. This happens with all those groups. Environmental groups, the same thing happens. And unfortunately Planned Parenthood They let that go by the side. They decided to adopt this – they were going to really fight for pro-abortion issues. And I get it, but that was wrong. And I think they are responsible for part of this fractioning that we have, this splitting. But you know, Margaret, the good thing, the encouraging thing in all this, is we actually aren’t as far apart as a country on issues as we would think from just reading and listening to the press.

HOOVER: I think that we should spend a beat on that. Polls have consistently shown majorities of American voters want more restrictions on abortion than the Democratic Party supports, but are firmly opposed outright bans of abortion, as the Republican Party has endorsed. And in a recent NPR PBS NewsHour survey, 60% of Americans supported legal abortion through at least the end of the first trimester. You know, it was Bill Clinton who said in 1992 that abortion should be “legal, safe and rare.” So why has neither party been able to embrace a clear majority position on this issue?

TODD WHITMAN: It is too good an issue to get people riled up and get them to the polls. This is all about the base. This is something that they both make money off of. It’s a highly– it’s a hot button issue, highly controversial. And so they’re really– we’re in an election year, there’s no real incentive to try to

solve it now. It was hard enough to get them together to do the gun bill that recently passed. Which is great. I mean, it’s a start. It’s not– nobody got everything they wanted, which is what happens when you have consensus, when you try to reach consensus and compromise, but we’re moving forward and that’s a good thing. And it will save some lives. Not as many as we could have, but yeah, it’ll save lives. So unfortunately, this issue is just about bringing in the money and exciting your base to get them to the polls.


HOOVER: There is a bill in the Senate that is sponsored by Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski. It’s a narrower bill than Democrats would like, but it would codify abortion rights and still allow for the regulation of abortion in a way that tracks with the Roe and Casey decisions and yet it cannot garner 60 votes in the Senate.

TODD WHITMAN: That’s our politics today. You don’t give the other side a chance to win. And that’s a disservice to the American people. And that’s another reason why we have to get mad at people and say, ‘You’re not going to get my vote. If you don’t address this issue, that’s it.’


HOOVER: So let me ask you about the midterms. 2022 midterms are on the horizon. New polling suggests that 67% of women disapprove of the Supreme Court’s decision. My question for you is: conservatives and Republicans right now do not believe that this will be an issue that will dramatically impact what they project will be a very successful election year, particularly for Republicans in the House of Representatives. What do you predict in terms of how salient this issue will be carrying into the 2022 fall midterm elections?

TODD WHITMAN: Well, Margaret, as you well know, that’s a lifetime away, and there are a whole lot of other things that can happen between now and then. It’s still going to be pocketbook, is going to be the dominating issue. If inflation gets a little bit under control, if gas prices stabilize, that will change things. I do believe that both this decision and the decision about guns will motivate a lot of the suburban women whom the Republicans need if they’re going to win. So I think it’s not going to be quite the blowout that Republicans think it’s going to be, or it certainly has the potential not to be. I will say some of the candidates that are running are so extreme, on the Republican side particularly, that I think that maybe there’s a chance that Democrats will be able to hold on to some of those seats, or to take some of them away.


HOOVER: You’re a Republican who has called out your own party to resist Donald Trump’s political hold on the party. I’m curious how you reflect on two people: Rudy Giuliani, who was reelected as mayor of New York on the same day that you were elected in 1997, and Chris Christie, both part of this intellectually moderate Republican tradition, were two of the first individuals to endorse Donald Trump leading into 2016. How do you reflect on that now?

TODD WHITMAN: Power. You know, they wanted to be near the seat of power. And I will say this for Donald Trump, he’s been really, really good at understanding how to wield power, and how to connect with the American people. I mean in fairness, Congress had not been doing a whole lot in addressing the important issues that Americans were facing: inflation, all those issues that meant, were you going to have a roof over your head, did you have to make those decisions between getting your medication or putting food on the table? And so they were mad and they wanted a change. They wanted someone who was going to disrupt the system, and that’s what Donald Trump played to. Now, those of us who knew him as a– from how he handled his business, how he treated people, were pretty sure he did not have either the intellectual capacity nor the real inclination to help those very people. But he was able to convince them he did. And I know a lot of people who respect some of the positions he took.


HOOVER: Governor, final question. \ As someone who has represented a tradition within the Republican Party that seems obsolete these days, do you have hope that the party will ever return to represent the ideas that you supported within the context of a diverse coalition party?

TODD WHITMAN: Well, since I’m a firm believer that our country does better with two parties, a center left and the center right, I believe we have to have that party back again. Whether it comes under the banner of Republican Party as we know it, as it’s defined today – which is not a party, it’s a cult – or not, is something else. It may be time for another party to come forward, more centrist, to balance things. Certainly better than– For the first time in our history 50 percent of registered voters are registered Independent. That’s never happened before, and that should tell both parties that they’re not appealing to the majority of the American people, because they each are only about 25 percent. So I think we’re going to see some changes coming in the future. But I do believe we need– we do better with two parties. We’re not a country set up for multi-party governance, certainly at the federal level. I mean, we’re not a parliamentary system. And so I’d like to see a center right and a center left, and I’ll do whatever I can to try to ensure that that happens, whatever the labels are.

HOOVER: Governor Christine Todd Whitman. Thank you for joining me on Firing Line. Thank you for your time, your leadership, your service to this country.

TODD WHITMAN: My pleasure. Thank you.