The Texas Abortion Tango 

The unproven scandal that could have sunk George W. Bush

Thursday, Jun 17 2004
Illustration by Miguel Valenzuela

In the winter of the Clinton impeachment, Larry Flynt, the publisher of Hustler magazine, was a pornographer on a mission — determined to dig up sex scandals on the Republicans who’d come after Clinton. It wasn’t that Flynt was suddenly against sex or even scandalous sex , but that he considered the anti-Clinton ringmasters to be cynical, partisan opportunists — hypocrites who decried Clinton as morally unfit while being less fit themselves.

In December 1998, shortly before the impeachment trial, Flynt nailed incoming Republican House Speaker Robert L. Livingston, who resigned rather than endure Flynt’s public airing of multiple extramarital affairs. Flynt also contributed to the downfall of anti-Clinton attack dog Bob Barr, the Georgia Republican who was a House manager for the impeachment. Barr lost a re-election bid after revelations about his alleged adultery — and about how he allegedly paid for an abortion for one of his wives, even though he later referred to abortion as murder while in Congress.

Flynt helped wound but did not end the political careers of Representatives Dan Burton (out-of-wedlock child) and Henry Hyde (over a “youthful indiscretion” — Hyde’s words — with a married woman that lasted into his 40s). In some of these cases, Flynt’s role was to publicize information first unearthed elsewhere.

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Eventually, Flynt set his sights on the biggest prize, George W. Bush, once again offering up to a million dollars for definitive dirt. He sent investigative reporters to the heart of Texas, first in 1999. They would look into an allegation that in 1971, George Bush, then about 25 years old, got a girlfriend pregnant and paid for her illegal abortion. Flynt got tantalizingly close to documenting such an episode, but never confirmed enough to justify a press conference. He would have loved to prove it. Flynt’s hatred of Bush is both visceral and principled. He’s a bona fide supporter of First Amendment rights and mainstream Democratic principles, and is commercially pragmatic — he knows that Bush and his anti-sin crowd would shut down Flynt’s business if they could.

So what was Flynt to do on the eve of the 2000 presidential election?

Lacking proof, Flynt instead dropped broad hints about the alleged abortion. He didn’t name names — other than Bush’s — because his lawyer told him he risked a libel suit from the woman in question. The mainstream press chose to ignore the story — which is a story in itself.

Flynt’s account finally gets told in the book Sex, Lies & Politics: The Naked Truth, scheduled to hit shelves late this month. Flynt avoids risk of libel by keeping the players anonymous and by avoiding flat-out claims. He offers instead an account of the investigation. Flynt provided additional information in interviews with the Weekly, as did people involved in the investigation, who spoke off the record.

The Texas tango remains something of a page turner. In 2000, Flynt thought the revelation, if true, ought to push some voters away from Bush based on what it revealed about his character. The alleged events of 1971 do say something about the privileges and purview of Bush and his family and, courtesy of Flynt and some of those involved in the investigation, you get to read it here first.


Back in 2000, I got a phone call from an attorney from Houston,” begins Flynt in a passage about two-thirds of the way through his book. “He represented a woman we’ll call ‘Susan,’ who supposedly could prove that, back in the early ’70s, George W. Bush had arranged an abortion for his girlfriend.”

Flynt was immediately interested; here was ammunition to sink Bush in an election too close to call. It would be damning enough for Bush to have arranged an abortion, but, even worse, abortion was illegal in 1971, before the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision. Laws didn’t stop abortions, of course, though they did make them dangerous and even life-threatening for most women. The wealthy or well-connected were frequently luckier; they could often find doctors willing to perform abortions safely in a hospital or clinic setting. That is what allegedly happened here.

All of this mattered in the year 2000 because “Bush was successfully slipping past allegations of cocaine use, drunk driving and being a useless rich boy,” writes Flynt. “But arranging for an abortion was a more serious matter. Bush’s own supporters said that abortion is murder.”

At the time, in 1971, Bush had been living for about two years in the Chateaux Dijon apartment complex, a Houston gathering place and party scene for the young and beautiful as well as the offspring of the rich and politically potent. Bush was three years out of Yale, where he’d been an unremarkable student. Soon after graduating, he’d joined the Texas Air National Guard, an escape valve for sons of the powerful seeking to avoid service in Vietnam.

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