Newly released Oval Office tapes from the Nixon era show that the former president was worried about more than the Watergate scandal. Notably, the more than 150 hours of tapes made public on Tuesday by the Nixon Presidential Library reveal than President Richard M. Nixon was ambivalent about emerging issues surrounding abortion. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down laws criminalizing abortion in Roe v. Wade in January 1973. At that time, Nixon made no public statement. But these private tapes reveal his concern that greater access to abortions would foster “permissiveness.” That said, Nixon did acknowledge some cases where an abortion was required: “There are times when an abortion is necessary. I know that. When you have a black and a white. Or a rape,” he explained to an aid.
The tapes were recorded by secret microphones in the Oval Office between January and February 1973. Improvements in audio technology have made the previously indiscernible recordings available for release. The recordings also provide new material about the United States’ military involvement in Vietnam, with one tape revealing that Nixon believed he would eventually be vindicated for continuing to bomb North Vietnam.