Remembering Roe: A Forgotten Warning from Ronald Reagan
Dr. Paul Kengor
Thursday, January 21, 2010
Given the somber anniversary of Roe v. Wade—source of 40 million abortions since 1973—I thought I’d share an excellent but forgotten speech by President Ronald Reagan. The speechwriter was Peter Robinson, featured guest of our Reagan Lecture this year.
Reagan’s remarks, made in July 1987 to pro-life leaders, are moving to read and watch. They are prescient in light of the widening abortion abyss we face under the Obama administration and Pelosi-Reid Congress.
Reagan began with a reminder I often share with my secular-liberal friends. He told the pro-life activists: “[M]any of you, perhaps most, never dreamed of getting involved in politics. What brought you into politics was a matter of conscience, a matter of fundamental conviction.”
That point cannot be underscored enough. Few things rile me more than demands that pro-lifers—especially those motivated by their faith—keep out of politics. Quite the contrary, many did just that, quietly going to church and reading their Bibles, until one day they awoke to learn the Supreme Court had passed Roe v. Wade … and the hellacious assault was on. They entered pro-life activism reluctantly, as a reaction to what was thrust upon their culture and country. The last thing they wanted was to get involved in politics. The Death Culture came to them.
Reagan next added: “Many of you've been attacked for being single-issue activists or single-issue voters. But I ask: What single issue could be of greater significance?”
Agreed. For me, the life issue is my starting point, of far greater value than where a politician stands on social security or the minimum wage. Obviously, other issues matter. The right to life, however, is the first and most fundamental of rights, without which other rights are impossible. And if you, personally, are unsure when life begins, consider Reagan’s recommendation: “If there's even a question about when human life begins, isn't it our duty to err on the side of life?”
Reagan saw the onslaught against America’s unborn as so ferocious that he favored a “human life amendment” to the Constitution. At the time, this seemed extreme, but we’ve learned that unless amendments are attached to bill after bill—the Hyde Amendment, the Stupak Amendment—anonymous powers ensure all sorts of “unintended” consequences, including taxpayer funding of abortion.
Speaking of such funding, Reagan also acknowledged his “Mexico City policy,” which blocked U.S. taxpayer funding of international “family planning” groups. One of the first things President Obama did was rescind that policy—immediately after the March for Life last January.
Another policy Reagan highlighted in his speech was the prohibition of federal funds to finance abortions in the District of Columbia. This, too, was overturned last year, thanks to a Democratic Congress and president that rejected funding for school vouchers for poor children in Washington, DC, but supported funding for abortions for the mothers of those children.
Yes, I know the contrast is breathtaking, but it’s true.
Reagan talked more about abortion funding, and specifically “the so-called Grove City [College] legislation sponsored by Senator [Ted] Kennedy.” “This bill,” noted Reagan, “would mean that all hospitals and colleges receiving federal funds, even those with religious affiliations, would be open to lawsuits if they failed to provide abortions.” The usually affable Reagan said: “this one really touches my temperature control.”
Needless to say, all of this is extremely relevant right now, thanks to how Americans voted on November 4, 2008.
There was much more Reagan said in this speech, but I’ll close with two poignant thoughts:
“Many who turn to abortion do so in harrowing circumstances,” Reagan emphasized, including women “misled by inaccurate information.” “[W]e must remind those who disagree with us, and sometimes even ourselves, that we do not seek to condemn, we do not seek to sit in judgment…. [I]t is our duty to rise above bitterness and reproach.”
Pro-lifers must heed that call, respecting the human dignity of everyone. All victims require love and charity. On that, Reagan finished with this:
“I'd like to leave with you a quotation that means a great deal to me. These are the words of my friend, the late Terence Cardinal Cooke, of New York. ‘The gift of life, God's special gift, is no less beautiful when it is accompanied by illness or weakness, hunger or poverty, mental or physical handicaps, loneliness or old age. Indeed, at these times, human life gains extra splendor as it requires our special care, concern, and reverence. It is in and through the weakest of human vessels that the Lord continues to reveal the power of His love.’”
Here was a warning against the pallbearers of the progressive death march, from Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger—who hoped to expunge the gene pool of “human weeds”—to the euthanasia precipice to which America is being dragged. It starts with the weakest of vessels: the infant in its mother’s womb.
Timeless words of wisdom to bear in mind this week, as America struggles to survive another year of Roe v. Wade.