Reflections on Pro-Life President Ronald Reagan on His Birthday

Opinion   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Feb 7, 2011   |   5:45PM   |   Washington, DC

“My administration is dedicated to the preservation of America as a free land, and there is no cause more important for preserving that freedom than affirming the transcendent right to life of all human beings, the right without which no other rights have meaning.” — President Ronald Reagan.

For pro-lifers of a certain age, President Ronald Reagan will always be first in our hearts. It is possible to exaggerate his pro-life accomplishments, although that would be difficult. But it would impossible to overstate the extent to which our 40th President altered the trajectory of the abortion discussion.

What is often under-appreciated is how keen was the President’s peripheral vision. He clearly saw that if the abortion ethos was not contained, it inextricably would seek out new categories of victims. To the left, the very young, born less than perfect. To the right the medically dependent elderly.

President Reagan took office almost eight years to the day after the Supreme Court unleashed the abortion juggernaut in its grotesque Roe v. Wade decision.

President Reagan’s administration began the journey that you and I are on today–a journey that recalls us from out of the darkness and into the light.

Among pro-lifers, President Reagan may best be remembered for writing a small but pivotal book: “Abortion and the Conscience of a Nation.” In 1983 it was a scandal (in media circles) that a Presidential first–a book penned while in office–would be “wasted” decrying abortion, a practice as ensconced in our national life as pro-abortion bias was in the journalistic establishment.

President Reagan knew otherwise. He understood that intellectually, jurisprudentially, and morally we had dug ourselves into a deep hole. Getting out of it required posing the right question in a spirit that we are all in this together (“Abortion concerns not just the unborn child, it concerns every one of us”).

He observed very early on in “Abortion and the Conscience of a Nation” that “The real question today is not when human life begins [medical science has already answered that question], but, What is the value of human life? The abortionist who reassembles the arms and legs of a tiny baby to make sure all its parts have been torn from its mother’s body can hardly doubt whether it is a human being. The real question for him and for all of us is whether that tiny human life has a God-given right to be protected by the law–the same right we have.”

President Reagan unapologetically linked abortion to its evil twin–infanticide. This was not a mere intellectual exercise but a real life-and-death case that had drawn national attention. In 1982 the public learned that the anti-life virus had jumped from the preborn to the child born with imperfections.

“We cannot diminish the value of one category of human life–the unborn–without diminishing the value of all human life,” he wrote. “We saw tragic proof of this truism last year when the Indiana courts allowed the starvation death of ‘Baby Doe’ in Bloomington because the child had Down’s Syndrome.”

The President came under a siege of criticism when his administration played a key role in the enactment of legislation to protect the right to life of babies born with disabilities. He shrugged it off.

Twenty six years before Nebraska passed the historic “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” President Reagan boldly introduced the issue of fetal pain at the annual convention of the National Religious Broadcasters.

“There’s another grim truth we should face up to: Medical science doctors confirm that when the lives of the unborn are snuffed out, they often feel pain, pain that is long and agonizing.” The President immediately came under a barrage of withering criticism. But a prestigious group of professors, including pain specialists and two past presidents of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology , sent the President a letter showing their strong agreement.

I could list dozens of examples of how this good and decent man called upon his fellow Americans to honor the better angels of our nature. Or I could elaborate on policies, such as originating the “Mexico City Policy,” cutting off funds to what was then known as the United Nations Fund for Population Activities because that agency violated U.S. law by participating in China’s compulsory abortion plan, or his support for legislation to challenge Roe v. Wade–to name just three.

Let me conclude with this, two days before the commemoration of President Reagan’s 100th birthday.

Pro-lifers are frequently the target of unfair criticism, demeaning caricatures, and deeply unwarranted assumptions about our motivation. But so, too, was President Reagan, and in a far more vicious manner. We are in very good company.

The President once said there ARE simple answers, but there are no easy answers. The answer to abortion? No! In thunder.

But the pro-abortionist will never run out of rationalizations why abortion is always and in every case “necessary.” This always has been and always will be a minority-of-a-minority opinion.

Moreover the consciences of a vast majority of Americans are pricked when they hear about abortionists such as Kermit Gosnell, charged with eight counts of murder. At some level they must be asking themselves what hath Roe wrought?

“This is not the first time our country has been divided by a Supreme Court decision that denied the value of certain human lives,” President Reagan wrote.

“The Dred Scott decision of 1857 was not overturned in a day, or a year, or even a decade. . . . But the great majority of the American people have not yet made their voices heard, and we cannot expect them to — any more than the public voice arose against slavery — until the issue is clearly framed and presented.”

In carrying on the legacy of Ronald Reagan, that is our responsibility and our privilege. Note: Dave Andrusko is the editor of National Right to Life News and an author and editor of several books on abortion topics. This post originally appeared in his Today’s News and Views —- an online column on pro-life issues.