This Monday, January 22, 2007, the Washington Mall, home of our most sacred monuments, will be brimming with people. More than 100,000 from all over America will flood every vacant corner of free space. Why? Because Monday is the 34th annual March for Life, an annual plea to the U.S. Congress to end the tragedy of abortion on demand.
As a young man serving in the Reagan Administration, I always took the day off to participate and hear a message from my boss, President Ronald Reagan. He was a regular participant in the march.
President Reagan felt passionately about the vacuum in modern life caused by the loss of belief in God. Indeed, the two most important issues to him, school prayer and abortion, were closely intertwined. President Reagan thought abortion was a particularly grievous wrong. Indeed, he thought it was so evil that he wrote a book, Abortion and the Conscience of a Nation—the only book he wrote besides his two autobiographies.
William P. Clark, President Reagan’s national security advisor enjoys telling the story about how Ronald Reagan defied his advisors by publishing the book. His beliefs on abortion where shaped by the teachings of his “devoted and devout mother Nelle” and his “fiercely humanitarian father.” He also learned “the value of each person’s life as well as the power of one man’s actions” through his time as a lifeguard in which he saved more than 70 swimmers from drowning. Another event confirming the value of human life to him was the loss of his daughter, Christina, just three short days after her birth.
Abortion was, in President Reagan’s view, an infringement on God’s sacred command to protect innocent human life. Indeed, Reagan felt so passionately about the right to life that he felt without it, other rights had no meaning. He called the restoration of the right to life the most important challenge facing the character of America. President Reagan believed that the continuance of abortion, the taking of some 4,000 lives of children everyday, would only bring about trouble for America. He even posed the ominous question: “Do you really think… God will protect us in a time of crisis even as we turn away from him in our day-to- day life?”
President Reagan did not always take such a strong position against abortion as his rhetoric implies. Indeed, he signed into law a permissive abortion bill early in his California governorship which has resulted in more than one million abortions. He publicly later regretted this decision, and he said it was the biggest mistake he made in government.
President Reagan backed a constitutional amendment during his run for president which would prohibit abortions in all cases except for ones in which the mother’s life was endangered. As a candidate and as president, he would defy his handlers and address pro-life leaders repeatedly.
While in office he signed an executive order, dubbed the “Mexico City Policy,” which prevented funding for organizations performing abortions overseas. He made it a point to address right to life issues in each of his State of the Union addresses. President Reagan disputed the 1973 ruling of Roe v. Wade, contending that “abortion on demand is not a right granted by the Constitution.” He even compared it to the 1857 Dred Scott decision on level of tragedy. It was tragic to him that 15 million American unborn had died—more than ten times the number of American lives lost in previous wars. Not only were these deaths too many, but he also knew the aborted unborn, “often feel pain, pain that is long and agonizing.”
It was important to President Reagan that we continue to “lay the groundwork for a society in which abortion is not the accepted answer to unwanted pregnancy.” He pointed out the heroism of people who opened their homes for unwed women who were tempted to have abortions, allowing the women to stay there in order for the women to carry the babies to term. He urged us to “encourage among us those who are trying to provide possible alternatives to abortions (crisis counseling centers).” He also pointed out the large number of families in America willing to adopt children; it made the pro-abortion slogan “every child a wanted child” an “empty slogan.”
Reagan believed that to counter abortion two things were needed: action and prayer. In an article penned during his presidency, he pointed to the example of William Wilberforce who prayed with his small influential group of friends, the “Clapham Sect,” to see the end of slavery in the British Empire.
President Reagan thought that the survival of America as a free nation was contingent upon stopping abortion. Freedom could not exist when “some decide that others are not fit to live and should be abandoned to abortion or infanticide.”
On Monday, as thousands March for Life, may we never forget our 40th President’s courageous words and leadership on this vital issue.