Reagan, Life and Liberty
Exactly 105 years ago US President Ronald Reagan was born. The great man made a number of transitions during his life. He of course began as an actor and ended up as a politician. And he transitioned politically as well, leaving the Democrats for the Republicans in 1962, although as he famously put it, “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party, the party left me”.
The former lifelong Democrat and New Deal supporter came to see the vital importance of liberty and limited government. In a 1964 speech on behalf of Barry Goldwater and the Republicans entitled “A Time for Choosing” he laid out these principles. Here are a few snippets from this great speech:
I am going to talk of controversial things. I make no apology for this.
It’s time we asked ourselves if we still know the freedoms intended for us by the Founding Fathers. James Madison said, “We base all our experiments on the capacity of mankind for self government.”
This idea – that government was beholden to the people, that it had no other source of power is still the newest, most unique idea in all the long history of man’s relation to man. This is the issue of this election: Whether we believe in our capacity for self-government or whether we abandon the American Revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capital can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves.
You and I are told we must choose between a left or right, but I suggest there is no such thing as a left or right. There is only an up or down. Up to man’s age-old dream – the maximum of individual freedom consistent with order or down to the ant heap of totalitarianism…
You and I have a rendezvous with destiny. We will preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth, or we will sentence them to take the first step into a thousand years of darkness. If we fail, at least let our children and our children’s children say of us we justified our brief moment here. We did all that could be done.
He never stopped praising liberty and the need to resist Big Government. A few more inspiring quotes can be offered here:
“Concentrated power has always been the enemy of liberty.”
“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it on to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children what it was once like in the United States when men were free.”
“Let us be sure that those who come after will say of us, that in our time we did everything that could be done. We finished the race; we kept them free; we kept the faith.”
His emphasis on lower taxes, limited government, and a strong national defence saw him massively winning the 1980 and 1984 presidential elections. But I wish here to speak to another important type of liberty: the freedom of the unborn to enjoy ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’.
That fundamental right as outlined in the US Declaration of Independence is of course stolen away from all the unborn who are slaughtered in their mother’s womb. Reagan became a real champion of the unborn, and was one of our most prolife presidents ever.
Yes, while governor of California he did sign into law the Therapeutic Abortion Act in 1967. But it was a decision he was always to regret. As Paul Kengor explains:
Reagan was shocked at the unintended consequences of his action. Morris said Reagan was left with an “undefinable sense of guilt” after watching abortions skyrocket. Cannon claims this was “the only time as governor or president that Reagan acknowledged a mistake on major legislation.” Clark called the incident “perhaps Reagan’s greatest disappointment in public life.”
For Reagan, one good thing did come out of this disappointment. As Georgetown’s Matt Sitman notes, “It is impossible to understand his later staunchly pro-life positions without grasping the lessons he learned from this early political battle.” Reagan, says Sitman, survived the ordeal with a “profoundly intellectual understanding of the abortion issue…. It was in 1967 that his ideas concerning the beginning of human life were fully formed.” He now had a cogent understanding, politically and morally, of abortion and its implications.
Reagan would later denounce abortion so strongly and so frequently from the Oval Office that Bill Clark has compiled a 45-page document of Reagan’s quotes on abortion, collected from the official Presidential Papers. Reagan even authored a small book —Abortion and the Conscience of the Nation, featuring contributions from Bill Clark, Malcolm Muggeridge, and Mother Teresa — that was published by the Human Life Foundation in 1984.
White House moderates wanted Reagan to delay publication until after the 1984 election, fearing it would turn off pro-choice Republicans, but Reagan refused. He would not be burned again on abortion. No more compromises. Ronald Reagan emerged from 1967 repentant, but ready for future battles. The damage was done; of course, the results were nothing compared to the travesty that a group of men in black robes in Washington were planning six years later.
Here I wish to conclude by highlighting that important book, Abortion and the Conscience of the Nation. It is noteworthy that it was the only book to be published by an American President while holding office, at least up until then.
The Thomas Nelson edition of the book which I have contains afterwords by C. Everett Koop and Muggeridge. Reagan’s contribution is brief: just 24 pages. But it is a gem. There are many quotable quotes to be taken from the essay, so let me offer a few. It begins:
The 10th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade is a good time for us to pause and reflect. Our nationwide policy of abortion-on-demand through all nine months of pregnancy was neither voted for by our people nor enacted by our legislators – not a single state had such unrestricted abortion before the Supreme Court decreed it to be national policy in 1973. But the consequences of this judicial decision are now obvious: since 1973, more than 15 million unborn children have had their lives snuffed out by legalized abortions. That is over ten times the number of Americans lost in all our nation’s wars.
Make no mistake, abortion-on-demand is not a right granted by the Constitution. No serious scholar, including one disposed to agree with the Court’s result, has argued that the framers of the Constitution intended to create such a right. Shortly after the Roe v. Wade decision, Professor John Hart Ely, now Dean of Stanford Law School, wrote that the opinion “is not constitutional law and gives almost no sense of an obligation to try to be.” Nowhere do the plain words of the Constitution even hint at a “right” so sweeping as to permit abortion up to the time the child is ready to be born. Yet that is what the Court ruled.
Abortion concerns not just the unborn child, it concerns every one of us. The English poet, John Donne, wrote: “. . . any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” We cannot diminish the value of one category of human life— the unborn—without diminishing the value of all human life…
The real question today is not when human life begins, 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…
Malcolm Muggeridge, the English writer, goes right to the heart of the matter: “Either life is always and in all circumstances sacred, or intrinsically of no account; it is inconceivable that it should be in some cases the one, and in some the other.” The sanctity of innocent human life is a principle that Congress should proclaim at every opportunity. It is possible that the Supreme Court itself may overturn its abortion rulings.
We need only recall that in Brown v. Board of Education the court reversed its own earlier “separate-but-equal” decision. I believe if the Supreme Court took another look at Roe v. Wade, and considered the real issue between the sanctity of life ethic and the quality of life ethic, it would change its mind once again.
He concludes as follows:
I have often said we need to join in prayer to bring protection to the unborn. Prayer and action are needed to uphold the sanctity of human life. I believe it will not be possible to accomplish our work, the work of saving lives, “without being a soul of prayer.” The famous British Member of Parliament, William Wilberforce, prayed with his small group of influential friends, the “Clapham Sect,” fordecades to see an end to slavery in the British empire.
Wilberforce led that struggle in Parliament, unflaggingly, because he believed in the sanctity of human life. He saw the fulfillment of his impossible dream when Parliament outlawed slavery just before his death.
Let his faith and perseverance be our guide. We will never recognize the true value of our own lives until we affirm the value in the life of others, a value of which Malcolm Muggeridge says: “…however low it flickers or fiercely burns, it is still a Divine flame which no man dare presume to put out, be his motives ever so humane and enlightened.”
Abraham Lincoln recognized that we could not survive as a free land when some men could decide that others were not fit to be free and should therefore be slaves. Likewise, we cannot survive as a free nation when some men decide that others are not fit to live and should be abandoned to abortion or infanticide. 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 any meaning.
Yes quite so: “Prayer and action are needed to uphold the sanctity of human life.”
As we celebrate the 105th anniversary of the birth of Reagan, and the 43rd anniversary of the wretched Roe v Wade, let us redouble our efforts on behalf of the unborn – both in prayer and in action.
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