Preserving the Party
Rudy and the death of the pro-life bully pulpit.


Paul Kengor

“I believe no challenge is more important to the character of America than restoring the right to life to all human beings.”

—Ronald Reagan, January 1984

Yes, yes, I know: A President Hillary Clinton would be Armageddon to the pro-life movement. There is no candidate — none — in the history of presidential politics as radical as Hillary Clinton on abortion. To pro-lifers, she absolutely must be defeated.

That said, Rudy Giuliani is not the answer, though he may be a lesser of two evils on the issue of abortion. Acknowledging his promise to appoint “strict constructionist” judges, there are still other areas in which Rudy would utterly fail pro-lifers; and one particular area (upon which I will focus) that is significantly unappreciated and far-reaching.

A pro-choice Republican president robs Republicans of the moral and rhetorical leadership that their presidents have provided on the abortion issue, especially under four terms of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. This critical reality is not grasped even by many pro-lifers, who whine about how 20 years of Republican presidents have failed to overturn Roe v. Wade.

The reality is that overturning Roe v. Wade is not easy. It indeed starts with changing the courts. In the meantime, however, there is much the president can and must do to influence public opinion on the abortion issue — to make the moral case, to argue the justness of the cause, and to plough the ground to ready Americans for a seismic shift in abortion policy. To that end, both Reagan and Bush provided significant leadership.

As testimony to Reagan’s outspokenness, I have on my desk a 45-page single-space document of quotes from Reagan on abortion, printed from the official Presidential Papers. In these, it is clear that Reagan saw himself as duty-bound to fight abortion, which he equated to slavery in terms of moral outrage.

“This nation fought a terrible war so that black Americans would be guaranteed their God-given rights,” Reagan said to the National Religious Broadcasters in January 1984. He goes on:

Abraham Lincoln recognized that we could not survive as a free land when some could decide whether others should be free or slaves. Well, today another question begs to be asked: How can we survive as a free nation when some decide that others are not fit to live and should be done away with? I believe no challenge is more important to the character of America than restoring the right to life to all human beings. Without that right, no other rights have meaning.

Reagan anchored this cause to his faith, quoting the words of Christ: “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for such is the kingdom of God.” He insisted that, “God’s most blessed gift to his family is the gift of life. He sent us the Prince of Peace as a babe in the manger.”

Reagan seized an occasion as high-profile as his 1986 State of the Union address to make this remarkable observation: “Today there is a wound in our national conscience. America will never be whole as long as the right to life granted by our Creator is denied to the unborn.”


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