President Ronald Reagan: The Unborn’s Transcendent Right to Life

Editor’s Note: Today marks the thirteenth anniversary of the passing of pro-life President Ronald Reagan. The following appeared on page one of the October 11, 1984, edition of National Right to Life News. It was described as “a personal letter to the Pro-Life movement from President Ronald Reagan.”

President Ronald Reagan

As America looks forward to the second half of the 1980s and beyond, our Nation faces a clear political choice. Two very different views about America – who we are and what we can become – are competing to lead our great country into the future.

I think that Americans involved in the noble work of the pro-life movement will agree that the difference between those competing views is no more striking than on the tragic issue of abortion.

Recently, some of our political opponents have tried to further their cause by belatedly assuming the mantle of traditional family values. They talk about family, about concern for less fortunate Americans. And they portray themselves as the “party of compassion.”

But where are those high-minded ideals when it comes to the issue of abortion? Where are the new defenders of the family when it comes to the taking of innocent human life? And what have we heard from them while more than 15 million unborn children – over 10 times more Americans than have been lost in all our nation’s wars – had their lives snuffed out by legalized abortions? [Editor’s note. The total is now over 59 million.]

Recently much of America agonized through reports of the Baby Doe case in Bloomington, Indiana. Baby Doe, handicapped by Down’s syndrome, needed a routine surgical procedure to unblock his esophagus and allow him to eat. But a doctor testified, and a judge concurred, that even with the physical problem corrected, Baby Doe would have a “non-existent” possibility for a “minimally adequate life.” The judge let Baby Doe starve and die, and the Indiana Supreme Court sanctioned his decision.

The death of that baby infant touched our consciences, cutting through all the political rhetoric and claims of compassion, and focused a nation’s attention on one infant. Protecting the lives of handicapped infants comes down to a basic question of whether or not we recognize the sanctity of human life.

That’s the same basic question that underlies the issue of abortion. And it’s a question we can rightfully ask those who profess to defend the American family:

Where is your compassion when the unborn and the handicapped need it?

The responses one hears to that question are often complicated and legalistic. But, of course, the real answer is often quite simple. Many of those who now proclaim their support for traditional family values were blocking all efforts to curtail abortion-on-demand.

Well, no matter what politicians say, they can’t change their values in response to weekly opinion polls. And they can’t set up a weathervane to test the political breezes, and then start talking seriously about the American family.

For the last four years, our Administration has never hesitated to argue forcefully its position on the abortion issue. We believe abortion is a national tragedy.

Some have claimed the abortion issue is too controversial, too volatile for a president to get involved in. I disagree. Abortion is among the primary moral issues of our times.

In addition, our Administration has taken positive steps to assist the mother and child in need. We have increased tax credits for child care. We have also tried to encourage the adoption of “unwanted” children. The budget for food assistance for pregnant or nursing mothers and their babies has doubled since 1980.

This November, opponents of the pro-life movement are sure to stick by their position on abortion. And I intend to stick by mine. We have not only an opportunity, but an obligation, to make our voices heard in the electoral process.

In the Spring of 1983, at the time of the 10th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, I authored the article “Abortion and the Conscience of the Nation.” I felt it was important for a sitting President to reflect on a judicial decision that so radically changed our nation. Not a single state had a policy of unrestricted abortion until after that Supreme Court decision.

The Roe v. Wade decision was not the first time the Supreme Court made a decision that divided the nation by denying the value of certain human lives.

Recall, the Dred Scott decision was not overturned in a day, a year, or even a decade. At first, only a minority of Americans recognized and deplored the moral crisis brought on by denying the full rights and humanity of Black Americans. But that minority persisted in their vision, and finally prevailed. Americans prevailed against slavery by appealing to the hearts and minds of their countrymen, and to the truth of human dignity under God.

From their example we know that respect for the sacred value of human life is too deeply engrained in the human heart to remain forever suppressed. And from their example we take comfort, knowing that our cause is right, and we can succeed.

My Administration is dedicated to the preservation of America as a free land, and to the protection of all citizens’ rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

There is no cause more important to preserving our freedom than affirming the transcendent right to life of the unborn.

Thank you for your support over the last four years. I look forward to working with you in the support of prolife measures to reverse the effects of the Roe v. Wade decision and to restore the full protection of law to the unborn and the handicapped. And God bless you.