Editor’s note. Pro-life Sen. Tom Cotton delivered these encouraging remarks at the Saturday night Banquet that closed the 2021 National Right to Life Convention.
Thank you, it’s an honor to address the National Right to Life Committee, the nation’s oldest pro-life organization and a true beacon of moral clarity.
I’d like to extend special recognition and thanks to [National Right to Life President] Carol [Tobias] for inviting me to speak this evening. I’d also like to recognize my home state’s chapter—where are you out there? There you are!, Arkansas Right to Life has helped turn Arkansas into one of the most pro-life states in the Union.
We regret that our legendary leader, Rose Mimms, couldn’t be here with us tonight, but we know that she’s watching at home. So, Rose, we love you and we’re praying for you.
Tonight we honor pro-life activists everywhere and especially at National Right to Life, which has been working to protect the unborn since before Roe v. Wade.
We’re here tonight because we know that abortion is not just a matter of choice—it’s a matter of justice and injustice, of life and death for millions.
Most of us here have a story, I think, about how we got involved in the pro-life movement. Perhaps it was a wise mentor or preacher. Perhaps it was seeing that first ultrasound. Or perhaps it was the birth of a precious child, who gave meaning to your life in a thousand different ways.
Those little kids especially have a way of putting old wisdom in new light. My six-year-old, Gabriel, loves to look at pictures of himself in my smart phone, including pictures of my wife Anna when she was pregnant with him. And then he remembers the pictures as if he’s remembering the moment itself.
He has remarkable recall of what he was doing at 18 months old. Just the other day, we were driving and he said, “Mommy, do you remember when I was in your belly?” After a long pause, which I suspect most of you have had to do in here in similar situations, she said, “yes, of course, honey, it was wonderful.” And he said, “yeah, it was. It was warm and cozy.”
And then he asked, “Mommy, how did I get in your belly?” To which I answered, as I bet most of you have in similar situations, “look, a squirrel!”
But those kids, they don’t let up, right? So, after he searched for that non-existent squirrel, he was back at it: “Where was I before I was in your belly? Was I with God?” An escape hatch! I jumped in and I said, “Yes Gabel, that’s exactly right, you were with God. Just like He says in the Bible, ‘Before I formed you in the belly, I knew you, and before you were born I set you apart.’”
Isn’t it telling, that even a small child knows he was alive inside his mother’s belly.
Our other son, Daniel, helped show some wisdom in his own way, when Anna was late in her pregnancy, she developed a condition that required the doctors to induce her early, at 37 weeks. And the birth and the labor went fine. And he seemed fine at first. After we had the chance to hold him for a few minutes, the nurses took him away for their routine checks.
But then the doctor came back and said that our son was struggling to breathe. And then later that night, in the middle of the night, the doctor came back again and said he’d taken a turn for the worse and that they were going to have to intubate him and put him in a pressurized bubble. And we would not be able to see him or hold him as he struggled for the breath of life.
So, we prayed, and we asked God to protect our son, and his doctors and his nurses. He still didn’t have a name at that time; we had narrowed down the list before going to the hospital, but as with our first son, we wanted to meet him before we gave him his name. So as we waited, we went through the names, one of which was Daniel, I re-read the story of Daniel in the Lion’s Den to my wife. And on the spot, she said, “his name is Daniel.”
So, as our Daniel went through his own lion’s den over the next few days, with some ups and downs, he ultimately prevailed. And after a few days, we were able to finally go into the NICU and see him, and hold him, and nurse him. We kept a near-constant vigil in that NICU for almost two weeks.
Now, of course, around us, there were many families and many babies, born much earlier and much smaller than Daniel and facing a much longer struggle. Adorning the walls in that NICU were posters showing a bright future ahead, with images of young children and teenagers running and playing and a note that said how prematurely they were born and how small they were when they were born.
We have seen those brighter days with Daniel since we left the NICU four and a half years ago. We have seen them as well at the reunion of that NICU, with all the babies who have passed through those doors. Reunions with bouncy houses and water slides and face painting. If that NICU was silent in hushed prayers, let’s just say the reunions were holy chaos.
But all those little—and not-so-little—kids were at one point vulnerable preemies. Many could not have survived without the grace of God and the miracles of modern science. To give you just one example, JFK’s fourth child died of the exact same condition that my son had ,just a few hours after his birth. In 1963, not even the entire resources of the presidency and the United States government could save that young child’s life. But our doctors, guided by God, were able to save Daniel’s life. And to save so many other lives just like him. Yet so many of those young children would have had no recognition and no protection under our laws until the moment of their premature birth.
And I think we all know just how wrong that is. Every life, born and unborn, is worthy of protection. And every child is made in the image of God, and especially, especially the most vulnerable deserve the fullest love and every effort to protect them.
The unborn, though, have been an endangered group in our society ever since seven lawyers in robes discovered a so-called “right” to abortion in our Constitution in 1973. But now we’re living in an especially perilous time. Not only is abortion-on-demand still the law of the land, but our opponents are advancing on several fronts, emboldened by the most pro-abortion White House in American history.
The problem starts at the very top–President Biden. Now, the president claims to be personally opposed to abortion while publicly in favor of the so-called “right” to choose. Now This is a strange position to me, to say the least. President Biden would have us believe that he’s personally against an abortion and personally believes that it’s a grave injustice. Yet, he simultaneously commits to do nothing to stop this injustice—and in fact he works to do everything in his power to advance it in law, making a common cause with those who enthusiastically support and even profit from abortion.
This craven position calls to mind Stephen Douglas’s infamous claim in the Lincoln-Douglas debates that he “don’t care” if the people of the territories vote to extend slavery into the territories. Which also brings to mind the words of his great rival, Abraham Lincoln, addressing Democrats of his day who claimed to oppose slavery personally, personally yet resisted any attempts to curtail its spread. Addressing these Democrats, Lincoln said, “Is there anything else that you think wrong that you are not willing to deal with as a wrong?”
I think we might say the same thing to Democrats in our days.
Because Joe Biden has already has achieved the most pro-abortion record of any president. He practically began his campaign for president by renouncing his own decades-long position that your tax dollars should not be used to pay for abortion. During his first days in office, President Biden ended the Mexico City Policy and eliminated the Trump administration’s expanded rules preventing taxpayer funds from going to Planned Parenthood and NGOs that perform abortions and sterilizations overseas. The Biden administration is even working behind the scenes to gut health and safety regulations governing chemical abortion, which is part of the abortion industry’s long-term plan to make the dangerous abortion pill widely available through the mail.
And of course, the Biden administration isn’t the only threat to unborn babies today. In Congress, Democrats are maneuvering to eliminate the Hyde Amendment which prevents tax dollars from going to pay for abortions. The Biden administration is now conspiring with extremists in Congress to remove this long-standing and formerly bipartisan bulwark for the unborn from the federal budget.
And right here in Virginia, pro-abortion Democrats – Ralph Northam and Terry McAuliffe – are pushing even more radical proposals that would eliminate the few remaining restrictions on late-term abortion. Governor Northam’s blackface scandal may have gotten all the attention, but don’t forget that he went live on air to defend infanticide—and of course he got a pass from the liberal media for it.
You know, it wasn’t too long ago that Bill Clinton would say that abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare.” What Democrat today would concede that abortion should be “rare”? They’d sooner rather defend infanticide than adopt Bill Clinton’s formula.
But outside the realm of politics, pro-lifers must also contend with what Pope John Paul the Second called the “culture of death”—the various technological, scientific, and commercial currents that, in the false name of progress, encourage the most hideous abuses against mankind.
We see these forces at work in the world of science, which, in a potentially stunning act of hubris, may have just unleashed a pandemic on the world through its reckless research. A reckoning may soon be coming in the field of virology, but it is richly deserved in other fields, as well.
For many decades, scientists in the field of embryology have created human beings in test tubes to use in their experiments, only to destroy them after 14 days. Researchers have ironically described this 14-day rule as an “ethical” guideline. But now even that rule may be going away. The International Society for Stem Cell Research has recommended eliminating the rule to allow experiments on human beings at even later stages of development. The wholesale, industrial destruction of human life will go on, pushing toward grim new frontiers made all the more sinister, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, by the lights of perverted science.
Meanwhile, technologies like prenatal genetic testing have created new threats to entire groups of vulnerable people. The abortion industry uses and abuses genetic testing to screen for supposedly undesirable or merely unwanted traits and then target the babies who have them for elimination. This weeding out of the supposedly “unfit” should be called what it is: eugenics. And it targets one group in particular: babies with disabilities.
Let me give you one grotesque example. A few years ago, mainstream news articles trumpeted a stunning fact out of Europe: Iceland was close to eliminating Down syndrome. Eureka! Another miracle of modern science, right?
Because if you read beyond the headline, you discovered that there was no scientific breakthrough, there was no miracle cure. Iceland was not eliminating Down syndrome. Iceland was eliminating babies with Down syndrome. Between 2008 and 2012, Iceland reportedly aborted 100% of babies diagnosed with Down syndrome. Total elimination.
Sadly, Iceland is not alone. In Denmark, 98 percent of babies diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted. In Britain, that figure is 90 percent. And while America is more welcome—due in large part to the tireless advocacy of the pro-life movement—sadly, our country still aborts roughly two-thirds of babies diagnosed with this genetic condition.
This New Eugenics operates with ruthless efficiency. While the movement cloaks itself in the language of science and even compassion, it is as barbaric as the ancient Spartans who used to dispose of “ill-born” babies on the mountainside.
Thankfully, the people in this room and activists all across the country are fighting back against this evil. Thanks to the passionate advocacy of our Right to Life chapter in Arkansas, my home state of Arkansas, passed a law in 2019 to prohibit abortions motivated by a Down syndrome diagnosis. Of course, activist judges blocked that law from going into effect, but I promise you this: Arkansas is ready for a fight, we are prepared to take them all the way to the Supreme Court if that’s what it takes—because we know, as everyone here knows, that every child is a precious gift from God, and that every baby with Down syndrome deserves love and protection under our laws.
That’s why a few weeks ago, with several dozen of my colleagues, I submitted a legal brief to the Supreme Court asking them to take up Arkansas’s case and uphold our law to protect babies with disabilities. In this brief I also made a basic but important point: while the threats we face today may seem strange and novel, there’s really nothing new under the sun. The technology and rhetoric has changed but the old serpent is the same. Before there was the New Eugenics of today, the pro-life movement heroically fought against the Old Eugenics of yesteryear.
In this age of cancel culture, the abortion lobby has grappled recently with an embarrassing problem, namely, that the founders of their movement were deeply racist and deeply committed to the pseudoscience of eugenics.
You may have heard of a pro-abortion group called the Guttmacher Institute, named after Alan Guttmacher. Guttmacher is the closest thing to a hero for the pro-abortion lobby. He was a doctor at Johns Hopkins and at Mount Sinai. He was the president of Planned Parenthood and chairman of the International Planned Parenthood Federation. And Alan Guttmacher was also vice president of the American Eugenics Society, who believed, to borrow their own words, “it should be permissible to abort any pregnancy … in which there is a strong probability of an abnormal or malformed infant.” Guttmacher’s dark legacy is evident today at Planned Parenthood and the organization that bears his name, both of which support abortion for any reason, including the disability status of a baby.
You may also have heard that last year Planned Parenthood unceremoniously cancelled its founder, Margaret Sanger, due to her virulent racism. Those of us who have been in the pro-life movement for a while know what a strange plot twist this is. For many years, Planned Parenthood’s highest honor was known as the Margaret Sanger Award. It was given away at an event affectionately and glamorously called “The Maggies.” It even named its flagship Manhattan abortion clinic the Margaret Sanger Health Center.
But no more. Planned Parenthood has quietly conceded at least a few of the uncomfortable facts about its matron saint, facts that members of the pro-life movement have been citing for decades: Sanger’s involvement in the American Eugenics Society, alongside her old pal Dr. Guttmacher; how she dabbled with the Ku Klux Klan; how she promoted contraception and sterilization in order to, her words, “weed out the misfits”; how she denounced large, religious families as the source of, her words, “disease, poverty and feeble-mindedness” and asserted that they were contributing to “race deterioration.” Her words.
My friends, that is what they call a “PR problem,” though when you hear they have a PR problem, what they probably have is a reality problem, and that’s exactly what the pro-abortion industry has here. But, you know, there’s also one more uncomfortable fact about Margaret Sanger that Planned Parenthood neglected to mention. I suspect it played a large role in why they actually decided to throw her under the bus. Namely, Margaret Sanger wasn’t nearly as radical on the question of abortion as Planned Parenthood is today.
For all her contemptible views, Margaret Sanger stopped short of advocating for abortion. In fact, she denounced “quacks and abortionists” who preyed on vulnerable women and their unborn children in much the same way that Planned Parenthood does today.
Now, I mean, Margaret Sanger is no one’s idea of a pro-lifer; the methods of eugenics and population control that she championed are indisputably the precursors for the modern abortion movement. But it speaks volumes that the abortion movement has become so radical that it had to cancel its founder. Margaret Sanger the sexual revolutionary has suffered the same fate as so many other radicals before her: the revolution eats its own.
The abortion industry can try to run from its past but it cannot erase it because cruelty and dehumanization are woven into the fabric of their movement. Abortion is based on the idea that the right to life is not given by God but granted by the state only under certain conditions. Abortion is based on the idea that some groups of people are more deserving of life than others. Abortion is based on the idea that there are entire classes of innocent human beings who may be exterminated for any reason—or for no reason at all.
To advocate for abortion, one must believe and advocate the toxic idea that there is such a thing as “life unworthy of life.”
The pro-life movement stands against this evil ideology. In sharp contrast to the Culture of Death, the men and women of the pro-life movement proclaim that the right to life isn’t earned and it isn’t particular to any group—it is a God-given right to us all. The message of the pro-life movement is simple, it is clear, it is written down in no less an authority than our nation’s founding charter. Our nation’s bold, pro-life declaration is this – that “All men are created equal” and we all have a basic “right to life.”
And this is that unassailable truth to which generations of brave reformers have rallied as they battled against the Culture of Death.
This was the message of respected physicians in the nineteenth century like Dr. Horatio Storer, the father of modern gynecology and a resolute witness for the humanity and dignity of the unborn. “Fetal life ever is, and ever has been, held sacred by all respectable physicians,” Dr. Storer said.
This is the very same message proclaimed by opponents of eugenics around the turn of the next century, like the great writer G.K. Chesterton, who wrote that eugenics is “terrorism by tenth-rate professors” who seek out life “in order to take it away.”
This was the same message proclaimed by the pro-life activists of the Roe generation, like Dr. Mildred Fay Jefferson, the first black woman to graduate from Harvard Medical School and the former president of this very organization. “I am not willing to stand aside,” Dr. Jefferson said, “and allow this concept of expendable human lives to turn this land of ours into just another exclusive reservation where only the perfect, the planned, and the privileged have the right to live.”
And that brings us to the present generation. God willing, it will be known as the post-Roe generation.
We are the heirs of the activists who came before us. We’ve made great strides toward our goal in recent years, despite the furious and feverish opposition of the abortion lobby.
We’ve passed many pro-life laws in the states, as a shield for the unborn and to curb the worst abuses of the abortion industry.
We’ve raised up hundreds of pro-life crisis-pregnancy centers around the country, staffed by men and women who are filled with love and compassion for the pregnant women who pass through their doors—and as they are for their unborn children.
We’ve built a diverse movement of millions, millions who show up every year at the March for Life, or show up every Saturday at the local clinic, or say a prayer every night for the end of abortion—because they know, they know as we do, that every life is precious and every life is indeed a gift from God.
And yes, in Washington, yes, we’ve moved heaven and Earth to confirm hundreds of pro-life judges and three Supreme Court justices who may hope may soon one day call Roe v. Wade what it was and what it remains: a moral and constitutional travesty.
Winning in the courts and in Congress is of course a part of an essential path to victory. When Roe falls, a great injustice will be rectified, a great rebuke to our nation’s values will be reconciled, and millions of innocent souls will be saved.
But even on that day, our work as a movement will not be complete.
We of course started before Roe v. Wade itself. We will not have truly won until we build that Culture of Life that is powerful enough to defeat that Culture of Death, so that every child is welcomed into this world and treated with love and compassion—not just because the law commands it, but because it is acknowledged that it is written on every human heart as the only just thing to do.
That will require a fairly sweeping change in the culture of death. There is much work left to be done. But can anyone doubt that it’s worth it?
I will close from a short story from the Army, back in basic training.
Drill Sergeant Norton used to tell all of us privates that you have “to do the hard right over the easy wrong.” Many times the wrong thing will be easy, it will be convenient, it will be comfortable, it will be safe. But you have to do the hard thing, even when its hard or inconvenient, or uncomfortable or dangerous—precisely because it is the right thing.
Pro-life activists like all of you have chosen through the years to do the ‘hard right over the easy wrong’ as you fight for the unborn in the face of an often uncaring and hostile culture.
All across this land, pro-life Americans live out our beliefs every day through prayer, through service, support for the vulnerable, through tireless activism, and through our own families, by having and raising kids who love America, love God, and love one another.
If we continue to do these noble deeds, I am confident God will bless all of our efforts. And “If God is for us,” as the Scripture says, “who can be against us?” So ladies and gentlemen I leave you tonight with the highest confidence and greatest hope—that God will indeed bless each and every one of you and bless every unborn child and continue to bless the United States of America.
Thank you all.