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Last Updated :
September 21, 2008

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Ronald Reagan and the Roe v. Wade Anniversary

By Michael Novak

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[Moderator's Note: Mr. Novak is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute contributing editor to the National Review.]
Not until he became governor and faced a bill on his desk did Ronald Reagan ever think much about abortion, he tells us in his new book, and then he boiled his queries down to one commonsense question. Tell me what would happen, he asked his lawyer friends, if a man died, leaving his estate half to his pregnant wife and half to the child in her womb. If the wife then procured an abortion, so that she could keep the estate for herself, would that be murder for financial gain? Nobody wanted to answer that.
The law protects the unborn child in two or three important areas, Reagan concluded, including inheritance laws and laws against the abuse of pregnant women that causes the death of the unborn child. That gave Reagan the foundation for his view that, in the general case, the unborn deserve the protection of their lives. They are human individuals and have long been so treated by the law. They have rights to be protected.
Reagan's radio address upon this subject should be read in full; it is a marvelous record of how one man faced his own puzzlement and made up his mind. It may be found in Reagan, In His Own Hand, just published by the Hoover Institution Press. It was reprinted recently in The New York Times Magazine (Dec. 31, 2000). It is one of the advance scripts for Reagan's radio show, drafted and corrected in his own hand.
This text appears just in time to prepare us for today's great March for Life, on the 28th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, to mourn the deaths of 40 million citizens ripped untimely from the womb, and to pray God to bless this nation with a more civilized and benign moral practice.
The 40 million dead represent almost exactly the number of young workers needed to fend off the immense crisis of unsustainable Social Security burdens. With every year that passes, not enough younger people are working to finance the retirement of the older. The young workers have been winnowed out. Their cohort is lacking 40 million.
The oldest of those now dead would be in their 27th year. Each year now, there would be another 1.4 million of them turning six and entering first grade, and an equal number graduating into the work force from high school or college. But they are absent.
Some 13 million of these missing ones were black children, just about one-third of all aborted ones. The winnowing in the black community has been the most severe. (If this were any other activity, less protected by the liberal elites, this fact alone would brand abortion a racist policy.)
The people of the United States have never voted for the abortion regime. When they have had a chance to vote, they have usually voted for some modest method of restricting it; but the courts have aborted legislative will.
No issue is so divisive in our public disputations. No issue so inflames liberal women. No issue is surrounded so by lies and euphemism, evasion, even refusal to keep statistics. It is virtually certain that many more women today are maimed or die from complications due to abortion procedures than in "the bad old days before Roe v. Wade," both because of lack of policing of abortion facilities, and because of the massive annual number of abortions (more than 3,000 every day), hugely swollen since 1973. But the government refuses in this one instance to keep statistics about death and injury from abortion procedures. The truth is abortion's enemy.
Many consciences in America believe abortion is benign. It is not difficult to respect their consciences. But lack of investigative reporting, truth telling, and public argument from all points of view is a grave weakness of our public life.
Some who rabidly promote abortion do not dare to tell the truth about it. They defame any who oppose them, as most recently against John Ashcroft. They turn to calling names with passion. The fundamental lie they propagate is this: The unborn is "part of the woman's body." Genetic science no longer allows them such a claim. Like the common law that Ronald Reagan reflected on, science too studies in the womb a genetically independent human individual. If its life is not prematurely taken from it, this individual can become no other than a developed human child. That is science, not moral judgment.
A college student wrote recently that the generation born since 1973 is the first in history to reflect that they might have been aborted. They lacked security even in their mother's womb.
There is no rock of trust on which they can depend.
But the profoundest thing that has changed since 1973 is that the arguments have swung decisively toward the protection of the human rights of the genetically independent child in the womb. Millions are now committed to defending what has happened since 1973, of course, and do not want to hear of argument. They have planned their lives around some falsehoods. Ice is creaking underneath their feet.
But still, in the wind and the cold, the great March for Life of January 22 goes on, year by dreary year. More and more people are beginning to awaken. There is a better way to live. Better laws are coming. Public consciences are thawing. After winter, spring is always on its way.

Last Updated : September 21, 2008