- - Monday, February 20, 2023

On the first Presidents’ Day since the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Supreme Court decision, I have thought a great deal about the state of our country. Originally established in 1885 to honor George Washington, Presidents’ Day is now a day to honor all presidents. As such, this day serves as a reminder of the great presidents of the past, of those who could have done better, and of the influence of our presidents when it comes to laws regarding the most vulnerable among us—the preborn. 

In the Declaration of Independence, we read that all people are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Yet, as we look at the current administration, we see that they work diligently at denying a certain sector of society—preborn babies—with the right to life. 

This wasn’t always the case. The stark contrast between the current administration and, for instance, the Reagan administration has me longing for days past—days when our country’s leader spoke the truth about the personhood of the preborn baby. 

However, Mr. Reagan wasn’t always pro-life. As governor of California, he signed an abortion law into effect. But because of the influence of one particular pro-life advocate just prior to his presidency, he changed his stance and became pro-life. When Mr. Reagan heard a speech given by a woman named Dr. Mildred Fay Jefferson—the first Black woman to graduate from Harvard Medical School—he not only felt inspired but awakened. He even wrote to Ms. Jefferson afterward, saying, “I wish I could have heard your views before our legislation [in California] was passed. You made it irrefutably clear that an abortion is the taking of human life. I’m grateful to you.”

Judie Brown, president of American Life League, knew and met with President Reagan on several occasions. She recently stated, “President Reagan rued the day that, when as governor, he signed the 1967 abortion law in California, and he said [this] many times, not necessarily for publicity but because he had genuinely changed his mind. Having spoken with him about this, I believe he was sincere.”

After this change of heart and mind, Mr. Reagan wrote an essay entitled Abortion and the Conscience of a Nation, saying, “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 [in Roe v. Wade], has argued that the framers of the Constitution intended to create such a right.”

Mr. Reagan said, “We cannot diminish the value of one category of human life—the unborn—without diminishing the value of all human life.”

He was right; all human beings have value.

Contrast Mr. Reagan’s words with those of President Biden and his administration, who steamroll society with their beliefs and seem to want to stop at nothing to advocate for the “right” to abortion. On the recent anniversary of Roe v. Wade, a brief statement from Mr. Biden said, “Last year, the Supreme Court took away a constitutional right from the American people… . I’ll continue to fight to protect a woman’s right to choose. Congress must restore the protections of Roe v. Wade in federal law—it’s the only way we can fully secure a woman’s right to choose in every state.” 

Mr. Biden has also taken steps to undo pro-life policies created by previous administrations. In 1984, President Reagan established the Mexico City Policy that “required foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to certify that they would not ‘perform or actively promote abortion as a method of family planning’ using funds from any source (including non-U.S. funds) as a condition of receiving U.S. government global family planning funding.”

Over the years, this policy has been implemented and rescinded along party lines. President Trump reinstated the policy, only to have it again rescinded by Mr. Biden in 2021. In fact, it was one of the first things Mr. Biden did as president. 

Mr. Biden’s actions make it difficult to believe that he calls himself Catholic. And, while he is only one of two Catholic presidents—JFK being the other—we know that his presidency will be remembered for its constant attack on preborn babies. 

But while it was race relations and not abortion that was foremost on America’s collective mind during JFK’s presidency, his 1962 appointment of Byron White to the Supreme Court left an immense pro-life legacy. In a statement after the appointment, Mr. Kennedy said, “His varied experience in legal practice, in government, and in the Navy … have given him a humane and understanding approach to people and to problems.”

We get a glimpse of Mr. White’s humanity in his dissension to the Roe v. Wade decision. He wrote: “I find nothing in the language or history of the Constitution to support the Court‘s judgment. The Court simply fashions and announces a new constitutional right for pregnant mothers and, with scarcely any reason or authority for its action, invests that right with sufficient substance to override most existing state abortion statutes… . The Court apparently values the convenience of the pregnant mother more than the continued existence and development of the life … that she carries.”

And now we have a Supreme Court—with appointees by former President Trump—who justly found that there is no “right” to abortion in the Constitution. The Dobbs decision has set the stage for a possible return to a culture of life—but it is slow in coming, as states now decide their own abortion laws. The fight to protect babies has not ended; it has simply changed venues.

We know that abortion is a horrible scourge upon society that destroys hundreds of children daily. We know that abortion ruins the entire fabric of society. But we also know that our work, our prayers, and our devotion to the sanctity of life makes a difference.

So on Presidents’ Day, let us think about our presidents—past, current, and future. Let us reflect upon the importance of a president who leads with honesty, strength, and charity rather than one who leads with assaults on our morality, on the truth, and on the vulnerable. And let us pray that our culture returns to one that embraces life rather than death.

  • Susan Ciancio is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and has worked as a writer and editor for nearly 19 years; 13 of those years have been in the pro-life sector. Currently, she is the editor of American Life League’s Celebrate Life Magazine—the nation’s premier Catholic pro-life magazine. 

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