Clarifying the Record on President Reagan and the March for Life

Donald Trump wasn’t the first president to address the March for Life from the White House. Ronald Reagan was, and he did so four times.

Pres. Ronald Reagan on the West Wing Colonnade at the White House, June 4, 1985.
Pres. Ronald Reagan on the West Wing Colonnade at the White House, June 4, 1985. (photo:

“Hi Paul. Do you know why Reagan never addressed the March for Life? Did he consider it? I never thought about it, until all the talk about Trump making history.”

I received that email Jan. 20, the day after the March for Life. In fact, several people asked me that question as President Donald Trump addressed the March for Life from the White House Rose Garden, where Trump gave a very nice pro-life message.

In fact, let me pause right there before I proceed. None of what I write here is to begrudge Trump. Trump’s actions on behalf of the March were excellent, as have been his many pro-life moves since becoming president a year ago.

Thus, what I write here is a matter of clarifying the historical record, and to call attention to what Ronald Reagan likewise said to the March for Life— and to make a not-so-subtle suggestion to President Trump for next year.

Last week, I received text messages and emails from people excitedly telling me that Trump would be the first president to address the March. A Jan. 17 news article at the Fox News website carried this headline, “Trump to Be First Sitting President to Address March for Life.” The lead sentence in that piece stated: “President Donald Trump will become the first sitting president to address the March for Life, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Wednesday.”

But if you look at the embedded Tweet in the article, which was from Sanders herself, it stated more accurately: “On Friday, we’re excited to announce, that the president will become the first sitting president to address the March for Life from the White House LIVE via satellite.”

A lot of people ran with that headline (Fox wasn’t alone in its inexact reporting). But if you read Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ Tweet more carefully, you see the crucial distinction: “via satellite.”

Other news sources did, in fact, make that crucial distinction. The Washington Post reported that Trump was the first president to address the March via satellite, whereas Reagan in 1987 also addressed the March live, albeit via telephone. Likewise, noted that Trump was the first president to speak to the March via “Live Feed” from the White House.

Of course, such is largely a matter of better technology now, compared to the 1980s.

And yet, even these sources didn’t go far enough. The reality is that not only was Reagan the first president to address the March for Life from the White House, but he did so from the Oval Office on no less than four occasions, each time the anniversary of Roe v. Wade Jan. 22 — that is, Jan. 22, 1985, 1986, 1987, and 1988.

I’ve provided links to those statements from Reagan. They are good statements, brief and conversational, including a warm dialogue with Nellie Gray, longtime organizer of the March for Life. They also contain revealing statements from Reagan concerning his respect for the unborn. Here’s Reagan from Jan. 22, 1985: “I feel a great sense of solidarity with all of you. And I’m convinced, as I know you are, that our response to the 12th anniversary of Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton must be to rededicate ourselves to ending the terrible national tragedy of abortion.” He urged people—here repeating his 1984 State of the Union Address — to recognize both “the reality of life before birth and the reality of death by abortion.” In words that remind of what Mother Teresa would say a decade later at the National Prayer Breakfast, Reagan equated abortion with “violence,” and said, “We cannot condone the threatening or taking of human life to protest the taking of human life by way of abortion.”

Moreover, in words that remain close to me, because they were later repeated to me often by Reagan’s closest adviser, Bill Clark, Reagan was optimistic that technological advances would offer a vital window into the womb that would change the hearts and minds of many women considering having abortions:

And I want you to know that I feel these days, as never before, the momentum is with us. Surely, recent advances in medical technology have changed the debate. Surgeons now speak of the ‘patient in the womb.’ We now know more than ever before about the unborn. Doctors have invented procedures that can give blood transfusions to the fetus and even administer medication. For the first time, through the new technique of real-time ultrasound imaging, we’re able to see with our own eyes, on film, the abortion of a 12-week-old unborn child.

The film — which, as you know, I’m sure, is narrated by a former director of the world’s largest abortion clinic — provides chilling documentation of the horror of abortion during the first 3 months of life. It’s been said that if every Member of the Congress could see this film of an early abortion, the Congress would move quickly to end the tragedy of abortion. And I pray that they will.

This was the reason, Bill Clark always told me, that he believed “we’re going to win this one, Paul.” That is, pro-lifers would win the pro-life battle because of technology. The undeniable visual reality provided by technology would override the deceitful lies of pro-abortion ideology and the abortion industry. Ultrasound technology would expose the falsehoods of Planned Parenthood. Women would see a baby in their womb, not a “blob of tissue.”

That was Reagan Jan. 22, 1985, his first of four live statements to the March for Life during his presidency.

Again, none of this is to take away anything from President Trump, who gave a nice statement from the White House Rose Garden. Nonetheless, he wasn’t the first president to address the March for Life from the White House. Ronald Reagan was, and he did so four times.

That said, if Donald Trump wants to pull off a remarkable pro-life first for a president, here’s an idea for him for next year’s March for Life: He could go to the actual rally, to the main platform, and speak there. That would truly be a presidential first. How about it, Mr. President?