Last night, we hosted our second annual Gala fundraiser. We were honored to have William McGurn, Wall Street Journal editorial board member and a former speechwriter for George W. Bush give the keynote. Mr. McGurn was presented with the Students for Life Defender of Life award last night. His remarks in full and a full video of his speech can be viewed below.
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Students for Life
March 20, 2018
Thank you for those kind words, Kristan. Brendan, thank you for all the hard work you’ve put into this evening. And thank you all for the honor of this award.
When I was asked to speak tonight, I asked Kristan what I should speak about. She said, “about five minutes.” That’s sound advice. The Ten Commandments fit on two stone tablets. The Gettysburg address was 271 words.
It reminds me of something attributed to Harry Truman. Someone once asked him, “How long does it take you to prepare one of your speeches.”
Truman answered that it depended on the length of the speech. “If it is a 10-minute speech,” he said, “it takes me all of two weeks to prepare. If it is a half-hour speech, it takes me a week. If I can talk as long as I want, it requires no preparation at all. I am ready now.”
My friends, you will all be relieved to know that I’ve put a full two weeks into preparing this evening’s remarks.
Tonight I want to speak about where we are in building the culture of life. But before I do, I’d like to tell you a little about myself. Because the most important fact about me is that I am the father of three girls. Counting my wife – who by the way was a member of American Collegians for Life back when she was at St. Joe’s in Philly and that’s what you were called – it makes me the lone male in my house.
A good friend describes my situation this way: Blessed art thou among women.
My three girls were each adopted from China. So the circumstances of my fatherhood is somewhat unique: I am at once an ethnic, gender and racial minority under my own roof.
But here’s what’s important: Whatever happiness my family enjoys – that we even are a family – we owe to three women in China whom we do not know and will probably never meet. In a culture that promotes and even forces abortion, each of these women chose life. My little family owes them a debt that cannot be repaid, except to lead lives worthy of their sacrifice.
When George W. Bush was elected to a second term, I went to the White House to serve as his chief speechwriter. We’d just adopted our youngest, Lucy. Imagine what it was like for me to see my daughter go from lying in a crib in Chinese orphanage to sitting on the lap of the President of the United States.
The first speech I wrote for President Bush was his address to the 2005 March for Life. When I left in 2008, the March for Life for that year was the last speech I would write for him. And let me tell you: I am proud to have served in a White House that stood for life.
As I look out at this sea of young faces, I realize that, for some of you, this is all ancient history. I’ve been prolife before most of you were even born. Now, when I was your age and my mom and dad and their friends would used the Before-You-Were-Even-Born line on me, I thought them dreadful old geezers.
Now I am one of these geezers. But among the great luxuries of geezerhood is that you get to take pleasure in things you are told you shouldn’t. And a big reason I take great pleasure in Students for Life is this: You annoy so many people who deserve to be annoyed.
Your signs rightly proclaim, “We are the prolife generation.” But by everything Americans were told about abortion the past fifty years, this should not be true. In fact, you shouldn’t even exist.
When in 1973 Roe v. Wade overturned the abortion laws of all 50 states, the New York Times called the ruling a “historic resolution of a fiercely controversial issue.” Its editorial suggested the Supreme Court had brought “an end to the emotional and divisive public argument.”
And yet … and yet. Some 45 years later, here you are, more committed to defending the unborn than the generations before you. Somehow you didn’t get the message. And I confess I take an almost illicit pleasure in this.
No one in this room tonight needs a lecture on the preciousness of human life. That’s why you are here. You know something else as well. That just as the culture of life requires institutions and arguments and commitments to sustain it, abortion has its own culture. And so much of it is built on nonsense.
In my industry, the media, you are often dismissed as nut jobs who can’t think for yourselves and oppose abortion because the Bible or some preacher tells you to. Let me fill you in on something experience has taught me: The abortion culture has its own orthodoxies, saints and dogmas, and they are rigid and do not stand up well to questioning or reason. Let me outline a few of them:
- A mom looking a sonogram can call her unborn child her baby if she plans on keeping it. But if she’s planning to terminate, the same child becomes a “fetus.” This, we are told, is science.
- Abortion is nowhere mentioned in the U.S. Constitution. Nevertheless, a majority of justices on the Supreme Court discovered that abortion is not only a liberty, but a constitutional liberty – an extension of a constitutional right to privacy which, like abortion, also appears nowhere in the constitution. This, we are told, is sound legal reasoning.
- CBS News last year reported that Iceland was “on pace to virtually eliminated Down syndrome.” Of course, it isn’t eliminating Down syndrome at all. What Iceland is eliminating are unborn children found to have it. This, we are told, is what advanced societies do.
- On campuses across America, as you well know, your generation often builds prolife displays to convey your point of view to your fellow students. In many case, often, they are vandalized or torn down by other members of the college community. This, we are told, is tolerance and openness to other views.
- In like manner, Planned Parenthood has three hundred or so chapters on campus. You have almost four times as many. Yet the disparity goes largely unmentioned in our media. This, we are told, is objective reporting.
You hear these things, and they don’t sit right with you. You put your hand to the belly of a pregnant woman, and you know that what’s inside is a life, no a choice. You see a beating heart, and you know it belongs to another human being.
So when you meet a young woman struggling with an unplanned or unwanted or out-of-wedlock pregnancy, you know: This woman deserves better than the cold front door of a Planned Parenthood clinic.
You also know, or are finding out, that it is not always easy to live the culture of life. Human beings are messy and complicated.
But no one ever said life is easy. What we say is that life is beautiful. Even when – maybe especially when – it’s messy and complicated.
Hubert Humphrey once said that the test of a society is “how it treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the aged; and those in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.”
You hold America to that test. And never forget this: Amid the soul-sucking cult of self that leaves so many people today feeling so dreadfully alone and unloved, your work for the least among us makes you attractive — even to those who may not share your beliefs and cannot explain why.
Why should this be? Because life is beautiful, and never more so than when you look past human frailties and often ugly conditions to behold see the inherent dignity and beauty of another human being.
So let me end with a story that gets back to my own college days. Way back in ancient times, when I was a freshman at Notre Dame, I went to the 1977 March for Life by signing onto a bus from a local church. Sitting on that long bus ride with me was a senior from Saint Mary’s, whom I did not know. From our two campuses, we were it. The two of us.
This January my two daughters — one from Notre Dame and one from Saint Mary’s — traveled that same 15 hours by bus from South Bend to Washington for the March for Life. Here’s the difference. This year they had 19 buses and 65 faculty and more 1,000 of their fellow students going with them.
This isn’t my story. This is your story. And thanks to Students for Life, it is a story we see repeated in this room. You come from Seton Hall … Columbia … Kings College … Queens College … Fordham … Felician … The College of New Jersey and Peekskill High. And you are joined by thousands of other young people just like you on campuses from San Francisco to Boston.
So, my young friends, tonight I leave you with this: Be not afraid to challenge the orthodoxies of the abortion culture. Know how to fail without being discouraged. Have faith that the better angels of your fellow Americans will ultimately prevail.
And in all you do for the great cause of human life, be guided by the principle that has always separated the civilized from the savage: The strong protect the weak.
I thank you for your invitation. I applaud you for your courage. And I remind you: You are writing America’s future. Good night.