Being a candidate for president, I give a lot of speeches on a lot of issues – and they are all important political and policy issues that confront our country. But the issue we are here to discuss today – the issue of life – is not a political issue, nor is it strictly a policy issue.
It is a definitional issue – an issue about what sort of society we want to have.
And the reason I am so honored to speak here today is because I believe the issue of life gets to the heart of what this election is all about. I’ll explain why in a moment.
But first, I often begin by telling people about my parents. The reason I do that is because I believe their story is emblematic of the larger American story, and it serves as a reminder to me of why this country is so special.
My parents were born in a society like most in the world, where your potential was determined by factors outside of your control. It was determined by your last name, by what jobs your parents held, or by the whims of government. So my parents came to the one society on earth dedicated to the idea that every human life is equal, every human life has potential, and every human life deserves a shot at success.
My parents were given their shot in America, and they made the most of it. They never got rich, but they found good jobs – my father worked as a bartender at hotel banquets, and my mother as a maid, a cashier, and later a stock clerk at K-Mart. And through these jobs, they earned comfortable wages, raised their children in a safe neighborhood, provided for our needs, retired with dignity, and most important of all, left their children with lives even better than their own.
These achievements are universally sought after, but they are achieved so often in America – and so seldom in most other places – that they have come to be known around the world by a new name: the American Dream.
Today, there are too many Americans who feel as if this Dream is out of reach, as if they lack the ability to reach their full potential. And so connected to the issue of the innate value of every human life is the question of how we help everyone achieve their God-given potential in 21st century America. And the answer involves all sorts of political and policy issues. I am running for president to address these, to ensure everyone has a shot at achieving the same Dream my family has achieved.
But inseparable from the effort to reclaim the American Dream are the efforts of those of you in this room. And here’s why: because it is fundamentally impossible to live a free, successful and fulfilling life in America if you do not have a life in the first place. And it is fundamentally impossible for America to reach her destiny as a nation founded on the equal rights of all if our government believes an entire segment of the human population doesn’t have a right to exist.
And that’s why the issue of life is more than political or policy-related. It is a definitional issue about the kind of country we want to be. In a world where life is increasingly not valued, where people are summarily discarded, America must stand for the belief that all life is worthy of protection, because all life comes from God.
Our nation has strayed from this purpose. Our government – ever since a historically, egregiously flawed Supreme Court decision – has condoned the taking of innocent life on a massive scale. And particularly under our current president, America has declined to stand on the side of life around the world.
The White House needs an occupant who values and prioritizes life. And so my pledge to you is this: if you send me to that place, I will not forget this place. I will bring our advocacy to the White House, and we’ll get things done. We will advance the cause of life at home and around the world.
Sometimes in contemporary American life, we come to believe that all the great causes are over, that past generations fought all the important battles: abolition, the civil rights movement, women’s suffrage. But it’s not true. In fact, one of the most important battles is the one you’re engaged in now.
You can judge a cause by the arguments made on both sides. And I rarely meet anyone who’s willing to say they’re pro-abortion. They’ll say they’re pro-choice, but almost everyone I’ve met says they personally disagree with abortion. That alone tells us a little about the basic common sense this issue is built on.
But when you call upon someone to defend their support for abortion rights, they’ll make some arguments that, in my opinion, are truly indefensible. For example, they may start by saying: It’s an unwanted child – if a child is going to enter life and not be wanted by his or her parents, it’s somehow “for the best” that the child never be brought into the world in the first place.
But this simply cannot be the justification for abortion. Because, sadly, there are a lot of unwanted children born around the world. They’re orphaned, they’re born disabled, they’re born to families that cannot afford them. No advocate for abortion would ever say those children lack the right to life. And so when you ask them about that, they quickly move away from that argument because it’s indefensible.
Then they pivot to the idea that a woman has a right to do anything she wants with her body. And let’s recognize right now that there is a fundamental right to control your body. But there is also another right: the right to life. Put another way, the child also has a right to his or her body.
And so what we have are two rights in conflict with one another. Yet immediately the other side will say, “Well, our right to choose is more important than the right of an embryo to live, because it’s not a person.” Then my question becomes: if it’s not a person, what is it? Because if you left it alone, that’s the only thing it can become. It can’t develop into a pony!
Next they’ll argue, well, okay, maybe it is a person, but it’s not a life. It cannot be a viable human life if it cannot survive on its own. But by that logic, a one year old isn’t a viable life either. Nor are many of the sick or injured or disabled or elderly – all of whom have potential, all of whom have value, all of whom are loved by God and deserve the protection of our laws.
From conception to natural death, there are only a few things that change about you – among them are your age, your level of dependency, and your environment. That someone can be killed based on any of those factors is, I believe, an indefensible position for any society to hold, but especially a society built on the idea that every human life has inalienable rights from God.
But as important as the intellectual side of this debate is, it’s just as important to step back and remember that the greatest argument for the pro-life cause is already in the heart of every human being. There is an innate understanding in all of us of just how precious human life is, and appealing to that is ultimately how I believe our cause will triumph.
I’ll share with you my personal experience, but I’m sure this is true for all of you who are blessed to be parents. From the first instant Jeanette and I found out we were expecting children, they were ours. They were not grainy ultrasound pictures. They were not inhuman collections of cells. They were children, and they were our children. Long before we knew their genders or their names or their personalities, we dreamed about their futures, and we knew God was watching them and caring for them just as we were.
Every single person alive today was once that grainy ultrasound picture. And it is deeply disturbing for us to think of anyone – whether a parent, or a politician, or a Supreme Court justice – having a debate about our own viability as a person, at that stage or any stage. For our cause to triumph, we must help people extend that understanding of innate value to those they cannot see.
But this requires a great deal of love and care. For we know that the decision facing so many women and young girls is achingly complicated – the 15 year old with her whole life ahead of her, the young single woman who struggles to provide for herself and can’t imagine handling the costs of a child, the mom and dad faced with the knowledge that their child will be born with unique challenges.
So as fundamental as the knowledge of life’s value is to every person, it would be unfair to assume that the decision is always simple. And this is where the definitional issue of life meets the political and policy issues of the American Dream. We must find a way to ensure that every parent in this circumstance – and every child brought into the world – has the hope of overcoming their challenges to fulfill God’s plan for their lives.
I’m reminded today of a speech I gave almost a decade ago, back when I was designated Speaker of the Florida House. I was to address my colleagues on the job before us. But I wanted to do more than tell them what we would do. I wanted to tell them why we needed to do it. I wanted to explain the stakes of public policy and public service. So I gave the example of a hypothetical young woman. Here’s what I said:
Today, somewhere in Florida, a young single mother will give birth to her first child. Maybe she comes from a broken home, or maybe, even worse, she has grown up bouncing from one foster home to the next. In either case, she’s probably grown up in poverty, trapped in failing schools. She reads at a low reading level. She never graduated high school. Lost and alone, she has spent the better part of her young life in search of someone to love her. And, in that quest, she has been in and out of a series of relationships with irresponsible and abusive men, including the now absent father of her new child. While she receives a significant amount of public assistance, it has done little to improve her life. She is trapped in poverty. Up to this point in her life, little has gone right for her. But today, her life has changed forever. Today, she held her firstborn child in her arms for the first time. And at that moment, she was no different than parents all over the world, rich and poor, privileged and disadvantaged alike. Today, when she looked into the eyes of her child for the first time, she saw what your mother saw in your eyes and what my mother saw in mine. She saw all the hopes and dreams she once had for herself. And in her heart burns the hope that everything that has gone wrong in her life will go right for that child, that all the opportunities she never had, her child will.
A lot of people at the time told me not to include that section in my speech, but I’m glad I did. Because public policy and public service aren’t about abstract ideas, they are about human lives.
And at play in the scenario of this mother and child are two equally important issues affecting life. The first is the most fundamental: and that is the right of that child to be born. We fought that fight during my time in the Florida legislature. The second issue is this: to fully defend the dignity of that child’s life, we must bring the hope of the American Dream – the hope of pursuing God’s plan – within reach of every child and every parent in every circumstance. And I’m proud to say we fought that fight as well throughout my time as Speaker.
And the reason I recount this to you today is because this is also the cause of our time on the national level. Today, that hypothetical child I spoke of would be almost 10 years old. I believe we made a difference in his or her life during my time in the Florida House. But the work is not done. Bringing the American Dream within reach of that child and that mother must remain the work of our time.
We must create the high-paying jobs of this new century. We must bring an affordable and accessible higher education within reach of both mother and child so they can get the higher-paying jobs our economy will create. We must implement a pro-growth and pro-family tax reform that encourages marriage rather than punishes it, and that provides the mom with an expanded child tax credit so she can keep more of what she earns. And we must defend the values that will give that child a shot at succeeding in society, and at one day starting a successful and rewarding family of their own.
This is far from a complete list of what we must do. But let me just close by saying this: the goal of reclaiming the American Dream – which is itself about defending the potential of every human being – can never be complete if we do not succeed in defending the basic right of every human life to exist. These causes must be joined. No candidate who fights for one without the other can claim a complete agenda.
We often hear at conferences like this that an unborn child can’t vote and can’t speak. It’s an important point, but I’d like to argue that it’s actually not true. They can speak. They speak through you.
In this competition between two competing sets of rights, you are the voice of children who cannot speak for themselves, of lives that may never have a chance to contribute to our society and make a difference, of the unknown names of millions of children whose contributions to our world will never happen because the right to life was not respected. You vote for them when you vote.
And that is why your work is so important to reclaiming the American Dream, and why our nation needs you to remain active in this election.
God bless you for your work, and thank you for the opportunity to speak here today.