Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan, the Republican party's 2012 vice presidential nominee, delivered the following address at Thursday night's Susan B. Anthony List gala:
Thanks, everybody. It’s great to be here. I want to thank Congressman King for the introduction. I want to congratulate Lieutenant Governor Kleefisch on her award. And I want to commend the members of the SBA List—especially Marjorie Dannenfelser, Jane Abraham, and Marilyn Musgrave—for organizing this event. Looking at tonight’s program, I noticed you took Margaret Thatcher’s advice: When you wanted something done, you asked a woman. When you wanted something said, you asked a man.
Well, I’m honored by your invitation—because I’m inspired by your work. There’s a lot of talk these days about how to win the next election. Our critics say we should abandon our pro-life beliefs. But that would only demoralize our voters. It’s an odd strategy, I think: the cynical ploy followed by the thumping defeat. Besides, you’re proving the critics wrong. You’re helping pro-life leaders win races across the country. You’re showing that “what convinces is conviction.”
And you’re making headway: A majority of the country now believes abortion should be illegal in some or all cases. And young people are among our most passionate supporters. That said, we’ve had some setbacks. We’ve missed some opportunities and lost some key races. So what do we do? How do we “reclaim the human center” of this debate?
Here’s my thinking: We need to articulate a vision—one that can attract a broad coalition. To advance the pro-life cause, we need to work with people who consider themselves pro-choice—because our task isn’t to purge our ranks. It’s to grow them. We need to expand our horizon—because our critics say our vision is one of self-denial—when in fact it’s one of self-fulfillment. We don’t want a country where abortion is simply outlawed. We want a country where it isn’t even considered. We want a country that values the dignity of every life at every stage.
That vision can unite us. It can win. But we have to make the case. We have to do it with patience—and with good cheer. We have to show the pro-life cause isn’t just the cause of the unborn. It’s also the cause of the poor—and of the powerless. So our position isn’t a narrow objection to so-called abortion rights. Instead, it is a deep affirmation of human rights.
To this audience, it may seem like an open-and-shut case. Many of us are pro-life because of our faith. We believe every person is made in the image of God. So every life is precious—and worthy of protection. But if we want to appeal to the broadest audience, we need to use every tool at our disposal. We can’t just make arguments based on faith. We also need to make arguments based on reason. And if we deny the right to life, we deny the principle of equality—and with it, our belief in self-government.
The Declaration of Independence says “all men are created equal.” It rejects the old notion that some are born to rule—and others to obey. In fact, it calls this truth self-evident. It’s obvious to anyone with ears to hear and eyes to see. We each have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And no one can deprive us of those rights without our consent.
Consent is the source of power, not wealth or ancestry. Government isn’t the master of the people. It’s their servant. So we must stay vigilant—because when government assaults any of our rights, all of them are endangered. And once some people can deny the rights of others, we’re no longer equal. The foundation of our government is weakened. The rights of the people are imperiled. Anyone can understand that danger.
The way I see it, we are the heirs of the Founding Fathers and Abraham Lincoln—of all those people who wanted our country to live up to its ideals. And we should follow their example. In other words, we should be prudent. Our forebears knew to strive for perfection, not to expect it—because mankind is flawed. Progress takes time. It takes work. And it takes common sense.
Take Lincoln. He hated slavery as much as anyone. But he defended a law that preserved it. He supported the Compromise of 1850, which prohibited slavery in California but allowed it in New Mexico. He even backed a law to return runaway slaves to their owners. Why? Because to end slavery, he had to preserve the Union. The country couldn’t free the slaves if it didn’t exist.