Throwback Thursday video: President Reagan addresses the 1988 March for Life


WASHINGTON, D.C., September 11, 2014 ( – This throwback Thursday video features President Ronald Reagan's last speech before the March for Life, on January 22, 1988. Reagan spoke to the annual pro-life event every year of his second term, from 1985-88.

The video is a reminder of a time that was better in some ways. We had a president motivated by traditional values and committed to protecting life, as well as a vibrant – if smaller – pro-life movement.

One of the startling things in this video was the way the late founder of the March, Nellie Gray, was unafraid to confront the president of the United States, the leader of the free world, and the best friend our cause has ever had in the White House.

Just after the Gipper's familiar voice said “Hello Nellie Gray,” Nellie showed no fear in stating the areas where Reagan fell short in his protection of the unborn.

Listen to the beginning of this video, as she actually interrupted the president as he was beginning his speech – to criticize him.

“We appreciate so much your pro-life words, but we do want to mention that we are somewhat disappointed that once again in December you unfortunately were assigning some public monies for abortions here in the District of Columbia,” she said without a hint of intimidation. “Even though we have spent a lot of time lobbying with the White House, unfortunately, those monies were appropriated to kill the preborn children in the District of Columbia. We would love to hear from you today, Mr. President, that we will not have any more appropriations for abortions in the District or anywhere else.”

As a matter of fact, she raised the same issue every year he spoke. In 1987, she said, “When that [funding] bill went through the Congress, we were trying to stop the funding there, and then I was needing a veto, but we didn't have someone in the White House that we could work closely with.” She said by signing the bill, Reagan was “giving a blank check to the District of Columbia, and about 10,000 babies are killed with our tax dollars.”

She concluded by asking for “a commitment that there is a senior staff member in the White House with whom I personally can work so that we can stop the funds for abortions here in the District and assure that those appropriation bills are vetoed in the White House.”

One could easily have dismissed Nellie's criticisms. After all, the Democrats controlled both houses of the 100th Congress; the D.C. abortion appropriations were part of a larger, must-pass budget bill; and President Reagan did not have the line item veto to single out offending projects or earmarks. (Congress gave that to Bill Clinton in 1996, but the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional two years later.) But Nellie Gray took the opportunity to say, of all the areas Reagan could have spent political capital, none was more deserving than the right to life. Her words showed that the pro-life movement holds everyone, friend and foe alike, to the same standard.

And candidly, even those of us who love Reagan should admit that he could have benefited from vetoing a few more budgets.

In the interest of full disclosure, this video is just a still shot with the audio of his speech, but it's still really, really cool.

Ben Johnson is U.S. Bureau Chief of, the guest host of Nothing But Truth with Crane Durhamon AFR Talk Radio, and the author of three books. His personal website is Connect with him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.