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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release May 26, 1994
                       REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
                          The Roosevelt Room

12:10 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much, General Reno, for your leadership on this issue. Thank you, Mr. Vice President. Senator Kennedy, Chairman Brooks, Congressman Schumer, Congresswoman Schroeder, Congresswoman Morella, thank you all for your leadership.

I thank the Republicans as well as the Democrats in the Congress. I think it is important to point out that this bill had bipartisan support. I'd also like to acknowledge the presence here today among us of David and Wendy Gunn, the children of Dr. David Gunn from Florida. Thank you for coming, and you're welcome here today.

Enacting this bill to provide freedom of access to clinics has been a priority because protecting the freedoms of our citizens is surely chief among the responsibilities of the President of the United States. This bill is designed to eliminate violence and coercion. It is not a strike against the First Amendment. Far from it, it ensures that all citizens have the opportunity to exercise all their constitutional rights, including their privacy rights, under the Constitution.

Our people have genuine and deeply-felt differences on the subject of abortion, even if abortion is safe, legal and rare. But we must all agree that as a nation we must remain committed to the rule of law. It is what keeps us civilized. It is what enables us to live together. It protects our liberties as individuals and as a nation. It gives us the freedom at election time to try to elect those who agree with us and defeat those who don't. It gives us a way to carry on as one nation from many people with many different views.

We simply cannot -- we must not -- continue to allow the attacks, the incidence of arson, the campaigns of intimidation upon law-abiding citizens that has given rise to this law. No person seeking medical care, no physician providing that care, should have to endure harassments or threats or obstruction or intimidation or even murder from vigilantes who take the law into their own hands because they think they know what the law ought to be.

What happened to the father of Wendy and David Gunn should not have happened. The shooting attack that wounded Dr. George Tiller in Wichita, Kansas, should not have happened. Now with this legislation we will have a law with teeth to deal with those who take part in unlawful activities, who put themselves above and beyond the law. Because of the violence it will curb, the lives and property it will protect, and the constitutional rights of women it will uphold, the "Freedom of Access To Clinics Entrances Act" becomes law today.

Let me say again, that the awful circumstances which gave rise to this law are the most extreme example of a trend running in this country that I think is very bad for us as a democracy. I treasure and would fight, and indeed die, to protect the rights of people to express their views on this issue, no matter how different they may be from mine. I believe deeply that our country is strengthened by people whose religious convictions on this issue may be different from mine or from yours.

But the implication that people who differ about what rights should be accorded to women in our society are somehow enthusiastic about abortion is downright wrong. There is so much we have to talk about, so much we could be doing together to diffuse the intense anger and animosity and to listen to one another, to help the lives of children who have been born to get them into good adoptive homes more quickly, more readily, often across racial lines -- things that aren't available today. A lot of this could be done.

But it will never be done if people who think they have a right to take the law in their own hands, to misrepresent the positions of their opponents, and to wreak violence in this country and verbal extremism and distort the tenor of public debate have their day. It is time for us to turn away from that. All the people in this country without regard of their position on abortion, I think, would say that parents have fundamental responsibilities to raise their children. People who gave rise to this act denied Dr. David Gunn the right to be a parent throughout his lifetime. That was not a pro-life position.

Let us take the opportunity in signing this, not only to speak out against the extremism and the vigilante conduct which gave right to this law, but to ask the American people once again to reach across these awful barriers and start listening to each other again and talking with each other again and trying to honestly deal with these problems again.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)

(The bill is signed.)

END12:16 P.M. EDT