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Former Chief Speechwriter for Hillary Clinton gives Master Speechwriting class

Should the government cut funding for organizations (at home and abroad) that provide abortion services?  Congress is debating this issue vigorously this month, with passionate speeches from both sides of the aisle.  We are doing the same at SEGL.  Our featured expert this week was Lissa Muscatine, who retired as Senior Adviser and Chief of Speechwriting at the State Department in October.  A longtime Clinton aide, Muscatine was responsible for authoring countless speeches, including Hillary Clinton’s famous 1995 “Women’s Rights are Human Rights” oration in China.

On Monday, Muscatine joined us to tell meaningful stories and give advice on effective speechwriting.  Then on Wednesday, students visited the office of Congresswoman Jackie Speier, a pro-choice advocate from California, and then met with Senator Tom Coburn, a pro-life advocate from Oklahoma.  These visits helped students prepare (in groups of four) two short speeches: one for and one against the proposed Congressional budget cuts.  Along with Muscatine’s tips, the students incorporated their understanding of Aristotelian ethos, logos, and pathos from their English class studies.

Muscatine returned at the end of the case study to critique the student speeches.  She brought along Megan Rooney, who currently writes speeches for Secretary Clinton, to help her provide feedback. (We also welcomed Mari Lee Mifsud, the Chair of the Rhetoric Department at the University of Richmond, who watched from the audience.)  For over two hours the students stood and delivered their speeches.  Those speeches were then displayed on our LCD projector, where Muscatine and Rooney could share their responses and engage the students in dialogue.

Later, the students took their notes and revised their speeches given this dialogue.  The result was spectacular.  Here is one example:

Put your hands together. Go on. Fold your hands together. How did you do it? Is your right thumb on top of your left? Or is left thumb resting on your right? Maybe they line up in the middle? It’s become second nature to you, a mundane habit. But think about the first time you clasped your hands like this. Do you remember? You were about 17 weeks old, in your mother’s womb. You were a little baby, a tiny ball of innocence, folding your hands for the first time, creating your first lifetime habit.  You made this habit as a moving thinking creature, and yet as you gently placed your left pinky over your right, you could have been legally killed, no questions asked.

Abortion. To develop incompletely. To stop at an early or premature
stage. To terminate. To terminate a baby. To expire a life.

That life could have been yours. That life could have been mine. At 17 weeks, with our hands crossed in the same way they were moments ago, we could have been terminated. We could have been aborted. Tubes could have been stuck into our cozy little cocoons and we sucked out of our mothers’ wombs. We would have felt the pull of these machines, their power over our teeny bodies. They would have stabbed us in the ribs and slowly snapped our spinal cords. No longer clasped, our hands would have been grasping for one more moment of life. But surely, slowly, the machines would have dragged our squirming bodies into the black vacuum of death.

This procedure, this legalized killing, is done by organizations funded by the United States’ government. In fact, 1.3 million of these operations were done in the United States in 2010 alone. 1.3 million beings; that’s 2.6 million hands that never got to cross again.

What right does the government have to support organizations that made the termination of 1.3 million fetuses legal and acceptable in today’s world? What right does the government have to tell this other-worldly form of perfection that it does not have a right to life? By giving money to institutions that provide abortions the government is promoting the death of the purest form of life. Are you content with your government sponsoring this?

I, for one, am not.

And another example from class that day:

It’s time to take a closer look at the Title Ten Abortion Provider Prohibition Act. Cosponsors of this bill want to cut funding for organizations that provide abortions. Who are these cosponsors? 93% of them are men.  When was the last time one of these men had to face the decision whether or not to have an abortion? Who are they to say what I, a woman, can and cannot do with my body?

Organizations such as Planned Parenthood provide abortions for women all over the United States. 69% percent of women who had abortions with help from the government were economically disadvantaged. I am incensed that we would even consider cutting funding for these valuable programs. Without this funding, low income women won’t have access to safe abortions, reproductive health care services will be cut – and because they won’t have access to safe abortions, desperate women will resort to dangerous and painful illegitimate ways to abort
their pregnancies.

For every dollar the government spends on family planning, it saves four dollars on pregnancy and delivery costs. Although it may seem counter-intuitive, cutting spending for organizations that provide abortions would cost us more that in would save.

If Roe vs. Wade has taught us anything, it is that cuts in government funding for these institutions would violate womens’ 14th amendment rights to equal protection and privacy. If government funding is cut, only rich women with access to private doctors and clinics are going to have access to safe abortions. The ability to have an abortion will become based solely on one’s monetary situation. Is this the equality our founding fathers intended? Isn’t it the government’s job to equally protect its citizens? Do supporters of this bill know that by cutting this money they will be denying the equal rights of American citizens?

Imagine you are an 18 year old girl who has just found out she was pregnant after being raped by a family member. You have no means to pay for an abortion let alone raise a child.  Meanwhile, down the road, an 18 year old girl from an affluent family who is facing the same situation can afford more choices. Why does a rich girl get more options and have more of a choice? Why does she get more of a right to something that has been legal since 1973?

Fellow congressmen and women, I ask you today to think about every person this legislation will affect. Abortion should not be the resource of the rich and the peril of the poor. Do you want to be remembered as the Congress that would punish underprivileged women simply for their monetary situation? I respectfully submit that we are better than that; the answer is no.

As a special addition, Muscatine visited SEGL English classes to help students analyze her “Women’s Rights are Human Rights” speech.  Several students had already read the speech for history classes at their home schools.  In a class that ended far too soon, the students considered tone, word choice, audience, and other factors that contributed to the speech’s overall effect.  One student even suggested a change that Muscatine said she would have made if the student had been present in 1995!

Mar 13, 2011

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