U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said there is “irony” in “being ‘pro-choice’ for the mother who seeks an abortion, but not for the mother who seeks a different school for her child,” in remarks to Colorado Christian College students at the Museum of the Bible in Washington Wednesday.
In those remarks, first reported by the Colorado Times Reporter, DeVos also invoked slavery when discussing efforts to end abortion.
The secretary’s remarks on abortion came as she discussed her “Education Freedom Scholarship” proposal, which would provide dollar-for-dollar federal tax credits in exchange for contributions to private school scholarship programs in participating states.
“Now, I’m not naïve. I know very well there are bullies who stop at nothing to retain control and deprive families of choices—of freedom,” DeVos said, according to prepared remarks provided by the U.S. Department of Education at Education Week’s request.
“Who can ignore, by the way, the irony of being ‘pro-choice’ for the mother who seeks an abortion, but not for the mother who seeks a different school for her child? They have forgotten that freedom is not simply for freedom’s sake,” said DeVos in those prepared remarks for the event, which was not on her public schedule.
The crowd at the event reacted to that comment with a “vocal laugh and round of applause,” the Times Recorder reported.
DeVos used the word “choice” in a far different way than it’s used in education policy debates as she discussed the debate over abortion two days before the national March for Life, an annual anti-abortion rally held on the National Mall.
“I’m reminded of President Abraham Lincoln,” DeVos said. “He, too, contended with the ‘pro-choice’ arguments of his day. They suggested that a state’s ‘choice’ to be slave or to be free had no moral question in it. Well, President Lincoln reminded those pro-choicers that ‘there is a vast portion of the American people that do not look upon that matter as being this very little thing. They look upon it as a vast moral evil.’”
“Lincoln was right about the slavery ‘choice’ then, and he would be right about the life ‘choice’ today,” she continued. “Because as it’s been said: freedom is not about doing what we want. Freedom is about having the right to do what we ought.”
The secretary’s remarks came during a consequential time for church-state issues and the Trump administration’s outreach to evangelical Christians.
Earlier Wednesday, the education secretary sat in the front row as the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in a suit brought by Montana families who argue their state discriminated against their faith by barring religious schools from a tax-credit scholarship program for private schools.
On Friday, President Donald Trump plans to be the first sitting president to attend the March for Life event.
Last week, the administration issued new guidance on prayer in schools, which largely duplicated directives from previous administrations.
In her remarks Wednesday, DeVos listed that guidance among the administration’s accomplishments related to religious liberty in education.
DeVos, who herself attended Christian schools as a child and graduated from a Christian college, has sought to expand the ability of families to use publicly funded vouchers and tax credits to help send their children to private schools, including religious schools.
The conservative majority on the Supreme Court seemed ready to hand DeVos a win Wednesday as justices appeared sympathetic to the argument that Montana’s policy amounted to unconstitutional religious discrimination. State provisions barring public funding for religious schools are sometimes referred to as Blaine amendments.
“We are especially eager for the Supreme Court to put an end to the ‘last acceptable prejudice’ made manifest in bigoted Blaine Amendments which deny students the freedom to pursue faith-based education,” DeVos said in her prepared remarks to the students.
Photo: U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos testifies before a Senate spending committee. --Susan Walsh/AP