The History of Wisconsin Right to Life
The Proud History of Wisconsin Right to Life
Beginnings - Wisconsin Right to Life was originally formed under the names, Wisconsin Citizens Concerned for the Unborn, and then Wisconsin Citizens Concerned for Life. Although none who have taken up the challenge of protecting human life can truly “celebrate” this long journey, we draw strength from those who took the first steps. The wisdom and vision of our founders is as relevant today as it was in 1968. The real history of Wisconsin Right to Life is the determined and compassionate people who have given countless hours, months, years and decades of their lives to defend the sanctity of human life.
In pre-Roe v. Wade America, abortion legality was a matter left to the states. Much of the impetus for the organization's formation came from an impending threat by anti-life forces to repeal or alter Wisconsin’s (then) 120-year-old abortion ban, s. 940.04 of the statutes. Our organizer's believed that keeping the ban in place would allow Wisconsin to continue as a place where the sanctity of life was honored at all stages.
In 1973, when the Roe v. Wade U.S. Supreme Court decision made abortion legal for the full nine months of pregnancy in all fifty states, Wisconsin Right to Life had already been established and working to defend the right to life for five years.
Since that fateful decision by the Supreme Court, too many human lives have been lost. Sometimes the way has been painful and grim. And yet we remain undaunted. Through our work, many human lives have been saved and the establishment of a culture of life is strengthened day-by-day. We look forward to that glorious time when we can permanently write into the annals of history that all human life is fully protected from conception to natural death.
Archbishop William E. Cousins of Milwaukee (dec.)
Father Donald Weber (dec.)
Fr. Fred Heuser (dec.)
Fr. Leonard Barbian
Fr. John Litzau (dec.)
Fr. John Furtmann (dec.)
Dr. John Brennan
Atty. Dick Tyson (dec.)
Atty. Dennis Purtell
1967 - A steering committee, which became the founding committee of Wisconsin Right to Life, was formed by Archbishop William E. Cousins of Milwaukee. This was done to plan an ongoing response to challenges to Wisconsin’s (then) 120-year-old abortion ban (s. 940.04).
1968 - Forty-nine people from 27 organizations met in Milwaukee to form a general committee to conduct a campaign against abortion. Wisconsin Citizens Concerned for the Unborn (WCCU) was established to carry out educational and legislative efforts in opposition to abortion.
1969 - Extensive plans were laid for a statewide organization which would include chapters in local communities. Bylaws were adopted.
1970 - Five chapters of WCCU formed to gain members, give speeches, organize churches, and work to protect Wisconsin’s abortion ban (s. 940.04). Sixteen thousand people signed petitions against abortion. WCCU membership totaled 507. In response to abortionists performing abortions in defiance of the Wisconsin abortion ban (s. 940.04), WCCU submitted a brief in a federal court case to determine the constitutionality of the ban. The three-judge federal court in Babbitz v. McCann declared Wisconsin’s abortion ban unconstitutional in part. Also in 1970, infanticide was exposed when a baby with Down syndrome was starved to death at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland after the parents refused surgery to remove an intestinal obstruction.
1971 - In 1971, WCCU sent its first delegate to what would become the National Right to Life Committee. The number of local chapters increased to ten. Hundreds attended a public hearing in Madison to oppose a bill to legalize abortion in Wisconsin. Birthright organizations were established in Milwaukee and Beloit to assist pregnant mothers.
1972 - WCCU was renamed Wisconsin Citizens Concerned for Life (WCCL) to reflect growing concern for needed protection of lives of vulnerable human beings in addition to unborn children. The mission was expanded to include opposition to infanticide and euthanasia. In 1972 the membership of the organization numbered 1,712.
1973 - The landmark Roe v. Wade decision by the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the laws of all 50 states and legalized abortion on-demand for any reason for the full nine months of pregnancy. In addition, 30 national pro-life leaders wrote the first proposed Human Life Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Barbara Lyons on Roe v. Wade and her introduction to the right-to-life movement
1974 - The first WCCL state office was set up. Led by WCCL, Wisconsin passed its first post-Roe v. Wade right-to-life law to protect the conscience rights of medical professionals and hospitals that do not want to participate in abortions or sterilizations. Also in 1974, a federal court ordered Milwaukee County General Hospital to perform abortions.
Shown above, the building on N. Fond du Lac Avenue in Milwaukee which served as the first state office of Wisconsin Right to Life, then known as Wisconsin Citizens Concerned for Life.
1975 - The WCCL Education Fund was established to conduct educational activities through tax-deductible contributions. Also in 1975, the most extreme bill in the nation to legalize euthanasia was introduced in Wisconsin.
1976 - To give right-to-lifers a candidate on the Wisconsin presidential primary ballot, WCCL led a massive statewide drive to successfully place right-to-life Democrat Ellen McCormack on the Wisconsin ballot where she garnered 4% of the vote. The first Hyde Amendment, authored by Illinois Congressman and right-to-life hero Henry Hyde, to prohibit the use of federal tax dollars to pay for abortions was passed by Congress and immediately challenged in federal court. WCCL led a huge grass-roots effort in Wisconsin to help stop taxpayer funding of abortions. The U.S. Supreme Court declared that minors did not need parental consent before obtaining an abortion unless a state passed a law requiring such consent.
1977 - The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the right of federal and state governments to prohibit funding of abortions and ruled that public hospitals are not required to perform abortions. The court order forcing Milwaukee County General Hospital to perform abortions was lifted.
1978 - Led by WCCL, Wisconsin passed a law to prohibit the use of state tax dollars to pay for abortions.
1979 – WCCL formed the Wisconsin Pro-Life Action Committee (WPLAC) to endorse and work for the election of right-to-life candidates. That same year, Dr. Bernard Nathanson, a former abortionist and founder of the pro-abortion movement, released his book “Aborting America,” an insider’s exposé of the pro-abortion movement.
1980 - WCCL helped elect Ronald Reagan as the first right-to-life president. WCCL also helped elect Robert Kasten to the U.S. Senate in a year where numerous right-to-life U.S. Senators were elected.
1981 - WCCL led efforts to pass a bill in the State Assembly to prohibit the performance of abortions at Wisconsin public hospitals but the bill stalled in the Senate. Also in 1981, Sandra Day O’Connor was seated on the U. S. Supreme Court.
1982 - Six infants briefly survived late-term abortion attempts at two Madison hospitals. In 1982 the U. S. Senate rejected the Helms bill, an attempt to place the abortion issue before the U.S. Supreme Court. Also, "Baby Doe" was born in Bloomington, Indiana and died five days later of starvation and dehydration after being deprived of food, fluids and life-saving surgery.
1983 - Wisconsin Citizens Concerned for Life set up internal state and federal political action committees (PACs) to replace the WPLAC. Also in 1983, the U. S. Senate rejected the Hatch amendment which would have overturned the Roe v. Wade decision.
1984 - Wisconsin Citizens Concerned for Life helped re-elect right-to-life President Ronald Reagan. Also in 1984, Milwaukee children found the bodies of aborted babies in a dumpster, calling them “little people.” WCCL gained custody of the aborted babies and sponsored a moving funeral and proper burial. And, that same year, Congress passed the federal Child Abuse Amendments to protect newborns with disabilities from being denied food, fluids and medical treatment. President Reagan instituted the Mexico City Policy which denies U.S. funds to organizations which perform or promote abortions overseas. Congress enacted an amendment to prohibit the use of tax dollars for abortions for federal employees under health insurance plans.
1985 - more to come...