Our History in Brief
THE SIXTIES — Founding Father Thomas Jefferson etched into the cornerstone of American principles that LIFE is a human right granted us by our Creator. This principle marked the beginning of our history as WRTL
It is this principle, this uniquely American foundational value that formed the basis of Wisconsin Right to Life’s mission. As such, we believe that each human life is inherently valuable from fertilization to natural death. Wisconsin Right to Life has been saving lives by changing hearts and minds since its formation on September 9, 1968.
People often ask, how did this begin? How we go from being an America where there were nearly no abortions at all, to a nation that in 50 short years, had murdered over 60-million unborn babies?
The answer is in the cultural change of the 1960’s.
THE MURDER OF HOPE — During the 1960’s America experienced the Murder of Hope through the deaths by assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and, presidential hopeful, Robert Kennedy.
The result of these tragedies was a deeply disillusioned and divided nation. The protracted and costly war in Viet Nam added to our country’s division. With so much to feel bad about, many in the young. Baby Boom generation rejected traditional values and looked to sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll for escape.
The Sexual Revolution and the pornification of America were underway. So called, “free love” led to pressure for freedom from the consequences of free love. Liberals were pushing states to loosen their abortion restrictions. By the time the decade of the Sixties was over, eight states (Colorado, California, Oregon, North Carolina, Alaska, Hawaii, New York and Washington) had relaxed abortion laws.
In 1967, concerned Wisconsin might be next to relax abortion resriction, Archbishop of the Milwaukee Diocese, William E. Cousins, formed a steering committee of clergy and lay leaders to organize a response to the expected pro-abortion challenges to Wisconsin’s 120-year old ban on abortion.
On September 9, 1968, 49 people from 27 organizations met to form Wisconsin Right to Life. The new organization’s purpose: “To carry out state-wide education and legislative efforts in opposition to abortion.” Fr. Donald Weber was the first executive director. Five years before Roe v. Wade, Wisconsin Right to Life had already begun its life-saving work.
THE SEVENTIES — Roe v. Wade — On January 22, 1973, the worst fears of the pro-life community were realized. In its Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton decisions, seven-of-nine U.S. Supreme Court justices struck down all state laws which banned abortion. In discovering a previously unknown “constitutional right to privacy” the court made abortion on-demand (for any reason, for all nine months of pregnancy) the de-facto law of the land.
In the 1970’s Gene Keiffer was the state organization’s executive director, succeeded by Dan Zeidler. At the same time, a young mother, Barbara Lyons, began volunteering with the Milwaukee chapter of Wisconsin Right to Life.
By 1977, Lyons was named legislative director of the organization, helping to pass into law a 1978 bill prohibiting the use of state tax payer funds from being used to pay for abortions.
THE EIGHTIES — ABORTION ON THE RISE — In 1980, America awakened to learn one of its rock icons, John Lennon of the Beatles had been murdered. Receiving far less attention was the nation’s rapidly increasing numbers of abortion deaths. Wisconsin abortions reached their peak in 1980, claiming 21,754 lives. Nationally, a million-and-a-half died.
Also in 1980, Wisconsin Right to Life launched an intense state-wide literature campaign in support of pro-life presidential candidate, Ronald Reagan. The politics of being pro-life or pro-abortion took center stage. After his election, it was hoped Reagan’s Supreme Court picks would allow for the reversal of Roe v. Wade, but it wasn’t to be.
In addition to working with pregnancy resource centers and running ad campaigns promoting life, Wisconsin Right to Life crafted pro-life legislation and worked to help elect pro-life Governor Tommy Thompson who signed into law Wisconsin’s Abortion Reporting Requirement, which quantifies the impact of abortion on our state.
By 1985, Wisconsin Right to Life had 12,000 members and 43 local grass-roots chapters. In 1987, Barbara Lyons became executive director and Susan Armacost took the post of legislative director. This dynamic duo would pave the way for nearly three decades of education, legislation and innovative life-saving work.
Wisconsin Right to Life’s first Teens for Life groups were formed in 1989 under the leadership of Joleigh Little who wrote, “we are the abortion generation, but we are fighting back!” The decade of the 1980’s also saw Wisconsin Right to Life Racine County chapter leaders Dave & Bonnie Obernberger create the pro-life fetal model sensation known as The Young Ones.
THE NINETIES — THE GREAT AWAKENING — Technology and the introduction of the internet allowed the Millennial generation to see with their own eyes that life-before-birth had no less potential than their own. The tired, old pro-abortion lie [that this was just a “clump of cells”) was dealt a death blow by the life-affirming proof seen on Ultrasound.
To educate women with the truth about life, Wisconsin Right to Life’s Veritas Society media campaign was launched in 1995. Barbara Lyons said, “We became convinced that a significant number of Wisconsin women would change their minds on abortion if they saw our TV messages often enough. As it turns out, we were right.”
The 1990’s brought significant legislative victories with the passage of Wisconsin Right to Life-backed laws which would save thousands of lives. Among the laws passed during this time were the Parental Consent Act; Women’s Right to Know Act; Partial-Birth Abortion Ban and the Fetal Homicide and Bodily Injury Act.
To see that Wisconsin Right to Life’s legislative efforts paid off in lives saved, one need only look at Wisconsin’s falling abortion numbers during the 1990’s and beyond.
THE TWO-THOUSANDS – FREE SPEECH REIGNS — In the early 2000’s Wisconsin Right to Life won a landmark free speech victory at the U.S. Supreme Court in Wisconsin Right to Life (WRTL) v. Federal Election Commission (FEC). Our victory at the highest court in the land had far-reaching effects on other free speech cases both nationally and in Wisconsin.
During the 2000’s Wisconsin Right to Life’s LIFE CAMP for TEENS and LIFE ON CAMPUS College training programs saw record-breaking attendance with Millennials finding their pro-life voice. Working to help elect pro-life Governor Scott Walker to office in 2010 and pro-life majorities in both the state Senate and Assembly, Wisconsin Right to Life won victory after victory, including passage of Sonya’s Law (2013), which makes sure women considering abortion see their unborn baby on Ultrasound before they make an abortion decision; and The Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act (2016), which protects unborn babies capable of feeling pain (20-weeks post-fertilization age) from abortion.
The Wisconsin Right to Life torch of leadership passed, in 2013 and 2014, with the retirement of Barbara Lyons and Sue Armacost who were succeeded by Heather Weininger as Executive Director and Chelsea Shields Duffy as Legislative/PAC Director.
BY 2018, ABORTIONS HAD DECLINED OVER 70% SINCE 1980 — The combination of Education, Youth Training, Media Outreach, Local Grass-roots activism, Legislation and Support for Pregnancy Help Centers has created an over 70% drop in Wisconsin abortions since the high in 1980.
50 Years of Saving Lives – 1968-2018
September 9, 2018
In 2018, we celebrated 50 years of saving lives with our 50th Anniversary Gala on the 13th of April, 2018 at the Wisconsin Center, Milwaukee.
In part, the proclamation reads:
“WHEREAS, 50 years have elapsed since Wisconsin Right to Life was originally formed under the name Wisconsin Citizens Concerned for the Unborn on September 9, 1968; and WHEREAS, Wisconsin Right to Life has established itself as the preeminent right-to-life organization in Wisconsin and for the last 50 years has been saving lives by changing hearts and minds to favor life . . . NOW, THEREFORE, I, Scott Walker, Governor of the State of Wisconsin, do hereby proclaim Sunday, September 9, 2018, as WISCONSIN RIGHT TO LIFE DAY throughout the State of Wisconsin, and I commend this observance to all of our citizens.”
Our thanks to Gov. Walker for honoring our organization in this very special way!
(Above) Celebrating our 50th Anniversary Gala on the 13th of April, 2018 at the Wisconsin Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s Attorney General Brad Schimel and his band, 4 on the Floor, entertained, with Gov. Scott Walker doing an amazing walk-on vocal.