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Pro-life Resources Outreach Meeting People “Where they are at” Essential to Winning Battle for Life

by | Aug 1, 2013

By Ernest Ohlhoff, director, NRLC Outreach

Editor’s note. This fine story ran in the January 2000, edition of National Right to Life News. In its breadth and clarity, it surely should be included in our year-long “Roe at 40” series where we bring you stories and essays an editorials going all the way back to 1973.

NRLClogo1It is people–hard-working, selfless, caring men and women–who in their daily labors on behalf of the unborn make up a living history of the pro-life movement.

This is history “from the ground up”–a narrative written in the sweat, tears, hard work, and self sacrifice of the most dedicated and beautiful people I have ever known. There is a widely shared and richly earned sense of camaraderie among pro-lifers. I know that it is these personal relationships that provide the energy that keeps us going in season and out.

Ours is by necessity and by choice a grassroots movement. Most of the acknowledged institutional powerhouses in our culture–the media, the courts, and academia, to name just three–are at best indifferent to us and those we seek to protect, more often bristling with hostility. We have compensated by assembling one of the most effective community-based social movements in our nation’s history.

As reform movements go, the pro-life movement is young. We must keep that in mind, for great social movements of the past, such as the abolitionists and the women’s suffrage movement, prevailed, but not for many decades.

Origins Precede Roe

Most people forget that prior to the 1960s, there were solidly pro-life laws in virtually every state. While the consensus that protected unborn human life began to crumble in the late sixties, beginning with Colorado in 1967, overwhelmingly most states still had very protective laws prior to January 22, 1973. It was in reaction to the attempts to “liberalize” state abortion laws that we can trace the beginnings of today’s pro-life movement.

But it is true that the pro-life movement, in the breadth and depth that characterizes it today, did not exist in the mid-sixties, on either the state or national level. However, by the late sixties, many dedicated pro-life individuals were working by themselves or in small groups to prevent passage of laws that would gut protective state laws.

The evolution of the pro-life movement was enhanced by a wide variety of individuals who had one burning desire – – the restoration of legal protection to the unborn child. Because most of us did not have the formal skills needed to organize and run a national movement, we had to work hard and learn fast.

But learn we did – – and quickly. Whenever a situation required a particular skill, someone always stepped forward to meet the challenge. Today, under the leadership of NRLC, the pro-life movement is one of the largest and best organized issue advocacy groups in the world.

Obviously, this was not always the case. I vividly remember attending my first NRLC Convention in 1976. I was a volunteer chapter chairman of a tiny chapter in northeast Pennsylvania. I had less than two years’ experience in the movement.

Most of the attendees in those days, like myself, were trying to find “Square One.” Most of us had no experience in grassroots organizing, lobbying, fundraising, or public relations. But we learned by doing–just the way volunteers learn today. The difference is that today’s newcomers benefit from the vast experience of all those who have preceded them. We do not continually have to “reinvent the wheel.”

Organization the Key

During my 26 years in the Movement, I have worked on a variety of outreach and organizational development projects. In the beginning the going was rough.

The major pro-life resources were the fledgling, non-denominational National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), the Catholic Church, the National Committee for a Human Life Amendment (NCHLA)–and little else. We knew that if public policy on abortion was to be changed, we needed to broaden our base of support as well as strengthen those groups already established.

Something important to be noted here. Contrary to media myth, ours is not a “religious” movement. It does, however, contain many, many people whose faith compels them to enter the public arena to protect the unborn, babies born with disabilities, and the medically dependent elderly.

As our outreach efforts into religious communities grew, we were able to identify many individuals and pastors within other denominations who were deeply committed to the pro-life cause and unafraid to stand up even if it was unpopular. Interdenominational cooperation increased dramatically with the formation of the National Pro-Life Religious Council (NPRC) in the mid-1980s. The NPRC is made up of pro-life leaders working in a variety of religious denominations.

As a result of our work together, some of these courageous leaders were able to change their denominational position in favor of life. Some denominations, including the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, the Southern Baptists, and the Lutheran Church Wisconsin Synod, have adopted a pro-life position and are now some of our most outspoken pro-life advocates.

This coalition-building illustrates the genius of the Movement’s organizational outreach. We look to where people associate. In other words, we know that most people work, live, play, and worship in various group settings, and that is where we approach them.

For example, NRLC began outreaches to the Black, Hispanic, and Jewish communities. The goal of outreach activities to these groups was not to establish parallel pro-life organizations but rather to welcome them into the mainstream pro-life movement.

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Programs and materials are presented in a style that resonates. By that I mean that the pro-life issue is presented in a way that addresses the concerns, values, and history unique to each group. Much work still needs to be done, but we have found a significant base of support within these communities and have identified hundreds of outstanding leaders.

NRLC Leadership

NRLC and its 50 state affiliates have grown into one of the most powerful and effective educational, lobbying, and political organizations in the country. NRLC’s leadership and effectiveness are evidenced in many ways.

The effectiveness of NRL’s Political Action Committee (NRLPAC) has been known for years. That capacity to elect pro-life candidates was particularly evident during the 1992, 1994, 1996, and 1998 national elections when 63% of the 696 candidates NRL PAC supported won.

On the state and local level, NRLC now has more than 3,000 chapters, 400,000 donors, and 3.5 million pro-life supporters.

Contemplating the Future

The infamous communist dictator Joseph Stalin once said: “A single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic.” Unfortunately, to many Americans, the more than 39 million unborn children who have lost their lives since 1973 are more like a “statistic” than tragedies.

The pro-life movement must keep their memory alive. It is our task to remove the blinders, to help people realize what a devastating wound abortion is.

Today, as the new millennium begins, we face the most challenging year in our Movement’s history. What happens in the next 12 months will shape the future of the battle for life for the next generation.

In spite of the number of challenges ahead, I have great hope for our ultimate success.

Abortion is intuitively wrong. It violates the teachings of most of the world’s major religions. It is at odds with common sense and undermines the most important bond in human society–that of a mother and her unborn child.

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In the end, the changing of the hearts and minds of the American public will be done by the “outreach” of the individual pro-lifer. It’s the fellow on his way to work who has the courage to discuss abortion with his car pool members. It’s the high school freshman who writes her term paper on abortion. It’s the “soccer mom” who discusses the pro-life issue with her friends at work or at games.

It’s the pastor who gives the pro-life sermon. It’s the donor who contributes money to help make our outreach activities possible. It’s the “average” man and woman who meet with their legislators to discuss their voting records on abortion. And it’s the local volunteers who raise money, hold educational programs, distribute literature, and attend conventions and rallies.

It has been said that “every war in history has been won by the side that held on 10 minutes longer.” Above all else, our Movement has staying power.

The ultimate success of our Movement will depend on the hundreds of thousands of beautiful people who have put a significant part of their private lives on hold to work for the unborn child. The pro-life movement is really people reaching out to other people, to help protect and save the lives of the unborn, the elderly, and those with disabilities.

Please send your comments to daveandrusko@gmail.com.

Categories: NRLC