NRL News

National Right to Life Mourns the Death of Dr. John C. Willke

by | Feb 23, 2015

Dr. Willke at work in his office at National Right to Life headquarters, ca. 1982.

Dr. Willke at work in his office at National Right to Life headquarters, ca. 1982.

WASHINGTON – The National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), the nation’s oldest and largest pro-life organization, joins with pro-lifers across the country and around the world in mourning the death of former National Right to Life President Dr. John C. (Jack) Willke, an obstetrician who devoted his life to the right-to-life movement. Dr. Willke died at his home in Cincinnati, Ohio, on Friday. He was 89.

“There is no way to quantify the contributions Jack Willke, along with his wife Barbara, made to the right-to-life movement,” said Carol Tobias, president of National Right to Life. “Jack’s generous heart and wonderful sense of humor will be greatly missed. He and Barbara devoted their lives to the right-to-life movement, and we will be forever in their debt.”

In the early days of the right-to-life movement, Jack and Barbara Willke helped form the foundation of right-to-life educational efforts through the development of the “Willke slides” on fetal development and abortion, and their first book, “The Handbook on Abortion,” which sold an estimated 1.5 million copies. Both were considered must-haves for local activists.

“Every pro-lifer relied on the ‘Willke slides’ on fetal development that beautifully depicted the development of the unborn child as well as the brutal reality of abortion,” Tobias said.

The Willkes crisscrossed the nation for four decades speaking out on behalf of society’s most defenseless members. They inspired some of the earliest state and local right-to-life groups combatting abortion before the Supreme Court decisions in Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton. The Willkes co-founded Right to Life of Greater Cincinnati in the early 1970s.

In September 1973, Dr. Willke joined the National Right to Life board of directors representing his home state of Ohio, and served continuously until his retirement in 2012. He served in a variety of capacities throughout the 1970s, including terms as vice-chairman of the board and vice president. He was elected president of National Right to Life (1980-1983 and 1984-1991), serving a total of ten years. During his tenure, he helped raised the profile of the organization through countless radio and television appearances, and trips across the country and around the world as an ambassador for the right-to-life movement.

To expand National Right to Life’s efforts to educate the nation, on January 7, 1985, Dr. Willke premiered Pro-Life Perspective, National Right to Life’s daily radio program. The show, now in its 30th year and hosted by National Right to Life president Carol Tobias, has served as an educational resource for countless millions of Americans concerned about the right-to-life issues.

In 1990, Dr. Willke helped lead National Right to Life’s response to the late Congressman Henry J. Hyde’s request that the pro-life movement come to Washington to “stand and be counted.” That response was the “Rally for Life 1990,” which remains one of the largest gatherings ever to be held on the National Mall.

In addition to his work locally and nationally, Dr. Willke expanded right-to-life efforts with the formation of the International Right to Life Federation, which brought together pro-life organizations operating in countries around the world. He was president emeritus of the organization at the time of his death.

In 1991, he founded the Cincinnati-based Life Issues Institute, and through the organization, continued his passion to educate the nation and the world about the tragic realities of abortion and euthanasia.

Together, Jack and Barbara Willke co-authored twelve books on human sexuality and abortion. They created audio and visual pro-life educational materials used throughout the world, and those materials have been translated into 30 languages on five continents. They jointly spoke in 64 different countries. For their selfless dedication and innumerous contributions to the pro-life cause, in June 2014, National Right to Life presented its inaugural “Henry J. Hyde Award for Lifetime Achievement” to Dr. Willke, and posthumously to his beloved wife, Barbara (who died in April 2013).

“The right-to-life movement has lost one of its most influential activists,” Tobias added. “But we know that Dr. Willke’s legacy of education and activism will live on in the countless men and women who were inspired to join the fight for life because of his efforts.”

National Right to Life file photos of Dr. Willke are available for media use with credit to National Right to Life at

Founded in 1968, National Right to Life, the federation of 50 state right-to-life affiliates and more than 3,000 local chapters, is the nation’s oldest and largest grassroots pro-life organization. Recognized as the flagship of the pro-life movement, NRLC works through legislation and education to protect innocent human life from abortion, infanticide, assisted suicide and euthanasia.

Categories: NRLC