By Sharon Bernstein, Gabriella Borter and Brad Brooks
(Reuters) – For a Mississippi doctor, it was a glimpse of a fetal arm. For one police officer, it was the treatment of anti-abortion protesters outside a clinic. A Catholic leader was galvanized by the civil rights movement.
These and other experiences shaped prominent abortion opponents in their decades-long effort to see the U.S. Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade of 1973 which established the constitutional right to abortion.
It could happen any day. As they await a Supreme Court ruling in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case that could undermine Roe’s protections, some leaders of the anti-abortion movement have reflected on how they got here.
DR. BEVERLY MCMILLAN
Most Fridays, Dr. Beverly McMillan, 79, prays outside Mississippi’s only abortion clinic.
His discreet opposition is a far cry from the start of his career in obstetrics and gynecology. In 1975, McMillan became the first doctor to offer abortions at Mississippi’s first free-standing abortion clinic.
She quit abruptly three years later, she says, “stricken by the humanity” of a pregnancy she terminated. In an interview, she recalled how she could distinguish the small muscle in the arm of a 12-week-old fetus, reminding her of her young son.
The Jackson, Mississippi resident has dedicated much of the four decades since trying to sway public opinion against abortion.
About 60% of Americans say abortion should be legal in all or most cases. Even so, McMillan and his fellow anti-abortion advocates were successful in pushing through legislation such as his state’s 15-week abortion ban, which spurred the legal battle set to end with the review. by the Supreme Court of Federal Abortion Rights.
“Who would have thought that Mississippi’s 15-week limit on abortions would be Supreme Court level? I definitely didn’t,” McMillan said.
Now vice chair of the board of Pro-Life Mississippi, McMillan said the organization’s leaders are dedicated to gaining support for women struggling during pregnancy.
She hopes that one day there will be a “personality amendment” to the US Constitution that will say what to her has long been obvious: “Human life begins at conception and has the same inalienable rights as natural persons.
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a Christian policy and lobbying group in Washington, says he felt called to the anti-abortion movement one summer day in 1992.
He was off duty as a reserve police officer in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and had joined members of his church to attend an Operation Rescue demonstration at a local abortion clinic. He was shocked by what he said was police abuse of the hundreds of anti-abortion protesters gathered at the clinic.
He spoke and was fired from the force, he said.
“I just saw this for the first time in a very different light,” said Perkins, an ordained Southern Baptist minister. “It really is a colossal battle between…good and evil.”
Entering politics and serving as a Louisiana state representative from 1996 to 2004, he pushed through legislation to restrict abortion, including the first version of a state law regulating health clinics. for women. The United States Supreme Court struck down the law in 2020.
Perkins, 59, said abortion has become the litmus test for evangelical Christians as their political strength has grown over the past three decades: If a politician opposes abortion, he is likely to agreement with the other political positions of evangelical voters.
He credits the Roman Catholic Church with leading the way in the fight against abortion, but said evangelicals injected new energy into the movement from the 1980s by electing anti-abortion politicians. abortion in state houses.
These socially conservative lawmakers passed a series of state-level restrictions on abortion.
“The momentum is building in that direction. It’s no coincidence that the court took up this issue,” he said of the Dobbs case.
In February 2020, Theresa Brennan quit her job as a corporate lawyer to head up the anti-abortion group her grandparents helped found in California in 1967.
The Right to Life League says it is the first organization in the country dedicated to opposing abortion. Brennan remembers as a child dreaming of joining her grandparents and parents at the group’s annual fundraising gala.
Later, as a young woman, she disagreed with their position, believing that it was not her place to tell others what to do with their bodies. It wasn’t until she had children of her own that Brennan says she fully embraced her family’s anti-abortion beliefs and, later, their activism.
“I think being pregnant and realizing what it was really made me think twice,” said Brennan, 52.
Since becoming the group’s president, Brennan has used her legal training to provide advice to the network of crisis pregnancy centers, anti-abortion medical clinics and maternity homes that the organization represents.
As some of the pregnancy centers transform into clinics offering medical counseling and services, Brennan helps them comply with state laws regulating this activity.
Her organization also lobbies against abortion rights bills and provides donations of diapers and other supplies to pregnancy centers and maternity wards.
“Let’s invest in families – in mothers, in children – rather than investing in abortion,” she said.
ARCHBISHOP JOSEPH NAUMANN
Led by Archbishop Joseph Naumann, the Archdiocese of Kansas City put $500,000 behind an August ballot measure asking Kansas voters to amend the state’s constitution to say it doesn’t include no right to abortion.
It’s the kind of state-level advocacy Naumann expects to remain engaged in if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, continuing his decades of anti-abortion work.
“I’m encouraged that we’ve come to this point, but it’s definitely not the end,” he said. “If the court rules as expected, it will make this an issue in every state.”
Naumann, 73, was in seminary in 1973 when the Roe decision legalized abortion in the United States. Like other devout Catholics, he opposed abortion, but at the time he was more focused on the civil rights movement.
He said he began to view abortion through a civil rights lens in 1984, when he was asked to lead the church’s anti-abortion efforts in St. Louis. He believed that the right to life was fundamental for the unborn child, whom he believed to be fully human from the moment of conception.
“Of course it’s a right for a woman to decide when to bear a child, but once that child is conceived, there are two human beings who both have rights at that point,” he said. declared.
The archbishop said the role of St. Louis taught him many ways to fight abortion, in church and beyond, and he took that knowledge with him as he rose through the ranks of its hierarchy. He served for seven years on the American Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, including as chairman.
He joined bishops who said President Joe Biden and other Catholic leaders who support abortion rights should not take communion.
Naumann said he has deep sympathy for women facing unplanned or difficult pregnancies. He was raised by a single mother, he said, after his father was murdered at work while she was pregnant with Naumann.
(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein, Gabriella Borter and Brad Brooks; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Cynthia Osterman)