National Right to Life Committee

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National Right to Life Committee
Formation 1968[1]
Headquarters Washington, DC
President Carol Tobias

The National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) is the oldest and the largest national pro-life organization in the United States with affiliates in all 50 states and over 3,000 local chapters nationwide.[1] [N 1] The group works through legislation and education to work against induced abortion, infanticide, euthanasia and assisted suicide. It was founded in 1968 and is a non-partisan political group.


The national organization of National Right to Life is composed of several entities: the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) which is categorized as a 501c(4) by the IRS, the National Right to Life Educational Trust Fund, a 501c(3), the National Right to Life Educational Foundation, Inc., also a 501c(3), the National Right to Life Political Action Committee (NRLPAC), and the National Right to Life Victory Fund, an independent expenditure political action committee (generally referred to as "SuperPACs").


The National Right to Life Committee was formed in 1968 to coordinate information and strategy between emerging state pro-life groups. These groups were forming in response to efforts to change abortion laws based on model legislation proposed by the American Law Institute (ALI). New Jersey attorney Juan Ryan served as the organization's first president. NRLC held a nationwide meeting of pro-life leaders in Chicago in 1970 at Barat College. The following year, NRLC held its first convention at Macalestar College in St. Paul, Minnesota.

NRLC was formally incorporated in May 1973 in response to the US Supreme Court Roe v. Wade decision, which struck down most state laws in the United States restricting abortion in the first trimester of pregnancy.[2][3] Its first convention as an incorporated organization was held the following month in Detroit, Michigan. At the concurrent meeting of NRLC's board, Ed Golden of New York was elected president. Among the organization's founding members was Dr. Mildred Jefferson, the first African-American woman to graduate from Harvard Medical School. Jefferson subsequently served as president of the organization.[4] Conventions have been held in various cities around the country every summer since the Detroit convention.

From 1968 to 1971, the organization published a newsletter that informed member organizations about abortion-related legislation in the states. Following incorporation in 1973, the Committee began publishing National Right to Life News. The newsletter has been in continuous publication since November 1973 and is now published daily online as the news and commentary feed, National Right To Life News Today.

In 1984 the Committee co-produced the abortion documentary, The Silent Scream with Dr. Bernard Nathanson. In 1985, following two years of an Upjohn product boycott by the National Right to Life Committee, the Upjohn Company stopped all research on abortifacient drugs.[5] Three years later, NRLC joined other pro-life groups in serving notice to drug companies that if any company sold an abortion-inducing drug, millions of Americans who opposed abortion would boycott all the company's products.[5]

In the 1990s, the NRLC began a nationwide grassroots lobbying campaign against the Freedom of Choice Act, and announced a boycott of the French pharmaceutical company Roussel Uclaf and its American affiliates for allowing its abortion drug, mifepristone, into the United States.[6]

According to Keri Folmar, the lawyer responsible for the language of the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, the term "partial birth abortion" was developed in early 1995 in a meeting among herself, Charles T. Canady, and NRLC lobbyist Douglas Johnson.[7]

In 1997 Concerned Women For America participated in the National Right to Life's press briefing at the National Press Club in support of the boycott against the U.S. subsidiaries of Hoechst AG & Roussel Uclaf (developer and manufacturer of the abortion pill mifepristone) whose new drug was Allegra.[8]

The National Right to Life Committee joined disability rights advocates in actively advocating for intervention in the Terri Schiavo case in 2003. On March 19, 2005, the NRLC issued an urgent congressional action alert requesting help in urging senators and representatives to resolve differences and pass 'Terri's Law' immediately, which would allow Florida Governor Jeb Bush to intervene in the matter.[9]


The National Right to Life Committee is a federation of state right-to-life organizations. NRLC has 50 state affiliates and over 3,000 local chapters nationwide. State affiliates function independently and cooperatively with the national organization. The Committee's board is representative, consisting of a director from each of the state affiliates, as well as eight members elected at-large.

Its Virginia affiliate, the Virginia Society for Human Life, was founded in 1967 as the first state right-to-life organization. Other early affiliates include New York State Right to Life (late 1967), Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (1968), Florida Right to Life (1971), Georgia Right to Life (1971), Massachusetts Citizens for Life, Human Life of Washington (1971), and Montana Right to Life (1972). Other state organizations were quickly organized or became formally incorporated entities in the months immediately following the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton decisions legalized abortion nationwide. These include the Illinois Federation for Right to Life, North Carolina Right to Life, Arizona Right to Life, and Texas Right to Life, among others.

In 2007, Colorado Citizens for Life successfully challenged Colorado Right to Life's affiliation and representation to the national Committee's board Colorado Right to Life after Colorado Right to Life ran a full-page ad in The Gazette criticizing Focus on the Family founder James Dobson.[10][11]

Past Presidents[edit]

  • 1968–1973 – Juan Ryan, Esq., New Jersey
  • 1973–1974 – Edward Golden, New York
  • 1974–1975 – Kenneth VanDerHoef, Esq., Washington
  • 1975–1978 – Mildred F. Jefferson, M.D., Massachusetts
  • 1978–1980 – Carolyn Gerster, M.D., Arizona
  • 1980–1983 – John C. Willke, M.D., Ohio
  • 1983–1984 – Jean Doyle, Florida
  • 1984–1991 – John C. Willke, M.D., Ohio
  • 1991–2011 – Wanda Franz, Ph.D., West Virginia
  • 2011–present – Carol Tobias, New Mexico

See also[edit]



  1. ^ The oldest state pro-life organization in the US is Virginia Society for Human Life which was founded in 1967.
     • Nation's Oldest Right to Life Organization Supporting Thompson Standard News, 20 December. Retrieved: 9 September 2013.
     • Fred Thompson Receives the Endorsement of Virginia Society for Human Life Presidency Project UCSB.EDU, 20 December 2007. Retrieved: 9 September 2013.</ref>


Further reading[edit]

  • Karrer, Robert N. "The National Right to Life Committee: Its Founding, Its History, and the Emergence of the Pro-Life Movement Prior to Roe V. Wade," Catholic Historical Review Volume 97, Number 3, July 2011 pp 527–557 in Project MUSE

External links[edit]