National Right to Life Committee

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"NRLC" redirects here. For other uses, see Northwest Regional Learning Center.
National Right to Life Committee
National Right to Life Committee, Inc.
Founded April 1, 1967 (1967-04-01)
Founder National Conference of Catholic Bishops[1]
EIN 52-0986195
  • Washington, DC
Key people
Carol Tobias, President
James T. McHugh
$5,717,028 (2012–2013)
Expenses $6,288,548 (2012–2013)

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.[2][N 1] The group works through legislation and education to work against induced abortion, infanticide, euthanasia and assisted suicide.

In 1966, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB) asked James T. McHugh to begin observing trends in abortion reform.[3] The National Right to Life Committee was founded in 1967, as the Right to Life League to coordinate its state campaigns under the auspices of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.[1][4] To appeal to a more broad-based, nonsectarian movement, key Minnesota leaders proposed an organizational model that would separate the NRLC from the direct oversight of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and by early 1973 NRLC Director James T. McHugh and his executive assistant, Michael Taylor, proposed a different plan, facilitating the NRLC move toward its independence from the Catholic Church.


The national organization of National Right to Life is composed of several entities:

  • National Right to Life Committee, Inc. (NRLC) 501c(4) EIN: 52-0986196
  • National Right to Life Committee Educational Trust Fund, 501c(3) EIN: 52-1241126
  • National Right to Life Educational Foundation, Inc., 501c(3) EIN: 73-1010913
  • National Right to Life Conventions, Inc., 501c(4) EIN: 52-1257773
  • National Right to Life Political Action Committee (NRLPAC),
  • National Right to Life Victory Fund, an independent expenditure political action committee (generally referred to as "SuperPACs").


National Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1968–73[edit]


Pope Paul VI during Second Vatican Council

During 1966, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB) asked Fr. James T. McHugh to begin observing trends in abortion reform. McHugh, director of the United States Catholic Conference (USCC) Family Life Bureau and later bishop of Camden and the Diocese of Rockville Centre (New York), was born in Orange, New Jersey, in 1932. Ordained in 1957, McHugh served in a few pastoral assignments in the Diocese of Newark before he was appointed to the USCC Family Life Bureau in 1965.[5]


The National Conference of Catholic Bishops selected James T. McHugh, as administrator of the USCC Family Life Bureau, during the April 1967 annual conference in Chicago as to organize the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) and to fund the established NRLC with $50,000 as to "initiate and coordinate a program of information" with state affiliates that would alert stakeholders concerning the wave of legislation sweeping through state chambers that was intended to weaken restrictive abortion statutes."[5][6]

Pope Paul VI 1968 encyclical Humanae vitae[edit]

While Pope Paul VI issued the encyclical Humanae vitae on July 25, 1968 that primarily dealt with birth control and family planning, under the section titled Unlawful Birth Control Methods, the he also emphasized:

We are obliged once more to declare that the direct interruption of the generative process already begun and, above all, all direct abortion, even for therapeutic reasons, are to be absolutely excluded-as a lawful means of regulating the number of children.

The National Right to Life Committee was formalized during the same year by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB) of the issuance of the Pope Paul VI encyclical Humanae vitae in 1968, by the Holy See and founded under the NCCB auspices as to control and coordinate information and strategy with emerging local and state pro-life groups across the United States.[7] These pro-life groups were forming in response to efforts to change abortion laws based on model legislation proposed by the American Law Institute (ALI) beginning during the late 1950s. New Jersey attorney Juan Ryan served as the first NRLC 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. From 1968 to 1971, the organization published a newsletter that informed member organizations about abortion-related legislation in the states.

"The only reason that we have a pro-life movement in this country is because of the Catholic people and the Catholic Church", the executive director of the NRLC said in 1973.[8][9]

Incorporation, Human Life Amendment[edit]

When the NRLC was formally incorporated in May 1973, partially 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), the National Conference of Catholic Bishops launched into a campaign to amend the United States Constitution with the enactment of a Human Life Amendment seeking not only to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision, but to also forbid both Congress and the states from legalizing abortion within the United States.[10][11][12] 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 Mildred Jefferson, the first African-American woman to graduate from Harvard Medical School. Jefferson subsequently served as president of the organization.[13] Conventions have been held in various cities around the country every summer since the Detroit convention.

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.

1979 NRLC schism forms American Life League[edit]

The American Life League was founded on April 1, 1979,[14][15] by Judie Brown and nine other pro-life Americans after a schism within the National Right to Life Committee. Within less than a year of its founding, ALL had 68,000 members and received assistance founding ALL from Howard Phillips,[16] virtually free publicity from Heritage Foundation co-founder Paul Weyrich, and the help of extensive membership lists provided by right-wing direct mail specialist Richard Viguerie.[17] Since then, the ALL organization has grown, but its mission has not changed. ALL is "committed to the protection of all innocent human beings from the moment of creation to death."[18] In 1980, NRLC had an annual budget of 1.6 million, and a membership of 11 million.[19]

The Silent Scream[edit]

In 1984, the Committee co-produced the abortion documentary, The Silent Scream with 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.[20] 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.[20]

NRLC Boycott of Hoechst Marion Roussel, Altace[edit]

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.[21] The U.S. National Right to Life Committee announced a 1994 U.S. boycott of all Hoechst pharmaceutical products including Altace, targeting the abortion pill RU-486.[22]

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.[23]

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. The National Right to Life boycott specified the following Hoechst Marion Roussel of Kansas City, Missouri branded pharmaceutcial products, except for Altace: Allegra, Cardizem, Seldane, Claforan, Lasix, DiaBeta, and Nicoderm.[24] The King Pharmaceuticals, Inc. wholly owned subsidiary Monarch Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (both pharmaceutical entities headquartered in Bristol, Tennessee) acquired ownership of the U.S. distribution and marketing rights to Altace and other Hoescht products from Hoescht AG subsidiary Hoechst Marion Roussel of Kansas City, Missouri on December 18, 1998,[25] and maintained a working, business partnership with Hoechst Marion Roussel to market and sell Altace and other Monarch Pharmaceuticals branded prescription drugs within the United States.

Terri Schiavo case[edit]

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.[26]


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.[27][28]

Past presidents[edit]

  • 1968–1973 – Juan Ryan, New Jersey
  • 1973–1974 – Edward Golden, New York
  • 1974–1975 – Kenneth VanDerHoef, Washington
  • 1975–1978 – Mildred Jefferson, Massachusetts
  • 1978–1980 – Carolyn Gerster, Arizona
  • 1980–1983 – John C. Willke, Ohio
  • 1983–1984 – Jean Doyle, Florida
  • 1984–1991 – John C. Willke, Ohio
  • 1991–2011 – Wanda Franz, 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, December 20. Retrieved: September 9, 2013.
     • Fred Thompson Receives the Endorsement of Virginia Society for Human Life Presidency Project UCSB.EDU, December 20, 2007. Retrieved: September 9, 2013.


  1. ^ a b K.M. Cassidy. "Right to Life." In Dictionary of Christianity in America, Coordinating Editor, Daniel G. Reid. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1990. pp. 1017,1018.
  2. ^ "National Right to Life Convention kicks off in Jacksonville". Florida Independent. Retrieved June 25, 2012. 
  3. ^ "The national right to life committee: its founding, its history, and the emergence of the pro-life movement prior to Roe v. Wade". Robert N. Karrier. The Catholic Historical Review. 97.3 (July 2011): p. 527. From General OneFile.
  4. ^ "God's Own Party The Making of the Religious Right", pp. 113–116. ISBN 978-0-19-534084-6. Daniel K. Williams. Oxford University Press. 2010.
  5. ^ a b "The national right to life committee: its founding, its history, and the emergence of the pro-life movement prior to Roe v. Wade". Robert N. Karrier. The Catholic Historical Review. 97.3 (July 2011): p527. From General OneFile.
  6. ^ "The National Right to Life Committee: its founding, its history, and the emergence of the pro-life movement prior to Roe v. Wade.". Cathol Hist Rev. 97 (3): 527–57. 2011. doi:10.1353/cat.2011.0098. PMID 22069796. 
  7. ^ K.M. Cassidy. "Right to Life." In Dictionary of Christianity in America, Coordinating Editor, Daniel G. Reid. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1990. pp. 1017,1018.
  8. ^ "God's Own Party The Making of the Religious Right", p. 116. ISBN 978-0-19-534084-6. Daniel K. Williams. Oxford University Press. 2010.
  9. ^ Google Books (review): "God's Own Party: The Making of the Christian Right", p. 116. Daniel K. Williams'%20Laws%22&pg=PA116#v=onepage&q=%22Effect%20of%20Ruling%20on%20States'%20Laws%22&f=false
  10. ^ Staggenborg, Suzanne (1994). The Pro-Choice Movement: Organization and Activism in the Abortion Conflict. Oxford University Press US. p. 188. ISBN 0-19-508925-1. 
  11. ^ Greenhouse, Linda (2010). Before Roe v. Wade: Voices that Shaped the Abortion Debate Before the Supreme Court's Ruling. Kaplan Publishing. ISBN 1-60714-671-1. 
  12. ^ The Catholic Voter in American Politics: The Passing of the Democratic Monolith. pp. 169-170. William B. Prendergast.
  13. ^ Hevesi, Dennis (October 18, 2010). "Mildred Jefferson, 84, Anti-Abortion Activist, Is Dead - Obituary (Obit)". Retrieved November 7, 2012. 
  14. ^ "Founded". Retrieved March 30, 2014. 
  15. ^ A saintly influence: Pope John Paul II's impact on American Life League—and me. Judie Brown. Celebrate Life Magazine.
  16. ^ Smith, Peter (May 6, 2013). "Catholics Bid Farewell to Pro-Life Lion Howard Phillips". National Catholic Register. Retrieved July 2, 2014. 
  17. ^ "Right Wing Watch - American Life League". People for the American Way. Wayback Machine. April 2006. Archived from the original on June 12, 2008. Retrieved July 2, 2014. 
  18. ^ "Mission statement". Retrieved March 30, 2014. 
  19. ^ Alesha E. Doan (2007). Opposition and Intimidation:The abortion wars and strategies of political harassment. University of Michigan. p. 90. 
  20. ^ a b "Boycott Threat Blocking Sale Of Abortion-Inducing Drug" New York Times
  21. ^ "Abortion Drug Draws Boycott - ''New York Times''". New York Times. July 8, 1994. Retrieved June 25, 2012. 
  22. ^ Now's the Time to Defend Our Borders - A pro-life boycott could keep RU 486 out of the U.S.
  23. ^ Gorney, Cynthia. Gambling With Abortion. Harper's Magazine, November 2004.
  24. ^ Concerned Women for America. Boycott of New Drug 'Allegra' Aimed at Protecting Women & Children From Dangers of RU-486 Retrieved from the Internet ARchive
  25. ^ News Update -Monarch Pharmaceuticals acquired April 25, 2001. Hoechst Marion Roussel. Retrieved at Internet Archive.
  26. ^ "URGENT ACTION ALERT: National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) :: Terri Schiavo's Life Counts". Hyscience. March 19, 2005. Retrieved June 25, 2012. 
  27. ^ National group boots Colorado Right to Life[dead link]
  28. ^ "Colorado RTL open letter to Dr. James Dobson". Retrieved June 25, 2012. 

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]