Throughout the history of our country, most of the states considered the child in the womb to have legal rights, even after the death of the mother. While physicians had written on the abortion problem as early as 1933, there was no organized effort toward legalizing abortion until 1962. In that year, heated controversies arose over the use of the tranquilizer thalidomide by women early in pregnancy, whose babies were bom with deformed or undeveloped limbs. Sparked by the media, abortion entered the national consciousness. From that time to the present, both pro-abortion and pro-life forces have raised voices, the first, backed loudly by organizations and often by the media, clamoring for “women’s rights,” and the other concerned with the rights of the unborn human child.
At an International Conference on Abortion held in Washington, D.C. in 1969, fifty-nine of the sixty participating scientists, including physicians, geneticists, and biochemists, stated that they could find no point in time between the union of the sperm and egg, or the blastocyst stage, and the birth of the infant when they could say this was not a human life. However, the “rights” issues kept coming up in legislatures and louder voices prevailed. The earliest legalities were argued on the basis of threats to the mother’s life by pregnancies, but then expanded to more permissive reasons such as mental stress or social concerns.
In 1968 Maryland and Georgia adopted reform statutes. In 1969 Arkansas, Delaware, Kansas, New Mexico, and Oregon followed suit. In 1970 South Carolina, and Virginia also passed reform laws. Only New York and Hawaii passed true repeal laws, that is, not just to change the long-standing prohibition of abortion, but to make abortion legal. In 1972 Florida, Connecticut, Illinois, Kansas, and New Jersey opted for abortion.
Anti-abortion statutes remained legal in Kentucky, North Carolina, Utah, Mississippi, South Dakota, and Indiana. The early abortion battle in the Pennsylvania legislature was strongly fought by pro-life Representative Martin P. Mullen, who complained, “You pro-lifers don’t give me enough support. Send letters... Come to Harrisburg... Let us know where you stand...
We pro-lifers apparently did not stand strong enough. On January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court dictated that unborn infants can be killed, practically at the mother’s whim. Seven of nine justices made this the law of our country. We the people did not determine such a fate for our innocent children.
The anti-abortion movement had begun in 1963 in New York City, precisely where pro-abortion voices were strongest. By 1966, hoping to combat ignorance concerning abortion and development of life in the womb, pro-life groups were speaking for the unborn throughout the state, mainly to women’s groups, and 1969 found them in schools. The New York State Right to Life groups were well organized by 1970, ready to combat abortion on the political field. Pro-life groups also were working in Colorado, Minnesota, and Ohio in 1967.
A National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) was formed in 1968, at the instigation of a New Jersey lawyer, Juan Ryan. It began at a meeting in Washington organized by the United States Catholic Conference but with the underlying stipulation that it be nondenominational, open to everyone who believed that all human beings, from earliest beginnings, have the right to live. Representatives of pro-life groups from a dozen states, including Pennsylvania, attended. Meetings were held each year, and the NRLC was formally organized in 1973 to share information, especially in lobbying, use of the media, and fund raising.